When I first started this site almost a year ago, I told myself: “I will not just talk about the Racers.” Little did I know they’d be an even bigger story out of the conference than Kenneth Faried.
Today, the Racers are facing what is likely their biggest OVC contest yet, in a rematch of last year’s OVC semifinals. Of course, things are much different than they were in March. The Racers are undefeated, the game is in Murray, and the CFSB Center is sold out, for what I believe is the first time in at least 10 years.
On the other side of the state, it’s rivalry day in Morehead, as the Eagles host Eastern Kentucky.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Tennessee Tech (11-6, 3-1) at No. 15/14 Murray State (17-0, 5-0), 6:00 p.m. CST, ESPNU] When the Racers have had their biggest matchups, they’ve risen to the challenge each time. Facing the team that bounced them, the number 1 seed at the time, from the OVC tournament in March. Yeah, something tells me they’ll be ready.
The good news for Tennessee Tech fans is that the Golden Eagles have had a week to prepare for the Racers, (but ask Austin Peay how much good it does.) whereas Murray State played Jacksonville State on Thursday. That being said, do the Golden Eagles have the talent outside the obvious 3 to make too many adjustments?
Tennessee Tech has wanted to speed up games this season, something I’ve made it very clear I’m not a fan of if your goal is to topple the Racers. The Racers are deeper, and have played (and obviously beat) teams much more talented in transition than TTU. (*cough* Memphis *cough*) I understand playing within your offense, but when you’re looking for a big upset, sometimes you have to make a change.
Murray State will be without Ivan Aska again, as he continues to recover from a broken bone in his hand. Jacksonville State was able to frustrate Isaiah Canaan on Thursday, something we haven’t seen from the junior guard. He’ll be looking to bounce back, as will the Racers shooters in general, who had one of their worse (but hardly bad) performances just a few nights ago.
[Eastern Kentucky (10-8, 4-2) at Morehead State (8-10, 2-3), 6:45 p.m. CST] Despite Morehead State being the more talented team a season ago (sorry Colonels fan, you know it’s true) the two teams split the rivalry, with both teams winning on the road.
This season, and especially in conference play, these two teams have been very similar, so expect a slow, possession-premium game. And since I’m always right about these things, the final will likely be in the 90’s.
We’ve seen the Eagles guards step up in the absence of Terrance Hill, but it’s yet to be consistent. In the 3 games since he got injured, Ty Profitt had a great game against Tennessee State (and until the Tigers defense gets better, there’s no reason anyone shouldn’t) and Marsell Holden has 27 points in the Eagles last 2 contests. If those two can continue to have step up, the Eagles might surprise some teams in the OVC.
Eastern Kentucky has the same problem outside of Jaron Jones. Other players have good games, but there’s absolutely no consistency. A lot of people say “well, that’s just the Colonels offense,” but if that’s so, explain how Jaron Jones has scored in the double digits in the last 16 games? It’s not the offense, it’s the players.
[Jacksonville State (6-13, 1-5) at Austin Peay (4-13, 1-3), 7:45 p.m. CST] It’s defense against offense, and so far in conference play, both teams have seen that battle end poorly for their respective sides. But both have reasons to be encouraged, as the Governors are coming off their first OVC win, and Jacksonville State played with the Racers for 35 minutes.
Austin Peay has owned this series since the Gamecocks joined the OVC. The Gamecocks do at least have a win against Austin Peay, (something they still can’t say about the Racers) but have never won at the Dunn Center. The Governors have also won the last 10 meetings between the two schools.
Statistically, the Governors have been better on offense since conference play started, but still struggling on defense. Jacksonville State…well, they’ve just been themselves.
[Eastern Illinois (9-6, 2-1) at SEMO (9-8, 4-1), 8:00 p.m. CST] This game could give us a much better look at how EIU will compete in conference play than we’ve seen. Eastern Illinois will face a SEMO team that’s been very tough to beat at home, and whose guards are playing well as of late.
SEMO has been much better so far in conference play. They’ve shot the ball better, defended better, held on the ball; they’re playing like a completely different team. The only thing that hasn’t been better, the play of their big men.
Joey Miller appears to emerge the past week as a viable second option to Jeremy Granger on offense, but has turned the ball over at least twice in the Panthers last 6 games. But, Alfonzo McKinnie hasn’t been as effective. The Panthers will likely need all three to get into double digits to get the win on the road.
[SIU Edwardsville (5-9, 3-2) at Tennessee State (9-9, 2-3), 8:00 p.m. CST] So far this season, Tennessee State has been the solution for any team’s offensive ills. SIU Edwardsville hopes that stays the case.
The Cougars, who are a classic “live by the 3” team, has found the long ball harder to fall lately, and are struggling after a strong start to OVC play. In OVC play, the Tigers defense is allowing teams to shoot 42% from 3.
Which brings us to Tennessee State. If they’re going to start winning, it’s going to happen with their defense. Of course, if they’re not, it will be because of their defense. The Tigers are allowing 75 points per game in conference play, compared to just 70 on the season. They need to start holding teams in the 60’s, because when teams get to the 70’s, it adding up to a loss for the Tigers.