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Just four game days remain in the Ohio Valley Conference regular season, with the focus on which teams can punch their ticket to the OVC Tournament.

Southeast Missouri
15-13 (6-8 OVC)

77

UT Martin
8-21 (3-11 OVC)

74

Final
Jacksonville State
10-20 (4-11 OVC)

57

Tennessee Tech
15-14 (8-6 OVC)

69

Final
Morehead State
19-10 (10-4 OVC)

58

Murray State
17-9 (12-2 OVC)

69

Final
Eastern Kentucky
19-9 (9-5 OVC)

96

Austin Peay
11-17 (5-9 OVC)

75

Final

Southeast Missouri at UT Martin

Less than two weeks ago, Jarekious Bradley re-injured his knee, and he watched as the Skyhawks walked out of the Show Me Center with a big win. He’s back in the lineup, as the Redhawks have a virtual must win situation on their hands against a UT Martin team.

The Skyhawks “must-win” status is anything but virtual: a loss could eliminate them from OVC Tournament contention.

Their first matchup was anything but pretty. Neither team shot the ball well, and the game, especially the first half, was marred with turnovers. Despite 16 rebounds from Tyler Stone, the Redhawks lost the battle of the boards, and hit just 5-22 from three-point range, and 11-19 from the charity stripe in the loss. The Skyhawks couldn’t get anything going inside, but did hit eight three’s on their way to a 79-70 win in Cape Girardeau.

Not only will the Redhawks be looking for Bradley to make in impact in round two, they’re also hoping Nino Johnson has a similar game as his last; The junior notched his second double-double of the year as SEMO rolled Jacksonville State. The Redhawks were able to exploit some mismatches on the inside last time out, and interior defense (okay, defense) has been a point of concern for UT Martin all season.

That point of concern is partially to blame for the Skyhawks last loss, as UT Martin allowed offensively-challenged Tennessee Tech to score 91 points in the Eblan Center on Thursday. The Golden Eagles seemingly couldn’t miss, averaging 1.26 points a possession. (League wide average: 1.08, for reference) UT Martin struggled from deep, but got to the free-throw line, something they’re not necessarily known for doing.

There’s little doubt both teams need this game, so both should be ready for a high intensity affair.

 

Jacksonville State at Tennessee Tech

The Gamecocks are in the same situation as the Skyhawks: a loss, and their OVC Tournament chances could officially go from slim-to-none. Tennessee Tech is in, and still in the race for a single-bye: one-game back of Eastern Kentucky with another matchup against the Colonels still on the slate. Could this be a sleeper game for the Golden Eagles?

Two weeks ago, these teams met in Jacksonville, Alabama with TTU pulling out a fairly methodical win. They trailed just once, 3-0, but never pulled away from the Gamecocks. Tennessee Tech’s occasional turnover problem made an appearance, and the Golden Eagles were kept off the three-point lane, taking just 10 shots from deep. Add in a bad night on the free-throw line, and you can’t be blamed for feeling that TTU won fairly easily despite a sub-par game.

Jacksonville State’s first performance could be described as just “par.” The Gamecocks struggled from three, again, struggled to score against set defense, again, but got to the charity stripe and knocked down the freebies. The big question today: can they get their offense going against one of the better defenses in the conference. Recent history doesn’t have a kind answer.

Darion Rackley has come off the bench in the last four games, but it’s supercharged his output. He’s averaging 18.5 points a game over the stretch, well above his season average. D.J. Felder has also been improved as of late, scoring in double figures in four of his last five.

75 has been somewhat of a magic number for the Golden Eagles. When they’ve held opponents under 75 points, they’re 6-1 in conference play, the only loss coming at Belmont. When they’re opponents eclipse the 75-point barrier, TTU is just 2-5.

 

Morehead State at Murray State

Of all the games today, these teams likely have the least to play for. Murray State is locked into a double-bye as West Division champions, but are in the hunt for the Overall No. 1 seed. So is Morehead State, but they both have something in common: both need Belmont’s help.

If things stay the way they are, and the favorites win out, we could be looking at an OVC Tournament semifinal preview.

Murray State will be honoring a single senior on senior night, and they could use another big night from Dexter Fields. After back-to-back lights out performances against Austin Peay and Belmont, Fields has hit just 1-8 from three-point range, but has been able to get to the rim, shooting 8-10 from inside the arc over the last three games.

The big battle tonight is the battle of the bigs. Chad Posthumus and Jarvis Williams are first in second in the league in rebounding, respectively, and the only players averaging double-digit rebounds a game. While Posthumus has a slight edge on the boards, Williams has a big edge in offense. The Murray State junior shoots better than 60% from the field, while the Morehead senior hits just under 50%.

The other forward battle could also be interesting. Both Drew Kelly and Jonathan Fairell have big-game potential, but both have struggled with fouls throughout the year. In the backcourt, both teams will have their hands full defending two all-conference quality guards in Angelo Warner and Cameron Payne.

By the way: did you notice how these two teams seem to mirror one another? While they do in talent, they don’t in style. Both teams will look to push the ball on offense, but Murray will likely be very content to get back and set their defense, especially given Morehead’s relative struggles in the half-court. Morehead State will look to pressure Murray’s young guard, and force him to dish it off to T.J. Sapp or Jeffrey Moss, which could disrupt the Racers offense.

With it being senior night, and in Murray, it’s hard to know exactly how we should take tonight’s outcome. But make no mistake, whatever happens tonight will be on both teams minds if they meet up in Nashville two weeks from now.

 

Eastern Kentucky at Austin Peay

Eastern Kentucky hasn’t traveled West since the first week of conference play, where they made the Illinois road swing. They’ll make their final trip West tonight against an Austin Peay team nearing desperation mode. The Governors have lost two straight, and now are in a tie for the final OVC Tournament spot with Southeast Missouri.

They meet next Thursday, but Austin Peay can do themselves a major favor with a win against EKU. Why? One word: tiebreakers. In fact, with a win, SEMO would have to beat Murray State, or finish with a better record to keep Austin Peay out of Nashville.

Thursday is important. Tonight can make much less so.

Austin Peay does have on advantage over the visiting Colonels, and his name is Chris Horton. EKU’s play on the inside has been a glowing red weak spot all season long, and we’ve seen teams be able to exploit it. A big night from Horton and Will Triggs could have a big impact.

So could turnovers. EKU remains the best in the league, forcing turnovers on one out of every four possessions in OVC play. With an injured guard corps, Austin Peay must make ball control a priority to give themselves a chance at the upset.

Eastern Kentucky does have something big to play for as well: the single-bye. In the modern OVC tournament era (all of three years…) no team has yet made it from the first round to the finals. Winning three games in three days to take a tournament title is more manageable than needing to win four.

They’ll look to get to the free-throw line, which could be a challenge against an Austin Peay team that commits the fewest number of fouls in the league. The Colonels guards could have a big night, but they’ll need to get stops against a much bigger Governors squad to avoid being upset on the road.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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