The two biggest storylines from the first weekend come from two locations: Charleston and Edwardsville. SIUE and EIU are 2-0, each earning two wins in very unique ways, while Tennessee Tech, a dark horse pick for some to make a run in the East, is 0-2. So, just how important are those opening weekend records, anyway?
Let’s start with the 2-0 teams, and this question: when was the last time an OVC team started conference play with two wins and missed the conference tournament? Turns out, we have to go all the way back to…last year. Austin Peay opened the year with two wins, at home, against UT Martin and Southeast Missouri only to finish 6-10 and on the outside looking in come March. Of course, three other teams started 2-0 in conference play, and finished first, second, and fourth.
Finding another team in the recent past that’s started conference play 2-0 and missed the OVC Tournament was a bit more tricky, because the OVC had fewer teams in those years, meaning only two or three, not four, teams missed the tournament. But back when the OVC had 11, in 2007-08, Southeast Missouri started out not just 2-0, but 6-0 in conference, then lost 13 of their next fourteen, falling to 7-13, three whole games out of eighth place. There were more games back then, sure, but that’s still a collapse of epic proportions.
On the other side, the question is this: when is the last time a team started conference play 0-2 and won the OVC? We’re talking regular season title here, not OVC Tournament title. Chin up, Tennessee Tech, because it’s the championship team most like you. UT Martin, in 2007-08, lost both games of the “death valley” road swing, (at Morehead, at Eastern Kentucky) and would be as low as 1-3, before rallying to a 14-4 record and a conference title. Why do I say they’re the most like Tech? Sure, TTU doesn’t have the star that Lester Hudson was, but UTM is the last team to win the conference shooting worse than 37% from three-point range, a number Tech is in no way on pace to beat.
…and, as I detailed yesterday, the SIUE-EIU road swing is becoming a “death valley” of it’s own.
Sure, Jacksonville State can take heart at the same stat above as well. But…at 324th in the RPI, we’re a bit more skeptical of a championship run.
RPI Update: We haven’t gone down the RPI list in awhile, so here’s the update as of today:
- Belmont: 106th
- Murray State: 119th
- Eastern Kentucky: 146th
- Eastern Illinois: 151st
- UT Martin: 182nd
- Tennessee Tech: 207th
- Southeast Missouri: 287th
- Morehead State: 294th
- Jacksonville State: 324th
- Austin Peay: 325th
- SIUE: 330th (ouch…)
- Tennessee State: 340th (of 351)
There are the have’s, and there are the have-not’s as far as the RPI is concerned. One note: we went back and looked at historical RPI rankings, and if EIU were to stay near 151st, it would be their highest RPI ranking for a single season dating back to 2000-01, where they finished the year 80th. (The Panthers were 21-10 that year, 11-5 in the OVC) Since then, they’ve broke the top-200 for the season just twice: in 2002-03 and 2009-10, where they finished exactly 177th both years.
It’s on Tee-vee: SIUE travels to Belmont tomorrow, in a game you can watch on the CBS Sports Network. One thing we’ve seen all year with Belmont, and especially against SEMO last week, is they’re rather prone to turnovers. SIUE is above average nationally, forcing turnovers on just over 20% of opponents’ possessions. (Avg. is 19.9%. SIUE at 20.3%. So it’s right about average) The Bruins are also one of the worst offensive rebounding teams in the nation, but when you’re 23rd in eFG%, it’s not as much of an issue. But if the Cougars, who have held their last five opponents under 38% shooting, can force misses…things could get interesting in Nashville.
Much deserved love: I’ve praised Tennessee Tech’s frontcourt all year long, but when the Golden Eagles went to Charleston last week, it was EIU’s big man, Chris Olivier, who was the best forward on the court. His weekend earned him OVC player of the week honors, much deserved in our view after a great weekend. Since being taken out of the starting lineup (for a second time this year) after the Panthers win over Northern Illinois, Olivier is 26-42 from the field (61.9%) and averaging 17 points and 6.5 rebounds in four games. If it isn’t broke, don’t fix it.
Seriously, can EKU and UTM play…soon? SIUE, EIU, and Tennessee State will have played three conference games before either of these two teams, who both had very interesting non-conference campaigns, play their first. C’mon…
Throw Austin Peay in the mix as well, although their non-conference play was less…impressive than the other two on this list.