NCAA countdown: No. 53 Eastern Kentucky
by Scott Gleeson, USA TODAY Sports
The first word: Eastern Kentucky enters the 2013-14 season as the most experienced team in the Ohio Valley Conference, bringing back four starters from last season’s record-setting team. The Colonels’ turnaround season — school-best 25 wins and the first postseason victory in 68 years — was the first step in coach Jeff Neubauer’s ultimate goal of bringing EKU to the NCAA tournament.
On paper, Eastern Kentucky will be the favorite because of its returning talent, but it’s so often underestimated how much a league such as the OVC can change based on the influx of highly rated junior college transfers and younger players stepping up. For instance, the Colonels were picked to finish second to last in the OVC last preseason but rattled off nine consecutive wins to start the season before finishing with the second-best overall record in the the league.
And even though four starters come back, EKU might have lost its best player in senior point guard Mike DiNunno (14.8 ppg, 4.3 apg) who facilitated much, if not all, of the team’s offense last season with the ball in his hands most of ever game. Still, Neubauer has reason for optimism as OVC all-newcomer guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden are completely capable of spearheading an offense.
2012-13 in review: 25-10 overall, 12-4 (second place in OVC), lost in CollegeInsider.com Tournament (CIT) to Evansville.
Tournament projection: No. 13 seed.
Path to the dance: Win the OVC tournament to take league’s automatic bid. Belmont last season had a high RPI and probably would have earned an at-large bid had it not beaten Murray State in the final. But it’s a rarity for the OVC to send two teams to the NCAAs; the last time it happened was 1987.
Conference outlook: EKU plays in the toughest side of the conference, the East Division, where Belmont probably will challenge despite losing its top two players in Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson. Also in that division, Morehead State is poised for an improved season under Sean Woods, and Tennessee State has the top player in the conference … [For more on College basketball countdown: No. 53 Eastern Kentucky, click here.]