So EKU head coach Jeff Neubauer thinks Murray State is heads and shoulders over the league, but also think the Racers will fall at home to his Colonels tonight. Vegas disagrees: The Colonels are 18.5 point underdogs. But a lot of people are asking how will Ivan Aska‘s injury affect the Racers, looking at how John Fraley‘s injury derailed Austin Peay. (but did it really? A question for another day) My response to those people is simple:
Have you actually seen Murray State play this year?
I’m not saying there won’t be any drop off. Any time a team loses a 12+ ppg scorer and their top rebounder, if going to have an effect. But Murray has all season been about a team effort. This isn’t a situation where one player is likely to send the Racers into a downward spiral from which they may never escape.
And then there are the Cougars. In any other season, the fact that SIU Edwardsville was 2-0 in the OVC would be a big deal. They might have already derailed Jacksonville State’s hopes of making the tournament (at least they’ve taken out part of the track) and might have exposed a weak point in the Golden Eagles defense. (Hint: Their defense doesn’t extend beyond the arc) But with the Racers making national headlines, and the Cougars still ineligible for the OVC tournament, nobody outside of Edwardsville is paying much attention.
Except maybe teams in Cookeville and Jacksonville. And if EIU knows what’s good for them, Charleston.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Eastern Kentucky (9-6, 3-0) at No. 19/18 Murray State (14-0, 2-0), 7:00 p.m. CST] Live Coverage on Twitter @OVCBall
While I’m somewhat impressed with what the Colonels have done, I still curious to see how the team will respond when playing on the road in a hostile environment.
“But they played at Jacksonville State,” you tell me. Key word in the first sentence: hostile. And let’s be honest, it was Jacksonville State. That only counts as half a game until the Gamecocks develop the other half of their game: offense.
I would expect at least 4,000 people in “The Bank” tonight as the top-2o ranked Racers look to win game number 15, and the Colonels are just 3-6 on the road. (Although 2 of those road wins are against teams over .500) I’ll be especially curious how well the Colonels can manage the pace: as I’ve mentioned all season long, the Racers know how to force turnovers, in fact they’re 6th in the nation at doing so. (7th using tempo-free numbers) Their style of defense is especially good at speeding up teams that play slow-down basketball. But to EKU’s credit, they’re really good at holding onto the basketball, 10th in the nation in turnovers per game (although that number jumps to 29th when tempo is taken out of the equation, but that’s still very good) And the Racers have had a few “off” games this season when it comes to turnovers.
One of the biggest reasons I don’t see Aska’s injury as an issue, especially tonight, is that EKU only has 2 listed forwards. On the entire roster. They’re mostly a small team, so size shouldn’t be a major issue for the Racers.
[Eastern Illinois (6-6, 0-1) at SIU Edwardsville (4-7, 2-0), 7:00 p.m CST] How does SIUE get such a home friendly start to their conference schedule? Their 3rd straight home game of the conference year puts them against an Eastern Illinois team that just got destroyed at home against Murray State. The question: will that loss energize them, or deflate them?
I’ve said my piece on the Cougars 2 OVC wins, and if they continue to shoot the lights out from 3, they deserve to win. Every team should understand now what I’ve been saying since November: SIU Edwardsville’s offense, to be successful, must hit the 3. Their offensive efficiency number is horrid: 9th in the conference, 303rd in the nation. But, they’ve hit their shots from behind the arc in the last 2 games, even against Jacksonville State’s stingy defense, and are going up against a team that hasn’t defended the arc well at all this year. In fact, the Panthers are the worst in the conference at 3-point defense, and honestly, just not that great on defense overall.
The Panthers need a bounce-back game from Jeremy Granger, who despite finishing with a decent stat line, didn’t play all that well against Murray State, and also use some consistent scoring from Alfonzo McKinnie. But I also think Mike Miller needs to start sticking with a lineup: playing 11 or 12 players into the bench isn’t working. This team just isn’t as deep as I think he thinks it is.