A Clean Slate.
A New Beginning.
Call it what you will, opening day in any sport is a special day to be a fan. The hype, deserved or otherwise, will soon be forgotten; your thirst for the game you love will soon be quenched; the bright lights, both literal and figurative, will soon shine on your team.
Today, fans will find themselves on every website they know, looking for that one writer who knows how special their team can be. Fans will be constantly looking at the clock, counting down the hours until tip. Fans will be looking at the schedule, looking at which games will be easy wins, and which games could be historic upsets.
Today, 23-0 doesn’t matter. Neither does 1-9, or 0-16. Last season’s records, awards, injuries, expectations, even victories and defeats are all but forgotten.
Today is the beginning of a new chapter, across the Ohio Valley, and the nation. It’s not just a day of what if’s, it the beginning of dreams fulfilled.
But it’s also the beginning of hopes dashed.
They say one game doesn’t define the season. That it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish. But once that “0” in the loss column is gone, it never returns.
Today is the day. The day the college basketball season tips off.
Here’s the 2012-13 season’s First Word:
Morehead State (0-0) at Long Island (0-0)
5:30 p.m. EST
There’s an interesting article in Sports Illustrated’s College Basketball Preview this week detailing the declining tempo, and as a result scoring in games since the introduction of the 3-point shot. Coaches like Sean Woods, who learned the style from Rick Pitino during his time at the University of Kentucky, who want to push tempo for 40 minutes a night, are becoming a rarity.
Rare, but not extinct. Long Island coach Jim Ferry knew how to get his teams to run the floor, and his successor is long time assistant Jack Perri. In fact, the Blackbirds were 2nd in the nation in possessions per game last season. It’s a good benchmark for the new look Eagles, who are in the process of being transformed from one of the slowest tempo teams in the nation to one that more represents their first opponent.
Not only could the Blackbirds run, they could score, shooting 52% from the field, and 37% from deep. And most of their talent from last season’s 25-9 team is back; Only 2 seniors graduated, none of which were in the top four in points, or top three in rebounds. LIU features two solid leaders in the frontcourt in Jamal Olasewere and Julian Boyd, both 6’7″ seniors. Boyd was also a 42% 3-point shooter a season ago, bested by only 6’2″ sophomore Gerell Martin. Their range is only made better by 5’10” junior Jason Brickman.
Morehead State has a lot of questions to answer going into this season, including how the returning players will deal with a complete flip in offensive style. The Eagles shot 49% from the field in their exhibition win over St. Catherine, and were better able to push the tempo in the second half. 6’8″ senior Jason Holmes, a Mississippi Valley State transfer, was fairly impressive in his 24 minutes, finishing with 13 points and 8 rebounds.
Despite not starting in the Eagles exhibition matchup, Drew Kelly is listed as a probable starter tonight. Angelo Warner, who injured his ankle in preseason, will play as well according to Woods. Maurice Lewis-Briggs will not play due to an “administrative issue”
Tennessee-Martin (0-0) at Arkansas-Little Rock (0-0)
6:00 p.m. CST
If you’re new to following the OVC, this may come as a surprise to you, but the Skyhawks are just 4-years removed from an NIT bid. Amazing when you think that last season, the Skyhawks were just 4-27, and didn’t win a single conference game. While I can’t blame anyone, fan or otherwise, from having low expectations this season, there’s good reason to think this team could be much improved. Terence Smith is back after missing the entirety of last season, Mike Liabo is another year removed from a hip injury, and junior transfer Bobby Jones has been impressive in exhibition play this season. And we haven’t even mentioned last season’s Ohio Valley Conference Freshman of the Year, Myles Taylor.
UALR should be an interesting test for the Skyhawks to start the season. The Trojans finished the season strong in the Sun Belt, but only after a horrific non-conference campaign. Four seniors have graduated from last year’s squad, but they return 10-point a game scorer, 6’10” Will Neighbour. (They also have a three other players 6’10” or taller: sophomores Michael Javes, and Gus Leaper; and 6’11” freshman Andrew Poulter)
Much like UT Martin, UALR struggled scoring last season, but unlike the Skyhawks, the Trojans were much more effective on the defensive end, holding opponents to under 65 points a game.
The Skyhawks lit up the scoreboard in an exhibition win over Illinois College, shooting 16-24 from deep on their way to 109 points. While it’s easy to over-read what happens in exhibition games, I’m not certain the Skyhawks would have hit 67% from the field if left wide open last season.
Samford (0-0) at Austin Peay (0-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
Former OVC member Samford heads back to Clarksville to open their season against the Governors. But this isn’t the slow moving, Princeton style offense of former Bulldogs coach Jimmy Tillette, who was fired this past spring after 15 seasons. Samford is now led by Bennie Seltzer, former assistant at Indiana, Marquette, and Oklahoma State. Seltzer is joined on his staff by former University of Kentucky star Scott Padget.
The Governors are coming off their worst record in over 20 years under Dave Loos, and only their third sub .500 season since 1995. To make matters worse, all four double-digit scorers last season have graduated. Returners Will Triggs and Anthony Campbell will be joined by JUCO transfer Travis Betran. Two freshman, A.J. Lynch and 6’8″ Chris Horton are expected to start for the Governors as well. Last year’s team was marred by poor defense, something considered a staple under Loos coached teams.
The Bulldogs top three scorers last season were all sophomores and freshman, and even though the team lost four seniors, the heart of last season’s team is back and one year older; but I’d stop short of calling the Bulldogs experienced. There are no seniors on this year’s team, and just three juniors.
Samford lost their top player, 6’9″ junior Drew Windler, to Belmont this summer. They still return sophomores Tyler Hood, and Raijon Kelly, both better than 45% shooters from the field.
The Govs have spent more time together than most, playing a three game exhibition tour in Canada this August. Despite the team building, the team struggled somewhat in their only November exhibition again Loos’ son and Division II Central Missouri, but did shoot 54% from the field and forced 20 turnovers.