So, there are 5 other games involving OVC teams today that have nothing to do with Austin Peay and Murray. But I seriously wonder if the attendance at those 5 games combined will be larger than the sold out 7,275 expected at the Dunn Center for a rivalry renewed.
When is the last time anybody was turned away from an OVC conference game because the arena was full? Becuase that might just happen.
And while at least one game is is more important to the conference standings than the battle at the Dunn, every game is more important than the latest cupcake Eastern Illinois is hosting.
What’s that? They’re traveling to Texas to play said cupcake? So, they’ve gone to Maine, and now to Texas…where is the money coming from for all this travel? And better question…Why are they traveling so much for games against low-major teams?
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Tennessee State (8-8, 1-2) at Jacksonville State (5-12,0-4), 4:30 CST] You know how everyone is talking about a undefeated season in Murray. Well, Jacksonville State may be looking at a 0 at the end of the season too, only in the win column for conference play.
I’m not saying that’s going to happen, or that I think it will happen, but Jacksonville State has lost to SIU Edwardsville, and already suffered 2 losses at home, including the latest to Morehead State without their leading scorer. Who does Jacksonville State beat at this point? They will get a second chance at SIU Edwardsville, host Eastern Illinois, and get 2 chances at UT Martin, likely their best chances for wins. Even if they get a W, getting enough to make the OVC tournament seems even harder.
I still haven’t given up on the prospect of the Tigers making a run in the OVC, as their two losses in conference play were on the road to Tennessee Tech and at a surging Eastern Kentucky. But if they want the second double-bye in Nashville (assuming Murray State gets the other, a pretty safe assumption at this point) they’re going to have start getting wins on the road. What better place to start than Jacksonville.
Do I actually have something to say about this matchup? Not really. If TSU breaks 60 points, pencil in a win: Jacksonville State’s highest total in conference play is just 61 points, against Edwardsville. TSU lowest scoring total in conference play: 68.
[SEMO (8-7, 3-0) at Eastern Kentucky (9-7, 3-1), 6:00 p.m. CST] The battle for the #2 spot in the OVC power rankings (and #2 in the OVC standings if you’re into that) features 2 teams predicted to finish outside the top 4 in the conference, and two teams that finished non-conference play under .500.
The question is how each team will react to their last game. Eastern Kentucky took ranked Murray State down to the wire, just came up a few shots short of the upset. On the other hand, SEMO also came back from being down double-digits on the road, but came out with a win against UT Martin to avoid being upset.
In my eyes, the game comes down to how well SEMO can guard Jaron Jones. Jones is averaging over 20 points a game in 4 OVC games, hitting 65% from the field, and averaging 9.5 free throws a contest. In fact, Jones hasn’t been held under 15 points since the last game of November. He’s already more than tripled his scoring from all of last year.
One surprise of SEMO’s 3-0 conference start is how ineffective Leon Powell has been in those games. Unlike Jones, Powell hasn’t scored more than 15 points since December 10th, 6 games ago, and hasn’t in been in double digits since SEMO’s conference opener. And he’s not rebounding that well either. In 3 OVC games, Powell is averaging just 8.6 points, and 4.6 rebounds. Every major statistical category (points, assists, blocks, and steals) is on pace to finish lower this year than last. And SEMO’s still 3-0 in conference play. Thank Tyler Stone, Marland Smith, and Nick Niemczyk for that.
[SIU Edwardsville (4-8, 2-1) at UT Martin (3-14, 0-4), 6:00 p.m CST] The Skyhawks were one rimmed out 3-pointer from getting into the win column in conference play, but they get another good chance to get a win at home against a Cougars team whose offense is the very definition of “hit and miss.”
It’s also our first look at the Cougars away from home in conference play, although they’re hardly going into a hostile environment. (Attendance was just 714 on Thursday) Outside of Edwardsville this season, the Cougars are still winless. A big reason behind it: the Cougars haven’t hit better than 36% from the field in any true road game this year, although it’s worth noting they’ve only played 3 true road games, and 2 were the first 2 games of the season.
