The Eastern Michigan Eagles were rewarded for their most single-season wins in 17 years with an invitation to play in the 2014 CollegeInsider.com Tournament. The Eagles will host the Norfolk St. Spartans in the first round at 7:00 p.m. EST on Tuesday, March 18th.
If the Eagles advance, they would play in the second round on March 21st or 22nd. Their opponent would be determined. In order to help reduce travel, this tournament uses the first round results to determine second round match-ups and so on. There are no brackets -- the progression is simply what makes most geographic sense for the teams involved. Given this, potential second-round opponents could include Wright State, Valparaiso, IPFW, Cleveland State, or even Akron or Ohio.
This is the first time EMU has advanced to a postseason tournament in 16 years. Their last appearance was in the NCAA Tournament in 1998, where they lost to Michigan State in the first round. The Eagles also made NCAA appearances in 1996, when they won once, and in 1991, when they advanced to the Sweet 16. EMU also had one-and-done finishes in the 1995 NIT and 1988 NCAA Tournament. In all, Eastern Michigan is 3-5 in postseason play.
Eastern Michigan is currently 21-14, which represents their most wins since 22 during the 1996-1997 season. They were 8-5 in non-conference games, but three of those wins came against non-Division I teams. The Eagles do have wins over NIT participants Robert Morris and Green Bay, as well as a win over fellow CIT participant Cleveland State. Four of their five losses were at the hands of NCAA Tournament teams: Kentucky, Massachusetts, Duke and Syracuse.
In Mid-American Conference play, the Eagles were 10-8 and earned the #6 seed to the conference tournament. They split their regular season series with both Western Michigan and Toledo, the league's top two tournament seeds. In the conference tournament, they defeated Central Michigan to advance to Cleveland, then knocked out Northern Illinois and #3 seed Buffalo before falling to Toledo in the semifinals.
EMU's calling card is their defense, and they are exceptional on that side of the ball. The Eagles are tops among all 351 NCAA Division I teams by allowing teams a meager 36.4 percent success rate on field goal attempts. They also lead the MAC by allowing just 61.4 points per game, and that ranks 17th in Division I. Want more? Eastern Michigan leads the MAC and is a top-ten team nationally in total blocks and total steals, and they're ranked 13th nationally in both blocks and steals per game.
The Eagles are also near the top of the national leaderboard in turnover margin (14th), 3-point percentage defense (26th) and free throw attempts (27th). Individually, Da'Shonte Riley is second in the MAC and 27th in the country in blocked shots per game (2.74).
Their offense, which ranks in the bottom third of the MAC in several categories, clearly leaves something to be desired. However, their chances of advancing in a mid-majors-only tournament are excellent if their defense shows up. EMU will match up well in terms of size and physicality with anyone in this field of 32 teams.
Norfolk State currently owns a 19-14 record. They were 6-8 in non-conference play, but only three of those wins were against Division I teams. Of those, perhaps the best was an 86-82 overtime win against Boston University. They did have some interesting close losses, including a 10-point loss at NCAA Tournament #1 seed Virginia, an 11-point loss at Hawaii, and a two-point loss against CIT participant East Carolina.
During Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference play, the Spartans went 11-5 and tied for third in the conference. They won twice in the MEAC tournament before falling to #1 seed North Carolina Central by 23 points in the semifinals.
This will be an interesting contrast of styles, as Norfolk State is very efficient with the basketball and shoots very well. They are first in the MEAC and 57th nationally with a 46.4 field goal percentage. They also are in the top-75 in Division I in rebounding margin and offensive rebounds per game. Individually, guard Jamel Fuentes is one of the nation's best at handling the ball with a 2.58 assist-to-turnover ratio and five assists per game. Brandon Goode produced 74 blocks this season and 6.9 rebounds per game. Perdarvis Williams is the Spartans' leading scorer with 15.9 points per game, and he's among the MEAC's best in field goal and free throw shooting percentage.
This will be the first time these two schools have ever met in men's basketball.