Nothing really new to report since yesterday, honestly. As I said then, if the OVC is really going to improve, they have to start winning tough non-conference games. Or weak non-conference games. Really, just non conference games in general.
Tonight could be an interest barometer for two teams expected to compete for a conference crown. Austin Peay travels an hour or so up the road to Western Kentucky, a team that found the backdoor into the NCAA tournament last season. Tennessee State takes on a South Dakota team that won 27-games a year ago.
While I don’t think you can necessarily measure the conference based on these two games tonight, these type of games are what I’m talking about. Winning these games, against solid competition, help raise the RPI of the conference, and help the perception that the OVC is just another low-major conference with one or two good teams.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Austin Peay (1-0) at Western Kentucky (0-1)
7:00 p.m. CST
It’s great to see these two schools, separated by just over 60 miles, playing each other again, something they did for 6-straight years from ’99 to ’05. It’s also a good match up between two teams with opposing strengths. The Governors will likely look for a half-court matchup, using forwards Will Triggs, Anthony Campbell, and Chris Freeman to control the paint. Western Kentucky like to run, led by talented guards Jamal Crook and T.J. Price.
Style difference aside, the turnover battle could be interesting: Austin Peay forced just 7 against Samford in their opener. WKU forced 26 in a three point loss to Southern Miss, but turned it over 25 times as well.
The Hilltoppers aren’t a very big team: they have a 6’11 senior in Teeng Akol, but he’s not likely to play more than 10 or 15 minutes. Their next largest are just 6’7″, and neither of those players are especially skilled. 6’6″ George Fant is the best “big man” on Western Kentucky’s roster, and from there it’s two 6’5″ guys. Against the 6’7″ Triggs and Campbell, and the 6’8″ Freeman, the Governors have much better size advantage.
So the bottom line: If Austin Peay can hold control the pace (and it’s always easier to slow down a team than speed another up) and play a half-court game, the Governors have the advantage. If Western Kentucky speeds up the game, the advantage goes to the Hilltoppers.
Tennessee State (0-1) at South Dakota (0-1)
7:00 p.m. CST
Tennessee State’s season got off to a disappointing start in a double-digit loss to BYU. Things don’t get much easier tonight taking on South Dakota, who fell just 3 points short of Alabama in their season opener, and led through much of the second half.
First and foremost, we have to talk about Nate Wolters, who has averaged over 21 and 19 points each of the past two seasons, and put up 30 in the loss to the Crimson Tide. Over his career he’s a 40% 3-point shooter, and isn’t just a scored, averaging just under six assists a game his sophomore and junior seasons. And if you find a way to stop him, no easy task, then there’s 6’8″ forward Jordan Dykstra, who has averaged double-digit scoring in his two seasons with the Jackrabbits. See why this team won 27 games last year?
Defensive issues aside, the Tigers have to find a way to score, and that starts with Robert Covington staying out of foul trouble, which could be challenging as he’s likely to be matched up defensively against Dykstra. (There are other options, but including M.J. Rhett and though a bit undersized, Kellen Thorton) They also need Covington to shoot better than 2-12 from the field, and as a team must improve on their 34% against BYU.
Wright State (1-0) at Eastern Illinois (0-1)
7:00 p.m. CST
The first home game in the Jay Spoonhour era comes against a capable Wright State squad out the Horizon League. Without a doubt, the Panthers are still seeking an offensive identity, which could be a challenge against quality competition.
If there is a reason for some hope, the Raiders allowed Idaho to shoot better than 50% from the field in their season opener. The bad news: they still won by ten, thanks to solid 3-point shooting and only 6 turnovers. The Panthers will also be at a distinct size advantage: Wright State’s top three scorers in their opener, J.T. Yoho, Cole Darling and A.J. Pacher, are 6’6″, 6’8″, and 6’10” respectively. Those big guys can all shoot the three, combining to go 6-11 from deep.
Morris Woods, one of the few players back this year in Charleston, was good in the loss to Bradley, and I’m very curious to see if he can be a consistent scorer on Spoonhour’s squad, along with OVC Freshman of the week Alex Austin. In the middle, Josh Piper simply has to have more than 3 rebounds in 32 minutes, even if he doesn’t do a lot of scoring.
Today’s random stat: these teams played a home-and-home in the ’93-’94 season. The road team won both matchups.
Maryville (MO) (2-2) at Belmont (1-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
For a Division II school, Maryville has no problems playing Division I teams. In fact, Belmont will their third, and they already have a common opponent: Lipscomb. (Belmont’s only opponent.) In fact, the Saints were tied late in the second half with Miami (OH) before losing by nine.
That being said, this is the 4th game in 4 days for Maryville, and just yesterday the Saints lost by 18 to Lipscomb, the team Belmont easily handled in their opener.
That, by the way, is officially the most in-depth analysis you’ll ever get from me on a non-Division I opponent. You’re welcome.
There’s really not much to learn from this one. We know Belmont’s good, and a blowout win, or even a non-blowout isn’t really going to have any impact on that opinion. The Bruins bench should get extended minutes, which is good for their confidence going forward. And Maryville gets some much needed rest after this one.