At last year’s OVC media day, I had the opportunity to sit down with all 12 OVC coaches. For many of the teams in the East Division, it’s one of the few times I’ll likely get to talk to them face-to-face during the season
As I sat down with Tennessee Tech head coach Steve Payne, I introduced myself, and before I could even get out a question, Payne had something to say..
You see, in last year’s ridiculously early preview, I used a dirty word. That word: rebuilding. I said that TTU was poised for a rebuilding year after losing star Kevin Murphy and a host of other seniors, a word he took some exception to.
He told me how he didn’t see it as a rebuilding year, and it was unfair to his seniors to call it that.
He may have been right. The Golden Eagles were just on the outside of the OVC Tournament bubble, and one could make the argument that if they were in the opposite division, they would have found their way in. (Although they struggled against the West somewhat)
So, that’s over and done with, right? The
rebuilding recovery is over, and Tennessee Tech will be back fighting with the top of the conference.
It’s rare when a concern from one year carries over to the next, but I have a feeling I’m going to be saying the same thing about this year’s Tennessee Tech squad as I did last year’s: Where’s the scoring? Tennessee Tech’s offensive ranks were easily in the bottom third of the nation, and bottom three in the conference almost universally across the board, and their go-to scorer, Jud Dillard has graduated. Dennis Ogbe is a clear up-and-comer, and could easily be a force on the inside. Jeremiah Samarrippas isn’t the greatest jump shooter in the conference, but he’s got a solid drive and known how to get to the rim.
The question: is that going to be enough? Two years ago, we saw the duo of Dillard and Murphy lead the team, but many people forget the surrounding cast, including Zac Swansey (who is more or less replaced by Samarrippas, although Swansey was a much more solid scorer) Zach Bailey, and Alfred Jones. It wasn’t a two-man team, although those two truly rose above.
The good news: The East might not be the beast they were the year before, at least it should be more even across the divisions.
Over or Under 64.8 points per game in 2013-14
Over, but just barely. Last season, especially when conference play started, the mentality of TTU’s opponents, oversimplified, was make someone other than Dillard beat them. There was a clear correlation early on between Dillard’s scoring, and TTU’s record. For most of the season, there wasn’t anyone else. Lanerryl Johnson was a freshman, Ogbe came on strong late, and Samarrippas, a 37% shooter, wasn’t going to beat you. The latter two are back, and should be better, so you have a solid core of two potential scorers, versus seemingly just one last season. Plus, there’s a wildcard. (More on that later)
Sure, the offense may struggle, but this team wins with defense, right?
Probably, but that’s got to get better as well. A tepid pace of basketball masked some of their defensive struggles last season, and losing Dillard on the boards will hurt. But Ogbe could very well be one of the premier inside defenders in the league, and Samarrippas is very solid on the perimeter. There’s not a lot of experienced size on the bench to play beside Ogbe, but the defense is truly the key to Tennessee Tech’s season.
Can TTU fix the turnover problems that plagued them last season?
It should get better, although I’d stop short of “fixed.” This is where the youth last year really played a factor: your main point guard hadn’t played with the team before last year, your backups were mostly true freshman, and a focus on Dillard meant a few more telegraphed passes than I’m sure Payne wanted to see. If TTU can develop a few more scoring threats, that combined with another year of experience for the guards should reduce their turnover issues.
F Terrell Barnes (graduated)
G Jud Dillard (graduated)
G Ammanuel Diressa
G DeOndre Haynes
G Mitchell Hill
G Lanerryl Johnson (transferring)
F Matt Marseille
G Javon McKay
F Anthony Morse
F Dennis Ogbe
C Ryon Riggins (transferring)
G Jeremiah Samarrippas
C Eric Weisenbach (transferring)
G Shirmane Thomas
F Dwan Caldwell (JUCO transfer)
G Josiah Moore (eligible after transferring from Nebraska)
For reasons I do not wholly understand, Johnson, a player myself and others saw as a rising star in the OVC, has transferred to the JUCO ranks along with Ryon Riggins.
The good news in the guard department is the addition of Josiah Moore, a Nebraska transfer who is eligible in 2013-14 after sitting out last season. Go ahead an pencil him in as a starter, and then write over it with a sharpie. (I’m saying that despite the fact he played limited minutes with the Cornhuskers. Truth is, if not him, I don’t know who else it would be.) How effective he’ll be in the OVC is yet to be seen.
One of the great things about last year is that virtually the entire bench, with the exception of DeOndre Haynes, played significant minutes: in fact, they all played 20+ games, and averaged 8 minutes a game. So there’s a lot of in-game experience for a young bunch.
So what did we learn from all that playing time?
If you’re looking for a dark horse in the bunch, rising senior Matt Marseille may be that player. He’s a 6’5 combo guard / forward, that shoots the ball fairly well and can rebound. He put up 21 points early in the season against Loyola, and scored in double digits on three other occasions. Javon McKay is another solid rebounder, although he needs to shoot better than 36% from the field.
I’m really curious to see how Anthony Morse develops. The rising sophomore is 6’8, seems to have a good touch at the rim and can rebound. There’s not a lot of depth inside on the roster, and I think he could find a way to rise above the rest.
Predicted Starting Five
G Jeremiah Samarrippas
G Josiah Moore
G/F Matt Marsielle
F Anthony Morse
F Dennis Ogbe
Honestly, there aren’t a lot of options here, at least not that I see. McKay could be another option in the three-slot, and JUCO transfer Dwan Caldwell has a good shot at moving into the frontcourt instead of Morse.
Last year, I though this team was a year away from really competing.
I’m not sure that’s changed.
It’s hard for any team to lose their top scorer in back-to-back years and recover. I truly do think this team is on the right path, they’re building a base of young, talented players, most of whom will compete for an OVC crown before their college career is over.
It’s just not going to be this year. Not without one (or two, or three) players having a major breakout year.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s possible. The talent is there. I just think it’s needs a little more time to develop.
If this team can survive into February, they could be a team that surges late.