Last season when the Eastern women’s basketball program scheduled Western Illinois and Southern Illinois in the Compass tournament, a tournament that pits Western, Southern, Eastern and Northern Illinois against each other, head coach Matt Bollant felt that the other programs were ahead of his.
One year later, however, Bollant is beginning to feel that his program may be closer to Western and Southern on a competition level than previously thought.
After watching his team already match their win total from all of last season and play close, competitive, games with teams that beat them last year, the feeling is now that beating Western and Southern may not be so farfetched.
“We have taken a step from last year,” Bollant said. “So, let’s see if we can compete with the other teams in the state.”
Eastern will test this hypothesis first against Western on Friday. Western is a three-win team like Eastern and has already played two OVC schools this season, losing to Southeast Missouri and beating Austin Peay. Western also shares a loss to Bradley with Eastern this season. Bradley beat the Leathernecks 82-68 and topped the Panthers 67-64.
Those games against schools from Eastern’s conference helped give Bollant more insight into how competitive his team can be against Western on Friday.
“I think we’ll be in the ballpark with them,” Bollant said. “Can we defend the perimeter? Can we keep them in front and limit their penetration and their threes?”
Western and Southern will give Eastern almost two entirely different looks. Both are three-win teams with two games played against OVC schools, Southern lost to Tennessee-Martin 95-94 and beat Southeast Missouri 60-40, but the styles of play from each school is totally different.
Western is better offensively, better at shooting and are more skilled with the ball, according to Bollant, while Southern is a team that relies on rebounding and defense to win games. It’s a situation Bollant described as a “pick your poison” scenario.
Southern, however, played the two OVC schools a little better than Western did, Bollant felt.
“(Southern’s) scores have been a little more impressive than Western, but again they’re different teams,” Bollant said. “(Southern) is just physically better, they rebound better, they defend better than Western.”
The opportunity for Eastern to make a big statement to the rest of the state is very present. Two wins in this tournament could put Eastern once again on the map as one of the better programs in the area.
“It certainly will help our recruiting, and I know when we scheduled this that at the time, I thought this was probably going to be tough for us year one (of the tournament), but hopefully in year two, three and four, down the road we’ll be more prepared to play against these teams,” Bollant said. “But I think we have taken a jump and we will find out if we are ready in year one.”
JJ Bullock can be reached at 581-2812 or email@example.com.
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