Another Christmas has come and gone, which means it’s back to basketball. And while every team filled out their wish list to Santa, many found the gifts under their tree weren’t exactly what they had hoped for…
The Governors haven’t played a single game all year without a player getting injured, or already out with an injury. With Anthony Campbell out for the season, the Governors can’t afford many more injuries if they’re going to compete for the OVC crown as the preseason favorites.
What they got: A new start.
Partially due to injuries, partially due to horrendous schedule, Austin Peay did not have good start to the season. But Austin Peay’s goal has always been to win the OVC, and make the NCAA tournament, and nothing that’s happened so far has any impact on that. The Governors have a tough start to conference play making the full Death Valley road swing (to Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State) and hosting currently undefeated Murray State. But just like the rest of the conference, they start play 0-0, giving them just as much of a chance to win as anyone.
Eastern Illinois has had an up and down start to the season, and outside of Jeremy Granger‘s scoring and Alfonzo McKinnie on the glass, up and down play from the entire bench. That’s why 9 players average 10+ minutes a game, and 11 players have played in 10 games of more.
What they got: Murray State at home.
The Panthers beat the Racers in Murray last season, ending a 20+ game home winning streak by the Racers. This year, they’ll try to knock off the undefeated Racers. But Murray has won 9 of the last 10 against the Panthers, and are one of the top-25 teams in the nation according to both polls. But as far as gifts go, the Panthers get a big opportunity, but also a big challenge.
The Colonels like to shoot the deep ball. It’s been a part of Jeff Neubauer‘s offense since he became the head coach in Richmond. It’s built in to his offense. The Colonels have ranked near the top of the nation in 3-point shots attempted in the past 4 seasons. But this year, they’re simply not making them. The Colonels are just 32.5% from 3-point range, 220th in the nation heading into Christmas Day. Mike DiNunno, who leads the team in attempted 3’s, is hitting just 24.6%. In his last season at Northern Illinois, he hit 29%. In his freshman year, he hit 33%.
What they got: An early Christmas gift from Jaron Jones.
Jones played 29 games last season, but only averaged 10 minutes, and just over 2 points a contest. This year, the senior guard is averaging over 12 points a game, and giving Neubauer almost 30 minutes a game. Outside of the team’s first two contests, Jones has scored in double digits in every game.
The Gamecocks are ranked 323rd in offensive efficiency (out of 345 teams) this season. They’re barely shooting over 40% from the field, and are under 30% from behind the arc. Stephen Hall, who most expected to be the teams’ leader this season as the only senior on the squad and the only player with more 1 year experience in Jacksonville, has faded somewhat, shooting just 38% from the field compared to his 49% shooting last season.
What they got: Great young talent.
Hall may not be producing, but sophomore Brian Williams and junior Tarvin Gaines have been pleasant surprises for the young Gamecocks. Gaines is in his first season with the Gamecocks, averaging 12 points a game. So is Williams, who has tripled his point production and doubled his minutes from last season. With those two returning (as well as everyone not named Hall) Gamecocks fans can look to a bright future, even if the present is a little bleak.
Hey, it may not be realistic. But neither was me asking for a Jacksonville Jaguars win against the Tennessee Titans on Christmas Eve.
What they got:
Public humiliation Television coverage.
…of course, I didn’t get my wish, and neither did the Eagles. But their struggles this season have been seen on many TV sets thanks to games against NC State and West Virginia. And thanks to the OVC’s television schedule, the Eagles will get at least 3 more games on ESPN networks before the season is over. They may not get a lot of wins this season, but they’ll still get a lot of coverage, which makes recruiting for the future much easier.
What else can they ask for at this point? They’re undefeated, ranked in the top-25 for the first time since 1998, and beat a team ranked in the top-25 on the road. All this with a first year coach, and being led by a junior guard in Isaiah Canaan that will return to terrorize the OVC again next season.
What they got: Coverage. Tons upon tons of coverage.
If you haven’t read an article from a national sportswriter about the Racers, or seen their highlights on SportsCenter, you must either be living under a rock or on the completely wrong website right now. Sure I may not agree with all the things being said (like anyone who wants to talk about a undefeated season) I couldn’t be happier for any OVC team getting so much positive coverage for what they’ve done on the court.
This may be the final year of transition to Division I for the Cougars, but it is their first year playing a full D-I schedule, including a full OVC slate. But so far, their only 2 wins have come against teams from lower divisions, leaving many Cougars fans wondering if SIU Edwardsville is ready to compete in Division I basketball.
What they got: Hope for the future.
The Cougars top 4 scorers this season are all underclassmen, including a freshmen in Kris Davis and a sophomore, Michael Messer. In fact, the only significant senior likely to be lost after this season is Corey Wickware, a guard seeing less production this year than last.
I’ve talked about this all season: SEMO likely has the best forwards in the OVC in Leon Powell and Tyler Stone. But those players can only do so much on both sides of the court without stronger, and more consistent play from their guards.
What they got: 6 very winnable games to start OVC play.
There’s no question the Redhawks still have a few kinks to work out, and they’ve got a great schedule to do so. They host Morehead and Jacksonville State, travel to UT Martin and Eastern Kentucky, before hosting SIU Edwardsville and Eastern Illinois. SEMO should win at least 4 of those games, and honestly could win all 6. Nothing like a good start to build confidence going into the more challenging part of their conference schedule.
When Tennessee State hits the floor, we know Robert Covington is likely to have a big game, and that sophomore Patrick Miller will add a few points. And that’s about all we know. Their 3rd leading scorer this season is suspended and likely finished playing for the Tigers, and while we’ve seen good games from Jordan Cyphers and Kellen Thorton, they’re far to inconsistent to be relied upon on a night-to-night basis.
What they got: A chance for a 5-game winning streak before looking to take down another SEC opponent.
Tennessee State will head to Arkansas on Friday, but not before hosting UT Martin, a likely win that will give the Tigers their 5th straight win. Between the Skyhawks, Razorbacks, and Eastern Kentucky the following day, the Tigers will play 3 games in 3 different states on 3 straight days. Brutal.
What they asked for: Help from the underclassmen.
Tennessee Tech is in a strong position to make a run in the OVC this season. We all know this. But if they’re going to be anything buy a one-hit wonder, they must find a underclassmen (other than Jud Dillard) to step up this year. Other than Dillard, no Golden Eagles averages more than 5 points a game, and only 1 is playing more than 2 minutes a game.
What they got: The best 1-2 duo that no one seems to be talking about.
It took up until last week for a TTU player to get an OVC weekly award. This with a 20 ppg player pulling down almost 6 rebounds a game, and a 16 ppg player pulling down almost 9 rebounds a game. Yet, they’re flying under the radar somehow. That won’t last much longer.
Quick recap of the Skyhawks season: Terrence Smith is out. Mike Liabo has a solid few games, gets a concussion. Despite not having many “big names,” they’ve played the toughest non-conference schedule in the OVC. Opened up conference play against undefeated Murray in Murray, a city in which they’ve never won in over 20 tries. And, their next two games are against likely OVC title contenders.
What they got: The best freshman in the OVC.
If there’s anything that Skyhawks fans can point to as a sign of hope, it’s the play of Myles Taylor. In his first season, Taylor is averaging more than 12 points a game, with 50% shooting from the field. It’s likely to be a tough season in Martin, but there is great young talent on this team that has just one senior.