The easiest part of this week’s Power Rankings: determining who should be on top.
The hardest: Placing almost every other team.
At this point in the season, it feels like every team has some bad losses, and only a few have truly great wins, although some seem like eons ago, even though in reality it’s only been a few weeks.
And what do you do with teams with a good win, but lots of bad losses, when comparing them to teams with no great wins, but no horrible losses.
So I expect lots of arguing about ranking 2-11.
But if you want to argue about who I give the top spot, you need a brain scan. Pronto.
Your Week 6 Power Rankings:
The only argument you can have about the Racers ranking is if or where they should be ranked in the National Polls. Being only one of a handful of undefeated teams left in the nation, they absolutely deserve a top-25 ranking, though I understand why some writers and coaches have left them off. Compared to many of the other top-25 teams, and even teams on the outside looking in, Murray State’s TV coverage is almost non-existent. If you’re not wanting to watch the Racers, chances are you haven’t seen them on the national stage.
But having the opportunity to see them on a regular basis, Murray State is the real deal. They’re still at least 8 wins away before I’ll even consider having the “undefeated” discussion, I can’t imagine this team finishing with any fewer than 25 wins heading into the OVC tournament.
What we’ve really seen over the past few games is that the Racers aren’t just about Isaiah Canaan. Even if you can reduce his output, which is a challenge in and of itself, the rest of the starting 5 can, and have, stepped up. There are some minor depth issues surrounding the Racers. It’s not that the bench is bad, it’s just not consistent. But don’t confuse me calling them inconsistent with being untalented, because they’re not that.
The Golden Eagles will take a 3 game win streak into Las Vegas tonight to face West Virginia, but it’s been who they’ve beaten that lands them the number 2 spot on the list.
At the beginning of the month, I was perplexed as the Golden Eagles just barely beat a lower division Wilberforce. But with a win Saturday at Evansville, I’m beginning to see flashes of the TTU team I picked to win the OVC in the summer.
That being said, I still think this team will have problems putting together consistent wins in conference if they don’t get some help for Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard. Zac Swansey is a solid role player, but not putting together the production we saw from him last year. And you never know if any other players will show up on any given night. Their defense also needs to improve if they hope to make a run at the OVC title.
Forget the 0-9 start. It’s gone, it’s in the past.
The Governors have won 3 straight, including a huge win over Tennessee in Knoxville. Are the Volunteers down this year? Absolutely. But for a team that has struggled so much this season, that’s the kind of win that can turn the season around.
The return of John Fraley couldn’t have come at a better time, leaving the Governors at almost full strength entering OVC play. I say almost because the Govs’ have lost Anthony Campbell for the season, again, an injury that will likely end Campbell’s career. Tyshwan Edmondson hasn’t produced like many have expected this season, but with Fraley out, defenses were able to focus almost solely on Edmondson. Since Fraley’s return, Edmonson has scored 37 points in 2 games. The 3 games before Fraley’s return: just 18.
The Colonels get a good road win to kick off OVC play, and are on a 4-game win streak heading into Tuesday night’s game at Arkansas.
But you still get the feeling the Colonels haven’t really beaten anybody yet this season, and get tested in the early part of their conference schedule with games against Austin Peay, Murray State, and SEMO before the end of the first week in January.
Senior Jaron Jones has emerged over the past few weeks as the Colonels leader, scoring in double digits in each of the Colonels last 10 games. Last season, Jones averaged just 2.5 points a game total. This season, 12.5.
After a good start against a soft schedule, the Panthers are falling back to earth, currently on a two game skid with one game remaining on their 3-game road swing.
We all expected Jeremy Granger to lead this team, and he’s done a great job of doing just that, but it the play of the rest of the Panthers that’s causing trouble. Sophomore Alfonzo McKinnie is providing great help under the basket, but needs to become more involved in the offense. Despite shooting better than 60% from the field, McKinnie has taken just 20 shots in the Panthers last 4 games. He also hasn’t gotten to the FT line since December 3rd.
And after a solid stretch that got guard Joey Miller into the starting lineup, he’s gone silent over the past 3 games as well.
The Tigers get this spot thanks to the “best win” criteria, having defeated South Carolina on the road. But since then, Tennessee State is just 3-4, but have won 2 straight, a streak likely to move to 3 tonight against lower division LeMoyne Owen.
The real question surrounding this team is how will the suspension of Kenny Moore affect the Tigers in the long run? His output was down this season, but he was still the team’s 3rd leading scorer. They still have Robert Covington and Patrick Miller, who have been consistent scorers this season for the Tigers.
Most of their home conference games come late in the season, which could set up the Tigers to have a much stronger second half then they had a season ago.
This team’s success will live and die with their guards this season. It sounds like an odd statement from a team that features the best forward tandem in the conference team, but when their guards struggle, so does the team.
The problem is that while Leon Powell and Tyler Stone are great scorers near the basket, they can’t create without the guards. And they also can’t be expected to defend shooters behind the 3-point arc.
The return of Marcus Brister will help the offense, as Brister adds a slashing dynamic to the team they don’t get from their other guards.
The Eagles have made the most of their NCAA tournament win last season playing a killer non-conference schedule, but as a result, they’ve been blown out in many of those loses. But while they’ve played better of late, they’re still mounting up the losses, and the defense is a big reason why. The Eagles are 336th in defensive efficiency this season, despite only allowing 66 points a game.
Morehead State has shot the ball well from behind the arc and from the free throw line, but are getting very little production from their forwards. It doesn’t help that sophomore forward Drew Kelly is shooting just 29.9% from the field. That’s a bad percentage for a guard; that’s a horrible percentage for a forward.
Despite being undersized, they do a commendable jobs on the boards, ranked 22nd in the nation in the tempo-free rebounding % statistic.
There’s going to be a theme from this point on in the Power Rankings: the teams at the bottom of the Power Rankings are also at the bottom of almost every offensive category imaginable.
The difference in the Gamecocks’ case: Their defense is actually quite solid.
Injuries are starting to pile up for Jacksonville State, with 3 players missing the team’s OVC opener against Eastern Kentucky.
If Jacksonville State can find consistent scoring, and continuing playing strong defense, Jacksonville State may surprise some teams in the conference. But they must score more than 60 points a game, which they’re just not going right now.
There’s some question as to how legitimate the Skyhawks win at UAB really was, but it’s all that’s keeping the Skyhawks out of the Power Ranking basement.
The OVC schedule makers didn’t really do UTM any favors, as the Skyhawks face Murray State, Tennessee State, and Tennessee Tech to open conference play. And their own AD inadvertently scheduled the toughest non-conference schedule in the OVC this season.
But when you watch this team, you don’t get the feeling their schedule is the source of their struggles. Their offense is a mess, and their defense is athletic, but plays out of position way too often. If they can put together 40 minutes, they can compete, but they can’t seem to have a stretch that lasts much longer than 5.
The Cougars have a fighting chance to pick up their first D-I win of the season tonight against the other SIU, but if they lose, they’ll enter OVC play with 0 quality wins.
Early in the season, most of the Cougars offense came off of 3-point shooting, but even that has failed the Cougars in their last few games. They are one of the better teams in the conference at forcing turnovers, but aren’t converting those turnovers into points on the offensive end.
Jerome Jones and Mark Yelovich are consistent double-digit scorers, but neither looks like a threat to put up 25 points on any given night.