…Yes, I’ve looked at the East Division standings. I see where the Eastern Kentucky Colonels are currently in third, and 2.5 games back of Belmont for the Division lead. I remember how this team lost at Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State, two teams with a combined two conference wins that aren’t EKU.
But in a scheduling quirk, (of which there have been many in the OVC this year) of EKU’s remaining eight road games — just two are on the road.
This entire premise hinges on tonight. The Colonels are 3.5-point favorites against the division-leading Bruins. A win tonight, and suddenly the Bruins lead is under two games, with another game between the two teams still on the horizon. And whereas the Bruins must still make the same perilous road swing that cost the Colonels two games, EKU spends much of the next month in the comforts of Richmond, Kentucky.
In fact, the only game left on the schedule the Colonels likely won’t be favored in is when they travel to Nashville.
Since that incredible win over a ranked Miami team earlier this year, it is worth noting that Eastern Kentucky is just 6-5. But they’ve played at home just three times since then, a period spanning nearly a month and a half.
But as I mentioned earlier — winning tonight is a must for a February run. A loss tonight, and EKU is all but relegated to playing for a single-bye, a tough task given the relative dominance of the West.
While EKU won the OVC Tournament from the second round a season ago, there’s no question as to the importance of winning the division. The Racers are as dominant as we’ve seen in years, and you don’t want to be on tired legs against a fresher Murray State squad if you hope to pull the upset. And we know EKU is capable: the Colonels were one shot from ending the Racers streak on Murray’s home floor just a week ago.
Their success will all come down to their defense. In two of their four conference losses, the EKU hit better than 40% from three. They hit 13 three’s against Murray State, and lost; 12 against Jacksonville State, and lost. The Colonels are second in the NATION in defensive turnover percentage, but are just eighth in the OVC in defensive efficiency. Why? Opponents in OVC play are hitting better than 41% from three-point range against EKU, which far overshadows their 35.6% deep shooting. And three-point shooting is important here: as is their reputation, the Colonels take 47% of their field goal attempts from beyond the arc, which is the sixth highest percentage in the nation.
The Division I average? 34%.
EKU’s offense is very good, and not just from three point range. They’re able to stretch the floor to get open shots on the inside, even when going up against teams with big, powerful forwards.
We often don’t put a lot of importance on mid-conference season games. But for EKU to compete for a bye in March, this one is big.
…and I wouldn’t be the least bit surprised if EKU found a way to win the East Division. Their schedule is set up for them to do just that.
Watching Murray: I’m making a concerted effort to not make every story about Murray State, but that’s getting much harder to do as the Racers win streak continues to grow. Others are taking notice. The Racers earned two top-25 votes in the AP poll this past week, (one from Seth Davis of Sports Illustrated) their first votes of the year. The host the always upset-minded Southeast Missouri Redhawks tonight, before traveling to their rather one-sided (as of late) rival Austin Peay on Saturday. It’s way too early, in my mind, to start talking about 16-0, just yet. What I’m looking for — how loose do the Racers play? Three close games in a row are raising questions about the pressure of the streak.
Still Road Warriors?: UT Martin made their mark in non-conference play by winning five games on the road, but that success hasn’t fully been replicated in conference play. They’re 1-2 on the road in the OVC, and five of their last eight are away from home. The good news: three of those five, including tonight’s game at Austin Peay, are against teams with losing records in the conference.
Back on a win streak: Eastern Illinois has won two straight, thanks to their win over non Division-I Baker Tuesday night. But there’s also an interesting record watch going on in Charleston: EIU’s Cornell Johnston had seven assists in the win. He’s up to 99 on the season, 16 shy of Michael Robinson’s freshman school record of 115.
Hope springs eternal: Yesterday was National Signing Day, and if you missed it, here’s a quick recap:
[Insert Coach’s name] got a wonderful class of talented, smart players, who will help bring the [Insert team’s nickname] an [Insert conference name] title in the near future.
I love that NSD is a celebration for the athletes, and it’s cool how so many of the teams put together great graphics to highlight their additions, and go out of their way to make them feel special. But from our point of view, ratings simply don’t mean much. A great reminder yesterday:
9 years ago today, Murray State offered a 0-star recruit from Iola, WI his only full-scholarship. That recruit has been grateful ever since.
— Austen Lane (@A_Train_92) February 4, 2015
(Editor’s Note: For some reason, the tweet is not showing up. It’s from former Murray State player Austen Lane, and says “9 years ago today, Murray State offered a 0-star recruit from Iola, WI his only full-scholarship. That recruit has been grateful ever since.”)
That’s not just any Chicago Bear in his twitter profile. Lane was drafted in the fifth round by the Jacksonville Jaguars in 2010, and spent the past season in Chicago.