Christmas break is over, and we are back to basketball for the final day of pure non-conference play.
Austin Peay (4-8) vs Utah Valley (6-8)
3:30 p.m. CST
After a 4-4 start, Austin Peay is four game slide, and will look to bounce back today at the Dr. Pepper Classic in Chattanooga, Tennessee, and they’re playing a fairly untested Utah Valley team. The Wolverines haven’t faced a single power conference opponent, and just two teams in the RPI top 100. (and barely at that)
The Wolverines have alternated wins in losses over their last seven games, and are coming off a pre-Christmas loss to North Carolina Central. They’re a score be committee type of team, with four players averaging double-digit scoring led by 6’9″ forward Ben Arid. The junior averages 12 points and seven and a half rebounds per contest, shooting better than 56% from the floor. As for a serious deep threat, Holten Hunsaker will throw them up, but hits less than 30%. And while Jason Johnson is shooting 40% from deep, it’s mostly concentrated into a few great games, and a lot of 1-3 and 1-4 type nights.
Turnovers, which have plagued Austin Peay as of late, shoudn’t be as big of a problem today. Why not? But Utah State is one of the worst teams in the nation at forcing them. That’s not going to stop the Governors from beating themselves in that department, but Utah Valley isn’t going to step in front of a lot of passes.
After nine straight double-digit scoring efforts, Travis Betran is coming off his worst game of the year. Anthony Campbell was surging before Christmas, averaging 22.5 points over the past two games.
Southern Mississippi (8-4) at Morehead State (5-7)
6:30 p.m. EST
Donnie Tyndall returns to Morehead State tonight, and he bring with him a Southern Miss. squad ranked in the top 60 in the RPI. It’s an interesting for the former Eagles coach: While he will be facing his old team, they’re nothing like the teams he coached.
Tyndall’s Golden Eagles squad is very much making their mark with the hard nosed defense we’re used from Tyndall. They hold opponents to under 40% shooting from the field, and under 30% from behind the arc. They don’t play the grind-it-out pace we saw in Tyndall’s later years at Morehead, but they’re not looking to get into Morehead’s up-and-down game either.
One potential problem for Tyndall: turnovers. The Golden Eagles have been somewhat sloppy with the ball this year, and few teams are as good at forcing them than Morehead State. Southern Miss, though, is one those teams better at it. USM is 7th in the nation in turnover rate, Morehead State, 16th.
While Southern Mississippi has picked up on Tyndall’s philosophy on the defensive end, they’re struggling to put up points on the other end. They’re not a great shooting team, and are one of the smallest teams in Division I. Their starting forwards are both listed at 6’5″. They have a 6’7″ forward that will come off the bench, and a 6’9″ freshman that is unlikely to play unless the game becomes a blowout.
And quite possibly the most important statistic for Tyndall’s new team: They shoot 73% from the free throw line. Morehead State is still worst in the nation in the foul department.
The trend we saw for Morehead State before Christmas was the Eagles were struggling to get turnovers, forcing them to play in the halfcourt. And that’s not been good for Sean Woods squad. In their last two games, Morehead State forced 14 and 7 turnovers, respectively, and shot under 40% in both contests.
SIU Edwardsville (4-5) at St. Louis (8-3)
7:00 p.m. CST – Fox Sports Midwest
After a promising start, SIU Edwardsville headed into the Christmas break as troubled as any team. They are coming off two straight wins against non Division-I competition, but the first of those was in jeopardy throughout. Before those games, the Cougars were thoroughly beaten by Western Illinois, and solidly beat by a not great Northern Illinois squad.
Tonight’s matchup is a challenge for the Cougars, to put it kindly. St. Louis is a 20+ point favorite, and SIUE has yet to win on the road this year.
Honesltly, things aren’t really looking up for the Cougars until Mark Yelovich returns to the lineup, which could happen in the next month or so, but isn’t expected tonight.
If SIUE is going to challenge the Billikens tonight, they’re going to have to find a way to score against one of the better defenses in the nation. There’s a big asterisk beside that last statement though, and it’s been the Achilles heel of St. Louis all season: they do not stop the three. Opponents are shooting over 39% from behind the arc against the Billikens, and SIU Edwardsville is one of the better three-point shooting teams in the OVC.
St. Louis has won five straight, with two of those wins coming over OVC teams.
Belmont (8-3) vs Boston University (5-6)
Belmont is spending their post-Christmas weekend in nice, warm Orlando for the UCF Holiday tournament. They open play with a very winnable game, taking on a Boston University team that hasn’t won a game against the RPI top 200 this season.
But that being said, they have a few three point shooters that could help keep the Terriers in the game. Travis Robinson shoots 52% from behind the arc, and John Papale is hitting 42% from deep. Defending the three has been a strength of Belmont this year, but if the Terriers get hot, you never know.
Of course we all know that the Bruins can shoot the three ball as well. Ian Clark is just over 50%, Trevor Noack is better than 46% percent. Could be a fun game of back-and-forth three point shooting in Orlando.