It’s a long march to…well March, and as college basketball turns to page to December. There’s a few OVC teams hoping their can turn the page as well, after a forgetable opening month to the season. This week’s 10 things:
1) A healthy Belmont is a top-25 caliber team
The biggest thing I took from the Bruins loss at home against No. 24 VCU on Sunday? Belmont is a team capable of playing at a top-25 level. I’m not certain the Bruins would have won if Reece Chamberlain and Craig Bradshaw played the second half, but without them the Bruins went on a solid run to take a five point lead, before HAVOC took over. You give Belmont their two guards, I have to think it mitigates the 19-2 VCU run, if nothing else. Once the Bruins are back at full strength, don’t be surprised if they’re playing as good as last year’s team in the season’s stretch.
2) The OVC’s middle six are stronger than last season
If you take out the top three (Murray State, Belmont, and EKU) and the bottom three (SIUE, TTU, Austin Peay) last season, the middle of the conference was a mixed bag. Tennessee State was good, Morehead State could stop fouling, and the rest really struggled to show any consistency once so-ever. The OVC appears nearly as top-heavy this year, with Belmont, EKU and Morehead State (arguably) leading the way, but the middle of the conference appears much stronger. Austin Peay just pulled off a great win this weekend at Youngstown State, and showed they could challenge in the west. SEMO won the Cure UCD Classic in impressive fashion. Eastern Illinois is better, Tennessee Tech is much improved. The real strength of a conference is their depth, and the OVC may be overall deeper this year than last. It’s one reason the OVC is actually on pace to top last year’s non-conference record.
3) Belmont, EKU are built to win in the OVC, but not in the NCAA Tournament
When Morehead and Murray combined to give the OVC four NCAA tournament wins over four years, there’s one things they both had their neither Belmont or EKU do: size. Morehead State had Kenneth Faried for their two wins. Murray State had Ed Daniel during their 31-2 season. We saw it last year with Belmont, and this weekend in EKU’s loss to NC State: if the shots don’t fall, there’s no second option on offense. And unless you can keep the ball from going inside, you’re going to get torched in the paint defensively. Size isn’t necessarily an issue long-term in the OVC, especially if you can score, but if you’re building a team to go further, you have to have a quality big to challenge bigger school’s physicality.
4) Morehead State and SEMO on the other hand…
I still have some reservations about SEMO, (more on that in a moment) but if I’m picking teams built to win in March against a major-conference opponent, these are my first two picks, especially the Eagles. Their defense is fierce, and unlike the majority of what teams are used to facing. They can rebound, challenge you on the inside, and still have great guard play. SEMO has less of the latter, but Tyler Stone, Nino Johnson, and Jarekious Bradley allow the Redhawks to play much more physical than many teams. The question, though, is can they get through the OVC to play in the NCAA Tournament.
5) Austin Peay could be the dark horse in the Western Division
The Governors have been a bit of a mixed bag, with their somewhat entertaining inability to make free-throws in the forefront. But this win over Youngstown State on Saturday, and over Montana State the Saturday before, really illustrates how much of a challenge this Governors team can be to defend. Travis Betran had his best game of the year against the Penguins, and if he really gets going, this team will only get better. If Austin Peay can solve their turnover problem, and hit just 70% from the line, they could be a really tough team to beat.
6) Murray State’s outlook is just dark
This week’s phrase uttered far too often: “Murray State’s worst loss since _____.” There was the loss to MTSU Tuesday, their worst home loss of the Steve Prohm era, followed by a beatdown at St. Mary’s…their worst loss period of the Steve Prohm era. While I’m sure fans will tell me I’m wrong, I’m hard pressed to find 10 wins right now on their schedule. The rest of their non-conference slate: hosting 5-2 Evansville, hosting Lipscomb (who challenged Belmont earlier in the year, you may remember), hosting SIU, who challenged Austin Peay, traveling to Western Kentucky, and at Dayton. If they don’t start playing better, getting to the boards, and just playing with just a little bit of passion, those are all loseable.
7) We’ll start paying more attention to SEMO once they beat a top-200 RPI opponent
Winning the Cure UCD classic sounds great, until you realize they beat no one. Their “best” win was the opener against Northern Kentucky, with an RPI of 245. It’s also their best win on the year, period. They’re 0-2 against the RPI top 200, with losses at St. Louis and Ball State. They’ll get their next chance on the road this weekend when they travel to Southeastern Louisiana.
8) Tennessee State, SIUE are better than their records would indicate
Tennessee State’s decision, much like Murray State’s, to play one of their toughest schedules ever sure took place at the wrong time. But Patrick Miller is proving he could be a star, and he’s finally starting to get some help from the rest of the lineup. SIUE has let too many second-half leads falter so far this year, and if they can find a way to hold on (*cough* defense *cough*) they’d be over .500 at this point. When both teams enter conference play, don’t be surprised if they pull off a few early wins that make you go “hmmmmm.”
9) UT Martin, Jacksonville State are not
Struggling to get past non-Division I opponents? Check. Losing winnable games at home? Check, especially for the Skyhawks. Expectations were fairly high around both these programs this year. Right now, both will be thankful if they can just make the OVC Tournament.
10) A former OVC coach hosting his old team is the top game of the week ahead
Donnie Tyndall likely won’t recognize the Morehead State team that travels to Southern Miss on Wednesday. Not just because they players are gone, but Sean Woods‘ has completely transformed that team into the complete opposite of Tyndall’s signature style.
Other games worth a look:
- Tue: Belmont at Middle Tennessee — Bruins stinging after Sunday’s loss, but the real pain is playing without two of their top ball handlers against the Blue Raiders.
- Thu: EKU at VCU — We saw what the Bruins could do against HAVOC. Your turn, Colonels
- Sat: Austin Peay at Samford — The Governors face an old OVC foe that’s looking for a turnaround much live what Austin Peay is seeking.