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Hope. Expectations. Belief. Anticipation. Nerves. Concerns. Excitation. The emotions of a college basketball season are never ending. From now to until March, twenty eight nights will become a roller coaster of feelings for fans across the nation.

Every night, half of us will experience feelings of frustration, the other half joy. While one team’s fans suffer heartbreak, the others celebrate. Yet, no matter how many times we find ourselves on the wrong side of the night, we keep coming back, back to the sport we love, even when we we love to hate it.

No matter where you feel your team stands, no matter what others say, today the slate is clean.

But it won’t stay that way for long.

As long as the wait has been, the months since the season ended in the spring, it takes just two hours for reality to begin to sink in. The season may take months, these games may be deemed pointless, but tell that to the fans who watch their team fall by 20, or worse, fall at all to an ‘inferior’ opponent. The road to today may be long, but the joy isn’t always long-lived.

This season, it’s not just your team against mine, it’s every team against new rules. Many fear these rules that are meant to open up the game of basketball will only bog it down, and reduce it to a free-throw contest. It will make defense impossible, offenses unbeatable, and the sport we know will suffer as a result.

And yet, we return. We come back next week, next month, and next season.

Today is the beginning, but in a way it’s only the first of many. Because no matter how our teams pushes us away, no matter how many times we swear we’re done, we always come back.

College basketball endures change unlike almost any other sport. Players are often gone seemingly before we’ve even gotten to know them. Coaches often trade schools like they’re playing cards. There’s no logical reason, no connection, why year after year, we should support the same program. Yet, we always find something, some reason to return.

And that’s what makes this sport so special. Our ties, our passion, our hopes, our expectations, our belief that this will be the year. This time, we’ll be the team celebrating. This time, we’ll be the ones dancing into March. Sure, the odds may be against us, other teams may have more talent, and history, money and titles, but they don’t have more pride, more passion or heart.

Today, we all stand on the same spot. Us, the Gonzaga’s, the Kentucky’s, we all have the same goal and the same dreams. And no matter what happens today, this week, next month; next year, we’ll all return here, looking to do it all over again.

For now, it’s time for the roller coaster to begin again. It’s time for another season of college basketball to finally get underway.

 

Florida International vs Eastern Kentucky
Kennesaw State Invitational
5:00 p.m. EST

In a way, it seems kind of fitting that the consensus favorites to win the conference kick off the OVC season. Forward Eric Stutz is expected to play and listed as a probable starter, despite an undisclosed injury. (The only kind of injury Colonels players ever officially have)

Florida International has been a team in flux over the past few years. After the end of the Isaiah Thomas era at head coach (a three-year era that outlived it’s usefulness by three years) the Panthers were led by Richard Pitino, son of that other Pitino that coaches somewhere close by Richmond. This season, the Panthers have their third coach in as many years, and are also making the move to Conference USA.

Much like Eastern Kentucky, the Panthers didn’t graduate much production from a team that finished 18-14. That being said, the team’s second leading scorer a year ago, Malik Smith, followed coach Pitino to Minnesota. Smith his 96 three-pointers a season ago, compared to 128 for the rest of the team combined. The front court strength does return for FIU: Jerome Fink and Tyrnell Murphy, both double-digit scorers a year ago, are expected to lead the lineup this season.

That could provide a major challenge for the Colonels, whose forwards often struggled throughout the year, a big reason EKU finished last in the conference in rebounding percentage. Stutz, now just a junior, did appear to get better as the year went on, and was arguably playing his best basketball in March. Despite playing in all 35 games last year, Jeff Johnson rarely provided a spark, something the Colonels could need from their big guys.

The other big question for Eastern Kentucky is this: how hard will it be to replace Mike DiNunno‘s production on the offensive end? Glenn Cosey is a solid guard, but will likely draw much more attention from the defense this season, and isn’t as strong of a ballhandler as DiNunno. We know Marcus Lewis has hops, but can he, or Orlando Williams be a solid all-around option to compliment Cosey?

