In just their first eligible year, SIU Edwardsville appears not only poised to make the tournament, put possibly finish in second place in the West Division of the OVC. Despite the fact the West Division isn’t all that strong, it would still be a great accomplishment for a team just finishing their transition to Division I.
UT Martin made that same transition years ago. I’m not certain one could be blamed for confusing the two.
The Skyhawks chances of making this year’s OVC tournament took a hit two days ago, as UT Martin fell on the road at Eastern Illinois. The loss, the fourth straight for the Skyhawks, put Jason James’ team one game and a tie-breaker behind the Panthers for the eighth and final spot in Nashville. While there is still half of the conference season to play, the Skyhawks aren’t exactly looking like a team on the cusp of making a dramatic run. Of UT Martin’s seven conference losses, six are by double-digits. The only one that wasn’t was their OVC opener, played in December.
SIU Edwardsville struggled out of the gate in conference play, but have won three of their last four, and led the Racers into the second half a week ago. With Mark Yelovich healthy again, the Cougars have been much more efficient on the offensive end of the ball, shooting 47% from the field in OVC play. They continue to shoot the three well behind Jerome Jones and Kris Davis, but are still too often left fighting turnovers.
Myles Taylor has virtually become a one man show for the Skyhawks, as UT Martin can’t get consistent production, if any at all, from other positions on the floor. With no one shooting better than 36% from 3-point range, defenses continue to collapse into the paint to stop Taylor at all costs, and all but dare the Skyhawks guards to make plays to beat them. Terence Smith finally seems healthy enough to give the backcourt a much needed shot in the arm, averaging over 15 points in the last two contests.
A win tonight for UT Martin could really have a major impact going forward, as the Skyhawks would put themselves right back into the race for the 8-seed. Unless SIU Edwardsville can catch Morehead State, their seeding may be all but set. Right now, the Cougars and Redhawks look poised for a first round matchup, regardless which one finishes second in the West.