Champaign, IL – Of the remaining unbeaten teams left in Division I, two of them will face off on Sunday night when the Eastern Kentucky Colonels travel to Champaign to take on the 10th-ranked Illinois Fighting Illini.
After starting the campaign on a perfect seven-game homestand, EKU proved that it could win on the road as well in recent weeks with victories over North Carolina Central (63-57) and Chattanooga (63-52). The 9-0 start for the Colonels is their best in 66 years.
Illinois' 11-0 start is especially impressive considering it began the year unranked and it is led by a first-year head coach in John Groce. Groce is the first Illini coach in more than 100 years to begin his tenure with at least 11 straight wins. After topping nationally-ranked Gonzaga on the road on Dec. 8 (85-74), the Illini returned home last Tuesday and took care of business against Norfolk State, 64-54.
The Illini won the only previous matchup with EKU, 79-56, in December of 1985.
Eastern Kentucky has been on fire in the first month of the season, ranking 13th in the nation in field goal percentage (.495) in netting 75.3 ppg. It has also played well at the defensive end, holding opponents to 60.6 ppg while sporting the country's fourth-best turnover margin (plus-7.7). The Colonels were on point again in their latest win, making 48 percent of their field goal attempts while holding Chattanooga to more turnovers (21) than field goals (18). Glenn Cosey, a junior college All-American a year ago, connected on 6- of-12 from 3-point range en route to 23 points while also adding six rebounds, five assists and three steals. Cosey has been the biggest reason for EKU's success, contributing across the board with 17.7 ppg (on 51.4 percent shooting), 3.1 rpg, 3.4 apg, and 2.2 spg. Mike DiNunno has been an effective second option, netting 14.1 ppg while making 45.1 percent of his 3-point tries.
Illinois struggled a bit in its latest game against Norfolk State, shooting just 35 percent from the field for 64 points, which was a far cry from its season averages of 45.0 percent shooting and 77.9 ppg. Even though its night at the foul line was lackluster as well (16-of-27), it had 19 more free throw attempts than did its opponent, which proved to be the difference. Brandon Paul made just 3-of-10 from the field in the win, but all three field goals were from beyond the arc and he ended with team-highs in points (14), boards (eight) and steals (three). Paul has been one of the nation's elite guards in the early going this season, shooting 46.8 percent from the floor (including 41.3 percent from 3-point range) for 19.0 ppg, while also adding 4.7 rpg, 3.5 apg, 1.5 spg, and 0.8 bpg. D.J. Richardson (12.1 ppg) is potent from long range as well, making 29-of-81 3-point tries, and Tracy Abrams (11.4 ppg) has also proven to be a strong ball-handler (3.4 apg).