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: 8,626 students, with 6,969 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; Academy Award winning actor Burl Ives; 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); Captain Charles Hall, a Tuskegee Airman and the first Black US pilot to shoot down an enemy aircraft; UFC Hall of Famer Matt Hughes; Jimmy Liautaud, founder of Jimmy John’s; Olympic bronze medalist bobsledder Dan Steele; current New Orleans Saints head coach Sean Payton; actor Jerry Van Dyke, best known for his role as Luther on the TV show Coach; long time NFL head coach Mike Shanahan, very famous actor John Malkovich; current San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo; Jack Dadam, former CEO of Red Bull, and the guy who launched Red Bull in the United States and thus kind of launched the energy drink wave; and, of course, Burlington (WI) High School product and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo.
Last Season: 17-15, with a 9-9 mark in the Ohio Valley Conference
Final 2019-20 KenPom.com Ranking: #238
Final 2019-20 T-Rank Ranking: #224
This Season: 0-1 after a 77-67 opening night loss to #7 Wisconsin
Current 2020-21 KenPom.com Ranking: #160
Current 2020-21 T-Rank Ranking: #156
Points: Josiah Wallace, 22 points
Rebounds: George Dixon, 10 rebounds
Assists: Josiah Wallace and Marvin Johnson, 3 assists
Returning Stats Leaders
Points: Josiah Wallace, 15.6 points/game
Rebounds: George Dixon, 8.8 rebounds/game
Assists: Marvin Johnson, 2.9 assists/game
Bigs? There are three guys on the EIU roster north of 6’6”, and all three played roughly 10 minutes on Wednesday night. Sammy Friday IV started, played 11 minutes, hauled in four rebounds and scored two points. Barlow Alleruzzo IV got 10 minutes of run and hauled in two rebounds. Madani Diarra was out there for 11 minutes..... and that’s it. Three guys, 32 minutes, two points, six rebounds. Based on what you just read and the stats section up above it, it will not surprise you at all to find out that KenPom.com says that 6’5” George Dixon was the most frequent resident of the 5 spot on the floor for the Panthers. Obviously that can’t be true if Friday, Alleruzzo, and Diarra played 32 minutes out of 40, but you get the idea here. I would like to think this gives Marquette and their three freshman all taller than 6’6” tall along with 6’9” Theo John a notable advantage in this game, but we’ll have to wait to see what actually happens. You don’t haul in 10 rebounds against Wisconsin on accident, y’know?
Shooters? As a team, no, not based on what happened on Wednesday night. Eastern Illinois went 6-for-19 from the arc, and that’s just 31.6%. However, Jordan Skipper-Brown went 2-for-3, Junior Farquhar went 1-2, and Josiah Wallace made his only attempt. That’s all Small Sample Size Theater, though. Skipper-Brown took just two long range attempts all of last season and missed them both while Wallace connected on just 32.6% of his 95 attempts last season. Farquhar is making his return to Division 1 here after a year at South Plains College, but in 2018-19, he went just 8-for-41 (19.5%) while appearing in 30 games for Middle Tennessee.
This turns our attention to things that did not go well for Eastern Illinois in the shooting department against the Badgers. Mack Smith went 1-for-9, but that attempt number should not be surprising to you. He averaged seven long range attempts per game last year for EIU and connected on a very solid 34.8% of them. He will most likely attempt to shoot his way out of that season opening funk against Marquette, because that is obviously what the coaching staff wants him to do. Kashawn Charles connected on 45% of his threes last year, but the 6’1” New York native played just 15 minutes against Wisconsin and went a palatable 1-for-3. Charles shot 43% as a sophomore for the Panthers the year before, so I have absolutely no idea why the coaching staff isn’t funneling him the ball more often. Deang Deang is on the roster and is a Madison native and did shoot 36% from long range last year, but that was in 10 games before injury sidelined him and he has not recovered from that yet.
Head Coach: Jay Spoonhour, in his ninth 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. He has a record of 110-139 at Eastern Illinois, 116-143 in Division 1, and 215-171 overall.
What To Watch For: I am looking at KenPom’s history page for Eastern Illinois and trying to draw some long term trends from Jay Spoonhour’s teams. I’m not finding a lot, which is probably a compliment to Spoonhour, even though his teams aren’t actually regular contenders in the OVC. They’re usually pretty good at shooting three-pointers, but the rate at which they let it fly is variable from year to year. Generally speaking, they’re pretty good at forcing turnovers, and ranked #45 in the country in that department a year ago. Considering that they bring back a whole mess of dudes from last season, that seems like something that could be likely to continue. They didn’t do a good job of forcing Wisconsin to cough it up, but Wisconsin is also historically very good at not turning it over, too.
The Badgers had a bad shooting night from long range on Wednesday night, connecting on only 30.4%. However, EIU has ranked below #300 in the country in three-point shooting defense the past three seasons. That’s generally speaking not something that’s easy for a defense to really control. They figured out how to fix that last season, as they were #38 in the country in three-point attempt rate. You can’t make a lot of threes against them if they don’t let you shoot them in the first place. The Panthers were bad at three-point rate on defense the two seasons before that, though, so we’ll have to see if continuity (67% of minutes continuity from last year per KenPom in Game #1) on defense helps them keep that up again this year.
A potential problem for Marquette is EIU ranking in the top 110 in the country in block rate the past thee seasons, including a #63 ranking last season. Jordan Skipper-Brown (#119) and George Dixon (#387) were big contributors to that last season, but they got 1.2 blocks per game from JaQualis Matlock during his senior year last season. Still, if Marquette is going to try to do a lot of work inside thanks to Theo John, Dawson Garcia, and Justin Lewis’ sets of talents, they’re going to have to watch out for those blocks, even if the Panthers don’t have the height to make you think that they can get the rejections.
All-Time Series: Marquette leads, 2-0. Dwyane Wade hit his first 11 shots of the game and dumped 28 points, five rebounds, six assists, and four steals on the Panthers back in November 2002, and the Golden Eagles barely escaped with an 86-83 overtime win back in 2017 behind a 30/9/4/1/1 performance from [checks notes] Sam Hauser. Goddammit.