1. Conference play officially gets underway today, although today’s matchup is hardly one for fanfare on paper. Neither Eastern Illinois or Tennessee State lit the world on fire during non-conference play (although maybe a few dumpsters…) and both team’s outlook isn’t great. So what are the keys for both teams getting off to a good start to OVC?
Eastern Illinois – Limit turnovers. Your offense is struggling right now, and while nearly 12 turnovers a game doesn’t sound all that bad, when you factor in you team’s tempo, you’re ranked 306th nationally in turnovers rate, and 9th in the OVC. This TSU team hasn’t shown a penchant for forcing them, so it’s up to your offense to limit bad passes, and come up with shots on the majority of your possession. The TSU defense is exploitable, but not if you’re coming up empty.
Tennessee State – Attack from the outside in. EIU’s defense inside is solid, with a lot of size (including the Piotrowski brothers standing at 6’11 and 7’2, as well as 6’8 Josh Piper) and skilled shot blockers. While you don’t have a lot of great three-point shooters, that’s where the EIU defense has been soft. If you can drain shots from the outside, you should be able to open the paint for drives. Just don’t expect to win a lot of post-up battles.
2. The game probably garnering the most interest today, at least nationally, is Belmont at Indiana State. The Bruins won a thriller on their home floor against the Sycamores in November, in a defense-optional slugfest. What have we learned about each team since then? Defense-optional has kind of been the Bruins motto this year. For the people that doubted Ian Clark‘s impact as the defensive player of the year last season, Belmont has gone from 1st in the OVC to 8th so far this year, allowing about 10-points more per 70-possessions. (A standard game, or so) Reese Chamberlain‘s addition to the lineup will help on the perimeter, but the paint continues to be quite the soft area to this point in the season, although the numbers are no undoubtedly skewed by games against the much bigger North Carolina and Kentucky. On the other side of the floor, Khristian Smith lit up the Bruins for 28 points in their first meeting, but that’s been the exception, not the rule. Since then, Smith has scored in double figures just twice, despite shooting 50% from the floor for the year. Jake Odom, who scored 23 in the loss, has been more consistent, one of a trio of Sycamores averaging between 12-13 points a game. Both defenses remain opportunistic, and both teams feature solid ball-handlers, making the turnover battle a potential key to this one.
3. Guess it’s only fair we feature the third game on the schedule, eh? Tennessee Tech has definitely fallen a bit below our radar as of late, with some pretty ho-hum performances. The offense is the textbook definition of balanced, which is why we don’t see amazing individual performances, and the defense has been average. It doesn’t make TTU a bad team by any stretch, but there also hasn’t been a ton to get excited about either. They’re playing a Utah Valley team that in a lot of ways mirrors them. They’re a balanced offense, as their top five scorers all average between eight and 12 points a game. They’re also very much not a deep team, playing just six impact guys, and eight total. This is the return game of November’s matchup in Cookeville, where TTU edged out a three-point win, behind a season-high 20 points from Jeremiah Samarrippas.