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There’s a relationship you should be paying attention to this year, and it in relation to how fouls are ruining college basketball, according to so many of you at least. There is a group of fans who want to blame to refs, blame the rules, everything but looking at their team. Some teams foul more than others. It’s not supposed to be even, and it’s never a conspiracy.

If your teams is getting a lot of foul called against them, take a look at your team’s defense for a moment. Are they moving their feet, or just reaching in on every play? If they get beat by a ballhandler, are other guys rotating over to help, or is the defender trying to make a play from behind?

It’s early in the year, but we’re starting to see somewhat of a pattern. I look at the top five teams so far this season in defensive field goal percentage, and the bottom five, and averaged out the number of fouls per game.

Top 5 defensive FG%: 20.9 fouls a game
Bottom 5 defensive FG%: 22.1 fouls a game

I’ll admit, the difference is fairly small, but it’s noticeable, and it’s also early, and those numbers still need to shake out a bit. But it’s something worth keeping an eye on as teams continue adjusting to the new rules.

 

Alabama A&M (1-2, SWAC) at Eastern Kentucky (4-1)
7:00 p.m. EST

This is an interesting challenge for Eastern Kentucky’s defense: Alabama A&M aren’t particularly good shooters. At all, really. But the Bulldogs don’t turnover the ball, averaging 8 turnovers a game through their first three contests. EKU is forcing 16 a contest on average.

Obviously, A&M has a talented group of guards, led by 5’8 Jeremy Crutcher. Don’t let his size fool you, he’s leading the team in scoring with 14 points a game, and is hitting better than 50% from the field and from behind the three-point arc on the season. He also has an assist to turnover ratio of 5:1.

Their best rebounder is also a more undersized player; 6’5 guard Demarquelle Tabb is averaging 8.3 rebounds a contest and that’s not a fluke. He nearly pulled down 10 a game last season. That’s not to say the Bulldogs are great on the boards: no one else on the roster is averaging more than three.

We expected EKU to be a solid shooting team this season, which they have been, but the Colonels defense has been really good to start the year. They’re forcing turnovers, they great at defending on the perimeter, and they’ve mostly avoided much of the foul problems other teams are having. When they’ve struggled, it’s been against teams with great frontcourt talent. Eric Stutz is getting healthy, but they really don’t appear to have much in the way of depth.

Remind anyone else of a certain OVC champion from last year?

Morehead State (3-1) at Northern Kentucky (0-3, Atlantic Sun)
7:00 p.m. EST

Northern Kentucky’s transition to Division I has gone fairly well. They’re hoping to follow a .500 opening season in the Atlantic Sun, and much like last year they’ve taken a “take on all challengers” approach to their non-conference schedule. In a way, Morehead State should feel like a bit of a breather for the Norsemen, after opening up the year at Purdue, and Kentucky, and a really good San Diego team.

But there’s really not a lot of reason to compare this to last, because this is a much different, and much younger team. NKU graduated three seniors after last season, including their leading scorer Eshaunte Jones and their point guard Ethan Faulkner. This year’s team doesn’t feature a single senior, and just one junior. I don’t know if I want to face this team in two years.

That being said, this season expectations are…interesting. Chad Jackson was a double-digit scorer last year as a junior. So why is he not the team’s only senior? He redshirted this year, so he would have a chance to make the NCAA Tournament next year with this team, because next season is the first year they’re eligible to do so after making the transfer from Division II. It’s really hard to compare what NKU has done this year so far because their competition has been so much better than the Norsemen, although NKU did play Purdue in the season opener to within a point.

Morehead State is coming off an atrocious free-throw contest, but one they won in overtime overcoming a major second-half deficit to do so. They’ve really been an interesting case this year: the frontcourt, by-and-far the strength of last year’s team, has struggled defensively, but been great on the boards. (Thanks in part to less than stellar shooting by the offense) They’re not playing as deep into their bench as last season, but not struggling with fouls as badly as many expected under the new rules.

Bottom line, for now, is they’re winning the games it feels like they should be winning. This is, undoubtedly, another of those games.

 

Bethel TN (NAIA) at Murray State (1-2)
7:00 p.m. CST

That relationship between fouling and defense I mentioned above? Yes, I’m speaking, in part, about Murray State. That’s the one thing I really want to see from this team, even against an NAIA team: how well can they defend without committing fouls. They did fairly well against their first NAIA opponent this year, and should do fairly well against this one.

 

Jacksonville State (0-4) at Auburn (1-1, SEC)
7:00 p.m. CST

Quiet possibly the most troubling thing about Jacksonville State’s 0-4 start isn’t the record itself, but it’s how they’re losing. Their defense, the trademark of head coach James Green, hasn’t been good. They’re 317th (out of 349) through the early part of they year in defensive points per possession. Last season they ranked 183rd. The year before, 86th in the nation.

One of the biggest changes is they haven’t been able to force turnovers on defense, and that’s one of the big reasons they miss Ronnie Boggs, who averaged 1.7 steals a game last season. Through the first four games, no Gamecock has more than three steals, which means more possessions that end in shots, which are more possessions that end in points.

While no one’s exactly expecting Auburn to be an SEC powerhouse this year, the Tigers are showing they can score, and that they want to run. Chris Denson is averaging 24.5 points through their first two contests, and KT Harrell put up 21 in both opening games. Their defense has been a lot more troublesome, including allowing 111 points in regulation to Northwestern State in a loss.

 

SIU (0-2, MVC) at Austin Peay (1-1)
7:05 p.m. CST

This is an interesting matchup for the Governors. SIU has a senior-led team, that played better than their record in January and February last season. This year, they’ve faced Missouri and St. Louis, two very talented teams, and challenged both, although losing both. This is their first test against a similar mid-major type program, and could provide a good battle to the equally untested Governors.

I don’t mean that Austin Peay hasn’t faced good competition: Memphis was obviously that. But like SIU, they haven’t faced an opponent with a similar talent level.

The Salukis aren’t a team looking to run you out of a gym. They haven’t established a three-point threat outside of leading scorer Desmar Jackson, and don’t have a lot of sheer size on the middle. 6’9 forward Davante Drinkard is playing quality minutes, but they haven’t gotten a lot of production out of him just yet.

Travis Betran hasn’t gotten off to the start many of us expected, but you have to think that could happen at any time. Surprisingly, it’s really been the frontcourt that’s been leading this team. Ed Dyson has shown he can be a solid scorer, and sophomore Chris Horton continues to progress as a rebounder. This team has to start hitting free-throws, though, or it’s simply going to be a long season with a lot of missed opportunities.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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