Eight games on tap today, and I’m already very late with writing this, so straight to the preview.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Eastern Kentucky (9-1) at North Carolina A&T (4-7)
7:00 p.m. EST
The Colonels have a great opportunity to bounce back from the first loss of the season today, visiting an offensively challenged North Carolina A&T team with zero wins against the RPI top-250.
The Aggies shoot just 38% as team, ranked in the bottom 20 in the nation, and turn over the ball frequently. But they have a surprising 3-point shooter in 6’6″ Adrian Powell, who is shooting better than 40% behind the arc. The Aggies aren’t a great three-point shooting team, though; just 28% on the year.
I am curious to see how Eastern Kentucky responds to their first loss of the year. There’s a lot of reason to be encouraged by the way they lost, but there’s also could be a feeling that they let a game get away from them. Sometimes, confidence matters as much as talent, and how this team responds to adversity will go a long way in telling us how good this team will be in February or March, when it really matters.
The Colonels are now 2nd in the nation in forced turnover rate, forcing almost 19 a game.
New Orleans (3-6) at Southeast Missouri (6-6)
7:00 p.m. CST
New Orleans is just 3-6 on the year, but just provided a scare to Southern Illinois on Monday night. I’m not sure whether that says more about the Privateers or the Salukis, but the Redhawks should be on guard tonight at the Show Me Center. New Orleans shot 50% from the field in the loss in Carbondale.
The Redhawks are coming off a bad loss at home to Central Arkansas, thanks to an absolute defensive breakdown. When you have Tyler Stone score 32 points and he’s outscored by seven points, that’s not a good night. I know I’ve harped on this all year, (and most of last year) but good guards are shredding the Redhawks this year. SEMO, for a reason that’s beyond me at the moment, cannot force turnovers, putting too much pressure on their team when they need a stop. That’s on the backcourt.
New Orleans turns the ball over a lot, over 17 a game, but they force even more as part of their up-tempo offense. In fact, the Privateers are 4th in the nation in forced turnovers per game. It could be a big challenge for the Redhawks guards, who need to step up for Southeast Missouri to take the next step, and possibly challenge for the division.
Stone and Nino Johnson are poised for big nights, again, as New Orleans interior defense hasn’t been very good this year, allowing teams to shoot 52% from inside the arc.
South Dakota State (9-3) at Belmont (7-3)
7:00 p.m. CST
Belmont is coming off an absolute drubbing at the hands of No. 9 Kansas, and they face another challenge tonight in a good South Dakota State team. The Jackrabbits are at 9-3, and lost by just three on the road against Alabama earlier this year.
The reason the Jackrabbits are so good start withsenior guard Nate Wolters. The 6’4 guard is just shy of averaging 20 points a game, and pulls down six rebounds as well. He’s a good three-point threat on a team full of them: South Dakota State shoots over 37% as a team behind the arc.
Of course, Belmont knows all about having three point threats, but I’m getting the feeling the Bruins are dying off of the three as of late. The deep ball put the Bruins in an early hole against the Jayhawks, and they didn’t have much choice but to keep chucking it up, taking 38 threes in the loss. They didn’t shoot the deep ball well in a win over Middle Tennessee, nor in the loss a few weeks ago to VCU. It’s great having guys like Ian Clark and J.J. Mann that can hit those shots, but when they’re not, the Bruins really seem to struggle. They have guys that can score on the interior like Kerron Johnson and Trevor Noack, but they seem to be plan B far too often.
All this being said, we’re talking about a team that’s 7-3, against the toughest non-conference schedule in the OVC. I’m not writing them off, anything but, I just think the last few games they’ve gotten away from what really makes them great.
Samford (2-10) at UT Martin (3-8)
7:00 p.m. CST
This is not exactly a matchup of juggernauts in Martin tonight, but this is somewhat of a benchmark game for the Skyhawks. Included in Samford’s many losses is one by double-digits at Austin Peay, so it will be interesting to see if the Skyhawks can match the effort.
The matchup to watch will be on the interior, between Myles Taylor and the Bulldogs’ freshman forward Tim Williams. Williams is leading the team averaging more than 14 points a game, and pulls down eight rebounds.
One of UT Martin’s big weakness on defense has been in transition, and I’ll be curious to see if Samford tries to take advantage. The Bulldogs like to play in the halfcourt, and doesn’t often get into an up-and-down style of game, but will that change if UT Martin continues to be sluggish getting back on defense? If not, UTM’s halfcourt defense hasn’t been as bad this year, and could provide serious resistance to a Bulldogs offense that doesn’t score well.
UT Martin should have plenty of chances to score. The Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot 48% from the field, and don’t force many turnovers. While the Skyhawks aren’t the best three-point shooting teams, they could get open looks against the Samford guards.