Mark Story: Unbeaten EKU out to show it's no 'fraud'

Herald-Leader Sports ColumnistDecember 13, 2012 

  • next game

    Eastern Kentucky at Illinois

    When: 6 p.m. Sunday

    TV: ESPNU

Jeff Neubauer is not on Twitter. He's proud of that. "Just have no interest in that at all," the Eastern Kentucky University men's basketball coach said of the social media site.

So when Neubauer's streaking Colonels beat the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, he missed college hoops statistics guru Ken Pomeroy's Twitter shoutout — Eastern Kentucky goes to 9-0. The media conspiracy against them continues. It's like they don't exist, @kenpomeroy tweeted.

"One of my assistants did tell me there's been a lot of debate about us on Twitter," Neubauer said Thursday. "I am aware of that."

On Sunday, EKU (9-0) will have a chance to claim all the media and Twitter attention it can handle. The Colonels will travel to Champaign, Ill., to face undefeated (11-0) and No. 10 Illinois.

"I'm excited," Neubauer said, "to see our kids go into a Big Ten environment against a ranked team and see how we compete."

By winning its first nine games, Eastern is off to its best start since the 1946-47 team began 11-0. The Colonels' current nine-game winning streak is the longest for EKU since the 1964-65 squad won 10 in a row.

In order, EKU has polished off Cincinnati Christian (an NAIA school), Kennesaw State (an RPI of 345 as of Thursday), Towson (131), Radford (293), Norfolk State (145), Delaware State (205), Western Carolina (218) and has road victories at North Carolina Central (175) and UT Chattanooga (234).

That has not exactly wowed the national hoops commentariat.

Earlier this month, evaluating what were then the 20 remaining undefeated teams in NCAA Division I men's hoops, Jeff Goodman of CBS-Sports.com proclaimed EKU "a fraud."

OK, the Colonels have not exactly beaten Duke, Indiana and Kansas, but 9-0 is still 9-0.

"I feel like our team has been tested," Neubauer said. "We've been in some difficult game situations."

James Bond doesn't get out of as many tight spots as EKU has already this season.

Eastern trailed Radford by 16 in the first half yet won by eight. EKU trailed Western Carolina by 10 with 6:38 left in the game but won on senior guard Mike DiNunno's layup with 2.3 seconds left. The Colonels survived Towson by two in overtime because sophomore Deverin Muff hit four foul shots in the final 26 seconds of the OT.

Two big changes have fueled EKU's roaring start. One is a switch in defensive philosophy. Neubauer, 127-102 in his eighth season, is a John Beilein disciple whose prior EKU teams were known primarily for sagging man-to-man defenses and a 1-3-1 zone.

This year's Colonels are employing an in-your-face, attacking man-to-man and forcing 19.3 turnovers a game.

"This is the most athletic, quickest group of perimeter players we've had in my eight years at Eastern Kentucky," Neubauer said. "As a staff, we made a personnel-based decision that we can get after people."

The other big change comes from the kind of "guy comes from out of nowhere" story that gives college basketball so much of its flavor. In August, Neubauer got word that a junior-college guard, Glenn Cosey, had become unexpectedly available. EKU signed the 6-foot junior having little idea it was adding a standout.

Yet Cosey has already been named OVC Newcomer of the Week three times. The Flint, Mich., product hit back-to-back three-pointers to break open a tight game in EKU's road win at North Carolina Central. He hit six treys, one off the school record, and scored 23 points in the road victory at Chattanooga.

For the season. Cosey is averaging 17.7 points and shooting 51.4 percent from the field and 46.6 percent from three-point range.

"We did not know (when EKU signed Cosey) he was as good as he's been," Neubauer said. "But we've also seen him get better in the time he's been here."

How competitive EKU is Sunday at Illinois may give us an indication of how likely the Colonels are to be a serious threat come March in a strong Ohio Valley Conference.

Eastern has not made the NCAA Tournament since 2007, Neubauer's second season. All time, the Colonels have never won a game in the Big Dance in seven trips.

"My team that went to the (NCAA) tournament, it started 8-3," Neubauer said. "In our league, I think that's important. When you get to the end, you need something (you've achieved) to fall back on, to draw on. That's why I think this 9-0 start is really important."

Might even be worth tweeting about.

Mark Story: (859) 231-3230. Email: mstory@herald-leader.com. Twitter: @markcstory. Blog: markstory.bloginky.com

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