So my time off has come to an end. It lasted a little longer than expected, but OVC basketball is back today.
Being honest. I’m not a fan of the CIT. I have no problem with expanded post season play, but telling coaches and athletic directors “Hey, your season doesn’t have to end if you’re willing to shell out cash” doesn’t wholly sit well with me.
That being said, I have nothing against the programs involved, and hope they can make that money well spent.
Here’s today’s First Word.
After TSU’s loss in the OVC final, I heard a lot of people expecting the Tigers to get a possible NIT, or CBI invitation, but looking on their season as a whole it’s really hard to make a great case. They beat Murray State, obviously, but their other “big” win, against South Carolina, proved not to be that big at all actually. But TSU’s 20 win season has been rewarded with a first round birth against Mercer.
Only…rewarded might not be the right word here.
One of the reasons I think Tennessee State was able to give the Racers trouble is Murray’s lack of size. Jewuan Long was the Racers best defender, but Robert Covington at 6’9″ could just shoot over him, and was too athletic to be guarded by one of the Racers bigs. That being said, I’m not sure Mercer will have the same problem finding someone with the size and talent to man up Covington. In fact, they have 4 players 6’8 or taller that played in at least 30 games this year. Mercer truly has the size of a major conference squad, which does make their 22-11 record a little more puzzling.
Why do I say they have the talent? Mercer is one of the better defensive teams in the nation: 56th in Defensive Efficiency, and allowed under 63 points a game.
The reason Mercer found their way to the CIT is that they couldn’t beat good teams. 0-5 against the RPI top 100, and even just 6-4 against teams between 100 and 200 RPI. Which is all the more odd. Offensively they were solid, they were great defensively, they have size…this team shouldn’t be 22-11.
But they were, and they struggled mightily down the stretch, and are all but limping into the post season. As a team, they’re solid offensively (108th in offensive efficiency, which is higher than TSU’s rank) but don’t have a go to scorer. Instead, they have 6 players averaging between 7.9 and 12 points a game. There’s very little consistency on offense as to who will have the hot night, and as kind of expected being a “big” team, they’re not the best ball handlers.
You may (or not) know that the Colonial was pretty good this year. Again. Which makes this a less the favorable first round matchup as well for the OVC. (I’m just full of good news today, aren’t I?)
Even worse is that the Panthers split with VCU, who is in the NCAA’s, and Drexel, who was just on the outside looking in. And just to make things even better, the Panthers were 7th in the nation in defensive efficiency this season.
BUT, and in Tennessee Tech’s case this is a rather large “but” (hence the bold) they play a very small lineup. In fact their tallest starter is just 6’7″, and they have just one player larger that playes very limited minutes. So, who is going to guard Kevin Murphy?
But there’s also a problem with that size argument, in that the Panthers only allowed teams 42% shooting inside the arc this season, 11th best in the nation. I don’t know much about the CAA, but I’m going to assume given how talented the conference is a whole that there have to be talented big men somewhere in the conference, and that somehow Georgia State’s bigs were still able to keep them from scoring.
Much like Mercer above, Georgia State scored by committee, and while that makes great headlines about teams being “selfless,” it doesn’t usually lead to as many about teams winning titles. And while 11-7 in the CAA is nothing to scoff at, out of conference, the Panthers hardly challenged themselves. In fact, Tennessee Tech has more top 200 RPI wins than Georgia State. (6 to 4)
While Georgia State’s defense may to be feared, their offense hardly is, which means if Tech can hit shots and get out to an early lead, GSU might struggle to catch back up.