Name: Eastern Illinois University
Location: Charleston, Illinois
That’s not actually helpful: Yeah, it’s not, is it? If you’re driving south from Milwaukee to Memphis on I-57, you’ll pass an exit for Illinois Highway 16. Now, normally you wouldn’t take the exit here unless you wanted to go visit the childhood home of Deadspin founder Will Leitch. In this case, though, instead of heading west to Mattoon, you head east for eight miles, and there you are at EIU.
Hey, which one of the four Directional Illinois schools was first? Southern Illinois University is the big winner there, with a founding date in 1869. However, all four schools, along with Illinois State University, were founded with the idea of training the teachers of the state of Illinois in their particular regions.
Enrollment: 7,030 students, with 5,568 of the undergraduate variety.
Most Notable Part of Campus: Much like the carillon tower of Marquette Hall is in Marquette’s official logo, Old Main is in EIU’s official logo. From the opening of the school in 1895 through 1909, the building now formally named the Livingston C. Lord Administration Building was the entirety of EIU’s campus. Every office and classroom, the library, the auditorium, the gym, literally everything was contained within its medieval castle stylized walls. It has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1981.
Why “Panthers?” In 1930, the school newspaper essentially got tired of not having a nickname to refer to the sports teams on campus, and started a contest to create an official nickname. They partnered up with Fox Lincoln Theatre in town and offered a prize of $5 worth of tickets (remember, this is 1930) to the person that submitted the winning nickname. Charles “Pop” Lantz, the football coach and athletic director, Gene Kintz, the captain of the football team, and Irvin Singler, the sports editor for the paper, were the committee to pick the nickname, and they landed on Panthers. Three people had to split the $5 prize, which sounds awful, but again, in 1930, $1.67 was probably an awful lot of movie tickets. The official “guy in a Panther costume” mascot is named Billy, but he has only been around since 2008.
Notable Alumni: Tony Award winning and Academy Award nominated actress Joan Allen; former Illinois governor Jim Edgar; Vermont Supreme Court Justice Marilyn Skoglund, who is known for having never attended law school; Ryan Pace, general manager of the Chicago Bears (this may not be a compliment to the school at this juncture); UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes; Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Dan Steele; current New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton, long time NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo, and, of course, Burlington (WI) High School product and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Last Season: 14-15, with a 6-10 record in the Ohio Valley Conference. They did not qualify for the OVC tournament.
Final 2016-17 KenPom Ranking: #220
This Season: 2-3, although that includes a 96-44 victory over Division III Fontbonne on Friday. Their lone D1 win was at home against IUPUI, and the losses were to Nebraska, Western Illinois, and San Diego State, all on the road. Only the SDSU game was a blowout, as EIU lost to Nebraska by four and to WIU by two.
Current KenPom Ranking: #222. That’s remarkably consistent.
Current Stats Leaders
Points: Jajuan Starks, 14.8 ppg
Rebounds: Jajuan Starks, 6.0 rpg
Assists: Terrell Lewis, 4.2 apg
Big Man? Not really. Muusa Dama and Aboubacar Diallo are the two tallest guys on the team at 6’9”, but both men average less than 15 minutes per game. Lucas Jones is the next tallest at 6’8”, but he’s barely cracking 10 minutes per outing and that’s only because he played 22 minutes against Fontbonne.
Shooters? Kind of. Terrell Lewis is knocking down more than 57% of his three-point attempts in four Division 1 games, but that’s kind of being carried by his 7-for-9 outing against IUPUI. He does average more than five attempts per game against Division 1 foes, so someone is going to have to stay on the 5’7” senior. Jajuan Starks is shooting 46% against Division 1 opponents, but he’s kind of an all-or-nothing shooter. The 6’4” junior transfer from Wabash Valley College went a combined 6-for-10 against Western Illinois and San Diego State, but oh-fer-5 against everyone else.
Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour, in his sixth season. EIU is his first full time Division 1 head coaching gig, although he did take over at UNLV for his father, Charlie Spoonhour, whom older Marquette fans may remember from Saint Louis in the 1990s, for 10 games at the end of the 2003-04 season. The younger Spoonhour won a NJCAA national championship in his only season at Wabash Valley, finishing with a record of 36-1 in 2000-01. He also coached for three seasons at Moberly at the NJCAA level before taking the EIU job, and has been an assistant at Saint Louis, Valparaiso, UNLV, Missouri, and UT San Antonio. Spoonhour has a head coaching record of 69-90 at Eastern Illinois and 75-94 at the Division 1 level. Overall, he has a record of 174-122 as a head coach.
All Time Series: Marquette is 1-0 all time against Eastern Illinois. The only meeting came back in November of 2002, when Dwyane Wade hit his first 11 shots of the game and dumped 28 points, five rebounds, six assists, and four steals on the Panthers.