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Wait a second: a high-quality non-conference game between two talented mid-majors during the dead week? Is this a prank?

No, this is a real game? Amazing.

This is the beginning of a tough six game stretch for the Bruins: After tonight, they go to Kansas, host a good South Dakota State team, and play in the UCF Holiday tournament in Florida. And then, conference play is here, and starts with a two-game road trip.

This stretch will make or break Belmont’s at-large chances (which are in a bit of trouble already with two losses)

Here’s today’s First Word:

Middle Tennessee State (7-2) at Belmont (6-2)
6:00 p.m. CST – ESPN 3

Players to Watch

[one_half]G Ian Clark (19.4 ppg, 58.3% 3-pt shooting)

G Kerron Johnson (13.9 ppg, 4.8 apg)

F Trevor Noack (11.5 ppg, 5.5 rpg)[/one_half]

[one_half_last]G Marcos Knight (13.1 ppg, 6.1 rpg)

F Shawn Jones (10.4 ppg, 6.2 rpg)[/one_half_last]

The Matchup: Two very-good mid-major teams from Tennessee meet up in Nashville, with nearly identical records. MTSU is coming off a win at home against Ole Miss, ending their six game winning streak. The Blue Raiders have also taken on No. 5 Florida, losing by double digits on the road.

Belmont has played a very tough schedule, with losses to Virginia Commonwealth (An okay loss) and Northeastern. (Not as much) Ian Clark has taken control of the Bruins, coming off a 30-point performance against rival Lispcomb. Clark is second in the OVC in scoring, and leading the conference in three-point shooting.

The Blue Raiders have the edge: on a cold shooting night. MTSU is a good rebounding team that doesn’t a lot of threes. If neither team is shooting well, MTSU has the slightly better big men to have a chance to take control of the game.

Their defense has been great at closing in on opposing guards this year, holding opponents to 30% shooting behind the arc. They’ll face a challenge tonight: Belmont is currently 4th in the nation shooting 43.6% from three point range.

The Bruins have the edge: if they speed up Middle Tennessee. Belmont forces 18 turnovers a game, and has the speed to get out in transition. Johnson and J.J. Mann average almost four steals a game between them.

Middle Tennessee’s defense is a bit soft in the paint, which could benefit Noack and Blake Jenkings, and even Johnson who likes to drive the ball from the perimeter.

The game hinges on: the free throw line. Both teams shoot just 68%, but both teams commit more than 21 fouls a game, both in the bottom-50 in the nation. Both teams could get a lot of chances at the charity stripe.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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