So, how’s it look?
This is what I’ve been secretly working on lately, what is without a doubt the biggest update to the site I’ve made. Things are still somewhat rough around the edges right now, (like how the entire right third of this page is completely blank) but I’ll continue to work on getting everything up, and making sure it looks better than ever.
That being said, how about we get to some previews, eh? There’s a 1 vs 2 battle today, and one very important seeding battle as well.
And Jacksonville State has a good chance to take a 3-win lead over Eastern Illinois for 8th place.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[SEMO (12-9 ,7-2) at No. 10/9 Murray State (21-0, 9-0), 7:00 p.m. ESPNU]
Live Coverage on Twitter @OVCBall
The number one thing I’ve heard about the Redhawks OVC record: they haven’t played Murray yet. That (clearly) is about to change. SEMO will get their first of at least 2 chances to take down the undefeated Racers, as they head to a nearly sold out CFSB Center.
I’m putting the over/under on SEMO turnovers at 21, and that may be being generous to the Redhawks. First, they’re on the road, and SEMO hasn’t exactly been the road warrior type. Second, they’re not that good at holding onto the ball anyway. And third, they’re going up against a team very, very good at takeaways. Fourth, it appears that the Redhawks will still be missing Nick Niemczyk for this one, who has the best assist/turnover ratio on the team. Like I said, 21 may have been kind.
SEMO’s frontcourt has received much of the praise this year, and it’s been deserved. But they’ll be going against a Murray State frontcourt that has been fairly dominant on the defensive side of the basketball all year. While I think Leon Powell and Tyler Stone are a better duo offensively than Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel, I’d take the latter two on defense anytime. As for rebounding, it’s likely a push between the 4. How many minutes Aska will receive just over a week since being cleared to play is yet to be seen.
SEMO is a team that a few Racers fans have told me scare them, and while SEMO might be able to score, their defense has been downright terrible at times. It’s been much better since conference play started, but hardly to the level of the Racers. SEMO is one of the few teams I think could try and score with Murray, but they’re not a team I’m confident can stop Murray if they fall behind.
[Tennessee Tech (14-9, 6-4) at Austin Peay (9-15, 6-5), 7:00 p.m. CST]
Well, this is the matchup of the top 2 teams in the OVC preseason poll. Does that count for anything? No? Well, you could also make the argument then that this is the matchup between the top 2 disappointing teams this year. Better? Yeah, I didn’t think it would be.
I talk about seeding a lot in the First and Final Words, and here again we have another game with big seeding implications. This is the only game these two teams play, which means the winner also earns the tiebreaker between the 2. Especially for the Governors, who are one game behind in the loss column, losing here would make surpassing TTU much harder down the stretch. And the way the seeding is falling right now, one of the two teams might earn a bye. The other? See you on Day 1.
I love how Kevin Murphy told CBS Sports that after his record setting game against SIU Edwardsville, he went to sleep. The question is: what’s next? Murphy has come alive over this recent stretch, scoring 25 points or more in 3 of the Golden Eagles last 4 games. But with Jud Dillard in the lineup, can the Governors afford to just key in on one guy? I doubt Dillard will go for 50 this season, but he’s capable of getting 30.
I don’t think Austin Peay would ever admit it, but their offense has become a faster paced version of Murray State’s a season ago. You just don’t know who’s going to do what on any given night, but somehow, it works. But again this year, we’re not seeing the hard nosed defense we’re used to seeing from Loos coached teams. This is almost becoming a trend.
[Eastern Kentucky (12-11, 5-5) at Eastern Illinois (9-12, 2-7), 7:00 p.m. CST]
I’m really glad I’m not covering this game…because when talking about both teams, I call them both simply “Eastern” quite often, and that would get confusing.
Both teams are on the slide, but the good news is that there aren’t any ties in basketball, so somebody will have to win. If EIU wants to stay in the OVC tournament race, they really, really need it to be them.
These two teams also are challenging a widely held belief that holding onto the basketball is somehow important. Neither of these two teams have especially impressive records, yet they’re the 2 best ball control teams in the OVC. Go figure.
