Scouting Eastern Illinois

Iowa State (9-2) will host the Eastern Illinois Panthers (6-6) Thursday night inside Hilton Coliseum (7 p.m., ESPN+). 

The Cyclones handled Florida A&M Sunday, with a 96-58 rout of the Rattlers. 

With two non-conference games remaining until Big 12 play begins, Coach T.J. Otzelberger and his team are looking to close out the first portion of the year with an unblemished record at home. The average margin of victory for Iowa State in Hilton Coliseum is currently at 42 points. 

About Eastern Illinois

The Panthers were picked to finish last this season in the Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) preseason poll.

Eastern Illinois is led by third-year head coach Marty Simmons. Although EIU boasts a 6-6 record, the program has only played two Power 5 opponents thus far. The team opened the season with an 80-52 loss at No. 25 Illinois and took to No. 5 Kansas to the brink in Allen Fieldhouse, before losing 71-63.

Simmons has had success in the state of Iowa in the past. A year ago to the day, he and the Panthers took down Iowa at Carver-Hawkeye Arena as 31.5-point underdogs. It was the largest point-spread upset in college basketball history. Iowa State is currently a 31.5-point favorite.

Four players from last year’s team returned for the 2023-2024 season. Both Caleb Donaldson and Sincere Malone started in the team’s win over Iowa, but have started no games for the Panthers this season. 

Dan Luers and Jermaine Hamlin came off the bench last year, as well, but each of them have been inserted into the starting lineup this year. Luers is is averaging 7.1 points per game on 34.3 percent shooting from the field. 

Tiger Booker and Nakyel Shelton each lead the team in scoring, averaging 11.5 points per game. 

Booker, a 5-foot-10 guard, is at his fifth school in his college career. He transferred from Tarleton State and has increased his scoring average from 6.6 points per game. 

Shelton, a junior, started his career in the NAIA ranks and then spent a year at South Suburban Community College. During his time there, he was fifth in the NJCAA in scoring with 23.6 points per game and tenth in the nation with 10.7 rebounds per game. 

Cyclone offense

There is no doubt that this year’s team can score the basketball. Iowa State has scored 85 or more points in eight games this season, which is the most in the Otzelberger era. The Cyclones had only surpassed 85 points once in the past two years in last year’s season opener against IUPUI.

All in all, the games in the 50s and 40s will no longer happen for Iowa State. That’s not to say that they won’t have an off-night offensively, but players like Milan Momcilovic and Keshon Gilbert are keeping the Cyclones out of the long-scoring droughts with their ability to get to the rim and make tough shots in one-on-one situations. 

Otzelberger defense

It is hard to replicate what Iowa State has done the last two seasons on the defensive end of the floor. 

Each of the last two years, the defense has been rated in the top 10 in the KenPom ratings including a top 5 appearance in Otzelberger’s first season. 

Despite the uptake in offensive production, the defense has been just as strong as in years past.

Through the first 11 games, the defense sits at No. 5 in the KenPom ratings. The Cyclones have held elite offensive teams like Iowa and Texas A&M to below their scoring average. 

Getting Hason Ward back from injury could elevate this team to a higher ceiling on the defensive end. Ward’s 6-foot-9 length can give the Cyclones a shot blocker at the rim that they missed in their two lone losses in Orlando.