EKU men's basketball preview: D-I transfer DiNunno might be key to Colonels' season

mmaloney@herald-leader.comNovember 7, 2012 

  • Scouting report

    Coach: Jeff Neubauer (118-102 in seven seasons)

    Last season: 16-16, 7-9 Ohio Valley Conference (eighth)

    What to watch: Change is the operative word for the Colonels.

    No longer will zone defense, three-point shooting and a four-guard offense be the norm.

    All those staples will appear at times, but EKU plans to use an aggressive, man-to-man, half-court defense most often.

    An experienced trio with decent size — 6-foot-7 junior Jeff Johnson and 6-8 sophomores Deverin Muff and Eric Stutz — gives EKU an inside strength that has been lacking for several seasons. Don't be surprised to see two of the three together on the floor.

    "We can be much more dominant inside than we've been in past years," Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "We've really been a perimeter team in my previous seven seasons. We've shot the ball great from 'three' certain years. This year, we also have an element in the post that I don't think we've had before."

    The Colonels have several new players, includeing junior-college transfers Glenn Cosey, Tarius Johnson, Marcus Lewis and Corey Walden. All are perimeter players with defensive skills. Neubauer also expects his post men to get a boost from the wings, saying that "Tarius Johnson and Marcus Lewis will be our best rebounding 'three' men that we've had for a long time."

    Mike DiNunno, Johnson and 6-7 sophomore Timmy Knipp are three-point threats.

    With the Ohio Valley Conference split into East and West divisions for the first time, EKU is picked fifth in the East.

    The Colonels, who began last season with eight straight road games, will play their first seven at home this time. Then comes a six-game road swing that includes Illinois and West Virginia.

    Mark Maloney

  • Eastern Kentucky

    Mascot: Colonels Coach: Jeff Neubauer

    Conference: Ohio Valley

    Last season: 16-16 (7-9 OVC)

    ROSTER

    No.Name P. Ht. Yr. Hometown

    0 Glenn Cosey G 6-0 Jr. Flint, Mich.

    1 Willie Cruz G 6-3 Sr. Rochester, N.Y.

    2 Corey Walden G 6-2 So.Day. Beach, Fla.

    3 Mike DiNunno G5-11Sr. Chicago

    4Tommy MatthewsG 6-1 Fr. Clinton, Md.

    11Javien Babb-HarrisonG 6-4 Fr. Ajax, Ontario

    12 Marcus Lewis G 6-3 Jr.Streamwood, Ill.

    15Orlando WilliamsG 6-5 Jr. Cincinnati

    21 Robbie Stenzel G 6-5 So. Winchester

    22 Timmy Knipp G 6-7 So. Olive Hill

    23 Ryan Parsons G 6-2 Jr.Morgantown, W.Va.

    24 Jeff Johnson F 6-7 Jr. Champaign, Ill.

    33 Deverin Muff F 6-7 So.Strongsville, Ohio

    34 Tarius Johnson G 6-5 Jr. Jackson, Tenn.

    42 Eric Stutz F 6-8 So.Newburgh, Ind.

    SCHEDULE

    Nov. 9—CINCINNATI CHRISTIAN, 7:30; 16—KENNESAW ST., 6; 17—TOWSON, 6; 18—RADFORD, 5; 24—NORFOLK ST., 7; 28—DELAWARE ST., 7

    Dec. 1—W. CAROLINA, 7:30; 4—at N. Carolina Central, 7; 8—at Tenn.-Chattanooga, 7; 16—at Illinois, 6; 19—at N. Carolina A&T St., 7; 21—at High Point, 7; 30—at West Virginia, 4

    Jan. 3—E. ILLINOIS, 7; 5—siu-edwardsville, 7; 9—at Murray St., 8; 12—MOREHEAD ST., 7; 17—at Belmont, 8; 19—at Jacksonville St., 4:30; 24—tennessee ST., 7; 26—BELMONT, 7; 31—at Tenn.-Martin, 8

    Feb. 2—at SE Missouri St., 6:30; 5—CROWLEY'S RIDGE, 7; 9—at Morehead St., 7:30; 14—tennessee tech, 7; 16—JACKSONVILLE ST., 7; 20—AUSTIN PEAY, 7; 23—ESPN BracketBusters, tba; 28—at Tennessee Tech, 8:30

    Mar. 2—at Tennessee St., 8:30

RICHMOND — He sat a year, then learned on the fly last season.

Now, Mike DiNunno may be ready to take another step forward in leading the Eastern Kentucky Colonels.

A 5-foot-11 senior from Chicago, DiNunno began his collegiate career at Northern Illinois and started 50 of 60 games in which he appeared over two seasons.

He transferred to EKU, watched for a year, then contributed 9.5 points and 2.8 assists last season.

"I think Mike learned so much from last year," Coach Jeff Neubauer said. "And it's really been a case — not only in our program, but in college basketball — that your first year playing college basketball, whether you're a high school player, junior-college transfer or a Division I transfer like Mike DiNunno, your first year playing is a learning experience when you're in a new program. Then your second year, you really can excel.

"Maybe that's more in our program than in others — we do ask our guys to think more on the court than a lot of other programs. But we've seen Jaron Jones was the most improved player in the country last year. He went from two points to 17 points from his first year to his second year in our program. So I think Mike is going to pay dividends in that way as well."

DiNunno wound up at EKU by following Neubauer assistant Luke Strege. Strege, then at Quincy (Ill.), had tried to recruit DiNunno out of Von Steuben High School.

"When (Strege) landed the job here, he didn't take part in the recruiting process for me coming here as much because he had some loyalties to (Coach) Marty Bell at Quincy, and he didn't want to go behind Marty's back or anything," DiNunno said. "But I made the choice to come visit here. I liked everything that I saw with the offense and the group of guys that were here. It was late and it was a great fit."

DiNunno made 33 three-pointers and led EKU in assists last season.

"I'm a lot more comfortable this year," he said. "I was talking earlier with Coach about coming off my redshirt year, how I was getting back into the swing of things, it took me a little bit of time to get comfortable with the offense and just the in-game situations. So I'm definitely a lot more comfortable with the offense and in the game."

This pre-season, he and a junior-college transfer have Neubauer excited about defensive ability at the guards.

"We're pressuring the ball more than we ever have. We've got guards who are capable of doing that," Neubauer said. "Mike DiNunno is a very quick, tough-minded guard and he has done a great job to this point of pressuring the ball. Glenn Cosey is our other guard that really has done a good job of pressuring the ball. And the other thing that we're encouraging is we want our other players to 'deny' so we are taking away more passes than we ever have."

The next step comes Friday, when the Colonels open the season against Cincinnati Christian — the first of seven straight home games.

Mark Maloney: (859) 231-3229. Blog: markmaloney.bloginky.com

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