It is Bracket Buster Saturday, which means every OVC team is in action today…against teams many of their fans have never heard of. So we’re going back to first words of old today (being like 2 weeks ago) previewing every matchup game by game.
That being said, this is going to take awhile to type, and the games start early, so if you are reading this and your game isn’t posted, I’m working on it.
Here’s today’s First Word:
These two things have one thing in common: They’ve both struggled since this matchup was announced. Coastal Carolina has lost 3 of their last 4, the Golden Eagles 2 of their last 3. The similarities don’t end there: Both teams are better offensive teams than defensive teams (although how they do stop opponents is very different)
How different? If you looked just at field goal defense, you’d think the Chanticleers defense was amazing. They hold opponents to just 40% shooting from the field, under 43% inside the arc, both ranked in the top 50 in the nation. They’re not great at defending the perimeter, but one of the biggest issues with their defense is they don’t force turnovers, hardly ever. They’re 323rd in the nation in turnovers forced a game, which leads to 2 problems: teams tend to take more shots shots against them because there are fewer empty possessions, and they don’t get the easy buckets that often come off them.
The Chanticleers have a great scoring duo as well (seriously, could two more similar teams be matched) in 6’1″ guard Anthony Raffa and 6’7″ forward Sam McLaurin. They have a 3rd 10+ ppg scorer, 6’2″ guard Kierre Greenwood. They have bigger players than McLaurin as well, including a 6’11” senior, one reason the Chanticleers are one of the best rebounding teams in the nation. I see very little reason Coastal Carolina doesn’t get their points against a Tennessee Tech squad not known for their defense. But as I noted, their guards aren’t big. I have to wonder if they’re quick enough to counter Jud Dillard and Kevin Murphy, assuming they both show up.
I spoke a lot last week about momentum. TTU only has one game next week, hosting the Racers. If Tennessee Tech is going to have any momentum going into the OVC tournament, this is a must win.
Bowling Green is a bit of an odd duck, at least looking at their statistics. They force a lot of turnovers, but play at a slower pace. (Not Morehead State slow, but slow none-the-less) They’re not a great scoring team, but have a solid defense…assuming they’re forcing turnovers, because their field-goal defense isn’t that good. Like I said, on paper, they’re just…odd.
For the most part, their scoring will come from their starters, but which starter gives them the most production is up in the air. This team doesn’t have a true 3-point threat, but 4 players do average between 10-13 points a game. They also have a 6’10 forward, but he only plays about 19 minutes a game, and is 4th on the team in rebounding, so I doubt he’s an athletic 6’10.
The Falcons record is a little deceiving: The MAC is better than the OVC, and their non-conference schedule was tough. In fact, Bowling Green has played a much tougher schedule than the Eagles, including 9 teams in the RPI top-100. But, they’re just 2-7 against those teams, but they did beat Temple (18th in RPI) at home back in November. They also have played Austin Peay this season, also in November, which should tell you who won the game. (Not the Governors)
As far as pace goes, Morehead’s last 4 games have been slowed to a crawl, but they’ve won 3 of those 4. Clearly, they’ll look to limit Bowling Green’s chances today: my question is will Bowling Green try to speed them up. As I said earlier, Bowling Green isn’t a fast-paced team, but if they force turnovers, they can be.
Many people are assuming the Cougars get a “bad” matchup simply because they’re in the Division I transition, but if you look at RPI, it’s about equal. Despite having 7 wins, SIU Edwardsville’s RPI is still 315. Northern Illinois? 329. Part of that reason is the conference. As I said above, the MAC is better than the OVC, and although the 2 MAC wins NIU has are against 2 other teams at the bottom of the standings, the biggest thing is that their strength of schedule is much stronger.
All this being said “horrible” is a word one could use to describe Northern Illinois. They rank 300th or worse in the nation in the following categories: FG%, 3PT%, Offensive Efficiency, Defensive Efficiency, Turnovers, Assists, and 3PT% Defense. This doesn’t even count the statistical categories that fall in the high 200’s, which is almost every other one you could think of. They have just one 10 ppg scorer, a 6’7″ forward that just barely shoots 40% from the field.
But, this college basketball, and as surprising as SIU Edwardsville has been in the league this season, you can’t count out anything. The Cougars must hold onto the basketball, something they’ve struggled with lately. But they have a great chance to hit 3-pointers, an area the Cougars have excelled in, and may not need many to outscore a team averaging 55 points a game this season.
Seriously, this is as close to a lock as you can get.
So Bracketbusters appears to have become the OVC-MAC challenge. This matchup looks, record wise, a little more out of balance than it was when it was announced, but Tennessee State should be a pretty heavy favorite. Also, remember above how bad I said Northern Illinois was. Miami is one of those 2 MAC wins they have, and that win came just a few weeks ago. But, the Redhawks beat the OVC’s Redhawks earlier in the season, so they have some talent on the squad.
