Murray State is retreating to their home in the south, as they travel to play against a UT Martin team. Why do I call it their home in the south? Because they normally win, and there’s a chance Racers fans will outnumber Skyhawks fans. Don’t see that very often…
And there’s a big game in Cape Girardeau for all-important double-bye positioning, as we see how SEMO bounces back from a tough loss to the Racers.
Here’s today’s First Word:
[Tennessee Tech (15-9, 7-4) at Jacksonville State (10-15, 5-6), 4:30 CST]
Kevin Murphy has had 5 straight amazing games. The last game he was held under 18 points? Jacksonville State, a game which Tech lost, at home by one. You could also make the argument that the first meeting between these two schools was the launching pad for the Gamecocks: including that win, they’ve won 4 straight OVC games, and now look solidly in the OVC tournament.
Much like the final score, the teams were nearly identical statistically in the first matchup. The Golden Eagles were cold from 3, and Murphy finished with just 7 points, but the Gamecocks didn’t have an answer for Jud Dillard, who finished with a double-double, and who almost outrebounded the Gamecocks by himself.
I don’t know what has woken the Golden Eagles up, (maybe it was the loss to this team in their first game) but it seems like we’re finally seeing the TTU squad many of us expected to see in November. They’ve been about as explosive on offense as you can be, and while Murphy is getting much of the praise, other players have been stepping up as well over this streak, especially Zac Swansey.
Jacksonville State has turned around their season, but the way they’ve done it is very surprising. This team has been a defensive team, but over this recent streak, their defense hasn’t been that good at all. Their offense on the other hand, which couldn’t get out of the 60’s against anyone, now can’t be stopped. There’s no one player that’s doing it: it’s just suddenly the shots that weren’t falling in November and December are in January. What does February hold?
[No. 10/9 Murray State (22-0, 10-0) at UT Martin (3-21, 0-11), 6:00 p.m. CST, ESPN 3]
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I’m glad that I get to return to Martin today, as it’s been awhile since I got to head down there. But that being said, can there be an uglier matchup on paper?
In the first matchup, Murray State played downright ugly at times, turning over the ball 24 times. But, they won by 24 points, thanks to shooting 68% against UTM’s defense, while the Skyhawks shot just 34%. Yes, that’s half as well.
I’ve said before that if Murray lost, it would be on the road to a team they were “looking past,” but I just can’t make much of a case for that team being the Skyhawks. UTM has been playing better over the last few weeks, losing closer than they were in the past, but the Skyhawks have yet to show they can come together for 40 minutes. As the Racers showed us against SEMO, they need about 5 to take over a game.
So, given my record on these kind of things, watch the Skyhawks challenge Murray. Just because I said I don’t think they can.
[Morehead State (12-12, 5-5) at Eastern Illinois (9-13, 2-8), 6:00 p.m. CST]
Is the SIUE, Eastern Illinois road swing going to become another “Death Valley” sort of situation? The Eagles dropped a surprising game against SIU Edwardsville (so did Tennessee Tech, if you remember) and I’m wondering if this road swing will cause teams similar fits as the one Morehead State has been a part of for years. Just a thought.
Another thought: this is the matchup of the losing teams from “Big 10 night” in the OVC. Just a warning.
I don’t think it’s too early to call this game a “must-win” for EIU’s chances of making the OVC tournament. Eastern Illinois will have to travel to Morehead State later in the season, when they finish the season on the proper Death Valley swing. But with Jacksonville State in a tough matchup against TTU, this is likely a good chance for the Panthers to pick up a game. If they lose here, do they find 3 wins in their last 5? And does Jacksonville State find enough losses to make it an issue?
Morehead State’s offense played terrible against the Cougars, in a loss that could haunt Morehead State come March. With the way the league has gone this year, it’s almost more of a benefit to fall to the 6-seed than be the 5. Could the argument be made that the 6-seed is even better than the 4-seed? Maybe, honestly. Avoiding Murray State could be that important. As a 4-seed, you have to go through the Racers. As a 6? Sure you have to play an extra game, and that’s always dangerous, but there’s the chance the Racers get knocked out in the semi’s and you can avoid them.
[Eastern Kentucky (13-11, 6-5) at SIU Edwardsville (6-14, 4-7), 7:00 p.m. CST]
The winners from “Big 10” night in the OVC, and if you’re going to play an ugly, ugly game, you should at least win it, right? Much like the matchup above, these two will also meet again near the end of the season, although that only has implications for Eastern Kentucky.
The Cougars have yet to prove to me they can win without the deep ball, and at this point, I doubt that they will. In all 4 conference wins for the Cougars, they’ve hit between 6-8 threes. But, the Cougars aren’t the type of team that just throws up a lot of 3’s. In those wins, they hit the 3 at a high percentage as well. But when they’re not hitting 3’s, they don’t have the interior scoring, and don’t get to the line enough, to score. It’s that simple.
Eastern Kentucky may have won 2 of their last 4 OVC games, but being that those games came against UT Martin and EIU, it’s been awhile since the Colonels have beaten a team that tells us anything about EKU’s chances in March. While SIU Edwardsville is a team in the 300’s of the RPI ratings, they’ve been solid at home, so while this might not be a “quality” win, it would be the best in over 2 weeks for the Colonels. And winning 2 straight on the road could give the Colonels momentum as they make the final push.
[Tennessee State (14-10, 7-4), at SEMO (12-10, 7-3), 7:30 p.m. CST]
Say what you want about SEMO’s conference record. Say what you want about SEMO’s performance against Murray. Tonight we really see if SEMO is 2-seed material, or if their conference schedule has just been that friendly to this point.
While the Redhawks haven’t lost at home in conference play, they’ve yet to beat an OVC team that currently is over .500 in the league. But they’ve only played EKU once, TTU once, Murray once, and this is the first game against the Tigers. If they lose tonight, I have serious concerns about whether the Redhawks really are a contender. And yes, they played lights out for 25 minutes or so against the Racers. But it completely fell apart in just about 5 minutes. It’s one thing when Isaiah Canaan is hitting 3’s from 32 feet, but when you get just 4 points over an 8-minute span, that’s bad. I’ll be curious to see how SEMO bounces back from that loss.
The Tigers have won 4 straight, and 6 of the last 7, and appear to be peaking at the right time. But as we’ve seen with other teams that have had good OVC streaks, they’ve done so by winning mostly at home, and it’s the same with Tennessee State. 2 of those 6 wins were on the road, but at UT Martin and EIU, which aren’t exactly tough environments to win in. Their one loss in the last 7: at Austin Peay. The Tigers still have 2 games against the Racers left, and a game against Tennessee Tech, so the Tigers will get tested down the stretch. And that test starts tonight.