Four teams are playing in tournaments over the weekend, which means lots of neutral court action in front of tens upon tens of fans in the stands. Today’s first word:
Eastern Illinois (1-4) vs North Carolina Central (1-3)
This is simple: there are four teams here who having a rough start to the year, and have mostly played solid competition in their other games as part of this classic, so all these teams are looking to see how they stack up. Eastern Illinois has had good moments this year — the first 20 minutes at Missouri State, pulling down 19 offensive rebounds against UC Davis, they played Cincinnati tight. What they haven’t done: strung together 40 minutes, which is the current, and likely future, length of a college basketball game. The good: EIU isn’t turning over the ball, and their defense has looked really good — again, in stretches. Offensively? Well, you know…
Austin Peay (2-4) vs Stephen F Austin (2-3)
Yes, this is the same Stephen F Austin team that went 32-3 last year, but they’ve already matched that loss total this season. They only lost a pair of seniors from last year’s team, and they’ve played a tough slate — losing at Baylor, Xavier, and against a still undefeated Northern Iowa team. 6’6′ forward Jacob Parker and 6’4 guard Thomas Walkup are going to be a huge challenge for the Governors defense. While they didn’t have a short bus trip this time, let’s remember that Austin Peay didn’t do well the last time they played on back-to-back days, nearly losing to a lower division Berea team.
Savannah State (2-3) at Jacksonville State (2-3)
This is a very winnable game for the Gamecocks, between two teams with offenses which have simply been dreadful this year. The Tigers 30+ turnovers against EKU wasn’t a complete fluke: Savannah State is averaging 22 turnovers a game, and that’s one area JSU’s defense has been rather solid. One difference between the two: Savannah State is going to want to get out and run, and that’s never been the mantra for the Gamecocks under James Green. Darion Rackley is coming off one of the best scoring games of his career — but this is the game where you’d rather see three or four double-digit scorers, rather than Rackley go off for 30. (Although, if it leads to a win…)
Tennessee State (2-3) vs St. Peters (1-4, 0-1 MAAC)
Yes, that’s right: the MAAC has already had a conference game. We’ve talked a bit in regards to Tennessee State about progress — can we see where they’re getting better. In an otherwise rough game against Virginia, the Tigers did keep the Cavaliers three-point shooters at bay. They didn’t play well inside against a larger Virginia team, and St. Peters is a frontcourt-heavy team, although not on the same level. The Peacocks haven’t played the toughest of schedules, and have managed to break the 60-point barrier just once all year. This is a game TSU could be in throughout — although with such a young team, you really just don’t know.
UT Martin (3-1) at Nebraska (3-1)
UT Martin should have some confidence heading into their second “money” game this year — they’ve won three straight, and two of those games were on the road. Nebraska hasn’t played anyone: their loss was to Rhode Island, so they’re not a Goliath. Their offense runs through 6’6 forward Terran Petteway and 6’7 guard (that’s how he’s listed) Shavon Shields, who combine for more than 44 points a game. The Cornhuskers biggest weakness so far this year: ball control. Nebraska is committing more than 15 turnovers a game. Their defense has been solid — especially in the backcourt, where they’re allowing opponents to shoot just 27.9% from three-point range on the year. That’s been a strength of the UT Martin offense this season. This is kind a measuring stick for the Skyhawks — their three previous opponents weren’t exactly the most challenging. If they can make it a game, or even win at Nebraska, we’ll know just how quickly this rebuild is taking place.
Portland (3-0) vs Murray State (2-2)
This is a “how will they respond” game for the Racers. Murray State was completely outplayed at Xavier, and it was clear in his post-game comments just how frustrated head coach Steve Prohm was with his team’s performance. It’s hard not to be reminded of the 2010-11 Murray State team a little bit here: a team most people thought was highly talented, that just couldn’t put it together. That persisted all season — and cumulated with an early exit from the OVC Tournament. This year’s team isn’t there yet — but they need to find some consistency. The Pilots are undefeated, coming off an 18-point win against SIUE, a game they dominated on the glass, and the three-point line. While the Racers defense struggled against Xavier, they’re allowing just 23.8% shooting from three on the year. Statistically, the biggest problem with the defense is two-fold: not forcing enough turnovers, and allowing too many offensive rebounds.