Articles like this get exponentially easier to write as we get deeper in the season. Instead of relying on what the team’s did last year, and having to project what they might to the past, I have real, empirical data from this season to use, which makes for not only easier writing, but generally more accurate statements.
But what makes basketball special is the “anyone can beat anybody” feeling, even in comparison to other college sports. In college football, sure there are upsets, but you never seriously think that Austin Peay is going to beat Virginia Tech, or Murray State will topple Florida State. But in basketball, it’s different. Sure, the Duke’s and Kentucky’s are always heavy favorites against low-majors, but they’re often pushed for 30, 35 minutes, and sometimes, one key mistake can send those teams to a crushing defeat.
Explaining what makes college basketball special to college basketball fans may seem unneeded, and it mostly is, but it’s a reminder that games aren’t played on paper. At some point this year, there will be that shocking upset, and for all we know it could be today is southern Ohio. The odds aren’t in their favor, but if they were, it wouldn’t be as exciting when they happen.
Here’s today’s First Word:
UT Martin (0-1) at No. 24 Cincinnati (0-0)
2:00 p.m. EST – Fox Sports Ohio
Former Murray State coach Mick Cronin hosts a familar foe, as the Skyhawks play their second game on the road in three days. For the Skyhawks to have any chance at pulling an upset, they’ll need a much better defensive effort against an NCAA tournament team from a year ago.
Myles Taylor, who was stellar in the Skyhawks opener, could face more resistance against the larger Bearcats, which means guards like Bobby Jones and Mike Liabo, who didn’t have a great start to the season, will need to hit shots if UT Martin wants to keep this game close. Terence Smith doesn’t appear to have lost a step, impressive given that he sat out for an entire season.
Last season’s leading scorer, Sean Kilpatrick, is back for the Bearcats, as well as talented set up man Cashmere Wright. There are some questions on the interior for Cincinnati; namely, who will replace Yancey Gates, who graduated after this past season. Cincinnati has three players 6’10” or taller, and Cheikh Mbodj has earned the initial starting spot in the middle. In all, 10 players are back from last seasons 24-10 squad, likely setting up a formidable challenge for UT Martin.
One thing that could keep this game somewhat close: don’t expect either team to look to speed up the pace too much.
Eastern Michigan (1-0) at Jacksonville State (1-0)
2:00 p.m. CST – OVC Digital Network
This could be one of the better games for a conference team in this first weekend of this college basketball season. Both teams opened the season with wins against non-Division I opponents, with both teams relying on interior play, and playing deep into their bench in wins. It’s also a return to the OVC of sorts for Eastern Michigan guard Derek Thompson, who began his career at Southeast Missouri before transferring to the Eagles.
Neither teams will likely want to push tempo, meaning both teams will look to make the most out of their possessions. Both teams struggled somewhat with turnovers in their opener, something that neither will be able to afford in a possession game like this.
The Eagles are an extremely young team, graduating size seniors from last year’s squad, including three of their top five scorers. Last season, Eastern Michigan was among the worst offensive teams in the nation, and scoring only 66 against non D-I Rochester (MI) in their opener didn’t exactly inspire confidence that this year’s squad would be much better. Expecting another 57% shooting night from Jacksonville State is probably unrealistic, but a solid shooting night could put this game out reach for the Eagles scorers.
This is the return game from last year’s Bracketbusters matchup in February. Eastern Michigan won that contest 63-60.