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. Where’s the Offense, Part II
Last season, nine of the 12 Ohio Valley Conference teams finished the year averaging more than 1.00 points per possession, (OPPP) which is more or less average. (Last year, that average trended closer to 1.02) So far this year? Three. But here’s what’s interesting: this isn’t just an OVC problem. The average OPPP nationally is just 0.97. You may be thinking — that’s not a big difference. But 0.05 OPPP less is about 3.5 points per team per game — we’re missing about seven points a contest from last season.
That being said, the OVC’s average OPPP is…0.91, which is a drop-off even from the national average drop-off. Last season, the OVC out-performed the national OPPP average.
So, in lamens terms — scoring is down across college basketball. It’s REALLY down in the OVC.
What’s the cause? That’s harder to tell.
2. The OVC is winless against the RPI top-200
I hate to start this post with two negatives back to back, but it’s not exactly been a stellar start for the conference. While RPI still needs some time to normalize. (EKU likely won’t be ranked 8th for long) as of today’s rankings (per BB State) not a single OVC team has a win against a top-200 RPI school. Of course, the OVC only has eight Division I wins in 33 attempts this season, but there’s nothing really for the conference to hang it’s hat on yet. There are close losses (Morehead @ UNLV, EIU @ Cincinnati, Murray vs Houston) but close doesn’t show up in wins and losses.
3. Belmont’s back to being Belmont
We need some positivity here this week, and we’re getting it from the Bruins. After that uncharacteristic opener against Wright State, the Bruins have gone back to the three-point shooting, assist-happy team we all know and love, (Or hate…) and quite possibly have the OVC’s best win of the year, coming back on the road against Western Kentucky. (Murray State blowing out Middle Tennessee State on the road is also in contention for this non-award.) They’re hitting shots, their defense is playing better, and they’re still rebounding well, which is an odd, but hugely positive change.
3b. But they’re still turning over the ball…
That’s the one issue that keeps reoccurring — although it’s been below 10 in both their last two games. The Bruins have turned over the ball 15.5 times a game, and their 23.1% turnover rate is second-worst in the conference. They turned the ball over 20 times against Lipscomb last week, so I’ll be curious to see if that number is significantly smaller as the Bison travel to the Curb this week.
4. Morehead State doesn’t look like what we’ve come to know under Sean Woods
This isn’t a “bad” thing as much as it’s odd. The up-tempo offense — it’s mostly gone, and replaced with a more ball-control type offense. Even the defense, while still aggressive, doesn’t appear to have to have that same level of intensity we’ve seen in the past two seasons. Last year, an average Morehead State game had 150 total points. So far this year? 128. Part of the reason is the Eagles offense is struggling. Last night, they finally shot the ball well, but committed 22 turnovers in their loss to American. For the year, they’re shooting just 37% from the field. Statistically, the defense has been better than the past two seasons, but we’re having to recalculate a bit what a Sean Woods team looks like this season
4b. But they’re still fouling…
And it’s as bad as ever. The average sits at 23.3 fouls committed per game, easily last in the league. It was better, though, in their three games this past weekend.
5. There is no way EKU can continue averaging 33.6 turnovers a game
Make no mistake, that’s an impressive number through three games, but, let’s be honest, Savannah State is a low-major Division I team, and the other two opponents were non Division I teams, so EKU hasn’t exactly done this against top notch competition. That being said, while I’m still curious to see what they do as the competition gets better, I don’t want to play Eastern Kentucky right now if I don’t have a top-notch backcourt, because every mistake is being amplified three-fold against the Colonels defense right now. I have little doubt they’re going to lead the OVC in forced turnovers throughout the year, and with scoring where it is right now in college basketball, giving up easy points is something you absolutely don’t want to do.
6. UT Martin may easily be the most-improved team in the league
…and no, I’m not talking about their embarrassing win over Champion Baptist. I’m talking much more about their win last Monday at Arkansas State, where the Skyhawks came back from 18-points down to pull off their first win of the year. There’s no chance last year’s team gets that win in that same situation. This year’s team is a better rebounding team, has a legitimate three-point threat, appears to have a compliment to Myles Taylor inside in Twymond Howard, and are, for the most part, is holding onto the ball, and not committing bad turnovers. They’re likely not in a position to challenge for a conference, or even a division crown, but they’re not going to live in the basement this year either.
7. We knew Tennessee State would struggle, but they’re finding a hilarious new way to do so
In case you missed it — TSU had to finish a game with four players this past week against Southern Illinois, because they ran out of guys who hadn’t fouled out. Due to injuries, and a short bench anyway, TSU was only playing with eight guys to begin with…and four were forced to sit on the bench by the end of the game. The good news: they got a ninth player (Christian Crockett) back, so it will be harder to replicate, although even funnier if it happens again.
7b. Seriously though, this is a true “rebuilding” year
I always feel like that word gets thrown around every time a team struggles, whether the team is truly rebuilding or not. TSU is truly rebuilding, and it’s going to be a longer road that a lot of teams face.
8. It’s nice to have Jarekious Bradley back
Bradley scored 20-points in his second game back this past weekend, helping lead Southeast Missouri past Central Arkansas on the road. SEMO still shot the three poorly in that game, but he, along with 20 from Nino Johnson, helped sparked a Redhawks offense that was in sore need out west last week. The Redhawks still have a big issue: an inability to hit free-throws, and I wonder how many games that could cost them before the season is out.
9. Murray State is still the West Division favorites
Murray quietly run Middle Tennessee out of their own gym last week, in a dominating performance wire-to-wire. Jarvis Williams may have been underranked at No. 5 in our top player countdown this year, as he is playing as well as any forward in the league. There are two things that still could cause problems for Murray: Jonathan Fairell is still struggling a bit to stay on the floor because of fouls, and any injury, at any position would be devastating for a Racers squad already struggling somewhat for depth.
9b. Murray played some zone this week
Let’s remember back to last week’s 10 things, where I mentioned how the Racers struggled against the zone, and one reason I stated could be a possibility is that Steve Prohm doesn’t play zone — so his guys don’t see it that often. Well, his guys played some zone this week, and played against the zone some in their win over Berea college. I think it was a clear lesson from the Racers loss at Houston, and they’re taking steps to keep similar issues from happening down the line.
10. Murray State at Xavier is the best of the week
The Racers travel to Cincinnati to take on the Big East’s Xavier, and it’s the best chance to get that “quality” win this week, which could have a big impact on seeding if Murray can make it to the NCAA Tournament.
Other games worth consideration:
- Tuesday: Eastern Illinois at #24 Creighton. EIU took Cincinnati to the wire. The ranked Blue Jays are an even bigger test for a team that’s come close to two quality wins on the road, but couldn’t pull either off.
- Wednesday: Denver at Belmont. Denver plays a similar style of basketball to the Bruins. Good mid-major v mid-major matchup.
- Saturday: Murray State v Valparaiso (in Nashville). Murray State plays three games in three days in the Music City. The second one, against an opponent they lost to in Murray last time they played, is the best of the bunch.