For the Tigers, this game will feel similar to playing Morehead State this season: Miami is generally in no hurry on offense. They have their own Robert Covington, in a way, in 6’8″ forward Julian Mavunga, who has been described previously as a future pro. Not sure he’s making that case on an 8-16 team, but anyway, he average’s almost 17 points a game, and like Covington doesn’t shy away from shooting the 3, (although he doesn’t hit as many) and is a great rebounder…on a team that as a whole isn’t good at rebounding.
Once you get past their top 3, Miami doesn’t have anyone that poses much of a threat. But, if you’re thinking you can hope to get those 3 Redhawks into foul trouble, I might think again: one are Miami does succeed is defending without fouling, although to be fair, they also apparently defend…without actually stopping anyone.
So, earlier, I mentioned how alike Tennessee Tech and their opponent, Coastal Carolina were. These two teams could not be more different. The very-forward oriented SEMO squad will travel to play a very guard-oriented McNeese State.
This game could really go a lot of different ways. McNeese State isn’t a great offensive team, but has a stellar guard in Patrick Richard, and I don’t know who SEMO puts on him. But on the flip side, while McNeese State is a solid defensive team, they don’t really have the bodies to match up with Leon Powell and Tyler Stone. McNeese State has been a great perimeter defense team, (not surprising given their talented guards) but SEMO has been surprisingly good as of late shooting from deep. So, I don’t have a good read on how this game will go, honestly.
McNeese State comes out of a bad Southland conference, but there are 2 teams in that conference, in Texas-Arlington and Lamar (who UT Martin has faced) that are pretty good, and the Cowboys have beaten Lamar. (They haven’t played Texas-Arlington) They also played a strong non-conference schedule that included playing California and Southern Miss. But they’ve won 7 straight games, and none of their last 5 opponents scored more than 61 points.
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Have you heard of the ESPN personality known as “Dickie V”? Apparently, he’s a really big deal, and he’s coming to Murray tonight, in a game you may, or may not, have heard about.
Sarcasm aside, this is a huge game for the Racers, and their NCAA at-large chances. A win here would be huge, even though St. Mary’s is missing Stephen Holt and will likely be without Matthew Dellavedova. The numbers don’t care who is injured or not, and the Racers could use another top-50 RPI win. (Although, if St. Mary’s doesn’t stop losing, they’re not going to be top-50 for much longer) On the flip side, a Racers loss, and not only is it another knock to the RPI, and the record, but it’s going to be hard to make the “eye test” argument ESPN likes to drone on about if you lose at home to a wounded Gaels squad.
Assuming Dellavedova is out, the Gaels will likely rely on 6’6″ forward Rob Jones, a 15 ppg scorer who averages over 10 rebounds a game, and even over 2 assists and 1.6 steals. This is that one game we’ve talked about throughout the season where Ed Daniel cannot afford to get in foul trouble. They’ll need a big game from him, as well as Ivan Aska and Latreze Mushatt to contain him. Jones is not a good free-throw shooter. 6’7″ forward Clint Steindel is, assuming you consider a perfect 20-20 good.
The dynamic of this game has changed since being announced. Murray has lost since then, and St. Mary’s has lost twice. And with 2 players likely out, the Racers should be prohibitive favorites. But this is still a great game, and as I said earlier, numbers don’t care about injuries.
The Horizon League is, as we’ve come to expect, solid. That doesn’t mean every team in it is. Meet Illinois-Chicago. The Flames, as their record would kind of suggest, have lost 10 of their last 12 games. Among those losses, a 70-42 loss in which the Flames shot just 27% from the field and an almost inconceivable 50% from the FT line. Not that Eastern Illinois is exactly lighting the nets on fire, but they’ve won 3 straight as they continue to try to keep their slim OVC tournament hopes alive.
Howard Moore, the UIC coach, seems to share Mike Miller‘s “everybody plays” approach, but the reason is pretty simple: there are 7 freshman on the Flames roster. All 7 of them have played between 7 and 17 games this year. They have senior leadership as well, with 4 seniors that have played in all 25 games this year, and 5th that’s only played in 14 game. There’s just not a whole lot in between the two classes.
One of the…we’ll call them challenges, Illinois-Chicago has faced this year is with three point shooting. They score almost 32% of their points from 3, a high number, but only shoot 33% behind the arc. They just shoot a lot of them. In fact, the Flames 2nd leading scorer, Daniel Barns, averages almost 7 3-point attempts a game, despite not hitting much better than the team average percentage wise. The biggest matchup challenge for the Panthers is facing 6’9″ senior center Darrin Williams, who is a 55% shooter and leads the team in rebounds.
