Only two games on the slate today, but they’re both against quality opponents, although it’d be fair to question whether the games will actually be that great. Austin Peay is a 22 point underdog this morning on the road at Memphis (they lost last season by 18) although that’s down from an opening spread of 26.
Not to leave out the Bruins, they’re 2 1/2 point favorites this morning, down from an opening line of six.
Nights like tonight, though, represent what’s right with the OVC. These matchups, just five years ago, were much fewer and farther between. Sure, Austin Peay is playing a money game, but it’s an in-state rivalry game that garners some interest. And anytime you get two great mid-major teams together like Belmont and Indiana State, that’s a great matchup.
It does make me lament the end of Bracketbusters, though. Part of me wishes that one of the other sports networks: Fox Sports 1 or the CBS or NBC Sports Networks, which, to put it nicely, have less of a demand for ratings, would pick it up and do something similar, even if it’s only a handful of games like the original Bracketbusters event.
We’ll have to enjoy the mid-major matchups when we get them, I guess.
Austin Peay (1-0) at #13 Memphis (0-0 American)
7:00 p.m. CST
I mentioned the Governors lost last season by 18, but I didn’t go into why. Austin Peay shot 50% from the field, held Memphis to 52%, but it probably had something to do with the Governors ridiculous 27 turnovers and that Austin Peay managed a whopping 16 total rebounds. Just maybe.
So, at worst, we have set the bar for this year. Fewer turnovers, more rebounds.
Memphis has to be one of the final teams in Division I to play their first game. They’re coming off a 31-win season, and return a surprising amount of their production from a year ago. Joe Jackson, Chris Crawford, Geron Johnson, and Shaq Goodwin are all back, and as a result this team could be scary good. Oh, and they also have Missouri transfer Michael Dixon. So, yeah. They’re no pushovers.
We don’t have a lot of data on the Governors, either. They struggled early but pulled away to win against non Division I Oakland City. Travis Betran struggled from the floor, but we saw good things from JUCO transfer Ed Dyson against lower competition.
In all, it’s really our first look at both teams: an experienced Memphis team versus an more new Governors team.
Indiana State (1-0) at Belmont (1-1)
7:00 p.m. CST
This is without doubt the marquee matchup of the night. Indiana State is coming off their 2nd straight 18-win season, but bring back a very experienced squad. Belmont just graduated their experience, and are struggling to find consistency in the early parts of the season.
Two of their double-digit scorers return from last year’s squad, with the third, R.J. Mahurin, leaving the program to spend his senior year playing with his brother at Indiana Wesleyan. The offense will likely run through Manny Atop and Jake Odum, both double-digit scorers last year who got off to a good start this season in win over Ball State.
The Sycamores offense was in full display: shooting 56% from the floor, and 9-16 from three-point range. That’s not particularly good news for a Bruins defense has struggled somewhat in their first two games. although had a much better night against Richmond than in the opener against Lipscomb.
Two key weaknesses about the Bruins are already taking shape: they’re not as good shooters as a year ago (which was somewhat expected), and they’re still not a solid rebounding team. (Which was completely expected) J.J. Mann has yet to hit a three-point shot on the year (he’s 0-14) and the Bruins are hitting just 26% from behind the arc as a team. They’ve gotten good offensive performances out of the forwards, with both Blake Jenkins and Drew Windler averaging double-digits. Belmont’s 29 rebounds a game, (pulling down 43% of all missed shots) is slightly less than their average from last season, but it is really early.
Mann will get going eventually, but I do wonder if he’ll be able to match last year’s lofty shooting totals as one of the Bruins main guards. He is getting assists, and pulling down rebounds, and still averaging 12.5 points a game. It wouldn’t hurt for Mann to the free throw line more until those shots finally start to fall.