East vs. West Rivalry Renews
One of the oldest rivalries in the state, Eastern Illinois and Western Illinois will go at it once more on Monday night for the vaunted “Old Railsplitter Axe” trophy. This will be the 161st meeting between the two men’s teams in what has become one of the more hotly contested rivalries in mid-major basketball. Tip-off from Western Hall is set for 7 PM.
WIU scuffled its way into the Finals Week Break, dropping close ties with UMKC and and Evansville, a theme that has become extremely troublesome this season. The Leathernecks led for portions of both of those games, including late, and have done so in their other 4 losses as well. They look a team struggling to find an ability to close out games. Rebounding and interior defense are a problem spot for the Leathernecks as well, as they rank in the bottom 100 in rebounds per game and are in KenPom’s bottom 20 for points allowed per 100 possessions.
One area where the Leathernecks have been particularly potent is on the offensive side of the ball, where Kobe Webster and Zion Young lead a unit currently tied for 25th in the country in scoring at 81 points per game. Webster is the team leader in scoring at just a tick under 17 points per game, while Young, Ben Pyle and CJ Duff compliment him with double digit scoring averages as well. Duff as well comes in shooting a scorching 48% from 3 this season as he has been the team’s leading marksman. All four of these players come in shooting at least 40% from three as well.
Eastern comes in with an almost exact opposite resumé, coming in winners of two straight and sitting at 6-4 overall, good for first place in the Ohio Valley. George Dixon comes in leading the team in scoring and rebounding with respective averages of roughly 15 and 10, while Mack Smith and Marvin Johnson come in with double figure scoring numbers as well. Dixon leads an efficient shooting attack as well, as he comes in shooting 60% from the field and 40% from 3, while as a team the Panthers shoot 47% and 36% respectively.
This should be an matchup filled with offensive firepower, with both teams coming in scoring in bunches and shooting the ball extremely well. Western’s ability to hold leads late and close things out may wind up being the determining factor for a team that could well be 7-1. Again, tip off for this one is set for 7 PM from Western Hall.