The question now is who will be the team to at least provide the Racers their first challenge?
If I’m betting, I’ll take on of the teams playing in Richmond this afternoon.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Austin Peay (3-11, 0-1) at Morehead State (6-8, 0-1) 11:00 a.m. CST, ESPN U] You can lose one game on the “Death Valley” road swing and be okay. Many teams from the western half of the OVC drop a game when traveling to Richmond and Morehead. But the Governors simply can’t afford to drop another if they’re going to challenge for the OVC title.
One of the first thing’s I’ve noticed about the Governors latest 2-game skid: they haven’t been able to force tempo. Usually one of the more up-tempo teams, both Belmont and Eastern Kentucky were able to force the Governors into a half-court game, where they’re simply not as comfortable. The Eagles will likely look to do the same, being ranked 311th in possessions per game.
The Eagles have struggled with defending the paint, and while they don’t face a dominant big man, they will try to use their 2-3 matchup zone to keep Tyshwan Edmondson from driving the basketball. But don’t be surprised if either Will Triggs or John Fraley have a big game for the Governors. Zone or not, Morehead’s defense is squishy in the paint.
[Tennessee State (8-6, 1-0) at Eastern Kentucky (8-6, 2-0) 1:00 p.m. CST] This is likely the first of a few meaningful matchups for both these teams in their quest to get at least a bye in this year’s OVC Tournament. For the Colonels, it’s also a chance to keep momentum rolling heading into their matchup against the undefeated Racers next week.
Eastern’s slower pace isn’t likely to bother the Tigers, who have been forced to play a lot of games in the half court. But the Tigers do like to force turnovers, something the Colonels were especially stingy in with in their comeback win over Austin Peay. They’ll look for another big game from Robert Covington, who is averaging just under 20 points a game on the Tigers current 5 game win streak.
Colonels Senior Jaron Jones is one of the biggest surprises in the OVC this year. Last year, the juco transfer played just 10 minutes a game, averaging 2.5 points a contest. This season, he’s been the breakout star of EKU, leading the team with more than 13 points a game. Over the last 6 games, (of which the Colonels have gone 5-1) Jones is averaging 19 points a contest.
[Jacksonville State (5-9, 0-1) at SIU Edwardsville (3-7, 1-0), 3:30 CST] Coming off what could be the biggest upset by and OVC team this year, things are set up fairly well for the Cougars to start 2-0. They’re hosting a Jacksonville State team that has struggled most of the year on offense, and that is playing their 3rd game on the road in 4 days.
The Cougars shot lights out from behind the arc in their win over Tennessee Tech, but it’s unlikely they’ll find as many open looks against Jacksonville State. The Gamecocks are 30th in the nation in 3-point field goal defense.
In fact, that upset was almost as about as “typical” of an big upset as you can get. Tennessee Tech’s star wasn’t effective, hitting just one field goal. The Cougars hit better than 50% behind the arc. It was a game on the road for the favorite, after a long layoff. Simply, it has all the earmarks of a “one-time” upset, not a team that will continue to threaten as OVC play continues.
For a Jacksonville State squad still fighting injuries, they’re struggling to find a leader on offense. The team’s only senior, Stephen Hall, has not fallen to just the team’s 3rd highest scorer. Junior forward Tarvin Gaines has reached double digits in the Gamecocks last 4 games (JSU 2-2 over that stretch) and while sophomore guard Brian Williams struggled against Colorado State, he’s doubled his scoring output from a year ago.
[Tennessee Tech (8-6, 0-1) at UT Martin (3-12, 0-2), 4:00 p.m. CST] Live Coverage on Twitter @OVCBall
When are the Skyhawks going to catch a break? Today, they face a Golden Eagles team that has to be mad about losing on the road at SIU Edwardsville. This game has “bounce back” game written all over it.
And let’s just get this out of the way: Kevin Murphy isn’t likely to go 1-16 again from the field. It just isn’t going to happen.
So what’s the path to a W for the Skyhawks? That’s a difficult question, as the Skyhawks “strength” on offense is also the Golden Eagles strength of defense. Where TTU has been vulnerable (and where the Cougars took advantage) has been the 3-point shot. The Skyhawks shooting from 3? 29.4% Yes, it’s that bad. It doesn’t help that TTU likes to run, meaning the score is likely to get up into the 70’s, a tough mark for the Golden Eagles struggling offense to meet.