Really, it’s only been two weeks? There have already been so many up’s (Belmont!) and down’s (Tennessee State, Jacksonville State) it feels like we’re in mid-January, not November.
Here’s what we’ve learned through Week 2 of this roller coaster of a season.
1) BELMONT ISN’T READY TO CONCEDE THE EAST DIVISION TO EASTERN KENTUCKY JUST YET.
If you were like me, and most of the media that follows the OVC, most of us expected this season to have EKU at the top, and everyone else fighting for second. Belmont, apparently, didn’t get that memo. Their win over North Carolina on Sunday is the best OVC regular season win in years, arguably better than Murray State’s win over a ranked Memphis team during their 31-2 season. They blew past a Lipscomb team Wednesday they struggled against just a week before. Without a doubt, the Bruins are going to have a say in defending their conference title.
2) NOT EVERYONE IS STRUGGLING WITH FOULS AT THE SAME LEVEL
The discussion over fouls is only getting more intense as the season progresses, with at least two coaches, Larry Eustachy (Colorado State) and Barry Hinson (SIU) expressing very strong feelings on the issue. Spoiler Alert: They’re not fans of the new rules.
As I broke down in our Tempo-Free Thursday, the OVC isn’t adjusting as well as their opponents as a whole. Eight of the OVC’s 12 teams have seen their free-throw rate (the rate at which they get to the free-throw line) rise, but all 12 have seen their opponents rate increase.
Austin Peay has been the best, hands down, at defending without fouling in the OVC, and has seen just a small rise in opponents’ free-throws. Murray State, UT Martin, and Tennessee State, on the other hand, are especially struggling.
3) IT’S GOING TO BE A DOWN YEAR FOR THE OVC
Entering Friday’s games, the OVC is 26-31 in non-conference play. That number includes nine wins over non-Division I opponents. Take those out, and the OVC is 17-31, just a 35% win percentage. It’s a big reason the OVC ranks 28th out of 32 conferences in RPI, according to BB State.
4) …BUT THAT COULD MAKE FOR AN ENTERTAINING CONFERENCE RACE, ESPECIALLY IN THE WEST DIVISION
Is there a dominant team in the West? No one is better that 2-2, and all six teams have looked shaky at times in the first two weeks of the season. The West proved to be the more entertaining of the two divisions last season, at least where wild games and upsets were concerned. This season is looking similar, although the East continues to show their dominance.
5) DON’T MAKE FUN OF THE WAC
The Western Athletic Conference is far from it’s peak, now featuring such basketball powerhouses as Chicago State, Grand Canyon and UMKC. Seriously, this conference used to have Air Force, Boise State, Nevada, Utah, and Wyoming. Now they’re hanging their hat on teams like Texas Pan-American. They’re also 4-0 against the OVC, so I should probably stop making fun of their great decline.
6) THOSE EARLY SEASON SLUMPS, INJURIES APPEAR TO BE IMPROVING
Belmont’s J.J. Mann is back to hitting big shots. Austin Peay’s Travis Betran appears to be getting his legs back under him after an early season struggle. EKU’s Eric Stutz is getting healthier, as is UTM’s Myles Taylor. After the first week was dominated by big games from newcomers, the established leaders are coming back around in Week 2.
7) …BUT ONE NEWCOMER STANDS ABOVE THE REST
SEMO’s Jarekious Bradley doesn’t appear to be going anywhere. He’s holding on to a starting spot over established veteran Nino Johnson, and has provided a nice spark over the Redhawks in their first four games. He’s more undersized than Johnson, and I’ll be curious if head coach Dickey Nutt tries to play all three, and moves Bradley to the 3-spot. But for now, he’s averaging 19 points, and eight rebounds a game.
8) AN 0-10 START IS NOT OUT OF THE CARDS FOR TENNESSEE STATE
The Tigers grueling schedule isn’t about to let up. Tonight, they face Tennessee, before traveling to Auburn and South Carolina Upstate. Their best chance of a win comes December 3rd at home against Alabama A&M, but if they lose there, the next best chance comes on December 15th against non Division I Fisk, game number 11 of their season. Much like I said last week, TSU is a one-man wrecking crew right now, and you cannot win in college basketball like that.
9) EKU IS ABOUT TO REALLY GET TESTED
If EKU wants to re-establish themselves as the outright favorite in the conference, they’re about to have their chance. According to BB State, Eastern Kentucky’s schedule currently ranks 257th in the nation. That’s not too challenging, and the theme continues tonight when they face non-Division I Brescia. But all that is about to change. Their next 4 games: at NC State, at VCU, at Longwood, and at Wisconsin. If they manage to go 2-2 over that stretch, that’s a great sign for things to come.
10) MIDDLE TENNESSEE AT MURRAY IS THE BEST GAME OF THE UPCOMING WEEK
We’re still learning a lot about the Racers, as they’ve only played two games against Division I teams, both of which were foul fests. On Wednesday, they face similar mid-major darlings Middle Tennessee at the CFSB Center in Murray.
Other matchups worth noting
- Sat: Holy Cross at Belmont. Crusaders 2-2, but played North Carolina tight.
- Sun: Morehead State at Nevada. Eagles look solid at home, but haven’t passed any road tests.
- Wed: IPFW at Eastern Illinois. EIU inconsistent early. IPFW two points away from being undefeated