The Kansas Jayhawks will take on the South Region's 15-seed, the Eastern Kentucky Colonels on Friday at about 3:10 PM Central, and we have you covered here at RCT, because I spent way too much time watching and trying to learn about this 15-seed in order to bring you a full-fledged scouting report on them.
This is also where I announce that I will be in St. Louis covering all the games there on an actual media credential. It will be a challenge for me to try and not cheer on press row, but I think I can do it. Be sure you're following me on Twitter @TJFsports so I can bring you all of the latest updates from St. Louis live.
Now, let's get into the scouting report.
The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky are 24-9 overall, finishing tied for second in the Ohio Valley Conference at 11-5. EKU's coach is Jeff Neubauer. He has been the coach at EKU since 2005. Neubauer comes from the coaching tree of John Beilein, as he was an assistant for him at West Virginia from 2002-2005.
Okay, there are some weird nuggets here. Essentially, EKU is either amazing or awful at something. They are 129th overall in Kenpom, including the 53rd best offense and the 240th best defense.
Again, there are some weird parts here. Eastern Kentucky is 4th in the entire nation at eFG% at 57.0 (!!!). They take a ton of threes (11th most threes per shot attempt in the nation), shoot 38.6% on them (28th in the nation), barely take many twos, but when they do, they hit 56.2% on them (2nd in the nation). Primarily, they very rarely take mid-range jumpers, which makes for some pretty efficient basketball. They are pretty good at limiting turnovers with a 16.1% turnover rate (41st in the nation).
So, with those ridiculously good numbers, you might ask, why the hell are they just the 53rd best offense? One huge, glaring reason: EKU never, ever, ever, gets offensive rebounds. Their offensive rebound rate is 23.0%, which is 346th in the nation (out of 351 eligible teams). Over the course of a game with their about average tempo, this equates to just about 7 offensive boards a game. I'll get more into the details of their personnel later, but EKU plays one big that is about 6'8, and pairs him with four guys 6'5 and under that can all drive and shoot.
The big thing to focus on, and something that Bill Self found out shortly after the selection show, is the three point shooting. They have made 303 three pointers on the season, which is the third most in the entire nation. I'll talk about these two more specifically later, but their starting point guard and shooting guard are both lethal on offense.
In terms of the plays that EKU actually runs on offense, it's a bit varied. All of it includes a lot of motion and a lot of dribbling and cutting with their four guards. Their big is usually used as a high ball screener for their point guards, and doesn't get the ball a ton of the time, but they'll give it to him if you completely forget about him as he cuts to the basket. For this reason, it'll be important for Tarik and Jamari (whoever is in at the 5 at the moment) to hedge quickly and to quickly get back to their man before he can cut to the rim. If not, then KU's guards will constantly be needing to fight through screens to not allow their perimeter open looks from three. If they get space, especially their point guard, they WILL bury it.
EKU also actually loves to run a sort of variation of the weave play that KU so frequently runs. The big problem here is that they can run it with their 6'5 power forward as well, allowing for even more constant moving and much better spacing than the KU version of the play. This will be especially tricky with Perry Ellis, as he will be constantly on the move and will need to be able to stay in front of his man. KU sometimes just has Wiggins up top when they run this play and, if he can, they switch him onto the ball handler every handoff. Which is awesome, and KU might need to do that against this team.
They rarely will operate in the post. Only really if their one big gets a mismatch. If they ever do, KU needs to constantly be aware of backdoor cuts. In the few games I watched of EKU, they frequently cut whenever a big catches the ball, and he is quite good at finding them if KU falls asleep. This is something that has particularly plagued Wayne Selden on defense all year, so I would especially watch for that. Selden cannot afford to ball-watch during this game. If he does, he will get burned.
I mentioned the complete lack of offensive rebounding, and this shouldn't be a huge area of emphasis, but it will be worrisome if this team somehow does well on the boards against KU. If you see them starting to get a few offensive rebounds, look out, because they are more than capable in many other areas to keep up with a superior team. KU should be able to dominate the glass, but they should not take it for granted. However, most of the time EKU does not even attempt to go for offensive rebounds, even sometimes when they are shooting free throws.
I wasn't kidding. Sometimes they're fine with just giving it to the other team.
Anyway. The final key strength they have as a team is great free throw shooting. EKU shoots 75.4% on free throws, and are pretty good at getting a good portion of their points from there as well. This primarily is due to starting four guards, but they also have a big that is decent at knocking them down from the line.
