GAME NOTES: The Bradley Braves begin their 2012-2013 season with an instate battle against the Eastern Illinois Panthers at Carver Arena.
The Panthers are back at square one with a brand new coach and no impact players returning from last season. Jay Spoonhour, son of the late Charlie Spoonhour, has only 10 games of head coaching experience at the Division I level under his belt as he served as UNLV's interim coach in 2004 and went 6-4 during that time. EIU is not expected to be a competitor right away under Spoonhour, but the new look program appears to be headed in the right direction.
The Braves have nowhere to go but up after last season's disappointing 7-25 finish. Geno Ford is hoping to implement the same level of success he achieved at Kent State from 2008-2011, as he compiled a 68-37 record as the Golden Flashes' head coach during that span. The Missouri Valley Conference program is 28-2 in its history of home openers at Carver Arena.
This will be the 11th meeting between these schools. Eastern Illinois evened the series with a 63-56 victory on Nov. 24, 2010 in the last time these two squared off.
EIU lost three double-digit scorers and the only Panthers back who played meaningful minutes are Josh Piper (4.3 ppg) and Austin Akers (1.3 ppg, 2.1 apg). Piper had a few impressive performances during his freshman season, including a 17-point outing, and could be the go-to-guy. Fellow sophomore forward Keenan Anderson plays well opposite Piper and is the best rebounder in the starting lineup. The senior guard tandem of Austin Akers and Taylor Jones brings experience to the backcourt. Akers is a true point guard with a pass first mentality. He can rack up assists in a hurry when his teammates are hitting shots. Akers' assist totals will benefit from freshman shooting guard Alex Austin's presence on the floor.
The Braves' hopes for a turnaround seem promising with most of their core from last season back. Dyricus Simms-Edwards is the team's active career scoring leader with 823 points in three seasons. The senior guard averaged 11.5 points and 2.9 assists per game last season. Walt Lemon Jr is an exceptional scorer playing the opposite guard position. Juco transfer Tyshon Pickett is set to make his debut as the team's starting small forward and senior center Will Egolf is back in the middle after missing all of last season with a torn ACL. Center Jordan Prosser will see plenty of action off the bench and will also play power forward when Bradley goes with its big lineup.
With history and the homecourt advantage on their side, the Braves should be able to get their season off to a desired start. The Panthers will have trouble competing in the rebounding battle and scoring inside against a much more physically imposing Bradley squad.