You remember how in last week’s Power Rankings I said I didn’t feel like I was get a good hold on the conference? Weeks like this are why.
But there may be a very simple pattern to the upsets. As @SemoRedhawkDan pointed out to me, the last 11 OVC games have been won by the home team, probably helped out by the fact that the Racers have been on a homestand.
Which leads me to an interesting thought. The Racers are on the road this week at Morehead State and SIU Edwardsville: if the Racers take their first loss, they still have to stay at the top of the Power Rankings, right?
1. Murray State (18-0, 6-0) All Season: 1
The Racers win streak continues, as Ivan Aska continues to recover from a broken hand. As good as this team has been without him the last 4 games, just imagine how good they’ll be when they’re back at full strength.
There were some murmurs last week about all the press the Racers have been getting, and how it’s affecting them. ESPN U was taping an all-access in Murray, and two of their last 3 games have been televised. And in the Jacksonville State game, especially, there were a lot of flashy plays, but overall, the team just didn’t seem to play that well. They don’t appear to be folding under the pressure, but rather trying too hard to shine in it.
The press is great for the university, and the program, but the press only continues as long as the team wins.
2. SEMO (10-8, 5-1) Last Week: 4
The Redhawks are in control of 2nd place in the OVC, as the only 1-loss team, and they’ve done so by winning at home. SEMO is 4-0 in the Show Me Center, but their only road win came against lowly UT Martin, and barely at that. The big question looming over SEMO is how they perform on the road, although they played EKU tight in Richmond.
Head coach Dickie Nutt has talked all season about he knew the offense was there, but that the Redhawks needed to be stronger on defense, and Saturday night only seems to reinforce his point. SEMO can score, which is something that seems to be increasingly rare in the conference this season. But when players like Jeremy Granger score 31 points against them, can you really rely on the Redhawks scoring into the 80’s in every game?
Only one game this week, but it’s on the road against a tough Tennessee Tech team. We’ll see how well they can play on the road against one of the better teams in the conference.
3. Tennessee Tech (11-7, 3-2) Last Week: 3
Last week, I said I couldn’t penalize Eastern Kentucky for losing a close game at Murray State, and I have to extend that rule to Tennessee Tech this week. The Golden Eagles overcame a 17-point first half deficit to force a tie in the 2nd half, but just couldn’t get enough stops down the end of the game. It sets up a great rematch in Cookeville, and very likely in Nashville, if Tennessee Tech can avoid another SIU Edwardsville-like meltdown in the tournament.
The pressure of 8,600+ people at the CFSB Center seemed to get into both teams heads at the free throw line, as TTU shot just 57% from the charity stripe.
In my informal poll on Twitter last night, most people thought Tech should be the No. 2 team. Why aren’t they? A worse loss than SEMO (at SIU Edwardsville compared to at Eastern Kentucky) and I can’t justify moving up a team that went 0-1 this week over a team that went 2-0.
4. Austin Peay (6-13, 3-3) Last Week: 8
Finally, I can say this, and have games to back it up: The Governors are going to be a tough win in OVC play. The Governors were able to defend home court this week, and finally get into the win column in conference play. Now with some momentum, can the Governors make a run at a bye in March? They just completed a 4-game home stand, and will need that momentum before going on a 3-game road swing.
We haven’t talked much about John Fraley since he returned from injury, but he has made a huge difference on the boards for Austin Peay. He’s pulled down 30 rebounds in the Governors previous 3 games, just over half of which are off the offensive glass. He’s giving the Governors 2nd chances they weren’t getting without him, and is a big reason Austin Peay’s offense has been much better in OVC play. (Either that or the quality of the defenses has changed…)
5. Eastern Kentucky (10-9, 4-3) Last Week: 2
A week ago, I thought EKU was at best the favorite, at least a contender for the No. 2 seed in Nashville. Now…Is this a team that can get a single bye? They’ve not been especially good on the road, and they still haven’t gotten any help for Jaron Jones.
Without a doubt, this isn’t the best team of shooters head coach Jeff Neubauer has had in his tenure, something he hold me he thought he had over the summer. Their deep shooting, especially, has been disappointing, forcing EKU out of their comfort zone a little bit.
