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Let the Games Begin: Eastern Michigan Preview

FRIDAY, 8:30 PM (ET)
TV: Big Ten Network (Craig Coshun [?], Jim Jackson)
ONLINE RADIO FEED: Spartan Sports Network


Tonight the statistics count!  Eagle bullets:

  • Overall record of 17-15 last season; 8-8 in the MAC.  Beat Oakland on the road; lost to Ohio State by 51.  Finished 187th in the KenPom rankings; 215th on offense, 147th on defense.
  • KenPom has them getting significantly worse on offense (272nd) but slightly better on defense (137th) this year.  Projects another 8-8 finish in the MAC.
  • Beat Marygrove 100-56 in its only exhibition game.  Seven players scored in double digits for Eastern.
  • EMU returns three of five starters and eight of its top ten contributors from last year.  Gone is point guard Carlos Medlock, who led the team at 16.9 points/game last season.  The team doesn't have a single freshman on its roster this year; all three newcomers are transfers.
  • The top returning scorer is 6'6" senior forward Brandon Bowdry, who averaged 16.3 points and 10.0 rebounds per game last season.  He took a lot of shots to get to that scoring average, posting an unimpressive shooting line of .512/.268/.636 (2pt%/3pt%/FT%).  He can definitely clean the glass, though; Bowdry finished 9th in the entire country in individual defensive rebounding percentage last year at 26.5%.
  • The remaining returning Eagles were even less efficient on offense last season.  None posted an offensive rating above 100.  6'6" senior wing Jay Higgins is the second highest returning scorer at 8.0 points/game.  His shooting line: .379/.317/.468.  Despite that line, Higgins took the second largest number of shots from beyond the arc (behind Medlock) last season.
  • EMU head coach Charles Ramsey is entering his sixth season in that position, having previously served as an assistant at U-M under Tommy Amaker.  He has a career record of 42-71.
  • The last time MSU played/beat EMU was December 1999.  Definitely a good omen, right?

Eastern, or at least Brandon Bowdry, is thinking big this season--talking about winning a MAC championship.  Despite the 8-8 conference mark last year, the team only finished one game out of a division championship, having lost a one-point game at home to Central, which won the division at 9-7, in their regular season closer.  In preparation for being the team's offensive leader, Bowdry dropped 30 pounds (from 250 to 220) this past offseason.

That should be a helpful move based on what the head coach has in mind for the team's style of play this season:

"I think we need work at getting better defensively. I think we could be pretty dominant. We're long, we're athletic and we move so if we get better defensively it will really help our offense out," Ramsey said. "It will put us in a position to get a lot of easy buckets."

. . .

"Offensively we are probably going to fly around a little bit more than we did in the years past and we are going to play 10 or 11 men a night."

Given the dearth of efficient offensive production returning from last season, the team will really need to turn defense into offense this year if a climb up the MAC standings is going to happen.  The Eagles simply couldn't shoot the ball last season, making only 65.3% of their free throws and 30.4% of their 3-point attempts.  Nevertheless, Eastern took nearly 40% of its field goal attempts from beyond the arc.  Bowdry gives them a legitimate offensive force inside, but he doesn't make a lot happen for his teammates, posting an assist rate of just 9.7% last season.

Eastern had an adjusted tempo of only 66.6 possessions per game last season, so playing an up-tempo style of basketball will be a substantial strategic shift.  The Eagles were above average at creating turnovers last season; their opponents turned it over on 21.2% of possessions.  The team's real defensive strength last year, though, was on the defensive glass.  Led by Bowdry, EMU grabbed 70.0% of available defensive rebounds.

We'll see if Ramsey really sends his team out playing aggressive defense to try to force the action.  Given MSU's major talent advantage, that's unlikely to turn out well for Eastern.  It sets up as a nice opening test for the younger Spartan players: play with poise against pressure on offense and avoid defensive breakdowns leading to easy baskets against a team unlikely to beat you from the outside.  Another key to watch will be whether MSU can impose its will on the offensive glass against a solid defensive rebounding team.

In terms of individual players, our eyes will, of course, be on the two highly-touted freshmen, Keith Appling and Adreian Payne.  Appling, in particular, will be tested as he plays some at the point, with Kalin Lucas still making his way back from injury, Korie Lucious suspended for the opener, and Mike Kebler dealing with a sprained ankle (Kebler expects to be back for Tuesday's game, btw).  Finally, we'll get a chance to see how Tom Izzo starts to sort out the playing time up front behind Draymond Green and (a healthy-kneedDelvon Roe, as Payne, Derrick Nix, and Garrick Sherman battle for playing time.

KenPom projects a 76-53 MSU win in a 65-possession game.  I'll take the over--at least in terms of MSU's scoring.

P.S.  Tom Izzo:

I think we have a chance to be one of those teams [with a chance to win the national title], and I kind of like being picked high. There's more pressure and more ways you can fall, but what it means is the program gets respect; you've got something to shoot for. You can look at the dinosaur that weighs you down or you can look at the big pot of gold (and) try to say, "You know what? I'm going to try to live up to expectations."

Let's get this thing started.