After another disappointing loss (79-71), albeit to conference leader Jacksonville State, FGCU (12-8, 2-4) welcomes Eastern Kentucky (10-10, 2-4) to Alico Arena for the 1st time. Below we will break down the matchup.
Eastern Kentucky joined the ASUN with high expectations. So far their 2021-22 season has been a mixed bag. At this point they are 10-10 and 2-4 in conference. The Colonels started conference play 0-4 with losses to Central Arkansas, Bellarmine, North Alabama, and Jacksonville State. Since then, EKU has won 2 straight versus Lipscomb and UNF. As a team, the are made up of 5 freshmen, 3 sophomores, 5 juniors, and 3 seniors. Statistically, the Colonels have been led by 6’6″ / 214 lb freshman, Devontae Blanton. The impressive wing has played in 20 games, making 15 starts. Additionally, he leads EKU with 11 points and 7 rebounds per game. 6’1″ junior guard Robb Cooper is the only player to start all 20 of their games. In doing so, he is averaging 10 points and 5 rebounds per game, while shooting about 40% from 3. The EKU big-man to keep in mind is the 6’9″ / 221 lb forward, Jannson Williams. The senior transfer from Marshall has made a big impact for the Colonels. He has started 15 games, making 12 starts, and is averaging 11 points, 6 rebounds, and nearly 2 blocks per game while being a respectable threat when shooting from the perimeter (35%). Besides these three, EKU has several other solid contributors like senior guard Braxton Beverly (10 pts / 4 ast), sophomore forward Michael Moreno (9 pts / 5 reb), junior guard Jomaru Brown (9 pts), and another impressive (redshirt) freshman guard, Curt Lewis (9 pts / 5 reb). That being said, the Colonels have 8 players who average 7+ points per game and have also played in 15+ games. This team’s scoring attack is extremely balanced, meaning it’s difficult to really zone in on key players to try and stop. If you gameplan heavily for a few guys, another few guys have the ability to step up. EKU is coached by A.W Hamilton, who is in his 4th season at the helm. Coach Hamilton has brought a winning culture to the Colonels since taking over in 2018.
As mentioned above, the Eagles slipped to 12-8 and 2-4 in conference. While there are still 10 conference games left, the time is fast approaching when the team really needs to go on a run and string together some wins. If you follow the team at all, you know Tavian Dunn-Martin (TDM) has been the main offensive threat for the team. TDM is averaging 20 points, 6 assists, and 3 rebounds per game. Kevin Samuel has been a double-double machine with 11 points, 10 rebounds, and 3 blocks per game. Cyrus Largie has been quieter than usual lately but is still averaging 11 points and 5 rebounds. In a new role as the 2nd, 3rd, or 4th option on the team, Caleb Catto has still managed to put up 9 points, 4 rebounds, and 2 assists per game. Just a couple of games ago, he had a vintage Catto performance, shooting 5-6 from deep and scoring 23 points against Liberty.
At this point, with a 2-4 conference record, a lot of the confidence surrounding the team has dissipated. For the sake of context and perspective, let’s dive deeper into their rocky ASUN start. First off, there’s no excuse for the loss to JU, though the Dolphins have shown they might be a better team than anticipated. I would say the same thing about the Kennesaw State loss, but it’s hard to say “they should have won” against a team in which they lost to by 24 points. Additionally, it’s possible that the Owls are no longer the conference punching bag they have been in the past. So far they are 4-1 in conference with their only loss being by 4 points to Lipscomb. Still, this game should have at least been close and winnable. I’ve said for a while now that one of the Eagles’ biggest issues has been “playing down” to certain opponents. On the other hand, they have had a lot of close/tough showings against strong opponents. This is most recently evident in 3 and 8 point losses to Liberty and Jacksonville State (the top ASUN teams). Additionally FGCU has struggled at times being too top heavy. By this, I mean that the team sort of goes as far as TDM takes them. Just using conference play as a metric, the Eagles are 1-5 when TDM scores less than 30 and 1-0 when he scores 30+. Obviously it’s not realistic for TDM to score 30 per game. More plausibly, the Eagles are 1-3 when TDM scores 17 or less and, therefore, 1-1 when he scores more. With guys like Samuel, Catto, Largie, and others, this should not have to be the case. Either these other guys have to start getting more opportunities or they have to start cashing in once they get them. Luis Rolón has started to come back to form over the last few games. He has had an ongoing task of playing and working himself back into shape after offseason surgery. This couldn’t come at a better time for the Eagles as Rolón’s presence allows TDM to get a breather, while also allowing him to play off-ball. The offense can flow very efficiently through Rolón as he has a great ability to get guys involved, making it harder for opponents to key in on a guy like TDM.
Versus Eastern Kentucky, FGCU needs to get back in the win column. Rough stretch or not, a strong veteran team finds ways to get wins and ride out the storm, rather than let the losses pile up. The Eagles are 9-2 at home and that bodes well for them in this one. EKU is talented and deep but FGCU has the talent and tools to get a W tonight. Go Eagles.
As stated in our last preview, stay tuned for an upcoming announcement regarding an FGCU Men’s Hoops watch party at a venue near campus. To stay up to date on all of our news and content related to FGCU Hoops, follow us on Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, YouTube, etc.. Listen to the podcast on all major music platforms. Wings up!