Every Monday, we look back on the previous week of the college basketball season. Here are the 10 things we learned in college basketball’s opening weekend:
1. It’s hard to win on the road
Yeah, that may sound like a cop out, but we were reminded of it on the first Friday of the year. Eastern Illinois and Morehead State had big second-half leads, Belmont was back-and-forth in the second half, and none of them came out with the W. You know when you’re ahead in the second half on the road that the home team is going to make a run, and that’s what happened in all three cases.
It’s also what makes non-conference so challenging for mid-major programs. More often than not — teams at this level spend more of the first two months on the road than at home. That’s why it’s so important that when you have opportunities that these teams had on Friday, you take advantage.
2. There’s no such thing as an easy win (unless you schedule Piedmont International)
Tennessee State led NAIA Reinhardt by just two at the half in Nashville. Austin Peay trailed by 17 in the first half to Division III Berea College. The same feeling OVC teams get when go to a Duke, or Louisville is the same these small teams get when they come to OVC arenas. They know that if they win — they’ll be telling the story for the next decade, if not more. You have to be ready for anything in college basketball…and that’s why we love it so much.
3. Defense may win championships, but you’ve got to score as well
My biggest takeaway from the first weekend was this: this isn’t 2012. When you look at how teams lost, there was a consistent lack of offense across the board, and far too many lengthy scoring droughts. Of the teams that played a game against Division I competition, the OVC is shooting about 40% from the field, and a shocking 23% from three-point range. On that second number — not a single individual team that played a DI opponent is shooting better than 35% from three-point range. Again — it’s one game for most of these teams, and it’s far too easy to overreact. But this wasn’t just a one or two team issue, this was consistent across the board.
4. The West division is better this year
How can I say that with so little info? Call it intuition. SIUE looked strong, EIU may have more scoring options than we thought, Austin Peay competed at Western Kentucky, and SEMO was in two close games without their best player. I still think the East is probably stronger at the top, especially with a few new question surrounding the Racers. But the West looked competitive, and there are times last year when that just wasn’t the case.
5. This could be an interesting year for the Bruins
One thing we wondered about entering the year is how would Belmont do without a “star.” Last year, it was J.J. Mann, the year before it was Ian Clark, but this year there’s just not that one go-to guy. From the get-go, Belmont played a strange game by their own standards. Belmont attacked the paint (which we’ve seen them do) hitting their first seven shots, only one of which was a three. And then they kept doing it…and kept doing it…and kept doing it, even when it wasn’t working. The Bruins struggled to hit three’s — and in two things that are certainly related — had too many turnovers and too few assists. But, scoring was balanced, and the strategy almost worked. If this is a sign of things to come, it’s going to require a bit of a recalculation of everything we think we know about Belmont basketball.
5b. …or that game was just an aberration and they could just go back to being Belmont.
6. Murray State still doesn’t have a consistent solution for zone defenses
Last year — I told the OVC to throw a zone at Murray State until they figure out how to beat it. They did — by shooting over it in back-to-back games, and then they saw less of it again. They basically tried to do just that against Houston — keep shooting three’s, only they didn’t fall. I have little doubt that Murray State will be practicing zone offense — but until they show they can beat it, throw it at them. Just be prepared to change back quickly if the guards get hot from the perimeter.
Why do they struggle against it? For one, they don’t play it often. Head coach Steve Prohm‘s teams have always stuck to man-to-man defense as much as possible.
7. Southeast Missouri needs Jarekious Bradley
The Redhawks, easily the top scoring team in the OVC last year, averaged 61 points in their two games at the LMU Classic. They had four guys average double-figures, but no real spark on offense. They get back Josh Langford, who served a two-game suspension, and that will help also. But they really need Bradley healthy.
8. Austin Peay probably won’t play games on back-to-back day in different cities again soon
Ooh boy. I went to Bowling Green, and was impressed with what I saw out of the Governors in their loss to Western Kentucky, especially their aggressiveness on the offensive end. About 20 hours later, they tipped back in Clarksville against Berea…and that nearly ended in disaster. Berea hit seven of their first nine from three (which is a larger Austin Peay problem — T.J Price killed them from three in Bowling Green) to build up that 17-point lead. What I liked: a tired Austin Peay team responded, and rallied to escape with a win.
9. Myles Taylor is set for his best year in a UT Martin uniform
…and his first three weren’t exactly shabby. He’s in amazing shape (which has been an issue in the past) and he may have the most talent around him since he landed in Martin. Fouls aside, he was a dominant force against Marquette — which notably isn’t the biggest team in the Big East. If he can stay in games, he’s going to be a force when conference play comes around.
10. Morehead State at Cincinnati is the best in a week ahead full of great games.
There were a lot of options for the best game of the week, but I’m going with a short trip up the road for the Eagles. Morehead State proved at UNLV they can play, and I really feel like they’ll give Cincy a game. The Bearcats have a lot of good size, but they traditionally aren’t an up-and-down type of team. The Eagles are still a bit banged up, but this is a great chance for Morehead State to make a statement early in the year.
Other games worth consideration:
- Monday: Belmont at Lipscomb. The Bison look to be improved in Casey Alexander‘s second year, and Belmont needs to bounce-back after a tough loss
- Tuesday: Murray State at MTSU. This matchup should happen more often. Two great mid-major programs with a relatively short drive of one another.
- Thursday: UC Davis at Eastern Illinois. Which EIU team are we getting this year — the team that held Missouri State to 4-18 shooting to start the game, or the one that allowed Missouri State to shoot 16-25 the rest of the way.
- Saturday: Belmont at Western Kentucky. We saw what Austin Peay could do against the Hilltoppers. Now it’s Belmont’s turn.