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A busy, busy, BUSY day of college basketball on tap. So, let’s get straight to the previews today.

Here’s today’s First Word:

UT Martin (2-3) at Bradley (3-1)
1:00 p.m. CST

A tough challenge for UT Martin’s defense today, as they travel to face a good shooting, much bigger Bradley team..

The Braves are shooting better that 50% from inside the arc, compared to just 37% for the Skyhawks. The disparity is thanks in part to 6’9″ Will Egolf and 6’6″ Tyshon Pickett. Both are averaging double-digit scoring, and Pickett is leading the team with seven rebounds per game. Add in 6’8″ Jordon Prosser‘s 8 points and 6 rebounds per game and your have a formidable frontcourt that could provide some big (no pun intended) challenges for the Skyhawks smaller front line.

While Bradley doesn’t have great shooters in the backcourt, they two guards averaging 4+ assists in Jake Eastman and Walt Lemon Jr. Both also happen to be double-digit scorers. The guards are great ball handlers as well, giving Bradley one of the best assist to turnover ratios in the nation.

UT Martin doesn’t have a win against Division I competition this year, and have struggled to score against them. And while this is bringing back memories of last season, this team appears much improved from that team. Five guys are averaging double-digit scoring (thanks in part to big wins over non-Division I Lyon College and Fontbonne) giving the Skyhawks many more weapons than last season. Many have been inconsistent, but Myles Taylor hasn’t been. But against such a formidable front court, Martin will need guards like Bobby Jones and Mike Liabo to have a good game to have a chance to win.

This is the Braves second game against OVC competition: Bradley thumped Eastern Illinois to open the season. 

Houston Baptist (3-2) at Eastern Illinois (2-4)
2:00 p.m. CST

After losing at home to NAIA Rochester College, clearly no game is safe for the Eastern Illinois Panthers. Especially not a team with a player like 6’9″ Art Benardi.

Benardi was named the Great West player of the Week last week, for three 20-point performances. But that’s about all the size the Huskies will use. They tend to play much smaller lineups that can force steals and get out in transition.

Ball control has been one of the few bright spots for the Eastern Illinois offense this year, a squad averaging just 56 points a game. Josh Piper has had four straight games with double-digit scoring and Sherman Blanford has positioned himself as another good option on the inside. But where are the guards? Malcom Herron is a scoring threat, but not as much from deep. In fact, when Piper is your best three point threat, there’s no one that scares you as a shooter, allowing teams to compact their defenses against your two best players on the inside.

These teams met last year in Houston with the Panthers coming out with a 12-point win.

Southeast Missouri (3-3) at Illinois-Chicago (3-1)
3:00 p.m. CST

The Redhawks guards are about to have their hands full. In fact, the forwards will as well. The Flames are shooting 42% from deep this season, and allowing their opponents just 25% shooting from deep.

I’ve talked before about SEMO’s inability to force turnovers. That could cause a problem again today, as UIC plays half-court basketball, and averages just 11 turnovers a game. The Flames have a good inside-outside combo with Daniel Barnes and Gary Tolton in the backcourt and 6’8″ Hayden Humes and 6’9″ Josh Crittle inside. All four are double-digit scorers, and interestingly, all four average more than four rebounds a contest. Rebounding has been a weakness for UIC this season, a strength that the Redhawks need to take advantage of.

Corey Wilford has been on a tear lately for SEMO, averaging 18 points over the past three contests. The Redhawks defense has been especially stingy, but hasn’t really taken on an explosive offense yet this season. 

Norfolk State (2-3) at Eastern Kentucky (4-0)
7:00 p.m. EST

Eastern Kentucky is undefeated, but the opposition has been far from stellar and every game been at home. Today, they take on an NCAA tournament team from a year ago, but this year’s squad has a much different look. NCAA Tournament darling Kyle O’Quinn is gone, as are three other starters from the 26 win team.

What’s left is a team still struggling to find their identity on both sides of the ball. Pendarvis Williams is leading the team in scoring, but struggling from the field through the Spartans first five games. Freshman forward Rashid Gaston is the only other double-digit scorer on this Norfolk State team.

Eastern Kentucky has been on the right side of the turnover battle in their four wins, forcing 18 per game compared to just coughing it up 11 times. If you don’t know who Glenn Cosey is yet, you need to. The JUCO transfer is averaging over 18 points a game, is shooting 50% from behind the arc, and can also share the ball. This year’s team is shooting the ball much better than last year, but as the quality of competition ramps up over the next few weeks, we’ll get a much better look how good this Colonels team really is.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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