The OVC is 7-1 over the past two days, can the momentum continue today?
Here’s today’ First Word:
St. John’s (2-0) vs Murray State (2-0)
5:30 EST – ESPN 3
Round 2 of the Charleston Classic is the biggest challenge either team has faced yet this season. The teams are coming in after much different opening rounds: The Racers blew out Auburn, but St. John’s couldn’t pull away from the host school College of Charleston.
The Red Storm is not a deep team, playing with just a 7-man rotation this year as they await NCAA decision on two JUCO transfers, and they’re a very young team. They’ve got a talented trio of sophomores. D’Angelo Harrison is averaging more than 20 points a game after a stellar freshman year, and Phil Greene and Amir Garrett are both averaging double-digits this year. Their two big men also just a freshman and sophomore, but 6’8″ Jakaar Sampson and 6’9″ Chris Obekpa are combining for almost 15 rebounds a game.
Isaiah Cannan has been steller, but I’ve been amazed at the transformation of guard Stacy Wilson this year. Wilson is 53% from the floor on the season, 7-11 from three, and is a much better defender this year. So far, he’s filling the role left open by Donte Poole’s graduation nicely.
Head coach Steve Prohm has had the benefit of two blowouts to play deep into his bench. I’ll be curious to see how deep Prohm goes if this contest remains close into the second half.
Arkansas State (1-1) at UT Martin (1-2)
7:00 p.m. CST
Earlier this week, I called this a “benchmark” game for the Skyhawks. On paper, these two schools are fairly equal, so we should get a better look at how good the Skyhawks actually are.
So far this season Arkansas State has been capable on offense, pourous on defense, but have excelled on the glass. How so? Four Red Wolves are averaging double-digit scoring. Arkansas State is 320th (out of 348) in defensive efficiency, thanks in part to allowing opponents to shoot 50% from behind the arc. But 6’8″ forward Brandon Peterson is averaging 11.5 rebounds a game through 2 contests.
The question is, can UT Martin take advantage of their weaknesses? The Skyhawks have struggled to score, but appear to be improved on defense this year. The offense clearly goes through Myles Taylor, who averages more than 17 points a game, and Bobby Jones has been somewhat inconsistent, but has put up 12 points a game.
This game has the earmarks for a shootout in Martin tonight.
Eastern Illinois (0-2) at Eastern Michigan (1-1)
6:00 p.m. CST
Two offensively challenged teams meet tonight in the aptly-named “Eastern Michigan Tournament” at Eastern Michigan, and I have a somewhat cynical prediction for this game: First to 55 wins. This, of course, assumes one of the teams gets to 55.
Eastern Michigan played Jacksonville State to open the season, putting up 54 points in the loss. The key to that game proved to be turnovers: EMU turned the ball over twice as often as the Gamecocks. Seniors Daylen Harrison and Derek Thompson are the biggest scoring threats for the Eagles, both averaging double-digits so far this season.
Eastern Illinois has yet to find their feet offensively under Jay Spoonhour, but they have been able to control pace and limit turnovers, which is a good place to start when you’re struggling to make shots. Freshman Alex Austin has been solid in two outings, and I’d like to see the Panthers get him even more involved in the offense.
Kennessaw State (1-1) at Eastern Kentucky (1-0)
6:00 p.m. EST
The first Division I test for Eastern Kentucky this season comes against a Kennessaw State squad already tested this year. The Owls went to overtime in their season opening win over South Carolina State, and stayed with Tennessee for a half before falling off.
Eastern Kentucky shot the lights out against Cincinnati Christian, which is encouraging given their shooting struggles last year, but it still was Cincinnati Christian.
Kennessaw State is led by sophomore guard Delbert Love, who will likely play 37+ minutes tonight. (He’s averaging 41.5) The 6’3″ guard is a ball hawk on defense, with five steals in two games so far; he averaged 1.7 a season ago. The Owls also have a pair of talented 6’7″ forwards in Markeith Cummings and Aaron Anderson, both averaging double-digit scoring so far this season.
Kennessaw State hasn’t turned the ball over much this season, and neither team will likely be looking to push the pace much tonight, making each possession for the Colonels important. A slow start could be hard to overcome against this team.