Men's Basketball

EKU men embrace role as OVC favorite

Coach Jeff Neubauer
Coach Jeff Neubauer

There are various ways to deal with the pressure of being a favorite.

At Eastern Kentucky University, the Colonels welcome being picked to win the East Division of the Ohio Valley Conference in men's basketball.

"We are trying to embrace the expectations that are part of our season right now," Coach Jeff Neubauer said during a media day news conference Wednesday. "I heard (senior guard) Glenn Cosey use the word 'happy' that we were picked to finish first, and I like that. That's what we should be.

"We should enjoy this moment where our guys have earned the opportunity to be picked to win the league. And the reason we've been picked to win the league is because we do have a lot of returners from a very good basketball team last year."

EKU returns four starters and 13 letter-winners from a team that won a school-record 25 games and won a national post-season tournament game for the first time in 68 years.

The Colonels last won an OVC regular-season title in 1979.

"I'm happy that we're picked No. 1 to win the conference," said Cosey, a pre-season All-American. "At the same time, it's just pre-season. It doesn't mean anything."

"We're honored," fellow All-OVC pre-season pick Corey Walden said. "But we still have to go out and play the games. And we're going to play like we're from behind, so we're still going to treat it like we're the underdogs and just get after it."

Added Marcus Lewis: "It makes us work harder, considering the fact that there are a lot of teams that are gunning for us to prove that they're better than us. And we still have got to live up to the hype of being ranked No. 1."

EKU drew 18 of 24 first-place votes in the OVC poll. Belmont, picked No. 2, netted the other six first-place votes. Morehead State is picked No. 3 in the East. Murray State and Southeast Missouri tied for pre-season favorite in the West.

Neubauer reaffirmed how he wants his team to embrace expectations.

"Every time one of the (national sports) publications came out in the fall, I went and purchased a copy and put it in the locker room for them to read," he said. "I wanted them to see that we were picked to win the league and that we had high expectations. It's not something we're going to run from at all."

More expectations

Coach Chrissy Roberts on the EKU women being picked third in the OVC East: "To be honest, I was actually surprised. You graduate six seniors, four starters — we graduated a lot of scoring, a lot of rebounding and a lot of experience. But we do have, I think, a talented young group who's going to be exciting. We were picked to finish third, but our mind-set is we want to finish on top. But, again, I was a little surprised."

Little bit of flux

With a rules crackdown on players bodying up on defense, adjustments are in order, according to Neubauer.

"I think everyone in the country right now is in a little bit of flux," he said. "What I mean by that is not that the rule changes are good or bad; it's not about that. It's just that every player has been playing a certain way, and now things are different. Coaching staffs have been coaching defense and offense a certain way, and now the game is different. And then, most importantly, referees have been officiating a certain way, and now it's a different basketball game.

"So everyone's in flux right now as we figure out exactly what's going to be called and what's not. We're all learning every single day in practice and in our scrimmages, trying to find out the best way to play and especially the best way to defend."