I mentioned there are some weird numbers about this team, right? This applies to the defense as well. Like I said before, they are 240th in adjusted defensive efficiency on Kenpom. Yet, they still do a few things that can scare you on that end. Their defensive fingerprint, as identified by Kenpom, is mostly man-to-man defense. Don't expect them to play much zone unless it really is in their gameplan against Kansas specifically.
Primarily, their biggest defensive strength is forcing turnovers. They are 4th in the nation in forced turnover rate at 24.2%, and 11th in steal rate at 11.9%.
Now, for the weaknesses, and there are a few big ones. Primarily, they surrender an eFG% of 55.5, which is 341st in the nation. That's ... not good. Best I can tell, this is primarily due to gambling a lot on steals and a lack of much rim protection at all. At 5.7%, EKU's block rate is ranked 322nd in the nation. This would lead us to expect that there's little reason Andrew Wiggins shouldn't continue to have more success at getting to the rim off the dribble.
Basically, if KU can somehow limit turnovers against EKU, they should destroy this team on this end. Ken Pomeroy on 610 Sports in Kansas City this week said, "When they weren't forcing turnovers against OVC teams, the teams were basically putting on a dunk contest."
A few more random notes fall under this category from a general team overview.
- They are very experienced with a lot of juniors and seniors, having an average experience of 2.52 years (9th in the nation).
- They are short. Covered this before, but their effective height is 296th in the nation.
- They don't use their bench very much. Just 24.9% of their minutes are by bench players.
- Tempo is about average to below average. Despite shooting a ton of threes, they don't run and gun a lot. They work for their shots, shoot the best three or layup they can find.
PLAYER-SPECIFIC SCOUTING REPORTS
GLENN COSEY, 6'0 PG, #0
This is the biggest threat to watch out for. Glenn Cosey is a 6'0 senior point guard that scores 20.8 points per 40 minutes on a 56.2 eFG%. He takes - and buries - several three pointers, and he can do so from off the dribble and from nearly anywhere past halfcourt. He takes about 8 threes a game and he converts on 42.5% of them. Believe me when I say that these are not all set, easy jumpers. This guy can shoot better than just about anyone KU has faced.
This was the first shot that Eastern Kentucky took in the first game I watched of them. Yes, he made it.
Another one, from the same game, that he made. KU will not be able to leave this guy for an instant. They will not be able to go under screens on him at all. If they do, it's three points.
Cosey does have a pretty good assist to turnover ratio, for whatever that's worth. He averages 4.7 assists and 2.1 turnovers per 40 minutes. He is usually the initiator of their plays, whether it be a high pick and roll up top or the beginning of their version of the weave play.
He is an excellent ballhandler and can easily beat defenders off the dribble, but he's not a great finisher at the rim.
Overall, I have a feeling that Frank Mason will be needed a lot in this game to guard him. Mason is about a similar size to him and he is much better at dealing with this type of player and fighting through screens than Naadir Tharpe is. Still, odds are that Cosey will have between 18 to 25 points, given his effectiveness from deep. If he has a bad shooting night, EKU has virtually no shot at beating Kansas.
Cosey was First Team All-OVC.
COREY WALDEN, 6'2 SG, #2
Corey Walden is a 6'2 junior combo guard that plays the two for EKU. This is another guy that I was incredibly impressed with in the games I watched. Walden is clearly the second best player on Eastern Kentucky, and there is a big drop off after him. On defense, Walden was the OVC Defensive Player of the Year. But, we all know how misleading those awards can be. In this case, he got the award for his steals. Walden has a steal rate of 4.0%, which is good for 35th in the nation. He constantly looks to disrupt passing lanes and strip ball handlers. His more natural matchup on that end would be Wayne Selden, but don't be surprised if they try to put him on Andrew Wiggins.
Walden will take the three as well, but not nearly as much as Cosey, and not at the same effectiveness. He takes about 3.6 of them a game and hits around 33% of them. He has been hot lately, but KU should still probably be content with possessions that end in a Walden three.
A big problem that Walden poses is he is an excellent ball handler and driver at the two-guard position, and he is pretty great at finishing around the basket once he gets there.
ERIC STUTZ, 6'8 C, #42
Oh god, the hair. It's beautiful. Crap, Kansas is doomed.
In all seriousness, Stutz is about 6'8 and is their starting center that plays a majority of the minutes. He's not great, but he does have a few pretty intriguing traits about him, other than his hair.