At one point this season, IPFW looked like they were going to have a good season. (Sound familiar, EKU fans?) After a tough start, they won 5 straight games, including against UT Martin, and were 6-3 on the year. Since then…they’ve won just 3 games, going through three losing streaks of 3 games or more, including their current 6-game losing streak.
The Mastodons are likely going to look to control the tempo, by which I mean speed up the Colonels, which is far from an easy task. But more possessions might not be in their best interest, given their inability to defend the perimeter this year, and EKU’s ability to shoot from it (which isn’t amazing, but is good enough to make a bad defense pay)
The challenge for the Colonels will be stopping one of the top scorers in the nation in Frank Gaines, who averages over 20 points a game. He’s just a 6’5″ forward, but leads the team in rebounds as well as points. The Mastadons have a capable ball handler in 5’10” freshman guard Jonny Marlin who, as you may suspect from a freshman, can be prone to the occasional turnover…but he’s only turned over the ball once in the last 3 games combined, and has shown he can shoot the 3 when needed. Not surprisingly, being 5’10”, Marlin is shooting just 29% inside the arc.
Remember how I said earlier the Southland wasn’t very good. Well, the Lions record in the conference in one thing, but here’s the really odd thing: On the season, the Lions are averaging a bad 59.1 points a game. Against the, again not good Southland, they’re averaging…under 54. And they didn’t play all lower division teams or anything during non-conference play. They played Arkansas, South Carolina, and Texas Tech…in a row. They also played SEMO back in December, falling by just 2 points at the Show Me Center, and that’s where things changed. Their leading scorer, Brandon Fortenberry hasn’t played since, and the Lions haven’t been the same. Almost exactly what happened to UT Martin…
But while they’ve struggled (to put it nicely) on offense in conference play (including a 38 point performance at Northwestern State) they’ve lost their fair share of 2-point contests. While they can’t score, they can defend. This is a lot like Jacksonville State, back when Jacksonville State was known for their defense, and they’re especially strong against the 3, which isn’t really UT Martin’s game in the first place. They’re led by Roosevelt Johnson, a 6’6″ forward that’s a strong rebounder. They also have a pair of 6’8 players, as well as two 6’7″ forwards, so the Lions don’t have a shortage of players to throw at Myles Taylor.
The Blue Hose (and yes, that’s their nickname. I had to look at it many, many times to make sure that one was right) have won 4 of their last 5, a stark contrast to the 7-straight losses they had before this streak. Their biggest win of the season, their opener, a 28-point win against Eastern Kentucky.
The Gamecocks will likely need their former, defensive-minded selves, to make an appearance tonight, as Presbyterian has a very solid offensive attack led by 6’8″ forward Al’Lonzo Coleman, and 6’4 freshman guard Khalid Mutakabbir. (Jacksonville State’s play-by-play guy is going to have a rough night with these names…) who combine for 30 points a game. They’ve also got a talented 3-point shooter in Pierre Miller, and to a lesser extent in Josh Johnson who can add a lot of range to a team that shoots 46% from the field on the season.
But that’s not to say the Gamecocks should leave behind their new, offensive-minded selves. Presbyterian’s defense hasn’t been good this year, as they haven’t been able to force turnovers, or stop teams in the paint. They have been rather effective at defending the 3-point arc, but since Jacksonville State is 343rd out of 345 teams in the nation in 3-point shooting percentage, that’s probably not going to help the Blue Hose much.
This is the one matchup I don’t quite get. Youngstown State is a solid team from a solid conference. Austin Peay is a borderline bad team from a conference that is being incredibly boosted thanks to the Governors rivals. That being said, Austin Peay getting blown out of the water twice in one week happened after the game was announced, so there’s that. Of course, Austin Peay’s RPI has been incredibly boosted by the fact they played an incredibly tough non-conference slate, so it’s likely that the brains at ESPN looked the Governors 198 RPI and Youngstown State’s 164 and went, “this is a good matchup,” when I’m not so sure that it is.
The biggest challenge for the Governors will be stopping the Penguins skilled 3-point shooters, including 2 hitting better than 40% from behind the arc this season in Blake Allen and DuShawn Brooks. Of course, this is one area Austin Peay has mightily struggled this season. But those are the Penguins top scoring threat, that would be 6’0″ sophomore guard Kendrick Perry, who is averaging over 16 points a game, a substantial portion of which is done from the free throw line.
The one knock on the Penguins is depth: Their 5 starters all average at least 29 minutes a game, with no reserve playing double digit minutes. Their starting forwards are just 6’6″ and 6’7″, so they don’t play with a bunch of size either. But surprisingly, where their defense has really struggled is against the 3-point shot, although the Governors haven’t exactly been lighting it up from there this year.