As we enter conference play, we’re looking at the best, worst, and most likely scenarios that could play out for every OVC team.
If there was a theme I didn’t expect at this year’s OVC media day, it was this: Jacksonville State was the “dark horse” of the conference. That statement wasn’t coming from the media, it was coming from coaches. Multiple coaches, in fact. So far, that hasn’t really been the case for the Gamecocks. Their defense, a trademark of head coach James Green, is 11th in the league, and their offense isn’t making up the difference. Playing in the tougher East Division, is there light at the end of the tunnel?
Best Case Scenario: There two things the Gamecocks do particularly well that give us some reason for hope: the Gamecocks don’t turn over the ball, and they’re solid on the offensive glass. In fact, overall their fairly solid offensively, and are 6-4 in their last 10 games after a 0-5 start to the year. While they do play in the East, they host three of the “weaker” teams in the West: UT Martin, SIU Edwardsville, and Eastern Illinois. Three wins there, and winning against Tennessee State could launch JSU to a 4-2 start to conference play. Splitting with Tennessee Tech, sweeping the Tigers, and pulling another win anywhere puts the Gamecocks at 7-wins, which is likely all they need to make the trip to Nashville.
Worst Case Scenario: Getting off to a quick start in conference play is key for Jacksonville State. The late January / Early February slate is so tough, they could easily go on a losing streak. The problem is these early games are against teams with (generally) strong offenses, and weak defenses as well. Is the Gamecocks offense better than UT Martin’s? SIUE’s? If not, or if the defense can’t stiffen up in a hurry, the Gamecocks might not be able to take advantage of the friendly schedule the first few weeks. And if they lose these early “winnable” games, the Gamecocks could be buried quick, and not even be in the race to go to Nashville as the conference enters their final weeks.
Most Likely Scenario: Does Jacksonville State have a truly transcendent player, one that can really lead this team in tough games? That’s going to fall on the shoulders of Darion Rackley, and could have a big impact on where this team finishes the year. I can’t imagine this team isn’t in the hunt to make a trip to Nashville, but they can’t be needing wins in the last two weeks. Playing in the East, though, could ultimately be their downfall.