Right now, the Colonels look like they’re heading for a similar finish as last year, where they didn’t get a bye at 9-7, and were upset in the first round. Getting out of that first round is very important, and to get a bye, the Colonels need to start winning on the road. They host UT Martin this week, and step out of conference playing Longwood. (Really?!?)
6. Morehead State (9-10, 3-3) Last Week: 6
Well, it’s your turn to play the Racers. Good luck. At least you get UT Martin on Saturday.
Things aren’t as bleak as many expected after Terrance Hill went down. The Eagles finished the win against Austin Peay, and are 2-2 since. With a win this week, the Eagles will likely have enough wins to at least make it to Nashville.
But a bye isn’t still out of the question, although the road is still pretty steep. They have 6 home games remaining, only 4 on the road, don’t have to travel to Murray, and only have 1 game remaining against every team above them in this week’s Power Rankings. The schedule set up well, but they still have to win the games they’re supposed to, and probably pick up an “upset” along the way.
7. Tennessee State (10-10, 3-4) Last Week: 9
When you have a lead on the road in the second half, like the Tigers did in Clarksville Monday, you have to be able to close it out. The Tigers didn’t, and the disappointing season continues.
But let’s also remember, the Tigers are one of the youngest teams in the OVC, likely 3rd to Jacksonville State and UT Martin. This is still a team trying to build players, and in doing so, build a program. And they’ve got a great core group of offensive players. If they can tighten up on defense, this is still a team with the talent to make a run in March. I’m just becoming less confident they’ll actually do so.
8. Eastern Illinois (9-7, 2-2) Last Week: 7
The jury is still out a bit on Eastern Illinois. It’s very possible they’re a top-4 team in the conference, but there’s just not a lot of evidence to say either way. Their only 2 conference wins have come against SIU Edwardsville and UT Martin, they have the worst loss to Murray State of any OVC team, and they lost on the road at SEMO.
We will learn a little this week, as EIU hosts Tennessee State, but EIU has historically over performed at home, and under performed on the road, so while 2 home wins would be good, it’s not necessarily a sign the Panthers can make a run in March.
Jeremy Granger is another one of those players flying under the radar thanks to the Murray State effect, but many more 31 point performances will remind teams who he is. Joey Miller continues to improves, and has become a solid 2nd scoring threat.
9. SIU Edwardsville (5-10, 3-3) Last Week: 5
Will the real SIU Edwardsville team please stand up? In just the game at SEMO alone, SIU Edwardsville proved how inconsistent they can be, after going from a 7-point lead to being blown out by the Redhawks. They’re still a team that relies overly on the 3-point shot for offense, which could explain the inconsistency.
The question is can they get a win at home against 2 of the better teams in the OVC. They have already “upset” Tennessee Tech, but Austin Peay and Murray State both have a lot of momentum behind them as they roll into Edwardsville this week. The Vadalabene Center is sold out for Saturday’s match-up against No. 12/10 Murray State on ESPNU, so I will be excited to see how the Cougars play under pressure against undoubtedly the best team in the conference.
10. Jacksonville St. (6-14, 1-6) Last Few Weeks: 10
Things seem to be going from bad to worse for the Gamecocks. After two close calls on the road this week, now the Gamecocks have dismissed senior Stephen Hall for “internal issues.” The Gamecocks are already 2 wins out of the 8th seed in Nashville, and it’s looking less and less likely they’ll even be in the running in the final week of the season.
Which is a shame, given how talented this team’s defense has been. And the mantra may be “defense wins championships” but that’s because most of the time, good defense leads to good offense. In Jacksonville State’s case, good defense leads to…more good defense on the other end. Not having their top rebounder, Hall, inside for the rest of the season isn’t likely to solve their problems.
11. UT Martin (3-16, 0-6) Way Too Long Now: 11
Well, what do you say at this point?
While Murray State is on a quest for an undefeated season, the quest in Martin may very well be not going 0-16. They make the Death Valley road trip this week. Let’s go ahead in pencil in two losses there. They host Tennessee State, which may be one of their better chances at a win. They then travel to Clarksville, before hosting Jacksonville State. If they have a win by this point (February 2nd) I don’t see it happening.
Terrance Smith isn’t likely to return this season. I say this with no additional knowledge of the situation than I’ve had in past weeks, but why even risk bringing him back at this point?