Four fairly important games on the slate today, but when there’s a battle for first place, it’s sometimes hard to see the full picture.
7-18 (2-8 OVC)
9-14 (6-5 OVC)
10-13 (4-5 OVC)
3-22 (2-9 OVC)
12-12 (3-7 OVC)
8-15 (5-5 OVC)
18-8 (9-2 OVC)
13-9 (8-2 OVC)
UT Martin at Eastern Illinois
In the OVC West this year, we’ve talk about Murray State, obviously. We also talk about how SIUE is performing above expectations, how SEMO is well below; We’ve talked about often in the Daily 3 where UT Martin’s and Austin Peay’s tournament chances lie.
And then there’s Eastern Illinois. The Panthers are quietly in second place in the division, and with a win tonight would move to over .500 in the conference. Why are they flying so far under the radar? For one, they haven’t won two straight games since November. In fact, they’ve alternated wins and losses over their last eight games. (They’re coming off a win, by the way) In most of those losses, defense has been the problem, as EIU allowed three of those four opponents to score 80 points. In the wins, their opponents scored under 75 points.
As has been the case since the beginning of time (well, since the mid-2000’s, at least) EIU doesn’t scare you on a stat sheet. They have three double-digit scorers, the highest of which is Reggie Smith averaging 13.3 points a game. Their shooting is middle of the pack, their defense is about the same. They don’t force many turnovers, don’t play especially fast. (Although, in comparison to last year…)
So how is this team second in the West. For one, they’re a solid force inside. Chris Olivier has been a nice addition to the frontcourt. Sherman Blandford may only be 6’6, but he’s a solid rebounder who can score at the rim. And they just have a lot of height in general. They don’t foul often (which is a major advantage this year in college basketball) and they’re not bad on either side of the basketball. Just average.
UT Martin is bad on one side of the basketball, the defensive side, although they do manage to rank just 11th in the OVC in defensive efficiency. They have the worst defensive field goal percentage in the league, haven’t rebounded the ball well this year, foul often, and that’s really just a recipe for disaster. They’ve been somewhat better on the offensive side since conference play began, but when you’re giving up 82.8 points a game in conference play, it’s hard to make up on the other end.
Probably the biggest difference between this year and last year is that Myles Taylor just hasn’t been the same. The two-time all OVC selection is coming off an injury during the summer, and just hasn’t seemed like he’s at 100% at any points. He fouled out of two games in conference play, and has seen all his major stats drop. Again EIU’s frontcourt, they need a good night out of him, and they need the win to stay in the race for Nashville.
Austin Peay at Tennessee State
Vegas’ lines rarely shock me. Austin Peay being an underdog at 3-21 Tennessee State…that’s a bit surprising. I know the Tigers just shocked Tennessee Tech not long ago, but they’re 3-21!
Austin Peay is just 3-5 in the OVC, and kind of teetering on the edge of eight seed right now. They’ve lost five of their last six, and have a road heavy slate the last half of the conference campaign. A win at TSU could be the boost they need to make a solid run to end the year. A loss could have the opposite effect.
The Governors backcourt is better than a year ago, and they’ve done a much better job as of late limiting turnovers, but they really don’t have a major playmaker among the guards. Travis Betran hasn’t been as sharp this year as last, and while Zavion Williams and Damarius Smith are an upgrade, neither are really a threat to take over a basketball game. The frontcourt remains solid, and you could make the argument they’re one of the best duos in the league. Chris Horton is without a doubt an all-OVCer this year, averaging nearly 10 rebounds and more than three blocks a game to go along with his team-leading 14 points a game.
Patrick Miller for Tennessee State is one of the best guards in the league. M.J. Rhett is probably a little underrated in the frontcourt. I could not name the three other starters without looking. I couldn’t name three other players without looking. That’s partially on me, as upon checking, there’s a few young guys back from last year’s squad, like Jay Harris and Jacquan Nobles. But they just haven’t made an consistent impact. Nobles, for example, has games of 22, 23, and 14 points. He also has 10 scoreless nights, including the last three, which he’s played a combined 12 minutes. No, he’s not listed as injured.
