Some OVC teams seems to already be settling in to their Thursday / Saturday conference schedules with a surprising number of games on tap tonight.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Alabama A&M (1-1) at Jacksonville State (2-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
Jacksonville State has a good chance to move to 3-0 on the season as they host an Alabama A&M squad shooting 32% on the young season. The Bulldogs defense hasn’t been much better, ranked 346th (out of 348) through their two games this year.
One thing that can make the Bulldogs difficult to play is there’s not a primary scorer to focus on, as has been the case with A&M for several years now. Their top returning scorer, Demarquelle Tabb, averaged just 10 points game last season, and Jeremy Crutcher just 9; but they ranked 2nd and 3rd on the team in scoring. Crutcher especially has come out of the gate slow: just 5-23 from the field this season.
As we’ve come to expect from a James Green squad, the Gamecocks have been sound defensively in the early going, and had some struggles scoring in their only game against a Division I school, but maybe not as much as we saw last season. Darion Rackley and Brian Williams are both averaging 15 points a game in the early going.
Tennessee State (0-2) at Minnesota (2-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
Thanks in part to a brutal schedule, the Tigers have not gotten a quick start to the season, and the schedule doesn’t get any easier tonight traveling to Minnesota. The Golden Gophers are 2-0 off of a 40 and 30 point victory against 2 low-major teams this year, and have done it with defense, holding their opponents to 24% and 31% shooting from the field.
The Gophers big men are among the top in the nation in blocks: 19 total in their two games against American University and Toledo. That effort has been led by 6’11” Elliott Eliason, who has 6 blocked shots alone on the season, but isn’t much of a threat to score when in the lineup. Seniors Rodney Williams and Trevor Mbakwe on the other hand, are threats to score, and could provide matchup problems for Tennessee State. Williams is 12-15 from the field this season, and well rested thanks to two blowout wins.
While the Tigers have played good opponents, their inability to score is becoming worrysome, shooting just 35% on the young season. Robert Covington bounced back after a foul-plagued opener to put up 23 points in the loss to South Dakota State, while Kellen Thorton and Patrick Miller have had solid starts to the season as well, so the pieces are still there.
One difference in tonight’s game: Minnesota likely won’t be looking to push the pace like BYU and South Dakota State.
Coastal Carolina (1-1) at Tennessee Tech (1-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
The first test of the season for Tennessee Tech, as the Golden Eagles face a Coastal Carolina team that’s been to the post season each of the past three season. It’s also a return of last year’s bracketbusters matchups won by the Golden Eagles.
The player to watch for the Chanticleers is senior Anthony Raffa, a 48% shooter the past two years, impressive when you consider he’s a 6’1″ guard. He’s also got a good set-up man in Kierre Greenwood at point. This team’s shooting is down from last season, when they shot 48.6%, 9th best in the nation. The difference this year is that Carolina graduated their best big man, Chris Gradnigo, and as a result have been more reliant on their guards in their first two games.
There’s not much we can honestly gain by analyzing Tennessee Tech’s destruction of Crowley Ridge in their opener, because your stats are going to look pretty good after a 75-point win. The good news is that a very young team got some experience, and we’ll see how they perform against a much better team tonight.