Through two nights of the Ohio Valley Conference basketball season, we’re reminded already how much basketball, especially at the collegiate level, is a team sport. Look at last night alone:
- Ty Allen scores 25 points for Tennessee Tech, who lose to South Florida
- Reggie Smith scores 19 points for Eastern Illinois, who lose to Northwestern
- Patrick Miller scores 30 points for Tennessee State, who score just 55 as a team in a loss to New Mexico State.
Having one great player isn’t enough. We saw it last season in Murray, and to a lesser extent in Cookeville. Eastern Kentucky had three great performers last night, but got almost no help from the bench, narrowly winning against a Kennesaw State team that won three games last season.
If the OVC wants to continue their success as a conference from last season, they need depth, not just of teams but of players. That’s what’s going to separate good teams from bad at the end of the year.
Youngstown State (2-0, 0-0 Horizon) vs Eastern Kentucky (2-0, 0-0 OVC)
The final day of the Kennesaw State Tournament will present the Colonels with their greatest challenge, on paper at least. The two undefeated teams at the tournament will meet in a championship game, of sorts.
Through their two games, the Penguins have done a lot of the little things well: they’ve limited turnovers, they’ve hit free-throws, and shot well from the floor. Senior guard Kendrick Perry has averaged more than 17 points a game thus far, and 6’6 forward Ryan Weber his 7-11 from three point range. Weber only hit eight all of last season. Like Eastern Kentucky, the Penguins haven’t been outstanding on the boards.
Through two games, we’ve seen the Eastern Kentucky starters play very well, but they haven’t gotten as much production as they would probably like out of the reserves. Especially with Eric Stutz playing limited minutes, they could use more quality minutes out of guys life Jeff Johnson and Deverin Muff.
On the topic of Stutz, there’s no real reason for the Colonels to play him at this point in the year if he’s injured, which they say he is. But they are, for just for 12-15 minutes a game. It’s a bit odd, honestly.
Jacksonville State (0-1, 0-0 OVC) at Illinois (1-0, 0-1 Big Ten)
5:00 p.m. CST
Jacksonville State is having no problems challenging themselves in the Land of Lincoln to start their season. Next up for the Gamecocks is an Illinois team coming off back-to-back 23-win seasons.
That being said, the Illini this year are seeking a new identity of sorts, after graduating two of their three-double digit scorers from a year ago. They do return 6’1 guard Tracy Abrams, who got off to a slow start against Alabama State. Drake transfer and fellow guard Ravonte Rice, didn’t. Rice scored a game-high 22 points, and pulled down nine rebounds in the the Illini opening night win.
Despite a fairly lofty win, there were some notable concerns. The Illini struggled to contain the Hornets three-point shooting, especially from guard Jamal Walters. Illinois also forced just seven turnovers, while committing 15. Whether those are just a one-night thing, or something to truly be exploited is still to be seen.
As seems to be case more often than not for the Gamecocks, the three-point shooting game may not be their strength. JSU was just 3-16 in their opener against Bradley, but a more concerning number was their 69% from the free throw line. Early in the season, especially, as teams adjust to new rules, there are going to likely be more free throw opportunities, and you’ve got to be able to take advantage.
Grant White, who reached double-digit scoring just twice last year, had a nice opening night for JSU, scoring a team-high 16 points on efficient 5-7 shooting from the field. On today’s theme of “team effort,” consistent nights out of him alongside more known commodities like Brian Williams and Darion Rackley would be great for Jacksonville State. Turnovers were a bit of a concern in the opener, as was their interior defense against a bigger Bradley team.
UT Martin (0-1, 0-0 OVC) at Colorado (0-1, 0-0 Pac 12)
5:00 p.m. CST
UT Martin’s schedule is always tough, and this year’s is no different. With Myles Taylor still out of the lineup, the Skyhawks are 20+ point underdogs on the road against the Buffalos.
As mentioned in our first Final Word of the season, the big question during this early slate without Taylor is who will step up on offense. The Skyhawks ran the majority of their plays through the all-OVC forward last season, and if the team wants to improve they must find more options to compliment their big man. They really didn’t find anyone against Wyoming. Dee Oldham did have a nice night, shooting 5-9 from the field and finishing with 15 points. But UTM shot 35% from the field as a team.
It wasn’t all bad news for the offense. The Skyhawks committed just seven turnovers, shot nearly as well from deep as from the inside. The defense struggles without Taylor as well, allowing Wyoming to shoot 48% from the field, and sending the Cowboys to the free throw line for 40 attempts.
Colorado is 0-1, but that loss came at the hands of No. 25 Baylor to start the season. The Buffaloes couldn’t find the bottom of the bucket either in their opener, shooting just 33% from the field.
The Buffalos appeared set to return almost all of the key players from last year’s 21-win team until Andre Roberson made the jump to the NBA. Even still, Colorado brought back three double-digit scorers from a year ago, including 6’10 forward Josh Scott who opened the year with 15 points and 11 rebounds in the loss. He could be set for a big night against a shorthanded Skyhawks squad. 6’6 guard Spenser Dinwiddle has the potential to be a major offense threat as well, averaging greater than 15 points a game last season.