So far this season, we’ve seen the occasional Monday night game, but tonight it’s a full slate, as some teams play their 3rd game in just 6 days. In fact one school, Eastern Illinois, went so far as to call it a “NBA type” schedule in preview of tonight’s matchup against SEMO.
While Jacksonville State steps out of conference to host a quality opponent from the Atlantic Sun, the rest of the games tonight could have a big impact on the seeding in Nashville.
On another note, we’re awaiting BracketBusters announcements today, so expect to see those on the site soon.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[USC Upstate (13-9) at Jacksonville State (9-14), 5:15 p.m. CST]
This game has me intrigued. Both teams bring in 3 game win streaks, with the Spartans toppling Belmont less than 10 days ago, and Jacksonville State beginning their win streak against Tennessee Tech. With both teams playing well, I’m curious if this game goes anything like their first meeting.
The Spartans won a 50-48 game against the Gamecocks on the 1st of December despite just 34% shooting on their home floor. The 50-point performance was a season low for the Spartans, while Jacksonville State’s 48 was the second lowest output they’ve seen. (They only scored 44 against Marshall back in November) That game was plagued on both side by turnovers, fouls, and horrific 3-point shooting.
The Gamecocks didn’t have an answer for Torrey Craig in that first matchup, who finished with a double-double. That’s not rare for Craig, who has had 7 double-double on the season, including 5 in the Spartans last 7 games. Despite averaging less than 30 minutes a game, Craig averages over 17 points and 8 rebounds a contest. He’s an amazing rebounder for only being 6’6″, and he put up those numbers in his first game against Jacksonville State against Stephen Hall, who as since been dismissed. The Spartans also have a 6’8″ freshman that’s averaging almost 7 rebounds a game. How Jacksonville State deals with the Spartans bigs will likely determine their chances of winning this game.
[SEMO (11-9, 6-2) at Eastern Illinois (9-11, 2-6), 7:00 p.m. CST]
Two days after playing the best team in the conference, Eastern Illinois now gets to play the team in 2nd, SEMO, while still 2 wins behind Jacksonville State for the final spot in the OVC tournament. This just really isn’t their week. The only good news is that the game is at Lantz Arena in Charleston, and SEMO’s road woes have been well documented this season.
These teams met just over 2 weeks ago, the beginning of EIU’s current 5-game losing streak, and went mostly as scripted. SEMO’s outrebounded the Panthers by 11, but lost the turnover battle 17-7. Neither defense was all that solid, with both teams shooting 47% or better, but it was SEMO’s deep shooting and double-double from Leon Powell that overcame a 31-point performance from Jeremy Granger in earning the win in Cape Girardeau.
I had a lot of hope for EIU after that loss. I can’t say the same thing now. Granger has only scored 39 total points in the 4 games since that matchup, all 4 EIU losses since that game have been by double-digits, and blame belongs on both sides of the basketball. Both the offense and defense have been a complete mess. The few positives for EIU as of late: they continue to hold onto the basketball (which, while important, is less so if you can’t score) and they don’t send teams to the foul line often. Instead they just let them drive the ball right past them.
The word “trap game” does come to mind for SEMO. They’re on the road and have a big matchup against Murray State on Thursday. If they’re looking ahead, the Panthers might catch them by surprise. Especially if the Redhawks can’t hold onto the basketball. The biggest problem with SEMO right now is turnovers: they can score, they are defending especially well since conference play started, but they can’t solve the turnover issue. We all know where I place that blame (*cough* guard play *cough*) and it’s the kind of problem that could cost SEMO against a team like EIU that is much better at ball control then they are.
[Austin Peay (9-14, 6-4) at Tennessee State (13-10, 6-4), 7:00 p.m. CST]
If either team wants a chance at the double-bye, this is a must-win for both. Austin Peay finished with 5 conference losses last season and was the 3-seed, and there were 2-more games in OVC play last year! While “parity” (among teams 2-10, at least) does seem to signal a 5-loss 2 seed isn’t out of the question this year, that would also require the loser of this game to win out, something that I don’t think is highly likely.
The Governors won a sloppy game 2 weeks ago, as both teams turned the ball over 20 or more times. Austin Peay used a balanced offensive attack, shooting 50% from the field with 4 players finishing in double digits. It overcame a 30 point, double-double from Robert Covington and 17 from Patrick Miller. Both teams are on great streaks: the Governors have won 6 of 7; the Tigers 5 of 6 and 3 straight.
We’re seeing a mini-resurgance of sorts for Tyshwan Edmondson. He’s averaging over 18 points over the past 3 games, but we’ve saw this one this year already. Edmondson had 4-straight double digit games earlier this season, before completely fading 4 games later. He still has those explosive games he had last year, they’re just not as consistent.
You could make the argument that the Tigers have simply won the games they’re supposed to, and nothing more. They’ve beaten Martin twice, EIU, SIUE, Morehead and EKU, with those last 2 wins coming at home. None of those are especially impressive wins. All 4 loses came on the road, against (mostly) better competition. The question remains: can they beat a good OVC opponent? They have a good chance tonight at home.
[SIU Edwardsville (5-13, 3-6) at Tennessee Tech (13-9, 5-4), 7:00 p.m. CST]
Can Lightning strike twice? The Cougars hope so, to end a 5-game skid.
I doubt Kevin Murphy goes 1-16 from the field again like in the teams first meeting, but it be helpful to SIU Edwardsville if he did. The Golden Eagles went cold from 3-point range, unlike the Cougars who hit 57%. At the time, I called it a “textbook” upset, and looking at where each team has gone since, I feel I was right in that sentiment.
Tennessee Tech is still the ultimate enigma. They have the talent to play with anyone in the league, yet have more jaw dropping losses than anyone. Either I’m (and a lot of others) are wrong about the talent, or this team is simply not playing to their talent. The argument has been made that the Golden Eagles have had a target on their backs being picked to win the conference, but I’m fairly certain that the Racers took away that target before OVC play even started, and if not the Golden Eagles loss to SIUE to open conference play sure did.
The Cougars have exceeded mine, and many others, expectations already this season, but it’s been almost like the ultimate tease: winning 3 of their first 4 before reverting to what everyone else expected of them. The Cougars should be proud of what they’ve done this season, but if they continue to lose the season feels like a disappointment. They get 3 straight games at home after this one, which could provide a good chance to pick up a 4th conference win. Either way, they’re competitive in their 1st season in the OVC, and that’s something to cheer about.