With Christmas break on the horizon, getting kids to focus for this final game before the break can be somewhat of a challenge. But three OVC teams all have interesting matchups tonight, before heading home for the holidays.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Eastern Kentucky (9-2) at High Point (4-5)
7:00 p.m. EST
A second chance at a bounceback tonight for the Colonels, who have lost two straight after winning their opening nine. All-in-all, this is a pretty important game for EKU. Next up is West Virginia, followed by OVC play. A loss tonight leaves a high probability the Colonels enter the conference season on a 4-game losing streak, with absolutely no momentum.
The Colonels struggled to get stops on the interior against North Carolina A&T, and they face quite a challenge tonight against 6’7″ forward John Brown. The redshirt freshman is averaging almost 18 points a game, and is shooting 53% from the floor. The Panthers don’t take hardly any threes, so you would feel safe packing the inside to get stops against Brown and 6’9″ forward Allan Chaney.
One of the reasons High Point is under .500 this year is their inability to stop teams from shooting the three. The Panthers allow opponents to shoot better than 41% behind the arc, something Glenn Cosey and Mike DiNunno need to take advantage of.
This has the feeling of a fairly high scoring game, with each team playing into the others weaknesses. High Point does like to play a little bit faster, but could struggle to speed up Eastern Kentucky.
South Carolina-Upstate (4-6) at Tennessee State (5-7)
7:00 p.m. CST
We’ve talked a bit about Tennessee State just not being the same team, but let’s put it numbers. Ranks are their ranking in Division I.
Offensive Efficiency (Points per possession)
2011-12: .984 (183rd)
2012-13: .862 (308th)
Defensive Efficiency (Points allowed per possession)
2011-12: .984 (152nd)
2012-13: .991 (209th)
Field Goal Shooting2011-12: 43.7% (155th)
2012-13: 39.4% (301st)
2011-12: 34.6% (152nd)
2012-12: 27.3% (320th)
I’m not just hand picking stats to make my point, either: Almost across the board, this team is worse than last year’s. And almost the entire team is back, minus one role player. And the gap is made worse by the fact that Tennessee State is playing more up tempo this year, giving teams more possessions in every game.
We’re past the point where you can blame the schedule. We’re 12 games in, nearing the half way point of the season. Tonight’s a very winnable game against 4-6 South Carolina-Upstate, and the Tigers really could use a good win. The key comes in stopping Torrey Craig. The forward averages nearly 19 points a game, and will provide a major matchup challenge for the Tigers.
Morehead State (5-6) at North Dakota State (9-3)
8:00 p.m. EST
Let’s start with this: North Dakota State shoots 75% from the line as a team. So, another 30+ foul game isn’t going to do the Eagles any favors.
This is the return game of a home-home series this year, with North Dakota State winning the opener at Morehead just a few weeks ago. The Eagles were just 2-17 from three in that game, and actually shot more free throws than the Bison. The Eagles had no answer for Taylor Braun. The Bison leading scorer had 23 points on just 6 made field goals. (11-12 from the free throw line)
The Bison are hard to turnover, but Morehead State forced 21 in their first meeting.
Morehead State is another team on a slide with conference play on the Horizon. The Eagles have lost four of five, with former coach Donnie Tyndall‘s Southern Miss next on the schedule, but do have non-Division I Union College to stop the slide before opening OVC play.