If Eastern Kentucky is going to have any chance of topping the East Division of the OVC and earning the likely top seed in the OVC Tournament, their margin for error is gone. Having two losses to the Bruins, the Colonels are essentially three games back of the Bruins with just eight conference games to play. Not only do they need a lot of help, it’s clear they can’t lose again.
But it’s not just the one-seed the Colonels are eyeing. With Tennessee State and Morehead State on the Colonels tails in the East, a slip-up in the final month of the season could drop Eastern Kentucky to the four-seed, moving up their potential rematch against the Bruins; Worse even, the five-seed, forcing EKU to win four games in four days to win the OVC Tournament.
UT Martin is just hoping to make the tournament. After a tough loss at Eastern Illinois, and being all but written off, the Skyhawks surprised SIU Edwardsville, putting themselves back in the race for the 8-seed in Nashville. But the Skyhawks still have a hill to climb of their own. Eastern Illinois is hot right now, and the Skyhawks have losses not only to the Panthers, but Southeast Missouri, who currently hold the final two slots.
It’s hard to see anyone outside of Belmont’s Ian Clark or Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan being named OVC Player of the Year at this point in the year, but EKU’s Mike DiNunno is emerging as a dark horse candidate. Since Glenn Cosey went down to injury, DiNunno is averaging over 20 points a game. Much like Clark, DiNunno is shooting a high percentage from the field, and much like Canaan doubles as the team’s primary ball handler.
The Colonels have proven they can score just about as well as anyone in the league, but there are some questions about the Colonels defense, which has allowed not only Belmont, but SIU Edwardsville to eclipse 60% shooting from the floor in conference play. EKU has also been somewhat soft in the front court, and don’t feature a single player with five rebounds a game this year. Their scoring prowess has more than made up for the deficiencies against all but the Bruins.
As evidenced above, UT Martin is struggling from a statistical standpoint. The Skyhawks have quite a few lopsided defeats, but have played solidly against the West Divison. It’s the East Division teams that wrecked the most havoc on UT Martin this season. The last three teams the Skyhawks have faced from the East have scored 80 or more points, and all shot better than 50% from the field. The average margin of defeat for the Skyhawks in those three losses? 28 points. Yet writing off the Skyhawks, as I did a week ago, could very well be a mistake.