Ah, a new year. 2013 is here, we all survived the apocalypse, and conference play is underway for everyone today.
And we’re doing something new. A podcast!
Actually, this was more of a podcast beta, and less of a true podcast. But since I did it, I figured I might as well post it. In future podcasts, (which for now will correlate with First Word posts) expect to hear a lot more coaches & players, maybe some media people, and a whole lot less me. But, the way I see it, this is a start.
For those of you that would prefer I stick to writing, you’re in luck as well.
Here’s today’s First Word:
Eastern Illinois (3-11, 0-1) at Eastern Kentucky (10-3, 0-0)
7:00 p.m. EST
Let’s not sugar coat things: EKU is about as big of a favorite in this one as you’ll see in the OVC. Even with all the questions surrounding whether EKU is really an “elite” OVC team, an Eastern Illinois upset would be extremely surprising.
Given my track record with predictions this year, that previous sentence pretty much just wrapped up the Panthers win. You’re welcome?
Eastern Illinois gave Tennessee State a challenge this past weekend, but let’s not forget that the Tigers were without Robert Covington. It’s still a good showing from a team coming off five straight double-digit losses heading into their matchup with the Tigers, but I don’t think it’s enough to say EIU is ready to challenge the top of the OVC. In fact, I’m not sure that Tennessee State is even in the top of the OVC this season.
Alex Austin is really shining as a freshman, and the matchup between he and EKU newcomer Glenn Cosey could be interesting to watch. Austin is only playing between 20-25 minutes most games, but is shooting 49% from the floor, and has scored 15 or more points in three of his last four games. Cosey, a 48% shooter, has yet to be held to single digits this year.
One player that hasn’t gotten a lot of notice for his play this year is Stetson transfer and EKU sophomore Corey Walden. Foul trouble has shortened his minutes as of late, but the guard is averaging nearly 10 points a game on 47% shooting off the bench. Playing behind Cosey and Mike DiNunno is likely to keep his numbers a bit low, but he’s great when he’s on the court.
Eastern Illinois sophomore standout Josh Piper has been on a bit of a slide lately. His last double-digit scoring night came on December 7th, but the 6’8″ forward still leads the Panthers in scoring.
SIU Edwardsville (4-6, 0-0) at Morehead State (6-8, 0-0)
7:00 p.m. EST
An interesting matchup in Morehead tonight that could have some ramifications in March. Both Morehead State and SIU Edwardsville are teams that, based on their non-conference play, could be bubble teams for the OVC tournament.
As much as we’ve talked about SIUE’s defensive struggles, statistically their offense is a much bigger problem. Their offensive efficiency ranks 315th in the nation, worse than last year’s rank. Their defense, actually slightly improved from last year numbers wise. You’re not going to win many games putting up 38 and 41 points, their output against their last two Division I opponents.
With Mark Yelovich back in the lineup, I’m curious to see if he can help open up the SIUE offense.
The Eagles are coming of a blowout win against Union College, thanks in part to 23 steals against the lower Division program. As this team continues to gain confidence and skill in the Sean Woods system, they could be a very tough team to beat. But as they’re getting there, Morehead State is still playing out of control at times. Turning over teams 20+ times doesn’t help when you turn yourself over 20+ times.
Belmont (9-4, 0-0) at Jacksonville State (10-3, 2-0)
7:00 p.m. CST
Game of the night in the OVC, as the one of the most explosive offenses in the conference meets on of the most hard nosed defenses.
As I mentioned in the podcast, the key to watch in this game is the three point line. Only two teams in the nation are better at stopping the three than Jacksonville State, and Belmont is one of the better teams at hitting the long ball.
But you can’t just discount Belmont’s defense, either. While Jacksonville State leads the OVC in defensive efficiency, the Bruins are second. Both teams can force turnovers, and Belmont actually holds their opponents to a lower shooting percentage from the field. Rebounding has been a minor point of concern for the Bruins, less so for the Gamecocks.
One concern for the Gamecocks defense is the battle of size. While the Gamecocks have Tarvin Gains, the Bruins feature three talented big men in Trevor Noack, JJ Mann and Blake Jenkins. Jacksonville State’s Rinaldo Mafra and Nick Cook will have to step up to get stops on the inside, because if the guards collapse to help, Belmont will likely destory the Gamecocks from behind the arc.
In their two OVC wins, Jacksonville State has been able to spread the floor, and win one-on-one battles on the offensive end. That could be more of a challenge tonight against Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson in the backcourt. The Gamecocks have been much improved from 3-point range, and a few early three’s could force Belmont to play tighter, making it easier to try and drive past.
Jacksonville State will almost assuredly need a better start against the Bruins than they had against UT Martin. The Gamecocks struggled to score, and committed 11 first half turnovers in 22-all tie at the break against the Skyhawks. A similar half against Belmont likely wouldn’t end in a tie.