Men's Basketball

EKU looking to rebound to top of OVC

The Ohio Valley Conference coaches' pre-season poll tabbed Eastern Kentucky for fifth place.

No big deal, the Colonels say.

"I think we're being overlooked but coaches polls and media polls, they don't really mean nothing," said Papa Oppong, a 6-foot-4 senior guard. "They're just people's opinions."

Besides, Coach Jeff Neubauer points out, EKU was picked sixth in 2004-05 and eighth in 2006-07. The Colonels won the OVC Tournament both seasons, advancing to the NCAA Tournament.

"So I really put very little into those projections," Neubauer said. "We are very much aware of the teams that are picked above us. ... You start with a thesis as far as who should win the league and who should be the best team, and then you play the games."

EKU returns three starters: Justin Stommes, Josh Taylor and Joshua Jones.

Oppong and Dayvon Ellis were part-time starters last season, while Mike Lewis and Robin Mestdagh each played in more than 20 games.

Josh Daniel returns after a redshirt season, joined by freshman Willie Cruz and junior-college transfer Spencer Perrin.

Neubauer's challenge is to find the best combinations. In EKU's first scrimmage, he tried 21 lineups.

"It's my last year, so I really want to win the OVC championship and get a chance to play in the NCAA Tournament," Oppong said. "We know we have a really good team and a lot of the right pieces to become a championship team."

With no starter taller than 6-foot-7 and nobody listed as a center, the Colonels will be undersized against almost every team.

Rebounding "is probably the key to our season," Neubauer said. "We've got to play great possessions of defense. We've got to sit down in a stance and make people take tough shots, and we've done that (in the past). Now, can we finish those possessions and grab one rebound? That will be the key to our season."

Perrin, a 6-5, 185-pounder from Danville, is being counted on in the post. Not only because of his rebounding ability, but also because he has become a good passer.

The Colonels were the only team in the country to average more than 10 three-pointers a game and shoot better than 40 percent last season. Sharp cuts and accurate passes were the rule as EKU knocked down a conference-record 320 three-pointers.

"I think (three-pointers) will be very important," Stommes said, "but I also think that this year we're going to be looking to run in transition more, too. Hopefully that will lead to open baskets and layups. But the three-point shot is the mainstay of our offense, so that'll always be important."