Men's Basketball

EKU opens season Friday, aims to steal its way to greatness

Fans mobbed Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer during a pep rally for the Colonels before they played Kansas in the NCAA tournament in St. Louis in March. EKU lost 80-69. Neubauer is hoping to get back to the tournament this season.
Fans mobbed Eastern Kentucky head coach Jeff Neubauer during a pep rally for the Colonels before they played Kansas in the NCAA tournament in St. Louis in March. EKU lost 80-69. Neubauer is hoping to get back to the tournament this season. Herald-Leader

Sixth in the nation in steals was pretty good last season.

Coach Jeff Neubauer thinks his Eastern Kentucky team can do better this time around, though.

So changes have been made going into the season, which opens Friday night against Savannah State.

"It's really a pretty impressive feat seeing as how we only guarded in the half-court all year," Neubauer said of last season's 8.8 steals per game. "So one thing I learned from last season is you can't lead the country in steals only playing half the court. So we're going to play full-court defense now. And we're going to try to lead the country and catch VCU.

"It requires a lot of aggression. It requires depth, which I do think we have quite a bit of. And our guys have really grabbed on to it. They've done a great job with it. To this point, it may have detracted a little bit from our half-court defense, but as a coaching staff that is something we will solve."

The Colonels gave their full-court defense test runs during a four-game summer exhibition tour of Australia, where they averaged 12.5 steals and committed 37 fewer turnovers than their opponents.

Corey Walden, a 6-foot-2 senior guard, was Defensive Player of the Year in the Ohio Valley Conference last season, as well as MVP of the OVC Tournament.

"The adjustments are going to help us be more aggressive and cause more turnovers," Walden said. "That helps me a lot because I like to play fast and I like to be aggressive.

"We just have to be better defensively. We can't be the same defensive team we were last year. We have to be more aggressive. We have to be better if we're going to accomplish big things."

Make no mistake, there are big things planned by the Colonels.

EKU has won a school-record 49 games the past two seasons and made two national tournament appearances. There is a hunger for more.

"I want this team to be one of the greatest," said Eric Stutz, a 6-8 senior forward. "I want to have the most wins all-time as a four-year player. So I think we're all working — me and Timmy (Knipp) as four-year players — for that. And 'Waldo' is wanting to get the three-year win record, so I think we just want to be the greatest team in (EKU) history."

For all the talk about defense, Eastern still intends to take care of business on the offensive end. Last season EKU ranked fifth nationally in three-point baskets (9.3 per game) and 25th in scoring (78.7 points). The Colonels were the second-most efficient team in the country, behind Creighton.

"We didn't become a special offensive team until January," Neubauer said. "The offense will come, but we're certainly going to make sure that our defense is right."

Because, as the adage goes, defense wins championships.

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