 

Belmont at Lipscomb
6:00 p.m. CST

This rivalry, one of the longest running battles in the nation, doesn’t need a whole lot of help to be interesting. But with long-time Belmont assistant Casey Alexander, who spent years under Bruins coach Rick Byrd, taking over the Bisons, you get the feeling the rivalry has been turned up to 11.

Alexander’s first year presents a challenge for the former Stetson coach, as he inherits a young team. The Bisons have just one senior, guard Khion Sankey who was second on the team in rebounds despite being just 6’5. The good news is the team features five juniors, including talented forwards Malcolm and Michael Smith. (Why yes, they’re related) Three of Lipscomb’s four double-digit scorers return, but the one that graduated, Deonte Alexander, was the only real three-point threat on last year’s squad.

Lipscomb will also miss 6’10 forward, and former Atlantic Sun Freshman of the Year Stephen Hurt, who is currently in the junior college ranks, but getting plenty of attention from major programs when he returns to Division I next year. (Tough one to see go)

The Bruins have won three straight in this series, but also have a lot of changes from last year’s team that dominated their two matchups. Gone is sharpshooter Ian Clark, point guard Kerron Johnson, as well as three other players from last year’s 26-win team. While this year’s squad appears to have solid pieces, there is some question how well they’ll fit together. J.J. Mann, who often played the three role last season, and was known for getting open off screens, will likely move to the two, and spend more time with the ball in his hands. Reese Chamberlain could see his minutes nearly double from 16.7 per game a year ago, as he becomes the primary ball handler.

The weak point this season for Belmont appears to be the same as the last: rebounding. But without Hurt, I’m not sure how much Lipscomb will be able to take advantage of it.

 

SIUE at Arkansas
7:00 p.m. CST

SIUE’s only exhibition of the season provided one of the more eye-twitching boxscores I’ve possibly ever seen. Five Cougars scored in double digits, and not a single one was a starter. In fact, not a single starter scored more than six points. The starters shot 33% from the field, and the reserves hit…71%.

Oh, and 6’2 guard Kris Davis led the team in rebounding.

Based on that information alone, you could make a variety of different arguments about this team: they could be anything from deep, to inconsistent, to just clueless on who should actually be starting. And it’s just an exhibition game, where reserves spent as much time in the game as the starters, against a lower division team, so it may all mean nothing.

Welcome to SIUE basketball 2013-14. I have no idea what’s going to happen, either.

Their season begins against an Arkansas that in March was seemingly on the rise. The Razorbacks have won 18 and 19 games in Mike Anderson‘s first two seasons, but were picked to finish just 8th in the SEC preseason media poll last month. Had B.J. Young not, rather stupidly, left for the NBA (he went undrafted and was dropped by the Rockets, the same team that kept Isaiah Cannan and Robert Covington) and Marshawn Powell not, also stupidly, done the exact same thing, (also undrafted, and not on an NBA roster, although Powell had been fighting through numerous injuries, so a case could be made for him trying while his stock seemed high) it would be a much different story in Fayetteville, as last year’s team had zero seniors.

With their two 15-point a game scorers currently enjoying life overseas, the Razorbacks will likely rely on forward Coty Clark to lead the team. The rest of the offensive production could come by committee.


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OVC Ball
Compiling all OVC non-conference games

2016 Football Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 7-0 10-2
UT Martin 6-2 7-5
Tennessee Tech 5-3 5-6
Tennessee State 4-3 7-4
Eastern Illinois 4-4 6-5
Murray State 4-4 4-7
SEMO 3-5 3-8
Eastern Kentucky 2-6 3-8
Austin Peay 0-8 0-11


2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall

EAST

Belmont 15-1 23-7
Morehead State 10-6 14-16
Jacksonville State 9-7 20-15
Tennessee State 8-8 17-13
Tennessee Tech 8-8 12-20
Eastern Kentucky 5-11 12-19

WEST

UT Martin 10-6 22-13
SEMO 9-7 15-18
Murray State 8-8 16-17
Austin Peay 7-9 11-19
Eastern Illinois 6-10 14-15
SIUE 1-15 6-24


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