We’re getting to that point in the year where the Power Rankings shouldn’t really change much. We’ve seen these teams for over 2 months now, so we should be getting a good grasp on where everyone stands.
And for the most part, there’s not a lot of change this week.
Somehow, I’m still not confident I’ve got the league figured out…
1. No. 15/14 Murray State (16-0, 4-0) All Season: 1
So the Racers have now survived hosting Eastern Kentucky and traveling to play their bitter rivals, all while missing Ivan Aska. So, what’s it going to take to beat the Racers? Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech both travel to Murray this week to try and answer that very question.
Latreze Mushatt has been solid in his 2 games as a started in place of Aska, but I don’t think anyone expected Ed Daniel to step up like he has. All season, I’ve said that the play inside would be the Racers Achilles heel, and while the guard play is still a step above, the front court has proven so far to be more than good enough to compete in the OVC.
Now the question being asked is how long will Steve Prohm remain at the helm of the Racers. Mick Cronin was supposedly offered jobs after a 32-5 year in his first year in Murray, but he remained with the Racers for 3 years, until his alma matter offered. While some schools may be looking, most will want to see what Prohm can do over multiple years.
2. Eastern Kentucky (10-8, 3-1) Last Week: 2
I’m not going to penalize the Colonels for losing to the Racers in Murray because, well, everyone is losing to the Racers. They took care of business at home against a very good SEMO squad, and that’s good enough to stay in the number 2 spot. And let’s not act like the Colonels weren’t competitive against the Racers. Jaron Jones had another good game against the best defense in the OVC, and EKU had their chances to take the lead down the stretch, and flat out missed open looks.
This week is a big week for the Colonels if they want to contend for the other double-bye in the OVC tournament. (and more importantly, avoid the Racers until the OVC championship game) They’ll travel to play rival Morehead State (although the Eagles are wounded) after traveling to a very hungry Austin Peay. As we’ve seen this year, wins on the road are anything but automatic, and getting to 5-1 could be a challenge. Especially for a team that’s struggling from behind the arc.
3. Tennessee Tech (11-6, 3-1) Last Week: 5
20-point games from Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard are rather ho-hum at this point. We’re used to it, and to a point, we expect it from them every game. Yet these two aren’t getting a lot of recognition from the league. It might be because neither is a clear leader, or that their performances aren’t usually flashy. They do their job, they get their points, and their team gets wins.
But for a team with 2 such talented guards, why can they not hold onto the basketball? Turnovers have increased since entering conference play, and while they generally force more than they commit, they shouldn’t be committing 16 a game in the first place.
Tech has sped up their pace in conference play as well, but I wonder if they’ll stick to that against the Racers. If there is any team in the conference you don’t want to give extra possessions to, it’s them. EKU and Austin Peay tried to run, and both ultimately lost. I’ll be curious to see Tennessee Tech’s game plan on Saturday.
4. SEMO (8-8, 3-1) Last Week: 3
Make no mistake, the Redhawks are lucky to be 3-1 in the conference. That shot from Mike Liabo on Thursday was halfway down, and somehow didn’t fall. But on the other side, the Redhawks had a 2nd half lead at Eastern Kentucky, and a tied game in the last minute, when a foul out of all things (I know, a foul…from the Redhawks? Who would’ve thought. Other than everyone.) allowed EKU to hit 2 go-ahead free throws.
And if Leon Powell ever begins playing as well, or better, than he did last year, then SEMO is a team to watch out for. So far, they haven’t really needed a lot from Powell thanks to the play of Tyler Stone, but Powell hasn’t gotten into double digits in scoring in the past 3 games. They don’t need him to score 20, but they would sure like to see at least 10 points from the big man.
Marland Smith is really separating himself as the Redhawks best guard. After a slow start this year, he’s been good for double digit scoring every game since December 10th.
5. SIU Edwardsville (5-8, 3-1) Last Week: 7
The team that can’t make the OVC tournament is having an impact on those that can.
When you look at this team’s box scores, nothing really sticks out as being great (except when they shoot the lights out from behind the arc) There’s nothing I can really point to and say “look how good they are.” But they’re 3-1 in OVC, and have won one game on the road. At this point, you can’t argue with wins, and after not a single Division-I win in non-conference play, SIU has strung together 3 of 4.
It says alot about the conference. And no, not all of it is good.
I keep waiting for the collapse, and I thought we saw the beginning against Eastern Illinois. Call me a pessimist, but I still think the Cougars have an uphill battle to finish .500 in the conference. But they’ve proven me wrong over the past 2 weeks, and for all I know, they’ll continue doing so throughout the rest of conference play.
6. Morehead State (8-9, 2-2) Last Week: 6
The loss of Terrance Hill is huge, and had a big impact in their loss at Tennessee Tech. But they were able to rally after digging a hole on the road against Jacksonville State, so all isn’t lost for the Eagles.
