Alex: If we're both being completely honest with ourselves, this Tuesday night match-up will show just how real, or deceptive, both EMU & Ohio have been to point, no?
Early struggles, now stringing together some success; but I think this game is most important for both sides in establishing identities in mid-February.
Kaleb: As far as Tuesday night's matchup goes, (and we're being honest here), I think we've established that Ohio is at worst an average team while EMU is still trying to showcase that it is worth legitimate worry come MAC tournament time. EMU and Ohio have both had their struggles, but Ohio comes in winners of three straight and have been more consistent since the slow start in its first four games, going 6-2 since then.
The identities that will on full display Tuesday night will be one team trying to show it belongs in the conversation of teams to be worries about when it's time to go to Quicken Loans Arena, while another has a legitimate stake to claim as possibly the conference's second best team.
Alex: Well here's the thing: I think EMU still has a lot to prove themselves, but they've figured out that most of their early problems trickled down to two things: chemistry and the mental side of the game. It took forever to figure them both out, but it's better late than never. This is going to be more of a toss-up than people realize.
Kaleb: With Ohio being 11-2 at home, the odds are a bit more in Ohio's favor than a toss up. The Eagles sure have looked good at times the last few weeks, but they also struggled to stop a not-so-offensively gifted WMU team and allowed 94 points to the Broncos just two weeks ago. As far as chemistry goes, I find it interested that Rob Murphy still has no idea from day-to-day whether he's going to play Raven Lee.
Don't you think that'll cause more problems in chemistry?
Alex: No, the Lee coming off the bench thing isn't an uncertainty. That's just something outsiders can't wrap their heads around because of how prolific of a scorer he was as a redshirt freshman and sophomore. It's not something that bothers him as much as you might think it does, let alone the rest of the team. He still gets his minutes, he still gets a heavy responsibility, he's just on the floor during the opening tip through the first, what, four or five minutes of the game?
From what players and Murphy have told me, this month has been the most significant in the team's growth. They're more of a unit than they were in December. They're more focused on how each other than they were when they were pegged at the bottom of our power rankings (note: Miami doesn't count as a basketball team right now). Are they still capable of giving up a lead on the road again? Yes. Are they capable of going to Athens and play their best basketball? Also yes.
Kaleb: I agree Miami does not count as a basketball team. And I don't doubt that this team is growing together. At the same time, we're seeing an Ohio team that stopped a red-hot Buffalo squad, a team that defeated MAC West leaders Ball State in Indiana in a close late game that proved the Bobcats resilience, and of course a smackdown of Northern Illinois that made the vaunted Huskies defense look like putty.
At this point in time, I don't see this Eagle bunch holding the Bobcats below 80 in the Convo. If Ohio keeps EMU in the 70's it is likely to win this one comfortably
Alex: But I think anything is possible. Only Akron can say that they're the best team in the MAC, and that's even after knowing that NIU snapped a 5-game losing streak with their close win on Saturday. After them, it's really just that anybody can beat anybody else depending how the stars align. Then there's Miami.
Not sure if you hadn't read this factoid yet, but James Thompson is actually a real-life grown man [and good at basketball].
Kaleb: Miami isn't a team remember? And I happened to look through some statistics that seemed to point towards an ineptitude when it comes to EMU's defensive rebounding ability outside of Thompson. The Eagles are last in rebounding defense in the conference, second to last in rebounding margin, and is easily last in defensive rebound percentage. It's not that pretty when you look away from the real-life grown man
Alex: To date, sure, the rebounding has been underwhelming. But I think recent games show that they're trending in the right direction. Nazione's grabbed 30 boards in the last 3 games: his best string of 3 he's had all year. Same can be said about Tim Bond's 16. As a team, they've had three in a row with at least 40 boards, and what they haven't been able to get defensively, they've been able to make up for with the offensive rebounds for second-chance points.
What'll be the key though is for guard play to come through defensively, making sure Jaaron Simmons can't get easy looks to expedite the ball around. As EMU has been one of the top teams in the nation with steals, getting him to cause second half turnovers might be the one area worth watching out for.
Kaleb: With Jordan Dartis coming off his best game of the season and Antonio Campbell in his groove, I think Ohio would be fine even if Jaaron Simmons didn't have a great game. Regardless, we have no reason to expect anything poor from Simmons (aside from that nagging turnover bug). All it'll take from Ohio in this one is for the usual suspects to be productive and then for someone like Kenny Kaminski, Gavin Block, Mike Laster or someone else to get going.
Alex: I'm not saying it's a long shot, because it isn't, but EMU's definitely gotta be clicking like they did last week against CMU. Mangum certainly can't have an 0-for day from the floor, but if he can be part of the supporting cast to help out ~just enough, I like Eastern Michigan's chances.