After tonight, the OVC picture will be much clearer, even if no one clinches one of the two remaining spots in Nashville. The only team that can clinch: Southeast Missouri, with a win at home over Austin Peay.
15-15 (8-7 OVC)
20-9 (10-5 OVC)
4-24 (4-11 OVC)
19-11 (10-5 OVC)
18-9 (13-2 OVC)
8-22 (3-14 OVC)
11-18 (5-10 OVC)
16-13 (7-8 OVC)
Tennessee Tech at Eastern Kentucky
Things didn’t go well for the Colonels two weeks ago in Cookeville, and with the final single-bye in the OVC Tournament potentially on the line, one would expect both teams to be quite motivated tonight in Richmond.
Tennessee Tech appears to be peaking at the right time. After a January to forget, TTU is 5-1 in February, with their sole loss coming at the hands of a surging Morehead State team. Their defense, especially has been on point: After allowing 80 or more points in four straight games, all losses, the Golden Eagles have held five of their six opponents under 80, and three to 60 or fewer points in their latest stretch. Included is Eastern Kentucky’s game at Tech, where the Colonels shot 41% from the field, trailing wire-to-wire in the loss.
Quite possible more troublesome for the Colonels than the shooting: EKU was beat on the boards, TTU only hit four-threes, and EKU struggled to score despite 20 Tennessee Tech turnovers. (EKU’s 17 didn’t exactly help proceedings) Rebounding, in fact, is a quite common theme in Eastern Kentucky’s five conference losses; They lost the battle on the glass in all five. Of course, they’re not exactly dominating in their wins either, trailing in rebounding in six of the nine OVC victories.
There is a more troubling trend in those losses that’s loosely related to the rebounding: EKU’s opponents shot 60% or better on two-point attempts. The Colonels are last in the league in interior defense, but when they’ve won, they’ve generally been able to mitigate those numbers into the mid 50’s. Their two games against Belmont are great examples: In their loss to the Bruins, Belmont hit 65% inside. In the Colonels win? 50%. This falls not just on the bigs, but the guards ability to keep opponents from driving, and forcing them to take much less reliable jumpers.
Case in point, TTU hit 67% inside against EKU in their win. Despite five conference losses, EKU hasn’t been swept by a East Division team this season.
Tennessee State at Morehead State
With EKU holding the tiebreaker over Morehead State (thanks to their win over Belmont) the Eagles need to stay a game ahead of Eastern Kentucky to remain the three-seed.
That’s what they want, right? To be the higher seed? Even though it likely means Murray State is on their road to the finals, and not Belmont? At least they played Belmont close, and should have won in Morehead if they didn’t completely collapsed at the end.
With Tennessee State reduced to playing spoiler, and on the road where they just have one year all year, a win would be fairly monumental. Except, you may remember, Morehead needed overtime to beat TSU in Nashville, and that wasn’t all that long ago, just a month. The Eagles hit 32-39 free-throws in the win as FIVE Tigers fouled out. If the game didn’t end in OT, I’m not sure TSU could have continued into the second overtime. Morehead State had no answer for Patrick Miller, who scored 36 in the loss.
The Eagles backcourt is becoming a bit of concern, especially defensively. Murray State carved up Morehead State on Saturday, and there is somewhat of a trend of the Eagles losing to teams with great guards. (2x Belmont, EKU, and Murray State)
Murray State at UT Martin
Are the Skyhawks playing for their coaches job? (Do we really think the school hasn’t determined Jason James‘ fate despite calling a press conference on it? Sorry…) It’s a question that’s been asked this week as a 30-foot shot at the buzzer Saturday officially sunk UT Martin’s OVC Tournament chances.
The next question: Will it matter? UT Martin was unable to hit shots in Murray, and didn’t have a lot of answers on defense as the Racers shot 54% from the field, and took 41 free-throws in the 14-point win that never felt that close. (The game hovered in the 8-12 range throughout) The Skyhawks were nearly doubled up on the boards, and struggled despite a +6 turnover advantage.
But, every day is a new day, so is there a blueprint to success for UT Martin? Possibly. They’ll need to win turnovers yet again, and do a much better job on the boards than their first meeting. And they did miss quite a few open shots in Murray that could have put pressure on the Racers in the second half.
That being said, putting together a plan to beat Murray is much easier than executing it. The Racers have won four straight, with their last loss being a narrow defeat at Belmont. You could argue that the Racers were in control of all four of those games down the stretch, with their last close call coming against the Bruins.
Murray does have something to play for, also. Although they need help from Jacksonville State, the Racers are still alive in their quest for an outright title.
Southeast Missouri at Austin Peay
This is tonight’s main event. Here’s the short version of what’s at stake:
A Southeast Missouri win means they’re guaranteed a spot in Nashville. It would also make the Governors scoreboard watchers, needing an Eastern Illinois loss on Saturday, plus a win on the road over UT Martin Saturday to make it to Nashville.
An Austin Peay win makes things a bit more complicated, especially for SEMO, who would have been swept by the Governors. SEMO has Murray State on Saturday. If they win, they would need either Austin Peay or Eastern Illinois to lose Saturday, to avoid a three-way tie the Redhawks would lose. If they lose, they need Austin Peay to win, and EIU to lose to earn the final spot.
Austin Peay, on the other hand, would remain in control of their destiny: in with a win, only out if BOTH Eastern Illinois and SEMO won, and they lost to Martin.
Really short version: This game is important.
It’s been quite a long time since these teams played, January 4th in fact, so it’s hard to know how much to take from that game, an Austin Peay win in Clarksville. Southeast struggled with turnovers, and couldn’t get to the free-throw line in a six point loss, blowing an 18-point lead at one point. Jarekious Bradley had a 30-point night, but this was the first of a few games that had us scratching out heads about SEMO’s frontcourt prowess, as Chris Horton notched a double-double for the Governors.
Austin Peay is going to have to overcome their road woes this season: In conference play, they’ve won on the road just once, at Tennessee State. It’s not been without narrow losses, though, namely both games on the Illinois road swing, and a double overtime affair in Morehead.
Quick injury note: Television station KFVS is reporting that SEMO guard Paul McRoberts status for the rest of the season is unknown. He’s expected to have a CAT Scan today, after an injury last Thursday. He did not play in the Redhawks win over Martin on Saturday.