The battle for seeds, and possibly even a spot in Nashville, is on in full in the OVC’s West Division this week, in a near round-robin of sorts between the four teams likely fighting for the final three seeds in next month’s tournament. Someone’s going to get left out, and a loss tonight could the be the catalyst that pushes one team towards that despair.
For SIU Edwardsville, this could be the game that all but locks up their tournament slot, and possibly even second place in the OVC West, although with the current tournament structure, that’s a moral victory, as it holds no real weight.
For Southeast Missouri, this could be the game that finally stops the slide, just in time to salvage an otherwise lost conference season.
No team in the OVC has been up and down this season more than the Cougars. SIU Edwardsville has alternated wins and losses over the past six games, and two of those wins have just scraped by. They’ve been just good enough to get four wins, and just not quite as good in most of their losses.
So the logical question is why? Why does this team seem to be always locked in a tight contest? Part of the reason is this team lacks that “star” that so many teams have. It’s even questionable if they have a “go to” guy on offense. Sure, Jerome Jones averages 15 points a game, but he’s not the type of player that can take over a game offensively. Neither is Mark Yelovich, or Kris Davis. They’re all good players, and they contribute to a very balanced attack. But when you’re needing a bucket, either to put a team away or to stay in a game, who do you choose?
This is the problem that faces many balanced attacks, but this year the offense issue presents a particular problem. The OVC, much like it has in football, is going through a offensive revolution. Teams are shooting the ball as good as ever, and their defending is bottoming out as a result. SIU Edwardsville hasn’t joined that revolution. Both of their offensive and defensive numbers are near average nationwide, but the Cougars rank 10th in the conference in points per possession. Their slightly-better than average defense? Third.
Balance is good, but when you’re a balanced team in an out-of-balance conference, sometimes it can lead to struggles. SIUE hasn’t been able to take advantage of teams poor defenses too often in the past. The Cougars just needs that spark, something that gives them even just a slight edge. As close as many of their games are, a slight edge could be enough to make a pretty big difference.
The Redhawks are highlighting why a purely offensive revolution, with no defense to back it up, isn’t always a good thing. The Redhawks are fourth in the OVC in points per game, yet just 3-7 on the year. They outscore Morehead State, Tennessee State, and Jacksonville State, but are no where near as good in the standings.
That’s because the Redhawks have fallen to last in the conference in defense. It’s a trend we’ve been watching for some time, that seems to have finally bottomed out. The question is can the climb out of the hole they’ve dug for themselves.
I’ve been harping on two defensive points all year with Southeast Missouri, and I’ll harp on them again: The Redhawks generate as few turnovers as anyone in the league, and they don’t defend the three point line well. Both those areas are one that traditionally fall on the backcourt. And this is no exception.
But the frontcourt does share in the blame, especially from a rebounding point of view. Nino Johnson and Tyler Stone have gone to one of the most feared duos to one that can’t stay in the game long enough because one, or both always seem to find their way into foul trouble.
The Redhawks can score as well as anyone. If they can find a way to stop teams, the season can turn around in a hurry. If not, it could be over just as quickly.