Defensive seem to have (correctly) determined that Jeremy Granger is the only steady, capable offensive threat on this team, and they’ve done a good job here recently of keeping his numbers low. We’ve seen Joey Miller and Alfonzo McKinnie have solid offensive games as of late, but neither are very consistent, nor are either a real breakout threat. Sure they might get 15 points or so, but that’s about all you have to worry about from them. Since Granger’s 31 point game against SEMO, he’s only averaging 10.2 points a game. Until EIU can find a way to free up Granger, or establish another offensive threat, don’t expect the game plan to change.
On the other end, can anyone stop Jaron Jones? In a normal year (read non 21-0 year) he’d be a serious player of the year candidate in the OVC. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a junior college player have such a pedestrian junior year and explode in his senior year like Jones has. He hasn’t been held under 20 points in the past 4 games, hasn’t been held to single digits since the second game of the season. But, no matter how positive his contribution are, the Colonels are treading at .500 in the league. He needs some serious help, and it doesn’t appear he’s going to get it.
[Morehead State (12-11, 5-4) at SIU Edwardsville (5-14, 3-7), 7:00 p.m. CST]
Morehead State needs to pick up road wins to keep momentum building towards a bye in Nashville. SIU Edwardsville…just needs momentum. But the Cougars have returned home, where they’re pulled off a few surprising wins already, so nothing is out of the question.
Whereas the theme of Monday night seemed to be rematches, the theme tonight is first matchups. Much like every other game, it’s the first meeting between these two schools this year.
At the beginning of OVC play, Morehead State appeared to be flying under the radar somewhat. They had lost their top player from last season, they lost their top scorer from this season to injury, and in non-conference play they didn’t rack up any wins that really shocked anyone. But I think we’ve found out over the last month that the Eagles are a better team than most people (myself included) thought they were. But do they have a deep OVC tournament run in them? Maybe. Their defensive has been strong as of late, and as we’ve seen with Jacksonville State, it can keep them in games. They’ve gotten monster games from Drew Kelly and Ty Profitt as of late, but can they be relied through February and into March? They’ve never had to step up for an extended period of time like they are now, so it will be interesting to see if they can continue to do so.
The Cougars not only have come crashing back to earth, but seem to have dug a major crater while doing so. Defensively, they cannot stop anyone as of late, evidenced by allowing the first 50 point scorer in college basketball all season. And it’s not just one bad night of defense. They didn’t even remotely contain Murray State, SEMO, Austin Peay, and even Jacksonville State scored 76 points on them. They’ve pulled off some nice upsets with their shooting, but to win consistently they have to play better on the other side of the ball, because the 3 isn’t going to fall consistently for too many teams.
[Jacksonville State (9-15, 4-6) at UT Martin (3-20, 0-10), 7:00 p.m CST]
2 weeks ago, I would have said this game, hosting the Gamecocks, would be UTM’s best chance at a conference win. Now? I’m not entirely sure…
This continues the theme of theme of “first of 2 matchups” tonight, with the second coming at the end of the year, much like almost every other game tonight. A win by Jacksonville State tonight almost eliminate UT Martin from post season play, and it’s only February 2nd. Martin would be 5 wins behind JSU, with 5 games to go. Of course, one could argue the Skyhawks have been “virtually” eliminated for quite some time now.
I’m not entirely sure the circumstance of Stephen Hall getting kicked off of the Gamecocks squad, but they hardly seem worse for the wear. In fact, offensively, they’ve been almost a completely different team. It didn’t help that Hall, a 6’6″ forward, was shooting under 40% from the field. But this team hasn’t had one of those disastrous shooting nights in quite a while now. Last time the Gamecocks as a team shot under 40% from the field was against Murray State, 3 weeks ago.
It’s clear that Terrance Smith isn’t returning this season for UT Martin, but do you go ahead and sit Mike Liabo as well, especially if you lose tonight? I have a hard time believing that hip is getting that much better, and the extra rest might do him some good. Plus, you need to figure out if you have another playmaker on that team not named Myles Taylor. At this point, it’s more important to start planning for next year, because barring a miracle, this one is over. That being said, they made a run last year, so nothing is finished yet. But it’s hard to imagine a scenario allowing the Skyhawks to make a similar run at this point.