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Everyone must be ready to get home for the holidays, because every game today is early, starting at a ridiculous 11 a.m.

So no time to waste with pleasantries…here’s the First Word:

Murray State (9-1) at Dayton (8-3)
11:00 a.m. – CBS Sports Network

Update: 10:30 a.m. – After being listed as “out” yesterday, Dayton guard Kevin Dillard is expected to start for the Flyers. Game on.

As weird as this may sound…these early games tend to have that “anything can happen vibe.” Shockingly enough, getting college students out of bed early, and getting them geared up by 11 a.m. can be a challenge.

The bigger challenge for the Flyers will be playing without their leading scorer. Kevin Dillard, who averages 15 points a game, is out with back spasms. Being the best three-point threat for Dayton, it changes their dynamic without him in. The bulk of their scoring now comes for a pair of forwards, and a slashing guard in Vee Sanford. Without that serious deep threat, I’m curious to see if the Racers pack the inside more to stop 6’9 forward Josh Benson.

With Dillard, the Flyers can stretch out the Racers defense a bit more, making the one-on-one battle with Benson and Ed Daniel that much more important. Daniel must avoid silly / technical fouls today, something that has somewhat plagued the senior over the past two games.

One thing the Flyers do well is force turnovers, and the Racers ball control simply hasn’t been as solid this year as in the past.  But the Flyers are ripe for turnovers themselves, and area Murray State hasn’t taken advantage against other opponents. It’s one reason the Racers defense hasn’t been as solid this year.

Dayton’s defense is good, but a little weak on the perimeter, which could give plenty of open looks to Isaiah Canaan and Stacy Wilson.

Southeast Missouri (7-6) at Missouri Kansas City (4-7)
12:05 CST

Coming off arguably their best game of the season, the Redhawks guards should be prime for another good game against a defense that’s…well it’s not good at all.  The Kangaroos allow their opponents to shoot almost 50% from the floor, and 45% from 3-point range. There’s just not a lot of resistance, one reason UMKC has lost three straight heading into today’s matchup.

The Kangaroos score be committee, with six players averaging between seven and ten points a game. While it is unselfish, it’s not all that effective, averaging under 64 points a game. Despite their issues, they’ve shown flashes of being a pretty good team; notably in a win over Norfolk State. This is a young team, with two non-starting seniors, and quite a few JUCO transfers.

This is SEMO’s final non-conference game until Bracketbusters. Next Saturday, OVC play gets under way against UT Martin.

Austin Peay (4-7) at Illinois State (8-3)
2:00 p.m. CST

Make no mistake, Illinois State is a very good mid-major team. They’re 3-3 against the RPI top 100, with wins over UC Santa Barbara (49th), Western Michigan (66th) and at Dayton (94th). The Redbirds have no bad losses; in fact a 100+ RPI team hasn’t lost by single digits. Statistically, they’re eighth in the nation in field goal shooting, (leading the nation in 2-pt shooting) solid from 3-point range, and in the top 100 in both offensive and defensive efficiency.

And to make things worse for Austin Peay, they force a lot of turnovers, a sore spot for the Governors this season.

The Redbirds feature two 17+ point scorers in guard Tyler Brown and 6’9″ forward Jackie Carmichael. Brown shoots nearly 50%, nearly unheard of from a guard, while Carmichael shoots 58%.

This is usually where I have a positive for the Governors, but I’m not sure I have one in this instance. The Redbirds are weaker on the inside defensively, so Austin Peay would be smart to get the ball to Anthony Campbell and Will Triggs when possible. They’re coming off just a 13-turnover game, a marked improvement from 28 the two previous.

 

Eastern Illinois (3-9) at Drake (5-5)
2:05 p.m. CST

Drake is a pretty good 5-5 team. All five of their losses are against top-150 RPI teams, with no losses below that line. They play up tempo basketball, and have the 3rd best 3-point shooting percentage in the nation. (Note, in case you’ve missed the theme. The Missouri Valley is seriously good this season)

Obviously, Eastern Illinois would be well off to control the pace, something they’ve done of a great job of this year. They prevent turnovers, and play within their offense, which appears to be getting slowly better. Their half court defense still needs some work, as evidenced by the recent blow out loss against St. Louis. If they can continue to force turnovers, they’ve been able to keep themselves in some games late.

To do that, they’re going to have to stop Ben Simons. The 6’8 forward is the Bulldogs biggest three-point threat, hitting almost three a game. Simons is really a forward in name only, pulling down just three rebounds a game.  Their inside threat is Jordan Clarke, a 56% shooter averaging almost 10 points and 9 rebounds a game.

The Panthers have lost their last five straight, and start conference play a week from today at Tennessee State.

Tennessee Tech (6-5) at No. 24 Oklahoma State (9-1)
Noon CST

Former OVC’er Travis Ford gets a taste of what he’s missing as his No. 24 Cowboys host Tennessee Tech. For Tennessee Tech, they get to take on one of the nation’s top defenses, on the road.

Jud Dillard continue to be the man for the Golden Eagles, but if they’re going take that next step this year, (and honestly, next when Dillard graduates) they have to find a consistent number two. Jeremiah Samarrippas is a true point, more concerned with facilitating that scoring, which is good, but he’s not the answer here. Freshman Lanerryl Johnson can certainly grow into that role as he continues to grow and mature, and Dennis Ogbe shows flashes. I  just don’t know if they have that consistent number two this year, and without it they’ll continue to plan inconsistently.

The Cowboys are just imposing on defense, but it doesn’t translate to the other side of the ball. They don’t shoot particularly well from inside or outside, average fewer than 12 assists a game. If you can hit some shots, and put pressure on the Cowboys offense to match, that might be the best strategy instead of trying to limit possessions.

Interesting irrelevant fact about the Cowboys: They’re 0-1 on the road. They’ve taken the Kentucky “we don’t play true road games” scheduling approach this season.


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OVC Ball
Compiling all OVC non-conference games

2016 Football Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 7-0 10-2
UT Martin 6-2 7-5
Tennessee Tech 5-3 5-6
Tennessee State 4-3 7-4
Eastern Illinois 4-4 6-5
Murray State 4-4 4-7
SEMO 3-5 3-8
Eastern Kentucky 2-6 3-8
Austin Peay 0-8 0-11


2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall

EAST

Belmont 15-1 23-7
Morehead State 10-6 14-16
Jacksonville State 9-7 20-15
Tennessee State 8-8 17-13
Tennessee Tech 8-8 12-20
Eastern Kentucky 5-11 12-19

WEST

UT Martin 10-6 22-13
SEMO 9-7 15-18
Murray State 8-8 16-17
Austin Peay 7-9 11-19
Eastern Illinois 6-10 14-15
SIUE 1-15 6-24


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