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We’re in a season of change here at OVC Ball, and the First Word isn’t any different, although the change will be a bit less severe than the one made to The Morning After. As I’ve stated multiple times before, we want to do things that are unique, stories you can’t find anywhere else. And we were getting away from that early in the year.

So, it’s time for some changes. But I still want to preview each game, just in a slightly different way.

Here’s the new First Word.

Game of the Night

North Dakota State (6-2) at Morehead State (4-4)
7:00 p.m. CST

Players to Watch

G Braun Taylor (14.2 ppg, 6.4 rpg, 3.8 apg)

F Marshall Bjorklung (11.6 ppg, 4.8 rpg)

F Milton Chavis (15.8 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 2.1 spg)
North Dakota State has the edge: In the halfcourt. Taylor is a guard at 6’7″, and three other Bison 6’7″ or taller will play significant minutes. They have multiple inside threats, which have a better chance to succeed if they can slow down Morehead State and get into their half court defense. They guards have been very good this year at preventing turnovers, which will be crucial to their chances for success tonight. But don’t let their size make you think that the Bison are solely and inside team: North Dakota State is shooting 41.6% from 3-point range this season

Morehead State has the edge: late in the game. The Bison aren’t the deepest team, and could be stretched thin by the end of the game if Morehead State is able to push tempo all night. The Eagles are 11th in the nation at forcing turnovers, but 2nd in the OVC behind rival Eastern Kentucky.

The game hinges on: support from the non-stars. Chavis has been excellent, and Taylor leads the Bison in points, rebounds, assists and steals. The question is, who else steps up for each team. Bjorklund has been fairly consistent this year. Eagles like Angelo Warner, Maurice Lewis-Briggs, and Kahlil Owens have not. Both teams stars should have good nights, and mostly cancel each other out. Who else steps up is the question.

 

Western Illinois (5-3) at Eastern Illinois (3-6)
7:00 p.m. CST

Players to Watch

G Ceola Clark III (14.5 ppg, 3.5 apg, 3.2 rpg, 1.8 spg)

F Terell Parks (13.4 ppg, 9.0 rpg, 1.8 apg)

F Josh Piper (12.1 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

F Sherman Blanford (9.8 ppg, 5.4 rpg)

Western Illinois has the edge: in a shootout, which has about 0.001% chance of happening. Both teams play half court basketball, neither force many turnovers, so possessions could be at a premium. But the Leathernecks are shooting over 40% from deep, and have three players shooting 50% or better from the floor, compared to exactly none for the Panthers. The Leathernecks also commit on average 10 fouls a game, so Eastern Illinois is unlikely to get many shots at the line.

Eastern Illinois has the edge: virtually no where, on paper. Western Illinois are better shooters, as mentioned above, they’re better on defense, they’re better on the boards, commit fewer turnovers: on paper, the game is already won. But they don’t play games on paper. Parks is the Leatherneck primary rebounder, but when he’s on the bench, or if he has an off night, the Panthers likely have the advantage on the boards. Also, WIU’s record is somewhat inflated by a pretty easy schedule.

The game hinges on: turnovers. In WIU’s loss to SIU Edwardsville, the Leathernecks turned the ball over 18 times, and 14 in their loss to Evansville. With so few possessions expected, the turnover battle is magnified that much more.

SIU Edwardsville (2-3) at Northern Illinois (1-5)
7:00 p.m. CST

Players to Watch

F Jerome Jones (17.2 ppg, 4.5 rpg)

F Mark Yelovich: Day-to-Day (ankle)

G Akeem Springs (10.3 ppg, 4.0 rpg)

G Askel Bolin (7.3 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

SIU Edwardsville has the edge: on offense. Everywhere on offense. Northern Illinois is averaging 52 points a game, and is shooting just 36% from the floor, and 24% from 3-point range. They scored just 5 first half points in a loss to Dayton. While I don’t expect a similar performance against SIU Edwardsville, Northern Illinois has broken 50 just once against Division I competition.

Northern Illinois has the edge: in a low-scoring game. The Huskies defense hasn’t been all that bad this year, and while they haven’t scored, they’ve held most of the opponents under 60 points. They force a lot of turnovers (although, obviously, they do much with them) and are a solid rebounding team. If Northern Illinois keeps the score low, and limits the number of possession, the Huskies have a good chance for the upset.

The game hinges on: The Cougars offense. It really is that simple.

UT Martin (3-5) at Central Arkansas (2-3)
7:00 p.m. CST

Players to Watch

F Myles Taylor (16.6 ppg, 7.9 rpg)

G Mike Liabo (18.7 ppg in last 4 games)

F Jeremy Washington (10.0 ppg, 7.0 rpg)

F Jarvis Garner (14.6 ppg, 6.4 rpg)

G LaQuintin Miles (12.6 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 4.4 apg)

F Jordan Harks (12.2 ppg, 5.2 rpg)

UT Martin has the edge: if the game is called tight. UT Martin is shooting over 75% from the free throw line, compared to just 53% for Central Arkansas. Both teams foul fairly often, but the Skyhawks should win the battle at the charity stripe.

Central Arkansas has the edge: in the paint. The Bears are the bigger team, and shooting 47% from 2-point range on the year. UT Martin just 37% from the same range. They also have multiple guys that can rebound. Surprisingly, though, the Bears defense in the paint hasn’t been as strong, but neither has UT Martin’s.

The game hinges on: The three-point shot. Central Arkansas hits a great percentage, but they don’t take a ton of shots. UTM can be streaky, but Liabo has been hot lately. The winner from deep should have a big advantage.

Oakland City at Austin Peay (3-4)
7:00 p.m. CST
Non Division I Game

No preview today for the non-Division I game.


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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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