Today’s Games[6 p.m.] Lipscomb at Tennessee Tech (OVC Digital)
[6 p.m.] UT Martin at Northern Kentucky (ESPN3)
[6 p.m.] Valparaiso at Eastern Kentucky (OVC Digital)
[7 p.m.] Southern Illinois at SIUE (Fox Sports Midwest)
[7 p.m.] Ball State at Eastern Illinois (OVC Digital)
[7 p.m.] Winthrop at Jacksonville State
[7 p.m.] Bethel at Murray State (OVC Digital)
SIUE has been off to a rough start this year, but they’re getting back a suspended player for tonight game against Southern Illinois. According to Todd Hefferman of The Southern, Rozell Nunn will be back in the lineup tonight following a four-game suspension for a “violation of team rules.”
Last season, Nunn was a solid role player who was capable in a few areas. The junior averaged 8.7 points, 4.1 rebounds, and shot 38.8% from three-point range: all three of those numbers were fourth or fifth on the team. (On another note: SIUE was really balanced last year…)
Vegas has a small line for this one, (Salukis by 1.5 at last check) which makes this SIUE best chance to get a win over the sister campus, and really make this a rivalry. SIU blew by Tennessee State in Nashville a few weeks ago following a narrow loss at St. Louis, and narrowly lost to a pretty good Yale team. The big question for the Cougars: can the defense (currently ranked last in the OVC in defensive efficiency) stop Anthony Beane Jr., who is averaging 20 points per game, and is shooting 45.5% from three-point range.
Less than a week after facing their biggest test of the season at Southern Utah, EKU faces their new biggest test of the year when they host a Valparaiso team coming off a 3-0 weekend at the Music City Challenge. The Crusaders are 7-1, with a blowout win over Murray State among them.
Yet — they’re just small favorites over EKU, who actually opened as a small favorite. One reason is something we’ve spotlighted with Eastern Kentucky all year: turnovers. Valpo has turned over the ball at a relatively high rate, and EKU is No. 2 in the nation in forced turnovers.
While EKU is putting up a lot of points, (91.0 a contest) Valpo actually has a more efficient offense, despite scoring 15 points a game less. The Crusaders play at at a more methodical tempo, and get a lot of second chances. The Colonels biggest issue: who is going to stop Alec Peters, the Crusaders 6’9 forward averaging 19.2 points a game. It’s going to be a big challenge for Eric Stutz, and the Colonels as a whole, who aren’t great on defense unless they can turn their opponents over.
Eastern Illinois, Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State are in similar boats here: these are expected to be in competitive games on their home court. These are games they need to find a way to win — you have to protect home court to compete in the OVC, and that doesn’t start in January. If you show your fans you can win at home, they’re going to be more likely to come out, and that’s great all around.
UT Martin, on the other hand, is back on the road, where they’ve had success this year. Northern Kentucky is coming off a win at a so-so Idaho team, but this is another very winnable game for the Skyhawks. NKU isn’t especially impressive, and has just a single double-digit scorer on the team. The Skyhawks offense…is actually pretty comparable to last year’s team. They shoot the ball better, but turn it over more. That’s actually a really good thing: the majority of NCAA isn’t scoring at a similar pace to the year before, it’s far below. If they can tune down the turnovers, they could take another huge step forward. The Skyhawks defense? We’ll call it a work in progress.
If UT Martin wins, it would give the Skyhawks their third road win of the year: the same number they had all of last season, and more than each of the two seasons before that. In fact: UT Martin has won more the three road games in a full season just once since winning the OVC Title in 2008-09.
So today’s Daily 3 is actually the Daily 4, because yesterday was dominated (at least on my twitter feed) by talk about UAB. The Blazers football program is officially gone, and UAB could be needing a new conference home, because CUSA rules require teams have football. (CUSA understands football is where the money is at, and they want to be a football conference)
That led to a lot of speculation about where UAB could land. The Sun Belt is also pushing football, and they might not want a non-football school. So, the question was asked by Mid-Major Madness whether they could fall to the “FCS” ranks. The two editors at Mid-Major Madness said that the OVC might make the most sense, and put the chances at 40%.
This led to a really entertaining discussion, with fans of football programs (Jacksonville State, EKU) lamenting the fall of OVC football, most basketball fans seeing it as a positive. (With a few exceptions)
So, I wanted to get my thoughts in on this:
I think Mid-Major Madness is wrong.
While their argument makes sense, I feel they’re letting “rules” get in the way of logic. Sure, that’s the CUSA rules now, and sure, the Sun Belt is seeking football programs. But does CUSA benefit kicking UAB out? They can still add another football program, and would have an extra basketball program, that, in theory, should be pretty highly funded.
Birmingham, where UAB is based, is a solid media market in the south. It why I’m not certain the CUSA kicks them out, and why if they do, the Sun Belt would probably be pretty interested in picking up the program, even without football.
I’m not saying the OVC isn’t, or shouldn’t be interested. They absolutely should be, and if UAB fell to them, they should approve it. (It’s up to school presidents, and that could get tricky, in reality) But 40% odds of ending in the OVC? I’d peg it closer to 4%, and that may be favorable.
But, with EKU and Jacksonville State, especially, looking for greener pastures, the OVC should definitely make a play for the Blazers, if the opportunity does present itself. Because, eventually, one or both of those schools is going to get an offer as the smaller FBS conferences continue to get poached.
(Oh, and Morehead State plays them tomorrow. So that’s…interesting)