The postseason begins, and could end for two of the three Ohio Valley Conference men’s teams today, as the College Insider Tournament (CIT) gets underway.
It might not have been the postseason tournament these teams were dreaming of, but especially for the players, it’s another chance to prove how good they are.
Today’s preview’s will focus much more on the opposition because, let’s be honest, at this point we should know just about everything about the teams in the OVC.
Eastern Kentucky 24-9 (12-4) at Gardner Webb 21-12 (11-5 Big South)
7:00 p.m. EST
At first glance, EKU has a great first round draw. Gardner Webb does have 21 wins, yes. But they’re just 3-4 against the RPI top-200. EKU? 9-7. It’s not just the record versus .500, it’s that Gardner Webb has played just seven games against teams ranked in the top 200 in the nation. Seven. EKU played 10 in the OVC alone.
The bad news for the Colonels is that the Bulldogs were 10-2 at home on the year, and the Bulldogs shot the 3-ball well in conference play. In fact, fairly better than Eastern Kentucky.
The Bulldogs are a better defensive team than scorers, but they have an interesting lineup that could create matchup problems. It starts with seniors Tashan Newsome and Kevin Hartley. Newsome is an aggressive drive-to-the-goal type of guard who gets to the free throw line. Hartley is a 47% 3-point shooter on the year. And 6’6″ Which is about as tall of a player likely to play significant minutes for Gardner Webb. They have another 6’6″ forward that’s a more traditional scorer in sophomore Danta Harper.
Defensively, the lack of size in the middle has been a problem for the Bulldogs this year, although they’re statistically much better than the taller Colonels. Both teams are solid at defending on the perimeter. Gardner Webb doesn’t foul often, which is bad news for an EKU team second in the nation in free-throw percentage.
A lot of this game could come down to can Gardner Webb get enough stops. They’re not a shootout-type team, and if EKU makes shots they could cause all kinds of problems. If not, Gardner Webb is a team used to grinding out wins, even if it wasn’t against the best of competition.
Tennessee State 18-14 (11-5) at Evansville 18-14 (10-8 MVC)
7:00 p.m. CST
Remember how good I said EKU’s matchup was? Tennessee State’s is the complete opposite of that. Even though they’re side-by-side in RPI, (TSU 105, Evansville 106) the Aces opened as an 8-point favorite over the Tigers. Evansville was 13-3 at home this year, although one of those loses did come at the hands of Murray State.
There’s little reason to compare competition. Even playing in the much tougher division of the OVC, the Missouri Valley was by and far a much better conference this year, and finishing over .500 is no small feat. Evansville challenged themselves in the non-conference slate as well, including losses at Butler, Colorado State, and Notre Dame, all solid NCAA Tournament teams.
So sure, they’ve played everyone, but only finished with 17 wins on the year. I think that tells you a lot about the MVC. Evansville didn’t have a major area of weakness statistically this year. They shoot well, they force turnovers and don’t turnover the ball themselves, they have a star in Colt Ryan, and a great point guard in Ned Cox. And inside…
Oh boy. That’s where this thing comes tumbling down. Their best rebounder is a guard. A 6’0″ guard by the name of Troy Taylor. In fact, he’s lead the team in rebounds for two straight years now. Not a great scorer. Hasn’t taken a single three-point shot in two years. I’m not kidding. Look this kid up. He’s a 6’0″ center, essentially. He does pull down more than seven rebounds a game, and the Aces aren’t a particularly bad rebounding team, but this is just crazy.
In fact, while Evansville does have a 6’8″ sophomore, and a 6’10” freshman, neither play more than 18 minutes a game. The tallest player that does? 6’5″ Colt. Listed as a guard.
My amazement at their roster aside, Evansville is among the best ball-handling teams in the nation. (They’re all guards. They should be.) They shoot the three well, and force turnovers on defense. But if they’re not getting turnovers, they’re not the best defensively.
This game will likely come down to this: Can Evansville handle the size of Kellen Thorton and Robert Covington? Their performance could be key to the Tigers chance of success, and what would be a very good win against a very tough team.