It is understandable that Hoosier fans are already thinking ahead to next Wednesday’s home tilt with #1 Duke. Assembly Hall will be electric, and after Duke’s rocky first half against Portland State, many are likely now believing that IU can pull off the upset. Hopefully Indiana’s players aren’t falling into that trap because before they see the Blue Devils they need to take care of business at home against a 4-0 Eastern Michigan team. Sure, EMU’s strength of schedule hasn’t been stellar and they haven’t left their home court yet, but they have played two common opponents, and there is enough data from those two games and various other factors that suggest that this one won’t be easy.
- Indiana State. Yes, we’re still talking about the Sycamores. Eastern Michigan is currently 147th in the KenPom rankings. Indiana State? 178th. This will be the best team the Hoosiers have played thus far except for Seton Hall. The eye test says that the Hoosiers have improved since the season opener. This game will help clarify what we think we are seeing.
- Common opponents. Eastern Michigan beat Arkansas by the same 17 point margin as Indiana, and it beat Howard by 1 more point than the Hoosiers.
- In the zone. The Eagles are specialists in zone defense. While the Hoosiers have certainly seen some zone thus far, they haven’t necessarily seen it from a team that lives and breathes zone. EMU coach Rob Murphy is a Jim Boeheim disciple, serving as an assistant at Syracuse for 8 years. Like Syracuse often does, the Eagles have the length to effectively implement their defense of choice.
- Rest and Preparation. Eastern Michigan hasn’t played since November 18, while IU just played on Wednesday. That’s given the Eagles several more days of rest and film study on the Hoosiers.
- Statement game. This is the biggest game on Eastern Michigan’s schedule all season and a win would significantly bolster any post season aspirations. For its players this would be a win that they would remember forever. Indiana’s biggest game of the season is its game immediately after Eastern Michigan.
- Foul Trouble. Eastern Michigan is shooting more than 25 free throws a game thus far, and most of those are coming from their front court. If De’Ron Davis gets in foul trouble the Hoosiers will have some serious matchup problems.
- Experience. The Eagles are long and are led by 4 upperclassmen —
- Tim Bond, a 6-7 senior guard.
- James Thompson IV, a 6-10 junior forward
- Elijah Minnie (pictured), a 6-9 junior forward
- Paul Jackson, a 6-2 junior guard
We don’t mean to sound too alarmist here. This is a game Indiana should win. But it’s clear that this is a dangerous game for the Hoosiers. If you don’t believe us, look at the point spread. Vegas only has the Hoosiers as an 8 point favorite. We suspect there haven’t been many times that IU was less than a 10 point favorite at home against a MAC school. Indiana would do well to not get off to another slow start and allow the Eagles to believe they have a shot in this one. Because they probably do.
[photo credit – Kenneth Bailey]