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As we get deeper into OVC play, one would logically think we would be getting a better view of how good (or bad) the teams in the OVC are.

Instead, Austin Peay is 0-2, and SIU Edwardsville is 2-0. Do you really think after 10 games the Cougars will be ahead of the Governors in the standings?

Tennessee Tech gets blown out by said Edwardsville on the road, before returning the favor against UT Martin on the road. Perfect at home in non-conference play, Eastern Illinois competes with Murray State for approx. 4 minutes before getting doubled up in Charleston. Eastern Kentucky remains perfect on the year thanks to a 41-point first half against Tennessee State (a big deal considering EKU averages just over 65 points a game.)

In fact, the only thing that seems to make sense is that the Racers haven’t been challenged in 2 OVC games so far.

At least it makes the top pick in this week’s Power Rankings simple.

Again.

1. Murray State (14-0, 2-0) Last Week: 1

After their blowout win against Eastern Illinois, I asked Isaiah Canaan about if being undefeated was having any affect on the team, creating any extra pressure. His response:

“We want to keep it rolling, we don’t want to be on the other end, the ‘L’ column, so these 14 games we’ve got behind us have been a great experience and we’re just trying to keep it going.”

Watching this team, talking to players and coaches after, you get the sensation they’re feeling no added pressure from this streak. Despite all the media attention, despite being asked about going undefeated by somebody every game since winning at Memphis, Murray State continues to be the most focused team in the conference, and it shows in two complete blowouts in conference play so far.

Sure, the run is likely to end before March, (especially if the injury to Ivan Aska forces him to miss games.) It could end against the team just below them in the Power Rankings on Wednesday. But it won’t be because they’re not focused on the game, or feeling the pressure. At least not yet. That may change if there’s still a 0 in the loss column 5 or 10 wins from now.

Which kind only goes to prove the point I’ve been making since Memphis that the media jumped on the “undefeated” idea way too early.

2. Eastern Kentucky (9-7, 3-0) Last Week: 4

Winners of 6 of their last 7, EKU all of a sudden looks like OVC contenders. They avoided a road upset to open OVC play (something other teams on this list can’t claim) and have so far held their home court.

A lot more will be known about EKU’s title chances on Wednesday, as they travel to Murray to face the Racers.

Jaron Jones is one of the best stories of the year that’s flying under the radar, at least outside of Richmond. One of just 2 seniors on the Colonels team, he has almost without question the most improved player in the conference from a year ago. He wasn’t even a role player last year: he was a the 8th or 9th player off the bench that came on for 2-3 minutes spells to offer some relief. This year, he’s the Colonels leader on the court. He has made a complete turnaround, and is one of the biggest reason the Colonels have played so well as of late

3. SEMO (6-7, 1-0) Last Week: 7

This is one of those teams that could be really dangerous in March. They have, without question, the best frontcourt in the conference, and they seem to be finding some answers in the backcourt. (Sitting the Nutt boys may be a big step in the right direction.)

But the Redhawks have yet to prove they can win on the road, (1-5 away from the Show Me Center, and that one win was by just 1 point against a weak Sacramento State squad) and I’m still not sold that their guards can stand up to the talented backcourts that Murray State and Tennessee Tech have, to name a few.

I also worry if the schedule is setting them up to be this year’s Tennessee State: their next 5 games are all against teams (with Eastern Kentucky as a possible exception) generally perceived to finish in the bottom half of the conference. The Redhawks should be 5-1, at worst, before traveling to Cookeville to face Tennessee Tech. But are the a real threat to win the OVC? I’m not sold.

4. Tennessee State (8-7, 1-1) Last Week: 6

No doubt the Tigers youth showed, digging a 41-17 halftime deficit in Richmond against Eastern Kentucky on Saturday. But then, we saw their talent, as they clawed their way back into the game, forcing the Colonels to hit free throws to seal a win.

Kenny Moore‘s return hasn’t really provided a boost for the Tigers, (as Moore is in the early running for most disappointing player this year) still leaving sophomore Patrick Miller as the only consistent scoring threat behind Robert Covington.

After a slow start on the road in that game at Richmond, it will be interesting to see how the Tigers respond to playing at rival Tennessee Tech, and at Jacksonville State this week, a team that is quite possibly defensively focused to a fault.

5. Tennessee Tech (9-6, 1-1) Last Week: 2

Standard fan reaction to Thursday night’s game: How do you lose to SIU Edwardsville?

Well, you do it the same way you’ve been losing games all year: don’t defend the 3-point arc. In their two conference games, TTU is allowing 41% shooting from 3-point range. And that’s not just an anomaly: they’re allowing 37% shooting on the season.

And then there’s Kevin Murphy‘s 1-16 performance in that same game. I’ve harped on this topic before: You have to have more than 2 scorers to be consistently successful. Zach Bailey has come along strong over the past month, and may become that third option if Murphy or Jud Dillard have an off game. (And Bailey did have 16 points in that loss.) Murphy bounced back against UT Martin, so that performance is likely just a one-time offense.

