We’re two weeks into the season and…it’s gone pretty much how everyone expected, right?
…right? Our updated Power Rankings:
(1) BELMONT (4-2 entering Friday)
Last ranking: 1st
The Bruins ranking is far from surprising. They have the best win for the OVC on this young season (at Marquette) and are averaging 87.8 points a game in their first six contests, and are showing no signs of slowing down. Evan Bradds has been spectacular — he’s currently 11th in the nation in eFG% (which factors in three-pointers more heavily than two’s) and is shooting 75.6% from the field. He likely won’t keep up those numbers over an entire season — but it’s worth noting Bradds was a 70% shooter inside the arc a year ago.
The problem for the Bruins is…they’re not showing many signs of slowing down other teams. Outside of lowly Kennesaw State, the Bruins haven’t head a single opponent under 80 points. Of course, the way the OVC has looked as a whole over the first two weeks of the season, there might be many teams in the conference that can post 80 points on a given night.
(2) MURRAY STATE (4-2)
Last ranking: 6th
The Racers have proved that their exhibition loss was a fluke, getting off to wins against pretty solid competition. Taking out the Harris Stowe game, all five Racers opponents are currently ranked in the top 135 in KenPom’s ratings, and Murray has won a respectable three of them. The offense right now, though, is a struggle. On the good side: the offense doesn’t turnover the ball. On the bad: they’re not shooting well, and their offensive rebounding has been non-existent. There are just too many scoring droughts to consistently beat quality competition.
One of the big questions entering the year is could Jeffrey Moss step up and lead the team on the floor this year, and the jury’s still out on that. Moss’ is taking more shots, but his shooting percentages are currently the worst in his career. In fact, no one is shooting better than 36% from three-point range, and that’s somewhat troublesome for a team that doesn’t have a lot of size.
(3) MOREHEAD STATE (3-1)
Last ranking: 3rd
Somehow, in a season that’s seeing more free-throws than the previous three, the Eagles have seemingly fixed their foul problem. The only sent Northern Kentucky to the line for 16 attempts in their eight point win on the road, and have yet to have one of those 40+ FT games they had become infamous for. The defense is playing well — continuing to force turnovers, (9th in steal percentage nationally) and stopping teams inside. Their rebounding, on the offensive end especially, continues it’s dominance: The Eagles OREB% (the percentage of missed shots that are rebounded) is 43.5% — 7th best in the nation in the young season.
Corban Collins has been great, but don’t overlook the impact of junior college transfer Xavier Moon off the bench. Moon is shooting 62.5% from the field, and is 6-9 from three-point range. If he keeps those numbers up — it’s hard not to see him get starting minutes before this season turns to conference play.
(4) EASTERN KENTUCKY (5-1)
Last ranking: 5th
There’s two things to know about Eastern Kentucky’s five wins: all five came at home, most aren’t very good teams, (looking at you Coppin State) and much like the Bruins, it’s all about the offense so far. In fact, EKU was waxed by UNC Wilmington in their only road game of the year. EKU’s schedule gets much tougher after this weekend, when they’ll play four straight on the road, including at Kentucky.
The Colonels are simply hitting shots — they’re ninth in the nation in three-point shooting (45.2%) with five guys hitting 50% or better from behind the arc. As the competition gets better, that number likely can’t stay that high. Te Colonels have only held one of their Division I opponents under 80 points, and have given up a high percentage from three-point range themselves. But as we said earlier with the Bruins — this is a season where you might rack up more than few OVC wins by simply outshooting your opponent.
(5) UT MARTIN (2-4)
Last ranking: 2nd
The Skyhawks haven’t so much earned the No. 5 rank in our Power Ranking, as rather, simple counting requires that five come after four, and that I can’t skip to No. 9 or something. Of the remaining teams in the league, UT Martin has the best win, in a true road game at James Madison. They also have one of the worst losses, at home to Bethune Cookman.
While it doesn’t show up as easily in the final score as say, Belmont, the Skyhawks have struggled defensively. It’s masked by their much slower tempo, but even in their win over James Madison, UTM allowed 1.25 points per possession. The goal is much closer to one, say, 1.02. Teams have gashed the Skyhawks from the three-point line, and inside really. It also doesn’t help that UTM is hitting just 63.6% from the free-throw line.
The good news for the Skyhawks? These games really aren’t that important. There’s still a month until conference play.
(6) TENNESSEE TECH (2-2)
Last ranking: 7th
The verdict is still out on Tennessee Tech. The Golden Eagles played pretty well in a pair of road losses, but needed overtime to get pack Jackson State at home. But much like last year, the offense has been a bit lackluster, and once again the three-point line is really not this team’s friend. But so far, they’re second best in the league at getting to the free-throw line, and they’re shooting a hot 77.8% from the charity stripe. That’ll help you win close games.
Torrance Rowe put up 35 points in that OT win over Jackson State (15 of those came from the free-throw line) and he’s been a good spark for TTU’s offense so far.
