EMU likes it ugly. But there's nothing unattractive about their 5-2 start to the MAC play.
The Eastern Michigan Eagles men's basketball team pace is a Wisconsonian 61.7 possessions per game, tied for ninth slowest in Division I. (Wisconsin is the slowest at 60, the median is 68, and the speediest team is Oregon State and their 78.3 possessions per game. Their 0.84 points per possession is among the fifteen worst teams. In conference play, they are even slower (59.9 possessions/game) and equally as pathetic on offense (0.84 ppp). Both are worst in the MAC.
And they are first place in the MAC West, by themselves, at 5-2. Even the 10-11 record is better than imagined.
I think we'd all like to know how they're doing this. I watched them top Bowling Green 55-50 which was picked as the MAC's television game, which would've looked wonky had first year head coachteam been near the bottom of the pack as expected. Instead I was able to finally scrutinize this team and see what they did.
Well, yes, they scored a few points. 55 is about one basket above their average of 52.7 points per game. Their 0.87 ppp was a little better but nothing wonderful. You could point to Darrell Lampley being the catalyst of the game, as his 20 points, four assists and zero turnovers was definitely the box score line of the game. However it was this team's interior length which totally disrupted the Falcons' method of success, using A'uston Calhoun and Torian Oglesby as the cleanup crew on the offensive board, and also Cameron Black's post-up game. By the end of the game, BG seemed content with trying to win it with the perimeter play.
I've been giving this team guff for having trouble to score 60 points a game. Even 50 can be a battle. But yet they've won half their games scoring 55 or fewer points, most notoriously winning last Saturday with just 41 points on their side. There's probably a reason for this. I haven't asked Murphy about this (because interviews aren't my thing) but I have reason to believe that he's making his team play slowly because he knows that a fast tempo is a quick path to the grave.
The law of averages dictates that this team will have a better chance of losing if that gawdawful 42 eFG% is expanded from 60 shots per game to 80. Their defense might be able to keep up but Lampley's teammates won't. At least not yet.
It's worked out. In fact, I took a look at their first-half scores from all games:
Opponent: Points For-Points Against
Texas Southern: 26-32
Michigan State: 13-25
Virginia Tech: 9-27
Santa Clara: 18-25
Air Force: 20-18
Ball State: 27-21
In 21 games, one team had more than 30 points. ONE TEAM. And it was flippin' Syracuse. Teams like 'Cuse, Michigan State, Purdue, Drake and Santa Clara were able to use big second halves to put away the team, but when the score is close and low that's when they're at their best.
And in a league where guard play and nimble forwards can take over a conference, EMU has some tall boys inside which have been making the difference. The addition of seven-foot Syracuse transfer DaShonte Riley has given them three capable defenders along with Jamell Harris and Matt Balkema. But in the BG game, even guards Quintin Dailey, Antonio Green and Lampley made it difficult for Jordon Crawford and Scott Thomas to get open, as well as pass it inside or drive.
It's damn puzzling how EMU football AND basketball take jump out of decade-long slumps and become respectable. But at least with what I've seen on my eyes and in the statistical cloud it does make some sense with how they're 5-2 in the MAC West. I'm not sure if they can win the division, although nobody else is stepping up on their side. With games at Miami and Akron before coming home to Kent State and OHIO, they might be able to win one or maybe two of these games and put themselves in neat position to finish, perhaps, 10-6. It's not out of the question, as scary as that may be.