RECORD SO FAR:
12-8 (4-3 MAC)
Their first home MAC game against Western Michigan seemed like it would play great dividends to how the rest of the season might play out, holding the Broncos to 37 points with a 19-point victory. Other big victories over mid-major schools came in against Cleveland State and Green Bay.
Probably the best road win was the overtime thriller against the Oakland Grizzlies where Darell Combs put up seven points in the overtime round, helping the Eagles get just enough on the board to win 81-79.
Despite playing a ridiculous schedule, playing at Kentucky, Duke and Syracuse and playing at home against UMass, you're expected to lose to them. But there are teams that EMU had a legitimate fighting chance against, but things don't always go as planned.
One of the more painful losses any team can experience is the first in-conference loss. In EMU's case, it was a 10-point loss on the road against Buffalo. It's not easy trying to stop Javon McCrea though (not that I've tried or anything). Three steals, three blocks and a double-double? Head coach Rob Murphy always likes to shut down the opposition's super stars, but McCrea is just too good.
But none of those hurt quite like their most recent loss against Ohio. Not many people expected the Eagles to run away with a victory against a talented bobcats team, but giving up a 13-point lead with less than eight minutes to go in the ball game will hurt you.
Make no mistake, Glenn Bryant III and Karrington Ward should always be in this discussion. But what about Mike Talley? He fits the mold of what Murphy likes to do with his guards: get them to the free throw line. Third on the team with 207 points, Talley banked in 70 out of his 102 attempted free throws, with a shooting percentage of 69 percent from the line. Another stat that's been noteworthy for the redshirt-junior is his assist-to-turnover ratio of 1.6 (71/44).
PLAYERS WHO NEED TO STEP UP:
Lekan Ajayi has a unique roll. The JUCO transfer is known for his defense and rebounding ability. He's not stressed to have a big starting role, but just to come in ti give Da'Shonte Riley a breather and play some defense. However, there's a feeling that that he's been sort of a liability to anchor down the paint. For the season, he's spent 193 minutes on the hardwood, committing 35 personal fouls, which is much more frequent than Riley's 69 fouls in 490 minutes. And nobody's asking Ajayi to be a scoring threat by any means, but he hasn't made a field goal since the first game of the year against Albion on November 8.
ESPN has EMU's strength of schedule at 9 and they have a 12-8 record. This team has played against the talents of Jabari Parker, Julius Randle and Raphiel Putney and now some of the best talents in the MAC. The reason you go through that sort of Hell isn't to come away with upsets (though, winning their games should always be the goal), but to better yourselves the rest of the way. There's still a lot of basketball left to be played.
I just said it. There's still a lot of basketball left to be played. Althought they did play against two of the nation's best forwards in Randle and Parker, that didn't guarantee the Eagles to be able to stop everybody in the MAC. I already mentioned the troubles that McCrea gave EMU, but let's not forget about the double-double that Demetrius Treadwell from Akron had when the Zips traveled to Ypsilanti. In a couple of weeks, all eyes will be on this Eagles team when they have to go up against the Toledo Rockets, the current leaders of the MAC West.
NEXT 4 GAMES:
Saturday, Feb. 1 @ Miami (3 p.m.)
Wednesday, Feb. 5 @ Akron (7 p.m.)
Saturday, Feb. 8 vs. Kent State (2 p.m.)
Wednesday, Feb. 12 @ Ball State (7 p.m.)
The best part about this team is that they can beat you in a lot of ways, just as long as they play sound defense and get to the free throw line. A second chance against Akron is going to be a fun watch, especially to see how Murphy plays his matchups and to see how he plans on stopping Treadwell and Quincy Diggs. It's not fair to say that they can hold Connar Tava to a 1-for-4 shooting night again when the Eagles travel to Kalamazoo on Feb. 23, but it wouldn't be surprising to see how the Eagles try to force the Broncos into settling for more undesirable shots like they did in their first go-round.
It's safe to say that the Eagles should be at least 6-seed or better in the MAC Tournament, going 8-4 the rest of the way.
FINAL GRADE: B
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