6. Morehead State (7-8, 1-1) Last Week: 8

For Morehead’s OVC tournament chances, and outside bye-game chances, beating Austin Peay in Morehead was a huge win. It was an ugly win, one that may have cost them their leading scorer Terrance Hill, who went down with an apparent knee injury. But they played good down the stretch, made big plays, and earned their first conference win against the team picked to win the OVC.

And especially if Hill misses significant time, Morehead State could look back on that win against the Governors as they reason they’re playing in Nashville in March.

But I’m not sure I’ve ever seen teams score so easily in the paint against a team that plays a 2-3 zone as their primary defense. The entire point of that particular zone is to make it harder for teams to get into the paint. It’s not working, and the Eagles have the speed at every position to man up on almost any team in the OVC. Sure, there would be mismatches in the paint against good interior teams, but how many of them are there in the OVC? 2?

7. SIU Edwardsville (4-7, 2-0) Last Week: 11

If you’re a Cougars fan, you’re probably yelling at me: “But we just beat Tennessee Tech, and we have a better conference record. Shouldn’t we be ranked above them?”

As I said in my first word on Saturday, as soon as you prove to me you can win a game without having to hit 55%+ from 3-point range, I’ll become a believer. Until then, your performance on the season as a whole keeps you in the bottom half of the Power Rankings.

At least you’re finally out of the basement.

I thought that SIUE, even though ineligible for the conference tournament, might make enough wins to keep have an effect on which teams made the tournament, and their win against Jacksonville State on Saturday could have that impact. Jacksonville State’s offense is woeful, and that’s being kind. They led most of this game, just couldn’t build their lead. It cost them the game, and could very well cost them a spot in the OVC tournament.

8. Austin Peay (3-12, 0-2) Last Week: 3

I thought conference play might cure all the Governors wounds. Instead, the Govs start the conference season in Death Valley, and remind everyone why we call the Morehead-Richmond road swing by that nickame.

Next up, they get the currently undefeated and nationally ranked Racers.

The coaches/athletic directors pick to win the OVC (not mine!) is very likely to start off conference play 0-3, and all but out of the race before it even begins.

Blame the schedule, which was simply out of their league. Blame the injuries, which made a hard schedule even harder. But the season is far from over. I wouldn’t put a bye in the OVC Tournament out of question from the Governors, although that road continues to get steeper.

9. Eastern Illinois (6-6, 0-1) Last Week: 5

Exposed. That’s the word that first leaps to mind when thinking about the Panthers loss to the Racers. Sure, EIU is still 5-1 at home, but against who? Only one came against a Division I school with a winning record (Maine, at 6-5)

The Panthers have lost 4 straight, and Mike Miller seems no closer to figuring out his lineup conundrum than he was in November.

A lot of fans are calling for Miller to be fired. I think as long as the Panthers make the OVC tournament, he will easily survive for at least another year. And even if the Panthers do fall out of the tournament, the fact that he’s dealing with injuries again this year could easily keep him in Charleston. But his seat seems to be getting a little bit warm.

10. Jacksonville State (5-10, 0-2) Last Week: 9

Jacksonville State has a lot of problem right now: Injuries have reared their ugly head, they’ve spent a lot of time lately on the road, and their offense isn’t good.

But this team wasn’t built to win this year. They only have one senior, and he is the only player with more than a year under head coach James Green. That same unfamiliarity with his teammates is one reason that senior, Stephen Hall has struggled.

And the defense is really solid. Most people aren’t noticing because when you play games in the high 50’s and 60’s, they just assume you’re a bad team. Often times, that’s the case. For the Gamecocks, that’s only true of their offense. Unlike…

11. UT Martin (3-13, 0-3) Last Week: 10

Until Terrance Smith returns, I wouldn’t be surprised if UT Martin doesn’t win again. Late in the game against Tennessee Tech, this team quit. No other way to word it. And here’s the thing: for the first 30 minutes, this team played better than I’ve seen them all season.

As head coach Jason James told me after the game, they don’t have point guard right now. Which is very true. Mike Liabo is starting to buy into that role, but when the teams needs a basket, he takes it upon himself to get it. Even if that means taking a 3-point shot 15 seconds into the shot clock out of a double team in the corner.

There’s a lot to look forward to with this team, but much like Jacksonville State, not this year. Myles Taylor is making a strong push for freshman of the year honors, but still needs to get tougher on the boards.


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OVC Ball
Compiling all OVC non-conference games

2016 Football Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 7-0 10-2
UT Martin 6-2 7-5
Tennessee Tech 5-3 5-6
Tennessee State 4-3 7-4
Eastern Illinois 4-4 6-5
Murray State 4-4 4-7
SEMO 3-5 3-8
Eastern Kentucky 2-6 3-8
Austin Peay 0-8 0-11


2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall

EAST

Belmont 15-1 23-7
Morehead State 10-6 14-16
Jacksonville State 9-7 20-15
Tennessee State 8-8 17-13
Tennessee Tech 8-8 12-20
Eastern Kentucky 5-11 12-19

WEST

UT Martin 10-6 22-13
SEMO 9-7 15-18
Murray State 8-8 16-17
Austin Peay 7-9 11-19
Eastern Illinois 6-10 14-15
SIUE 1-15 6-24


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