The big question going forward is whether their defense will be able to keep games in the 60’s and 70’s, giving their offense a chance to win games. Even with Hill, the Eagles were only averaging 63 points a game, although they played stiffer non-conference competition than some in the OVC.
Who leads the Eagles in scoring going forward? Drew Kelly led the Eagles with 20 against Jacksonville State, and Marsell Holden had 15 against Tennessee Tech. And then there’s Ty Proffitt, who had 9 in both games, but is 2nd in scoring this season behind Hill. One of the 3 guards will need to step up consistently for Morehead State going forward.
7. Eastern Illinois (8-6, 1-1) Last Week: 9
How has every other team in the conference played 3, 4, or even 5 conference games, except EIU, who has only played 2? Because of their limited OVC exposure, it’s hard to get a good feel for the Panthers. They were blown out at home against Murray State, and are the only OVC team to beat SIU Edwardsville. Their matchup Saturday against SEMO should tell us a lot more about the Panthers going forward.
Though many fans might not want to admit it, Joey Miller has had 2 very solid games back to back now. We saw this earlier in the season, where he scored in double digits for 4 straight games, before seemingly taking the next 5 games off. Miller has also had at least 2 assists in every game since dating back to November 20th. Yes, he’s the coaches son, but he’s also a talented point guard averaging 10 points, and almost 3 assists a game.
8. Austin Peay (3-13, 0-3) Last Week: 8
I said this with Eastern Kentucky, and so it must apply here: I’m not going to penalize a team that loses a close game to Murray State. The Governors kept their game against the Racers close throughout, despite lights out shooting in the first half from Isaiah Canaan.
The season of “no rest for the weary” continues as the Governors get the return game against Eastern Kentucky in Clarksville on Thursday, meaning an 0-4 start isn’t out of the question. They’ll host Jacksonville State on Saturday, which is by far the Governors best chance to get and OVC win. If they take both this week, they’re back into the race for the 2-seed in Nashville. If not, I think a 3 or 4-seed might be the best they can do, especially if they lose to EKU. EKU doesn’t have another game against the Racers or SEMO, and could ride their schedule to a 2 or 3 loss season the way they’re playing now. 4-losses, which won the conference a year ago, might only be good enough for 3rd as top-heavy as the OVC has been this year.
9. Tennessee State (8-9, 1-3) Last Week: 4
Any time you guys want to start making that run, feel free. Although I will say, losing at Jacksonville State isn’t the way to start a run in conference.
The Tigers have been horrible in the first 20 minutes of their past 2 games, trying to catch up from double-digit 1st half deficits. But to their defense, they’ve played 3 of their 4 conference games on the road, and stay at home this week hosting two winnable games against Morehead State and SIU Edwardsville.
Their defense has been the cause of their decline, as conference opponents are shooting better than 51% from the field against them. What’s really amazing is how consistent their top scorers, Robert Covington and Patrick Miller have been this year. Covington gets his 15-20 every game, and Miller his 10-15, like clockwork. You know what you’re going to get from the Tigers on the offensive side of the ball, but not on defense.
10. Jacksonville State (6-12, 1-4) Last Week: 10
The win at home over Tennessee State was much needed, but I’m far from sold on the Gamecocks as an OVC tournament team. Sure, they scored 72 points, but 20 of those came from the free throw line, many in the final 2 minutes as TSU tried to claw their way back into the game. Of course, the Gamecocks did hit 50% from the field, so I can’t be too harsh on the offense.
But I don’t sense good things in the immediate future for Jacksonville State. Their next three games: at No. 15/14 Murray State, at Austin Peay, and at Tennesssee Tech. If they win 1 of the 3, I will consider that a successful swing, and that will greatly improve the Gamecocks OVC tournament chances. They still have 2 games against Tennessee Martin this season, which could give the Gamecocks a good boost, but they still need one or two other games to stake claim to the 8th spot in Nashville.
11. Tennessee Martin (3-15, 0-4) Last Week: 11
After being just a last-second shot away from beating SEMO, I had planned on moving UT Martin above Jacksonville State. Then the Skyhawks lose to SIU Edwardsville, and the Gamecocks upset Tennessee State, leaving the Skyhawks bottom in the conference yet again.
Three games on the road over the next 2 weeks aren’t likely to cure the Skyhawks ills.
How hot is Jason James seat right now? I doubt it’s too hot. But many, including me, expected UTM to compete for a bye in Nashville this season, and right now they’ll be lucky to make it there at all. They had a horrible start in conference play last season, and rallied late, but right now, I’m not seeing it out of this team. How far can UTM fall and James still keep his job? That’s a tough question. I still think he’s the right man, but his time to prove so is getting shorter.