Every day we get closer to March is more important than the last. And many of today’s games really have that feel that they could carry some weight when it’s time to seed the tournament.
In fact, one game today may virtually be an elimination game, even though we’re just now reaching the halfway point of conference play.
It’s also nearing the last chance for a few teams to impress the Bracketbusters selection committee, to possibly get one of those coveted TV games for this, the final years of Bracketbusters.
You may notice something much different with today’s First Word.
In fact, without a doubt you should notice. Seriously, it’s not a subtle change. Whether I can actually keep it up for the rest of the season is yet to be seen.
I’ve explained most of the statistics I use here, including the non-tempo one, but I’m introducing a new one today: Individual player efficiency. The scientific explanation is as follows:
Efficiency, Eff – The NBA Efficiency Model, which attempts to reward key “good” stats and punish “bad” stats, all in one single statistical measurement. Formula: ((Pts + TReb + A + Stl + Blk) – ((FGA – FGM) + (FTA – FTM) + TO))
Short version: higher numbers are good. Any number in double-digits is solid. Any number above 15 is great.
Also, don’t forget out Pick ’em contest over at OVC Boards. If you missed round 1, go ahead and join us for round two. Still plenty of time to catch up.
And the podcast is back.
First Word time:
Belmont at Morehead State
Favorite: Belmont (-7.5)
Notice what’s new yet?
Belmont has run the gauntlet at home the past week, but now they hit the road, with a target painted squarely on their back. They travel to Morehead State, a team whose four conference wins have all come against the West Division.
Whether by design or not, Morehead State hasn’t been running their offense as the feverish pace they started off the season with. In fact, they’re only the fourth most up tempo team in OVC play this season. The team playing most up tempo? Belmont.
The knock on the Bruins, as little of one that there is, is they seem to be getting into a habit of letting large leads slip away. They did so in both of their games last week, but Belmont Rick Byrd doesn’t seem to concerned, saying that happens when two good teams play each other. I agree to a point, good teams are going to make runs. But losing, or nearly losing twenty point leads has to be a cause for concern. They pulled out two wins last week, but were in the friendly confines of the Curb Events Center.
If you’re looking for something in common from the Eagles two road wins last week, you’re out of luck. Free throws and rebounding propelled the Eagles past Southeast Missouri, while defense and three-point shooting led Morehead State past UT Martin. The one constant: this team is scoring better than before.
The big question that remains for everyone that plays Belmont the rest of the season: can anyone shut down Ian Clark. He leads the OVC in scoring since conference play began, is shooting 63% from the field, and has had four straight 20+ point games. He also rebounds well for a guard, gets assists, and doesn’t turnover the ball often. He’s a force, and he tearing through the OVC.
In honestly, the verdict is still out on Morehead. They have a bad at loss at Austin Peay, but a good win at SEMO. The question that remains is how do they stack up against their own division. We’ll begin to see that answer tonight.
Tennessee State at Eastern Kentucky
Favorite: EKU (-5.5)
A second place battle in the East may not sound too important on face value, but the tournament implications are huge: The three-seed, the highest second place in the division could get, avoids the one-seed until the OVC tournament finals. The four-seed does not.
There’s a second reason this game is especially important for the Colonels. A win sets up Saturday’s battle against Belmont, with a chance to pull back into a tie atop the division.
As you can probably tell in the graphic above, rebounding could be a big key in this game. One of the big differences in the Tigers and Colonels performances against Belmont last week was on the boards: TSU won the battle of the glass by ten. EKU? Doubled up by Belmont; just 17 rebounds to the Bruins 34.
One thing both teams did a bad job of in their losses: getting to the free throw line. Eastern Kentucky’s three-point friendly offense isn’t really set up to draw many fouls, and with Robert Covington out, Tennessee State is relying more on the three as well. The Tigers have been shooting almost 42% in OVC play, whereas the Colonels have slipped, shooting just 33% in conference games, down almost 4% from non-conference play.
Part of that can be contributed to the injury to Glenn Cosey, the Colonels best three-point shooter who has been out for two weeks. In his absence, Mike DiNunno has really shined at the guard position, and he’s more of a driver than a jump shooter, scoring more points in the paint.
Limiting turnovers are a concern for the Tigers, especially against a team so talented at getting steals and runouts. But they’re also struggling to get steals on defense, which puts more pressure on their offense to execute in the half-court.
For Eastern Kentucky to make a deep run, they really need more production from their frontcourt. Tarius Johnson and Eric Stutz have both had outstanding games this season, but they tend to be surrounded by less than outstanding performances. The Colonels guards have carried the team this year, and while they can obviously get wins that way, I’m not sure if they can beat the elite of the OVC without help from the forwards.
Cosey’s status for the Colonels is unknown, although it’s expected he will return soon.Covington remains out for the Tigers. He’s not expected back until sometime in February.