Despite their record, Illinois coach Bruce Weber says Charles Ramsey's Eagles have talent. An injury to one of their top players was a big blow for them.
"They were favored to win their side of the MAC when they went into the season. Their point guard, who is considered one of the best players in the MAC, got hurt. They're playing a freshman point guard. They've played a tough schedule. You're talking Purdue, Georgia, at St. Johns, at Michigan. So they've kind of taken their lumps."
It may be easy for Illini fans to take this game lightly as EMU has lost to Detroit Mercy, a recent Illinois victim. But they have the type of team that has caused problems for the Illini in the recent past.
"Their two post guys Bowdry (Brandon, 6'-6", 229 sophomore) and Dobbins (Justin, 6'-8", 236 junior) are very athletic and tough to defend. At 6'-6", 6'-7", they are like guys who have given us trouble, forwards with the quickness to go out on the court. We had a little trouble early against Detroit with those guys.
"Bowdry's about 16 points and 7 rebounds. He's pretty impressive and shooting the ball well. And then the Dobbins kid is 12 and 5. We're gonna have to have a good awareness of those guys, and it'll be a nice test for our big guys. We hope we have an advantage at the guard spots because of their situation."
Bowdry and Dobbins give the Illini frontcourt players another opportunity to develop defensive technique. Weber realizes his players will face a number of top players like the EMU stars during the Big 10 campaign.
"We've talked about who's gonna guard Hummel (Robbie, Purdue) down the road, who's gonna guard Landry (Marcus, Wisconsin) and the better wing forwards in our league. All these things are good tests for us, to learn about ourself."
Eastern Michigan's other starters include Solomon Farris, a 6'-4", 190 pound sophomore who averages 8.1 points and 4.3 rebounds a game; Zane Gay, a 6'-5", 195 pound senior averaging 6.6 points and 4 rebounds; and freshman point guard L. J. Frazier. The 5'-10", 160 pound youngster is averaging 7.9 points, 4.0 assists, and 3.0 rebounds while being the team's best free throw shooter.
Top reserves include Branden Harrison, a 6'-8", 195 freshman; senior Tyler Jones, 6'-2", 210; sophomore Will Cooper, a 6'-6", 180 pounder; and Kyle Dodd, a 6'-1", 210 pound junior Canadian.
Weber is hoping his team can build a sizeable lead so he can give major minutes to second semester addition Alex Legion.
"I'd really like to get Alex involved a little more. I think down the road we're going to really need him. He gives us a scorer who can create and make some baskets, especially in key stretches of the games."
Assuming the Illini come ready to play, they are expected to win going away. But they need to take the game seriously, if for no other reason than to perfect techniques ahead of a difficult conference season.
"We need to continue what we have going, continue to improve," Weber states.