Here’s what you need to know from this weekend’s action in the OVC:
TSU stays perfect in OVC, matches 14-4 start of 1994-95 regular season champs: A Tahjere McCall (pictured above) layup with 2.5 seconds left gave Tennessee State their first home win against Murray State since 2008, and their first win in the series overall since the Tigers ended the Racers perfect season in 2012. TSU’s defense continued it’s (mostly) stout play, holding Murray State to 37% shooting, but issues with fouls and offensive turnovers kept the Racers close despite TSU’s 52% shooting.
So, is it time to say the Tigers are “for real?” Well, no. Not yet. But we’re close. At some point, I’ll stop reminding you about TSU’s insanely soft non-conference schedule, or that their 5-0 start in conference play is against entirely the much weaker West Division, and that they haven’t played the Jekyll and Hyde that is UT Martin. (More on that later) This is a very good win, but whether TSU is an OVC title contender is yet to be seen…because they’ve yet to play another OVC title contender. (A category that appears to include three teams, all from the East.)
But, the one really good thing about this team is that they’re defensively driven — and as we’ve seen in the past few seasons, defensive teams tend to over perform at the Municipal Auditorium in March, where offense goes to die. (That tagline might not catch on, but it should.) But, is that defense enough to shut down the hot shooting of Belmont, EKU, TTU or the Skyhawks-on-a-good-day? They’ve only played two teams ranked in the top-200 in offensive efficiency nationally (Ohio, Tennessee) and both were losses. All four of those teams listed are top-200 offenses, (Belmont and TTU are top-60) and the Tigers still have a combined seven games left against them. The defense has passed most of their tests to this point — but they weren’t really tests.
whether TSU is an OVC title contender is yet to be seen…because they’ve yet to play another OVC title contender.
Is this TSU team better than last year? Undoubetely. Are they better than most everyone outside Nashville thought they’d be? Absolutely.
But we just don’t know how good they really are yet. We’ll start learning soon: their next two games are on the road at Belmont, and at Tennessee Tech.
EIU claims another improbable win in Charleston: It happens every year. Last season, it was EIU surviving Belmont’s 45 three-point attempts on their way to a 6-0 OVC start. This season? EIU closed out regulation on a 15-4 run over the last 5:11 to erase a Morehead State 11-point lead, just good enough to force overtime, where they hit a game-winner with 41 seconds remaining.
Somehow, some way, EIU finds a way to win a game they probably shouldn’t on their home floor.
The biggest surprise has been their offense. When the Panthers lost Chris Olivier to transfer, there was legitimate concern of where the Panthers scoring would come from. The answer: four players are averaging double digits in conference play, (Demetrius McReynolds, Trae Anderson, Cornell Johnston, and AJ Riley) and the Panthers are shooting 47% from three-point range against their six OVC opponents.
Morehead State’s rebounding continues it’s enigma: the Eagles netted 13 offensive rebounds off 35 missed shots (37% OREB) but on the other end, allow 10 offensive rebounds off 31 missed shots. (32% OREB) It’s does no good to only rebound well on one end of the court.
Will the real UT Martin please stand up? Here’s a breakdown of the Skyhawks shooting in their four conference games:
- at EKU: 29-50 (58.0%)
- at Morehead State: 20-64 (31.3%)
- vs Tennessee Tech: 32-57 (56.1%)
- Saturday at Jacksonville State: 17-47 (36.2%)
The result: a quality win at EKU, a missed opportunity at Morehead State, a great win against Tennessee Tech, and, the latest, a blowout loss against Jacksonville State.
In conference play, TTU’s shooting > Belmont’s shooting: Tennessee Tech shot 54% from the field and 41% from three-point range in their lopsided win over Southeast Missouri on Saturday, as TTU’s offense remains on it’s historic pace in conference play.
Through six games, Tech has an eFG% (effective field goal percentage) of 65.7%, which if it stands, would be the best in recent OVC history. (KenPom numbers date back to 2002. The best since then: Samford 62.5% in 2004-05. Only three teams since then have finished conference play above 60%) Belmont’s eFG%? Only 61.6%.
There is a mathematical path to having all six teams from the East make the OVC Tournament: …and while it’s still unlikely, even given the division’s relative dominance over the West, it’s looking more possible than ever.
How could it happen? It’s based largely on two things:
- The East must beat each other up, meaning no (or, possibly only one) dominant teams.
- The West needs two very dominant teams, and becomes more plausible as SEMO/SIUE steal more wins.
Let’s start in the East, where the two teams at the bottom are at .500, and have finished all their games against the opposing division. Let’s assume, for the sake of this argument, that every team in the East gets four wins (out of 10 possible games) against their own division. That means the worst a team would finish in the East would be 7-9. That would require a few upsets, but it isn’t overly insane. (This also works if a team like TSU, TTU, or Belmont only gets three more wins, but given their current records, that seems more unlikely)
Now to the West. For argument’s sake, (this is not a prediction) let’s say EIU and UT Martin run through the West, and in their 10 games in the division each go 8-2. That means the other four teams would need to be a combined 12-games under .500, which could look something like this. Again, this is not a prediction, just using this scenario for illustration purposes.
