Games during this part of the season are always tough. The students and often the band is gone, attendance is down, and home court advantage often just doesn’t mean as much…which is a concern for Sunday, because all four games today put OVC teams on the road.
See what I did there?
Here’s today’s First Word:
Jacksonville State (7-2) at Presbyterian (2-7)
6:00 p.m. CST
Players to Watch
F Tarvin Gaines (11.6 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
G Ronnie Boggs (11.7 ppg, 6.2 rpg)
F Joshua Clyburn (12.0 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 56% fg)
G Jordan Downing (11.8 ppg, 2.1 apg)
The Matchup: Presbyterian has had a rough year. They’ve won two of their last three, but both were against non Division I schools. In fact, the Blue Hose have yet to beat a D-I school this season, but have played a schedule including Clemson, Georgia Tech, Creighton, and Wisconsin. Those games were the first four games of the season for Presbyterian, and they travel next week to Tennessee and after Christmas to South Carolina. That a whole lot of money games.
Jacksonville has gotten off to a surprising start this season, thanks in part to a grind-it-out style forcing teams to play in the half court. The Gamecocks have won four straight coming into this one, with three of those wins being by 4 points or less.
This is a 2012 Bracketbusters return game, a game dominated by the Gamecocks.
The Gamecocks have the edge: If they score 60, which is unlikely given their style and lack of three point shooting. But, Presbyterian hasn’t broken 60 against a Division I opponent.
The turnover game give Jacksonville State a distinct advantage. The Gamecocks are 6th in the nation in the tempo-free “opponents turnover rate.” (Which is essentially turnovers per defensive possession) Presbyterian? 341st, 6th worst.
The Blue Hose have the edge: …it’s really hard to say. Presbyterian has some solid three point shooters, but Jacksonville State has one of the stiffer 3-point defenses in the nation this season. Outside of Clyburn, the Blue Hose don’t have much in the way of inside threats, which is where the Jacksonville State has been weaker.
The game hinges on: Jacksonville State showing up. The Gamecocks are a clear favorite in this one, even being on the road.
Tennessee Tech (5-4) at Milwaukee (3-8)
7:00 p.m. CST
Players to Watch
G Jeremiah Samarrippas (10.4 ppg, 4.0 apg, 43% 3pt)
F Matt Marseille (8.7 ppg, 64.6% fg, 46.7 % 3pt)
G Paris Gulley (15.8 ppg, 3.6 rpg)
The Matchup: RPI tells a very interesting story about the Golden Eagles. All 4 TTU losses: opponents RPI 207 or better. All 3 TTU wins against Division I opponents: 272 or worse. As I’ve mentioned before, the golden number of the Golden Eagles is 20. When Dillard scored 20+, the Golden Eagles are 5-0. Under 15 points; 0-4. Not sure what happens if he scores 17.
Milwaukee’s RPI falls in the 300+ range, thanks to their 2-8 record, but one of those two wins came against a top-100 team, Davidson. The Panthers are coming off two blow out losses to at Depaul and at Fairfield, neither of which are exactly powerhouses.
The Golden Eagles have the edge: in a shootout. The Panthers struggle to score, and like to play a half-court pace. If the score gets into the 70’s, that means TTU is putting pressure on a struggling offense, and speeding up the slow paced Milwaukee offense.
One battle to keep an eye on is behind the arc. Tennessee Tech is a good 3-point shooting team, but the Panthers are a great 3-point defensive team, holding opponents under 25% shooting on the season.
The Panthers have the edge: in the backcourt, hence the reason for their great 3-point defense. Aaron and Gulley are a great backcourt combo, and both players average more than 36 minutes a game, so there’s not much time for a breather. If you have to focus on one of the two guards to stop, Jordan Aaron is the bigger shooter of the two.
That backcourt combo doesn’t turn over the ball often either, but the Panthers don’t force many as well. On the flipside, the Golden Eagles are much sloppier with the basketball.
The game hinges on: rebounding. Tennessee Tech should have the advantage on the glass: how big of an advantage will we dependent on how many misses they can force on defense.
UT Martin (3-7) at St. Louis (5-3)
7:00 p.m. CST
Players to Watch
G Mike Liabo (13.6 ppg, 2.2 apg)
F Cody Ellis (13.0 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 88.9% FT)
G Mike McCall Jr. (10.5 ppg, 52% 3pt)
The Matchup: The Billikens are no longer coach by Rick Majerus, who passes away earlier this year, but St. Louis still played Majerus basketball. They’ve had a tough schedule this year, alternating wins and losses until this current 2-game win streak.
The chronically injured Skyhawks could be missing four players today. Terence Smith remains out with a broken ankle, Bobby Jones and Justin Childs are day-to-day, (both missed the Lipscomb game) and Corderio Maclin is still out because of preseason wrist surgery.
The Skyhawks have the edge: if they can speed up the Billikens, which is no easy task. St. Louis has only six players that have played in all eight games this year: they don’t like to go deep into their bench. UTM has played full court basketball this year, but often for the wrong reason; not getting back in transition and allowing opposing teams 5-second buckets.
The Billikens have the edge: if the Skyhawks are sloppy which, this season, they are. The Billikens hold onto the ball, and force quite a lot of turnovers when you take their glacial basketball pace into account.
The game hinges on: Getting to the line. Both teams are great free throw shooting teams, but SLU doesn’t send teams to the line nearly as often as UTM. If that trend continues today, the Skyhawks could be in real trouble in St. Louis.
Game of the Night
Belmont (7-2) at No. 9 Kansas (7-1)
6:00 p.m. CST – ESPNU
Players to Watch
F Kerron Johnson (14.2 ppg, 4.8 rpg, 1.9 spg)
C Jeff Withey (13.8 ppg, 8.0 rpg)
The Matchup: Belmont has had some tough tests this season, but none tougher than a trip to Allen Fieldhouse to take on No. 9 Kansas. The Jawhawks have won six straight, coming off a dismantling of a good Colorado team. (That handed Murray State it’s only loss of the year) The Jayhawks easily beat Southeast Missouri in their season opener by 19.
The Bruins have had success on the road against power conference teams this year, winning at an unranked Stanford, but their losses have come when they struggled to get stops.
The Bruins have the edge: From behind the arc. If there is a weakness in Kansas’ defense, it’s on the perimeter, which happens to be an area where the Bruins excel, shooting 42% from three, 8th best in the nation. If Clark and JJ Mannhave a big night, Kansas could be somewhat vulnerable, although winning at Allen Fieldhouse is going to take more than just draining threes. It should be noted, though, that the Bruins are coming off their worst three point shooting performance of the season against Middle Tennessee.
The Jayhawks have the edge: Inside, in a big way. (Excuse the pun) Belmont will need to get the ball inside to take pressure off of their shooters, but doing so puts the ball inside against a frontcourt that leads the nation in blocks, and is 3rd in the nation in two-point defense. Somewhat surprisingly, Kansas isn’t a exceptionally big team, outside the 7’0″ Withey. If you can avoid him and his 5.6 blocks a game, there is some room to try to make some plays, but not much.
The game hinges on: Weathering runs. Both teams can be explosive on defense, and the key will be which team can limit long runs, and bounce back quickly after opposing runs. A final score in the 80’s isn’t out of the question, so there could be quite a few fireworks on the court.