Stutz is almost always setting a screen up top for the ball handler. If he isn't, he's usually standing along the baseline, somewhat behind the basket to allow for optimal spacing and to sneak in there when there's an opportunity. He's not a huge threat off the pick and roll, but if his man overplays the screen or forgets about him, he is very good at sneakily cutting to the basket, catching, and either finishing or dumping it off to another cutter.
That brings me to his next positive trait. This guy is a wonderful passer for a big guy. Whenever he gets the ball, Kansas needs to be aware of backdoor cuts. Stutz averages about 3 assists per 40 minutes, despite not having the ball very much at all. EKU knows he's a good passer, and one of the four guards is usually ready to make a cut as soon as he gets the ball.
He can take a few dribbles to get around a big if he sees an opportunity, but overall he's not a very big threat to do so. He has very good shot selection, and he actually has a 65.6 eFG%, but only taking about 5 shots a game. The good news is he's the only one of their starting five that won't shoot many jumpers. He doesn't shoot threes and only shoots 1 long two a game, making only 30% of them.
Defensively, there's not much here at all. He's pretty good at not fouling when he doesn't want to, but he primarily just goes straight up around the basket. This is great if you're a huge center, not so important if you're realistically not much taller than 6'7. Stutz gets just about one block per 40 minutes, and he is EKU's leading rebounder at 4.7 a game. No, seriously. That's their leading rebounder.
Stutz is a pretty solid player, but for the system and personnel EKU is running with, they need someone that will get offensive rebounds. Stutz just isn't that guy. I also might say that this is someone that Joel Embiid would absolutely devour for lunch. Unfortunately, Kansas will almost certainly be without Embiid for this game. Still, Tarik Black should be much stronger than him inside.
But honestly, if Stutz isn't on the All-Hair Team, if that's still a thing, there should be riots in the streets of Kentucky.
TARIUS JOHNSON, 6'5 F, #34
In my notes, I simply referred to him as "bald guy," but 6'5 forward Tarius Johnson will be very important in this game. He really isn't much of a forward, but at 6'5, he effectively is their starting power forward. This is the guy that likely will be guarding Perry Ellis, as well as the guy that Ellis is most likely to guard.
This guy is pretty skinny, in addition to being really short for a four. I don't see any reason that Ellis shouldn't obliterate him in a one-on-one post matchup. I would be pretty surprised if EKU didn't immediately double Ellis in the post every time he gets it. This means Ellis needs to do a good job of finding the open man out of the post. If he does this, KU should be just fine on that end.
Offensively, Johnson can stretch the floor, shooting 2.5 threes a game and hitting 42.2% of them. EKU will undoubtedly look to get him going more than that to expose the matchup problem of KU playing two bigs.
If KU is unable to take advantage of this mismatch, or EKU gets the better of it on the other end, I wouldn't be surprised if Self went with some of the small-ball lineup that features Wiggins at the four.
- Orlando Williams #15 is their really only productive bench player. They give him the green light to look for his offense, and honestly he is better than Marcus Lewis, their starting SF.
- Marcus Lewis #12 starts at the SF position, isn't a fantastic shooter, but is a good finisher. I also heard that he will be in the dunk contest at the Final Four. I imagine him doing things like this might be why. This is the one guy in their starting five that isn't a good free throw shooter at 57.3%.
- Deverin Muff is their third big off the bench that rarely plays. His name is Muff. He should be on the All-Name Team. Muff averages 10.1 fouls per 40 minutes because of course he does. Muff. #Muff
- Their other three bench players, Knipp, J.Johnson, and McGlone, aren't that good, but they are somewhat capable of shooting from deep if left open.
- The Vegas line is KU -15.0. The over/under is at 148.5.
- Kenpom has Kansas at an 88% chance of defeating Eastern Kentucky, predicting a final score of 84-70. This does not really factor Embiid's injury.
- Nate Silver's FiveThirtyEight predicts KU has a 92% chance of advancing past EKU.
- MY TAKE: While EKU certainly has a few traits that make you concerned about the upset potential, such as the ridiculous shooting and the high forced turnover rate, I would be surprised if this is a close game. EKU simply should not be able to hang with KU on the glass, and KU should be able to get anything it wants to down low. If EKU is somehow able to grab a few rebounds and KU can't take advantage of the mismatches, then it's a different discussion. Those would be the two things to keep an eye on, as well as, of course, if KU has an incredibly unlucky shooting night. KU 87, EKU 69