Sure, we’re just four games into conference play, but we already have one team left in each division without a loss: Murray State and Belmont. The odds are virtually zero that when the Bruins and Racers meet in early February, that both teams will still be undefeated in conference play. In fact, I’d be surprised if either team was. But I wouldn’t be shocked if the Racers had the better conference record heading into that contest.
I’m not attempting to say that the Racers are currently better than the Bruins (although they’re much closer than they were just a few weeks ago) but simply the Racers have a much easier schedule over the next three weeks. Belmont will play both their regular season games against East Division rivals Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky before the Racers come to town. Murray State has already beaten their respective division’s top rivals once, with their rather dominating win over Austin Peay last night, and they don’t play SEMO again until the final game of the season.
Before conference play began, I had a hard time imagining a scenario where this year’s Racers squad had a realistic chance at a conference crown. Through the first fourth of the conference campaign, I’m having a harder time imagining a scenario where they’re not in the mix in the final weeks. They just need to avoid a major letdown as they make their Illinois road swing this week, which was a nightmare last season resulting in back-to-back losses.
Eastern Kentucky and Southeast Missouri notched wins they desperately needed last night, but the Redhawks win was far from encouraging. SEMO allowed a Tennessee State squad that’s 11th in the league in offensive efficiency, and dead last in three-point shooting, to score 94 points on their home floor, two nights after allowing Belmont to score 107. Of course, SEMO scored 102 this time around, shooting 65% on their way to their first conference win.
There were quite a few (read: 77) free-throws attempted between the teams, which inflated the score somewhat. But the Tigers shot 9-20 from three-point range, and Patrick Miller, who everyone knows is the Tigers biggest weapon, scored an insane 37 points on 12-21 shooting. Somewhat ironically, SEMO’s 1.14 DPPP on the night is an improvement over their OVC average, but it was also Tennessee State’s best offensive performance against a Division I opponent all year, with only their win against Fisk being more efficient.
I showed the stats in yesterday’s Daily 3: the four best defenses in the league are doing far better than the four worst, as one would generally expect. Southeast Missouri is still in a position to possibly challenge the Racers and Governors in the West, but not by allowing 90+ points a night.
Are the 3-1 Golden Eagles for real? I have quite a few reasons to believe they’re not, including nearly blowing a 22-point lead at home to SIUE last night, but one good reason to think they might be: this team has been really good defensively, and their numbers includes a game against Belmont. They haven’t allowed a team to reach 70-points in conference play, and while their tempo plays a part, they’re second in the league in defensive efficiency. OVC opponents are shooting 43% from the field, and 27% from three-point range against Tennessee Tech, which are crazy good numbers especially given the recent offensive explosions in league play.
They have played one of the more friendly schedules so far, and still have to face Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State twice, so it’s early to put them into “contender” status. But they’ve taken care of the teams they should beat, and gave the Bruins quite a scare in Nashville. They have most of the week off, before they host Southeast Missouri next Saturday. While the Redhawks have been terrible defensively, their offense has been quite good. If TTU can shutdown the Redhawks in Cookeville, that could be a clear sign this team isn’t one to take lightly in the crowded East.