CHARLESTON — The Eastern Illinois University men's basketball team will see plenty of tough competition before Ohio Valley Conference competition rolls around at the end of December. On Wednesday, EIU released the 2017-18 men's basketball schedule and it features three guaranteed games against quality competition.
The Panthers start the season at the University of Nebraska on Saturday, Nov. 11, and then nine days later on Nov. 20, EIU travels to San Diego State University. On Nov. 27, EIU travels to Marquette University.
Mix in two games against Western Illinois, a home game against IUPUI and road games at Bradley University, the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay and the University of South Alabama, the Panthers have a competitive schedule to prepare them for OVC play, which starts on Dec. 28 at Murray State.
"The whole thing for us is preparing for the conference. We have enough guys back, they've been through it," EIU coach Jay Spoonhour said. "They at least know how difficult it will be. What we need to do is not get dejected because you can play well and still not get rewarded with a win. Just keep your wits about you and not get down if things don't go well."
EIU also has a home game against Fontbonne on Nov. 24 and another against Saint Francis on Dec. 21.
"We've got too many road games. When they went to 18 (OVC) games, you've got 11 non-league games," Spoonhour said. "We were looking at five at home and six on the road. We were able to get a game late where we were able to bring in some revenue and we took it. The guys like them, but there's a lot of hard road games."
Nebraska, San Diego State and Marquette are the three guaranteed games.
"We play three of them and that's going to free us up to do things in the department," Spoonhour said. "Guys like those games. They are fun if you win them, but Marquette is an NCAA tournament team and San Diego State is an NCAA tournament team. Teams that are able to buy you have good players."
Even EIU's home exhibition game on Nov. 6 against the University of Southern Indiana, an NCAA Division II school, is tougher than typical preseason games. USI went 25-5 overall last season and earned a trip to the D-II Midwest Regional tournament.
"I wanted to play a hard exhibition game," Spoonhour said. "If you play someone that you beat bad, you start thinking that you are pretty good. So I intentionally wanted to play a hard exhibition game."
Most of the mid-majors EIU faces are familiar opponents. EIU continues its rivalry with WIU with a home-and-home series again this season. The Panthers won both games last year against the Leathernecks. EIU fell to Bradley at home in an overtime game last season. The Panthers beat South Alabama last season at Lantz Arena. Two seasons ago, EIU lost to Green Bay at Lantz Arena. The last time EIU faced IUPUI was in the 2009-10 season.
"We will always keep that Western game, and anytime you get a Valley game it's good. And that was a good game last year against Bradley," Spoonhour said. "You start looking around at the teams in your area, all of the games are hard. All of the local teams in a 4-hour area are good. They are all Valley and Horizon teams and that's tough."
EIU plays four straight OVC road games to start the season before hosting Belmont on Jan. 11. The Panthers will host Tennessee State (Jan. 13), UT Martin (Jan. 18), Southeast Missouri State (Jan. 20), Jacksonville State (Feb. 1), Tennessee Tech (Feb. 3), Austin Peay (Feb. 10), Murray State (Feb. 22) and SIU Edwardsville (Feb. 24).
The OVC tournament is scheduled for Feb. 28 through March 3.