The defense has been porous, the offense has been surprisingly solid, and barring a huge run, they’re reduced to playing spoiler. They could do just that to the Governors tonight.
Southeast Missouri at SIUE
SEMO fans and I have had our fair share of misunderstandings this season: I think the team is 3-6 in conference, fans think the Redhawks are the best team in the OVC. It happens.
Here’s the thing: If SEMO loses tonight, first off, they fall to 3-7, which isn’t good. Second, they would not hold a single head-to-head tiebreaker over a West Division team currently in the mix to make the OVC Tournament. With their best East Division win being Tennessee State, they would currently lose virtually any tiebreakers to SIUE, EIU, and Austin Peay.
I won’t say this is a must-win. But this is a really, really, really need-to-win.
For those that don’t remember the first matchup, Southeast Missouri built up a huge lead in the first half at home, then held on as SIUE made a furious run in the second. The Redhawks had one of their more solid defensive efforts, holding SIUE to 41% shooting from the floor, and forcing 13 Cougars turnovers. SEMO dominated the glass and shot just well enough from the free throw line to not lose.
Any questions about Jarekious Bradley‘s injury, which kept him mostly out of the game against UMKC, appeared to be answered as he scored 32 points on 12-15 shooting last Saturday against Eastern Kentucky. He was held to just 18 in the first matchup against SIUE, and the Cougars would likely be pleased to hold him to a similar number tonight.
After winning four of five, SIUE crashed back to earth a bit with a stinging loss at Eastern Illinois. In conference play, their defense has been really quite good. They’ve held opponents to the lowest three-point shooting, they’re second in forced turnovers, and they don’t send opponents to the line. Their offense has been a bit more of a challenge. Only one player averaging double figures, they don’t get to the free-throw line anywhere near often enough, and they have some turnover problems of their own.
And that could really be where this game is decided. SEMO doesn’t force many, generally, but doesn’t cough it up either. SIUE is turnover-friendly, but forces a lot. If one side gives, it could make a big difference.
Murray State at Belmont
You know Eastern Kentucky, which has the night off, will be sitting beside their TV for this one. If Murray State wins, the Racers are essentially two and a half games clear of both Belmont and EKU for second place. If Belmont wins, they’re up a tiebreaker for first, and importantly in the East, up essentially one and half games over the Colonels.
In other words: this is a pretty big game.
Murray State is coming in as hot as any team in the OVC right now. Their offensive has been on fire since losing in Edwardsville, shooting 49% or better in all three wins. Senior Dexter Fields has been especially feeling it, hitting 10-15 from behind the arc over the last three games. He’s now shooting better than 41% from three-point range on the season, and has scored in double figures in six of the last seven. Jarvis Williams has had three straight double-digit games since that loss, as has Jeffrey Moss.(who is 11-19 from three since the SIUE game) The offense is coming in firing on all cylinders.
Even with their defensive-optional affair at Austin Peay, the Racers defense enters today’s as the most efficient in the OVC, allowing opponents just 69 points a game.
You can make excuses for Belmont’s loss at Tennessee Tech over the weekend. Tech appears to be matchup well against Belmont, as they took them to the wire in Nashville. The Bruins were coming off two emotionally charged wins, with a miraculous comeback at Morehead State and holding off a late EKU charge. But there’s one common theme between the Bruins two conference losses – they shot the ball poorly in both. 38% from the field in their loss in Richmond, 39% from the field in Cookeville. Say what you want about the Bruins’ defense, which is good but not spectacular; their rebounding, which is alright, but not really good. When this team hits shots, they generally win.
My big question: can Belmont get open looks in the paint against Williams and Jonathan Fairell. That’s where the Bruins could win or lose on offense. They’ll also want to avoid turnovers, which have popped up on occasion throughout the year.