Although I didn’t like Mike Liabo‘s final shot against SEMO, head coach Jason James made a decent point after the game; the ball ended up in the hands of their best perimeter player, and he’s not wrong. Liabo has hit twice as many 3’s as anyone else on the team, but he’s only shooting 31% from behind the arc. No doubt that Myles Taylor was well covered by SEMO, but I still would have preferred to see a drive from a guard. But being within a shot from taking down a talented SEMO team seems like light years from where this team was just 2 or 3 weeks ago. This team came on strong as the end of last season, and barring a setback tonight, it could be a launching point for them to do the same this year.
[No. 19/18 Murray State (15-0, 3-0) at Austin Peay (3-12, 0-2), 7:00 p.m CST] I could have written this preview as it’s own post, but I think I can narrow down it’s essence to this: tonight’s game is Austin Peay’s season.
Here’s what a loss mean for Austin Peay tonight: First, it’s a rivalry loss, which is bad enough. Even worse is that it will likely be in front of a sold out crowd.
Also, a loss and the Governors will be 0-3 in the OVC. Does anyone think the Racers will lose more than 2 OVC games? Austin Peay’s hopes of winning the regular season title are all but out the window if the Racers get the win. At 3 losses, the Govs chances of getting a double-bye in Nashville are also greatly reduced.
The Racers are coming off their first OVC scare, are still without Ivan Aska and the Governors are coming off a week to prepare for the Racers, at home. That, plus it being such an important game for Austin Peay has many people thinking the Governors will be the team to end Murray’s undefeated season. But anyone that has seen the Racers this year knows when they’re motivated, they’re hard to beat. Even without Aska, Austin Peay has an uphill battle if they’re going to upset the Racers. And make no mistake: it would be an huge upset, even bigger than the Governors win at Tennessee.
Despite Houston Baptist’s record, they’re 4-1 at home, and haven’t played any lower-division teams, unlike the Panthers. The Huskies will definitely look to force tempo, as they average the most possessions per game in the nation. They do it by forcing a lot of turnovers, which will be a challenge against one of the better ball control teams in the OVC.
Despite their pace, Houston Baptist isn’t a great offense, but it’s one of their biggest flaws could cost them dearly: the Huskies have been sending their opponents to the line often this season, and against a Panthers team that’s 7th in the nation in free-throw shooting, that’s could be a big advantage for Eastern Illinois.
Joey Miller is coming off a monster game for the Panthers, his first double-digit scoring game since November, and if he and Alfonzo McKinnie can come together on the same night again, the Panthers offense, along with the much more consistent Jeremy Granger can be tough to stop.
[Morehead State (8-8, 2-1) at Tennessee Tech (10-6, 2-1), 7:30 p.m. CST] No player averaging double digits on one side will take on a home team with two 18+ ppg scorers. This has disaster written all over it. But with both teams at 2-1 in the conference, and with a win putting them in a great early position in the conference, I can’t say I’d be surprised if this turned into a contest.
But sadly, there’s very little I can point to that would back up my hypothesis beside the team records. TTU is more athletic, has been better statistically on both sides of the ball, and having seen both in person, is the better team in my opinion.
Yet, Tennessee Tech is clearly vulnerable, losing against SIU Edwardsville on the road to open conference play. With a win over Tennessee State Thursday, and if they get a good win tonight, that loss will begin to look more and more like an anomaly.
Where we have seen the Golden Eagles struggle, and not just against the Cougars, has been defending the 3-point shot, and the while Terrance Hill is missing, the guard-oriented Eagles still have a two talented long range shooters in Ty Profitt and Marsell Holden. The big question could be the play of talented freshman Angelo Warner, who will see a lot more minutes with Hill out. If he can be relied on for good minutes off the bench, the Eagles may still threaten a lot of team in the OVC