EIU: 8-2 vs West (11-5)
UTM: 8-2 vs West (10-6 or so — still have games against Belmont, Tennessee State)
Murray: 4-6 vs West (6-10 — assumes loss to EKU)
Austin Peay: 4-6 vs West (6-10 — best case, with win against Morehead State)
SIUE: 3-7 vs West (4-12)
SEMO: 3-7 vs West (3-13)
This scenario is less likely to work if either EIU or UTM goes 7-3. (third place team likely gets to 7-9, and would at worst be in a tiebreaker for the 8th seed) Alternatively, UTM and Murray could easily be swapped in this scenario, unless UTM picks up wins against their remaining two opponents from the East.
In the case above, JSU/EKU would be the 7th and 8th seeds at 7-9, while only EIU and UTM make it out of the West. It’s far from the only scenario, either, that gets six teams in from the East, but this is the most likely course that could make it happen, without the need for large-scale upsets.
What are the odds this happens? I’d say less than 5%, and that number goes down even further if UT Martin and Murray State win out against their remaining opponents from the East. But, it’s not out of the question.
Other notes from the weekend:
- Is it time to take JSU seriously? The Gamecocks are 3-3 in conference play, playing the same slate of teams as EKU (3-3) and Morehead State. (3-2) Neither of those teams have been dominant, and assuming the scenario above doesn’t play out — one of the three likely isn’t going to Nashville. A week ago, I was pretty sure that team was Jacksonville State. Now? Two straight wins have the Gamecocks trending up, with “Death Valley” (at Eastern Kentucky, at Morehead State) next up.
- I’ve talked about this before, but these East-West games are HUGE for teams that could be on the OVC Tournament bubble. EKU’s loss to SIUE might not come back to sting them, (unless SIUE can make a run to 6-10 or 7-9) but Morehead State’s loss to EIU could have real implications for Nashville.
- The Governors are looking more and more like the team of the past two seasons. Chris Horton gets his 19 points, (off 13 shots) but the rest of the team goes 14-48 (29.1%) from the field against a Belmont team that’s hasn’t been making their name off defense. Horton’s response after the game? “…it was just bad.”
- Could the OVC Tournament ruin Murray State’s winning season streak, now pushing three decades? If the Racers go 7-4 down the stretch, they’ll enter the tourney one game above .500. (15-14) Lose their first game? That’s .500, which is technically not a winning season. If they’re invited to a postseason tournament, they’d need two wins to finish over .500. One win and a loss — they fall back to .500. Lose the first game? Well…
these East-West games are HUGE for teams that could be on the OVC Tournament bubble
UTM 60, JSU 82: Skyhawks offense flat. Erik Durham comes off bench, hits 8 of JSU’s 17 three’s to push Gamecocks to .500 in #OVC.
EKU 65, SIUE 67: Cougars score final five points to get first #OVC win, Eslik hits three free-throws after foul with 18 seconds left.
MORE 82, EIU 84 OT: EIU ends game on 15-4 run to force OT, Johnston hits game-winning three. Collins goes for 28 points in loss.
AP 58, BELM 76: Windler nets double-double as Bruins stay perfect in #OVC. Belmont led by 23 at the half, cruise to win.
MURR 71, TSU 73: McCall hits jumper with three seconds left to sink Racers. TSU shoots 52%, four Tigers in double-figures in win.
SEMO 55, TTU 91: Tech up 30 at half. Jugovic scored 27 points on 13 shots, Golden Eagles hold SEMO to 33.3% shooting.
These ratings are being calculated using only statistics from OVC games. Since most teams have only played five or six conference games, these numbers are quite vulnerable to wild swings over the next few weeks.
Also, on the “Ball Control” front: New rules seem to be having a major impact on turnover rates — teams are simply turning over the ball less than they have in the past, which is why four teams have a 100 rating. (If these numbers stay the same — all four would rank as four of the top-5 teams in fewest turnovers in the past 10 years)
|Austin Peay||71 (-8)||82 (-2)||70 (-8)||81|
|Belmont||100||72 (+4)||79 (-20)||91 (+8)|
|Eastern Illinois||86 (+1)||83 (-3)||100||60 (+4)|
|Eastern Kentucky||87||72 (-12)||78 (-8)||74 (+8)|
|Jacksonville State||69 (+7)||77 (+3)||91 (+6)||75 (+3)|
|Morehead State||71 (+2)||77 (-12)||100||88 (-5)|
|Murray State||73 (+1)||92 (-7)||100 (+2)||78 (-3)|
|SIUE||69 (-2)||88 (+8)||74 (-9)||92 (+3)|
|Southeast Missouri||60 (-7)||71 (-3)||82 (+5)||60 (-4)|
|Tennessee State||83 (+4)||87 (+2)||78 (-2)||91 (-3)|
|Tennessee Tech||100||66||95 (+8)||79 (+8)|
|UT Martin||85 (-5)||68 (+1)||100||66 (-7)|