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So you may still be looking for last night’s final word. By the time I got home from SEMO, I had to go to bed, so that I could get up to travel to Memphis this morning.

I’ll post a weekend recap edition of the final word tonight.

But there’s still one big game on tap this weekend, something Racer fans, players, and coaches have had a whole week to think about.

Oh, and another game for Jacksonville State in New Orleans.

Here’s today’s First Word:

[Murray St. (9-0) at No. 20 Memphis (5-2) 5:00 p.m. CST]

Live coverage from Memphis on Twitter @OVCBall

Austin Peay head coach Dave Loos, public enemy number 1 to Racers fans, was asked about the Racers chances at Memphis. His team had already been blown out by the Tigers this season after all. His response: “Not going to happen.”

Funny, that’s what I said about his chances going into Knoxville yesterday.

This is being called the game of the decade by many Murray State fans, and it’s hard to fault them. Murray State is 9-0, with good wins: Great Alaska Shootout champions, winners over Dayton. They’ve beaten one C-USA team this year, Southern Miss, who have a higher RPI than the Tigers.

But then you look at Memphis. Number 20 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll. A 3-point loss to No. 18 Georgetown, wins against Tennessee, Belmont, and a huge win over Miami on Tuesday. (Although the Hurricanes followed up that loss with another one yesterday against West Virginia) And a school just 4 years ago that was in the national title game.

But this year’s edition of the Tigers are incredibly young, something that’s contributed to their 5-2 record this season. Only one senior and one junior have played in all 7 games this season for the Tigers. And because of that, you could accuse them of being inconsistent.

Just don’t doubt their talent.

Memphis is led by sophomore 6’6″ guard Will Barton, a 19-point per game scorer coming off back-to-back double-doubles, including a 27 point, 14 rebound performance against Miami. The game before? 22 points, 13 rebounds, and 6 assists against Austin Peay. Behind him is another talented sophomore Joe Jackson, averaging better than 12 points and 3 assists a game for the Tigers.

For being a persistent top-25 team, Memphis isn’t as big as you would expect. While 6’10” forward Stan Simpson has started the past 3 games for Memphis, he still hasn’t been all that effective, or even played that many minutes. Their next tallest player getting significant time? 6’8 sophomore Tarik Black plays about 20 minutes a game, but then it’s down to the 6’6″ Barton. The Tigers rely on speed, which make them a good matchup for a Racers squad that has struggled against size at times throughout the season.

If the Racers are going to pull the upset, they’ll be relying on another big game from guard Isaiah Canaan, who is averaging better than 20 points, and 3 and a half assists a game. He’s finished with double digit scoring in all 9 games for Murray, and is shooting better than 52% on the season. They’re also going to need a big game from Donte Poole, who has struggled a bit scoring over his last 3 games, highlighted by not being able to get to the line at all Dayton. Ivan Aska has picked up the scoring in his past two games, but has done so with poor shooting. This season, he’s only hitting 43% from the field; a lower percentage than he hit even in his freshman year. But Aska is hitting a career high 85% from the FT line.

Murray State's defense has been suffocating, but it's their offense that's really shining.

Sizing up what you could see from the teams as a whole, Memphis likes to play transition basketball, but doesn’t force a lot of turnovers, especially compared to the Racers. But they hold onto the basketball, 11th in the nation in turnover rate. (The tempo-free turnover statistic) The Tigers are also one of the best shooting teams in the country from all over the court, but their offense efficiency is almost equal to the Racers. Memphis is 34th in efficiency, Murray State 35th) Defensive efficiency…is almost as close. There, Memphis ranks 110th in the nation; Murray 120th.

I talked about Memphis’ size earlier, and because of being such a small lineup, they’re one of the worst teams in rebounding % (another tempo-free statistic) in the nation. But they use their size well, averaging more than 6 blocks a game.

Both teams have guarded the 3-point line well this season, with the Racers only allowing 26% shooting behind the arc; Memphis only allows 30%.

A lot of people want to argue that Memphis, who has played 2 ranked teams this season, have played a harder schedule. But RPI disagrees, ranking Murray’s (88th) above Memphis’ (124th).

Despite how even things looks on paper, Memphis is a 10.5 point favorite this morning.

[Jacksonville St. (3-6) as Tulane (10-1) 7:00 p.m.] I apologize now Gamecocks fans: This isn’t going to be as long as Murray’s preview.

If you remember my commentary on the Racers earlier this week, Tulane was one of the undefeated teams I compared to Murray State at the time of that post. Only unlike the other teams on that post, it was pretty well generally assumed that Tulane was only undefeated because they had played a schedule that could only be described as “soft.”

This week, they played a so-so Wofford team, who sent them to their first loss.

The Gamecocks are coming off a win against Southern in which they shot just 30% from the field, getting 13 points from Stephen Hall off of 4-15 shooting. They’ll be facing a Tulane team today that’s been pretty good on defense this year, allowing just 36% shooting from the field,  is 4th in the nation in defensive efficiency, and only allows 53 points per game. One of the reasons they are able to hold teams to small scores: they don’t send teams to the free-throw line.

Tulane gets most of their scoring from 3 young-guys: sophomore forward Josh Davis, freshman guard Ricky Tarrant, and junior guard Jordan Callahan all average over 12 points a game for the Green Wave. They also have a 7’0″ junior center, Tomas Bruha, who adds another 7 points a game, but surprisingly only 5 rebounds. Davis is their leading rebounder, with just over 10 a game.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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