image from pittsburghpanthers.com
I think most people will look at that score and get a pained look on their face. They’ll say: ‘Eastern Kentucky? We only beat them by 11? We must suck.’ Those people don’t know their team, and they don’t know Eastern Kentucky basketball. First of all, EKU is no slouch. They made the tourney two years ago, and they’ve been there twice in the past decade. They may not world-beaters, but they ARE the exact type of opponent Pitt loves: top of their mid-major conference. Add on to this that they play a style that hits Pitt right where it’s weakest, and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. Pitt may have only won by 11, but they showed a lot of improvement in some areas that they’ve shown weakness in during the past few games. I’ll take that. Remember: this is a very very young team that is still learning. I like seeing these steps forward more than I like seeing a 30 point win.
So how exactly does EKU play that is such a challenge for Pitt? Well, first of all, they shoot a ton of 3’s. A. Ton. Everyone on the roster can hit from well beyond the 3 point line. They’re not a dumb team, however. If the interior is open, they know to go for the easy deuce. Defensively, they play mostly a 1-3-1 zone which gave us fits against Woffard. We handled both challenges beautifully. Offensively, we did a great job attacking the zone. We used cross-court passing to open up a lot of 3’s in the first half, which is exactly what the defense was giving us. In the second half the Colonels went to more of a man defense, and we pounded it inside where we had a size advantage. Going after the weak spot in the defense is a sign of maturity. I was happy to see it. Defensively, we still played a matchup zone, but we were a lot tighter on the ball. Consequently, we held them to a 37.5% shooting night from beyond the arc. That’s high, but not for EKU. Also, a lot of those shots were highly challenged. That’s what I like to see. We did kind of back off in the second half, though (which is where they hit a lot of their outside shots). I’m not sure why. I think because they got some easy layups to start the game, and we wanted to start taking that away. Regardless, it was nice to see our perimeter defense look sharp for once. I’d like to see that more against teams who won’t put up as many outside shots, but are still a threat from beyond the arc.
So the questions is obvious. If we played so well against this style team, why did we only win by 11? Well, we started out building a 15 point lead at halftime because of their cold shooting. They warmed up in the second half and kept up with us. That’s the main thing, and it will happen. A lot of that was on our defense backing off, too (as I previously said). Also, we had 13 turnovers. That’s not so many, but at the pace this game was being played at, that’s huge. The general slow pace of the game also is a reason we didn’t blow them out. It’s hard to beat someone by 30 when there’s only 60-70 possessions. We also weren’t spectacular from the free throw line, and against a team with 23 fouls, that’s not good. So, there are some areas to work on, but as I said before, I saw improvement today. At this point, that’s all I’m looking for with this team. Next up is a trip to Kansas City for the CBE Classic. Wichita State, Texas and Iowa all await. My prediction is that we leave Kansas City 1-1, and the loss comes against the Shockers in the opening game. You heard it here first. However, I really hope I’m wrong.