3 of the 4 games tonight have deep implications, either for a team’s chances at the all-important double bye, or even making it to Nashville all together.
Then there’s the UT Martin-Tennessee State game, which really only has implications if UT Martin wins.
So like I said, 3 of the 4 games tonight are important. (Sorry, Skyhawks)
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Tennessee Tech (12-8, 4-3) at Eastern Kentucky (12-9, 5-3), 6:00 p.m. CST]
You could make the argument that the Colonels haven’t won a meaningful game in almost 3 weeks, since they took down SEMO in Richmond. Tennessee Tech also took down SEMO at home, but has 2 very questionable losses. The point? Both teams need a win.
The path to beating Tennessee Tech, at least in conference play, has been disrupting Kevin Murphy. In fact, Murphy has been held to single digit scoring only 3 times this year: Every time, the Golden Eagles lost. I don’t think, by any means, that Murphy is to blame for losses to SIU Edwardsville and Jacksonville State, but if you have to try and stop one of TTU’s scorers, I’d go for Murphy over Jud Dillard.
Eastern Kentucky had a hot start, but has won just 2 of their last 5 conference games, one of which was against UT Martin. The biggest change: their defense. Which is why this isn’t a particularly good matchup for the Colonels. In all their conference losses, their opponents have shot 45% or better. In their wins: mostly under 40%, except for 42% from Austin Peay in a narrow win. Jaron Jones may have helped transform the Colonels offense this season, but he’s not such a great scoring threat that he can win a game when the defense falters.
[Eastern Illinois (9-9, 2-4) at Jacksonville State (7-14, 2-6), 7:00 p.m. CST]
One Eastern Illinois beat writer made the prediction that Jacksonville State will likely be an “easy win” for the Panthers. Has he seen the Gamecocks play? Even better, has he seen his team play. Because hardly any OVC team have has an “easy” time dispatching the Gamecocks, and the Panthers haven’t exactly been amazing either. In fact, the Gamecocks have a better RPI than the Panthers.
After a string of 5 really good games, Joey Miller faded in the Panthers most recent loss to Austin Peay, but after 4 ho-hum games, Alfonzo McKinnie had his best offensive game in weeks in that same loss. I’ve talked about this with many teams this year, but consistency is important, and right now, the Panthers don’t have it. Even the usually consistent Jeremy Granger has been struggling of late as the opponents defenses continue to look for ways to stop him. (SEMO being the exception, but SEMO hasn’t exactly been known to stop much of anyone at times this year)
The offense for the Gamecocks has been much better the past 2 weeks, as are the results, as Jacksonville State has won 2 of their last 4. This is a team still getting healthy, and now adjusting with the dismissal of Stephen Hall. You get the feeling that this team, which is comprised mostly of new to the school players who had little or no experience playing together before the season, is starting to gel a little bit.
[Austin Peay (8-13, 5-3) at SEMO (10-9, 5-2), 7:00 p.m. CST]
While this is a big game for both teams, I’d make the argument that it’s bigger for SEMO for this simple reason: The Redhawks have been horrible on the road. That’s not just in conference play, that’s all season long. If SEMO is going to be in the running for a double-bye at the end of the season, they MUST win at home.
That being said, falling to a 4th loss makes Austin Peay’s road much harder, but the way the conference has gone this year, 5 losses might still get the 2nd double-bye in Nashville. One change I’ve noticed with the Governors over this past win streak is that they’re slowing down the game a bit. They’re not playing half-court basketball by any means, but they’re not playing out of control like they were earlier in the season.
Nick Niemczyk will miss his 2nd straight game for the Redhawks (thanks to @SemoRedhawkDan for passing that information along) which will reduce the Redhawks 3-point threat somewhat. But SEMO can score in many different ways, a skill we’ve seen all season. But can they contain the Governors resurgent offense? You would think with Leon Powell and Tyler Stone the game will fall on SEMO’s guards to contain the Governors guards, including Tyshwan Edmondson, but we’ve seen forwards be effective against that duo before. But as it’s been all season, SEMO’s defense will likely determine whether they win or lose, not their offense.
[Tennessee State (11-10, 4-4) at UT Martin (3-18, 0-8), 7:00 p.m. CST]
Do you remember my rule from earlier in the season where I wouldn’t preview games against lower division teams? If UT Martin doesn’t get a win sometime soon, I may extend that rule to them. That being said, the Skyhawks have been much better of late, just a few plays short of getting the W on multiple occasions.
In these two teams first meeting, the Skyhawks had no answer for the Tigers offense, which shot 56% from the field. The Tigers offense has struggled a little bit as of late, and the Skyhawks defense has been better, so the same result in Martin isn’t a guarantee.
Myles Taylor continues to impress mostly, but against Eastern Kentucky he reminded us he is still a freshman, following up a double-double performance with just 4 point and 4 rebounds. On the whole, Taylor needs to be a better rebounder, but he’s still one of the most talented freshman in the league.
Kenny Moore finally made his present known against Eastern Illinois after returning from suspension, but I have my doubts whether his output will continue to be solid. If he can play 20 minutes, and put up 5 points and 5 rebounds, he’s a great player to pull off the bench, but I wouldn’t expect him to return to his freshman form.