It’s going to be hard for any game to top last night’s SEMO – Tennessee Tech game as the best game of the tournament, but a full arena tonight just might do the trick, as that pesky No. 1 seeded them that everyone either loves, or loves to hate comes into town as winners of 28 of their last 29 games.
In the other game, the “local” team and No. 2 seed will hope to not get caught looking ahead, as they face Morehead State.
Sometimes, it’s fun when seeds hold.
Here’s tonight’s game previews.
(As a note, both games tonight are on ESPNU. I forgot to add that to my preview graphics. My bad.)
Season Matchups: Tennessee Tech 74, @Murray State 82
Murray State 69, @Tennessee Tech 64
How They Got Here: Tennessee Tech fans have reason to believe they can be the team to top the Racers after the 2 previous meetings: in both games, they held 2nd half leads over the Racers. But in both cases, they simply couldn’t hold on to that lead, falling to the same fate as most teams Murray State have faced this year.
So it shouldn’t come as much of a surprise that Tennessee Tech blew a 19-point second half lead last night to SEMO. But this time, when they needed clutch shots, Kevin Murphy and Zac Swansey came through.
And it didn’t take long for many to compare Swansey’s three to take the lead against SEMO to the one he hit in last year’s OVC semifinals, to take the lead over Murray State.
In fact, Swansey said it straight up after the game. It was just like that 3.
Explaining how Murray State got here is as simple as pointing to their record and national ranking. The last undefeated, and just one of three teams with 1-loss on the season is an impressive feat, one that non-Murray fans are kind of tired about hearing about. But this isn’t an every season, or even an every decade occurrence in the OVC. For the first time since the field expanded to 64, the OVC has a legitimate lock to make the NCAA tournament. The question: will that effect their play in the OVC Tournament?
From what I’ve seen this season, I’d be surprised…
The Matchup: Let’s talk about all the things going against the Racers. The double-bye, which I’ve discussed in depth in the past, might not be the blessing the conference expects it to be, added to the fact that “it’s hard to beat a team 3 times in a season,” which seems true enough.
But as I mentioned above, this isn’t just “any other team.” Statistically, the Racers are the best offensive team, the best defensive team, and the 2nd best rebounding team in the OVC. Those offensive and defensive numbers…both are top 35 in the nation. I think it’s going to take more than a generic trope about double-byes and beating teams three times to take the Racers down.
Yet, Tennessee Tech has proven themselves capable of outplaying the Racers in stretches, doing so at points in both meetings. So why are they 0-2? They haven’t been able to hold onto the basketball, and have put the Racers at the free throw line at an alarming rate in both games.
In the 2nd matchup, Kevin Murphy stole the show from Isaiah Canaan, draining 7-12 from 3-point range, but did the majority of his damage in the first half. Jud Dillard is averaging a double-double against the Racers this year. But Zac Swansey has stuggled: 9 total assists, 10 turnovers in his two games against Murray State. He has scored in double digits in both meetings though, but didn’t shoot a high percentage in either.
A lot of Tennessee Tech fans complained about the foul discrepancy after the previous game, but there’s a fair amount of evidence to the fact that this is a trend for the Golden Eagles. TTU averages 19 fouls a game, and the Racers are one of the best teams at drawing fouls. If TTU has any chance to win, they must keep the Racers off the foul line, and avoid getting into deep foul trouble like in the first meeting.
If you haven’t heard of Isaiah Canaan this year, you must have stumbled onto this site by accident. The OVC player of the year is getting real traction as a possible All-American candidate, and has time-after-time this season hit shots that just leave you in awe. The real question is how well do the role players play. OVC Defensive player of the year Jewuan Long and Zay Jackson struggled to defend Murphy last time, and Donte Poole has stuggled somewhat over the last few weeks. The front court play has been exceptional, with Latreze Mushatt proving a capable backup for Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel.
Emotions are likely to be high with this one, as this is not only the 3rd meeting this year, but a rematch of last year’s semi-finals, where the 4-seed Tennessee Tech knocked off the top-seeded Racers. Tech fans are hoping for an encore. Racer fans want revenge.
I love March…
Season Matchup: Morehead State 72, @Tennessee State 77
How they got here: This summer, I referred to Tennessee State as a possible “Black horse” this season. Turns out they were more of a stallion. TSU’s win over Morehead State proved to be a turning point for the Tigers; Including that win, the Tigers are 11-2 over their past 13 games, with their only loses coming at Austin Peay and at home against Murray State. They owned a 9-game win streak over that period, with the Racers ended that streak on the Tigers final night of the season.
It’s not the loss to Murray that TSU fans remember, it’s the win. The Tigers have the distinction of being the only team to defeat the Racers during the regular season, at Murray none-the-less.
But now, that no longer matters. For TSU to have a chance at the NCAA tournament, they must win their next two, including a possible rematch against those same Racers.
Of the two teams, though, Morehead State is the biggest surprise. The Eagles posted a surprising 10-6 record despite the loss of the best player in recent history in the league. They beat Jacksonville State despite losing 2 players during the season, including a starting guard just 2 days before the tournament.
It often times hasn’t been flashy. In fact, often, it’s hard to watch. But Morehead State’s defense has proven to be quite good, good enough to earn them a birth in the OVC semifinals.
The Matchup: Morehead State wasn’t able to contain Robert Covington and the rest of the Tigers in the two teams only matchup this season, as the Tigers shot 49% from the field, and put up 77 points. Covington was responsible for 30. The Eagles kept up offensively for the most part, but just simply game up too many 3’s, 13.
While defense definitely gets noticed, Morehead State’s offense is hardly inept. They averaged exactly one point per possession during OVC play, which is solid. You just don’t notice because they play at such an excruciating pace, they often don’t get out of the 50’s. Defensively, they finished 2nd in the conference, behind only the top seeded Murray State.
Tennessee State, on the other hand, is known for their offense, namely the play of all-OVC selection Covington. But their defense, at least statistically, was actually slightly better than their offense. Tennessee State is the true “jack of all trades” team, because they don’t do anything especially well, but they do well enough in all aspects of the game to not have a singular weakness. This team is an average shooting team, that plays average shooting defense, although they did lead the conference in OVC games in turnovers forced, even over the Racers, an area in which they excelled all season. TSU is one of the better rebounding teams as well,with Covington again leading the way.
Without question, Drew Kelly cannot afford to get into foul trouble like he did last night, which is going to be challenging given that he’s likely to be matched up against Covington. Because of that matchup, Morehead State will likely need to rely on their guards, including freshman Angelo Warner who had a break out game last night. Ty Profitt, who has been a hot or cold scorer, also needs to have a great game for Morehead to have a chance.
Outside of Covington, which is a given, Tennessee State will look to Patrick Miller and Kellen Thorton for a boost on the offensive end. TSU would love to score 77 again against Morehead State, because the higher scoring the game, the bigger advantage Tennessee State is at.
TSU might be a NIT team with a loss, but they have good reason to believe they can make the NCAA’s. But they can’t be caught looking ahead to the Racers or Tennessee Tech, or they won’t even get the chance.