(7) TENNESSEE STATE (3-2)
Last ranking: 12th
TSU’s record is kind of misleading: only one of those wins was against a Division I team. But it was a road win to start the year against Loyola (MD), and TSU was a couple ill-timed turnovers away from beating Middle Tennessee.
Two key transfers are helping fuel TSU’s rise: Keron Deshields, from Montana, and Tahjere McCall from Niagara University. Both are solid shooters — but they’re getting to the free-thow ling, and nailing the freebies. Right now, TSU is hitting 75.9% from the free-throw line, compared to their terrible 62.1% from a season ago. The offense still has a way to go: the Tigers are turning over the ball far too much, and their offensive rebounding leaves something to be desired, (your options for an offensive rebound are Wayne Martin or…Wayne Martin.) but the Tigers are taking a step forward. That record could continue to rise — the Tigers next four games are all against teams ranked worse than 300 in KenPom’s rankings.
(8) SIUE (1-3)
Last ranking: 8th
For as horrific SIUE has been shooting the basketball — they have a semi-quality win against Arkansas State, they played well against St. Louis, and has they hit free-throws, might have beaten Campbell. That last game is still a bit mind-boggling: SIUE had 20 offensive rebounds to Campbell’s one. Uno. The only singular number.
…and they lost.
In fact, rebounding has been a strong point of the Cougars this year, one reason they’ve kept three of their four opponents under 80 points. Offensively, SIUE rebounds well, they don’t turn over the ball, they get to the free-throw line.
They. Just. Can’t. Shoot.
Odds are the shooting will get better. It almost has to get better. But the Cougars need that to happen now, as their next four games are brutal: at Butler, home against Green Bay, at Milwaukee, at Northwestern, and then things get “easier” when they travel to rival Southern Illinois.
(9) EASTERN ILLINOIS (0-3)
Last ranking: 4th
At this point in the season, record isn’t everything, and I feel confident about putting EIU this high for one reason:
They’ve played three good teams, and currently have the toughest strength of schedule in the OVC.
Only one team left on this list has won a game against a Division I opponent. (And we’re way too high up this list for that to still be a fact as we enter the third week of the season.) But, to their credit, EIU has challenged themselves early in the year.
…they just haven’t met any of them.
Their first shot defense isn’t great, but their rebounding is simply awful. EIU is allowing opponents to rebound 47.4% of their missed shots. Think about that a minute: nearly half of their opponents misses are rebounded by their opponents. That’s a recipe for disaster, and proof just how much they miss Chris Olivier on the inside. We wondered who would step up, and we’re kind of still wondering. Patrick Muldoon pulled down eight rebounds in EIU’s loss to Western Illinois, but went 0-6 from the field, and has fouled out of two of the Panthers three games.
(10) AUSTIN PEAY (2-4)
Last ranking: 9th
Chris Horton has pretty much been what we expected. Josh Robinson has been a bit better than expected. But the problems we saw in the Governors exhibition about guarding the three-point line has proven to be a real issue through the first two weeks of the season: No Division I opponent has hit fewer than eight three’s in a single game against the Governors.
But as we’ve mentioned previously, not all schedules are created equal, and Austin Peay’s has been especially brutal. Three of the Govs first losses came against top-100 teams according to KenPom, and the Governors played quite well offensively against Northern Colorado on a neutral court. The next four games will better tell us what to expect from the Governors — at home against Samford, at Texas A&M Corpus-Christi, and at Troy, before a rematch with IPFW.
Of the Gamecocks five losses, the most recent, on their home floor against Alabama A&M, is the most troubling. The Bulldogs only hit 12 free-throws and had more than double the turnovers of JSU. But the Gamecocks allowed 16 offensive rebounds, and dug themselves a 15-point hole in the second half.
One of the Gamecocks biggest issues on offense: too many jump shots. JSU isn’t getting to the free-throw line — JSU has been outshot at the charity stripe in five of their six games against Division I opponents, sometimes by lopsided margins. (41-16 by Central Michigan, for example)
Today’s win over Chicago State is a step in the right direction, but this is a team that needs to get better on both sides of the ball to compete over 16 games in the OVC.
(12) SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (0-4)
Last ranking: 10th
To SEMO’s credit, their season slate began with two really good teams in Dayton and Evansville. And the Redhawks first game at home isn’t until Saturday night against Loyola Marymount.
But there’s this — Southeast Missouri is shooting 46.4% from the free-throw line on the season. As a team. By several percentage points, it’s the worst in the nation, and their shooting from three-point range hasn’t been much better. Then there’s the impacts of the off-the-court issues: three players have already served suspensions, and we’re just two weeks into the season.
They’re all back now, which is good news as the Redhawks show off their new upgrades to the Show Me Center for the first time. But the offense needs to put on a show as well: SEMO has been held under 60 points twice already this season, despite being in the top-third nationally in possessions per game. They spend just 16 seconds on an average possession — and aren’t getting a lot out of it.
The good news? The Redhawks do play in the West Division, which looks vulnerable as ever.