Here’s what you need to know about the midweek games in the OVC.
Everyone is good, no one is great…or maybe everybody is great…or everyone is awful. I don’t know anymore. Tennessee Tech, the best offense in the OVC through the first 11 games of conference play, scored 55 points and lost by 30 to Tennessee State. Eastern Illinois lost at home to Austin Peay, who they beat in Clarksville. (Although it is worth noting that game went to overtime) And Eastern Kentucky’s offense is gone. Again.
So, what we have left in it’s wake is two exciting, three-team divisional races. Let’s start in the East.
Belmont is back on top of the East by a full game, thanks to TTU’s trip-up this week, and they finish the season with games on back-to-back Saturday’s against both Tech and Tennessee State.
In the West, Murray and Eastern Illinois are back in a tie atop the West, and UT Martin is half-a-game back, tied in the loss column with both. All three of these teams have a round robin remaining…including Murray State playing EIU and UT Martin in the final week. Unlike the East, though, it wouldn’t be at all surprising if one, two, or heck, all three managed to lose again before their epic final clashes.
So, there’s a lot to play for in the final four or five games of the season….and we haven’t even gotten to the battle at the other end of the conference tournament spectrum.
Suddenly, Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky are tied for 8th. The whole “six teams from the East” scenario I pitched a few weeks back is starting to look really silly. With EKU’s loss at Morehead State, and Austin Peay’s “upset” at EIU, the Govs and Colonels are in a tie at 5-8 for the eighth and final spot in Nashville in March, and there’s one major reason to think the Governors in the driver’s seat: the remaining schedules.
there’s a lot to play for in the final four or five games of the season
Austin Peay’s remaining opponents: UT Martin, Murray State, at SIUE, Southeast Missouri. Three home games — two games against teams with a combined 3-21 conference record.
EKU’s remaining opponents: Tennessee State, Belmont, at Jacksonville State, at Tennessee Tech. Two home games — three games against teams with a combined 27-8 conference record.
It’s worth remembering that the Colonels won the head-to-head matchup with the Governors way back on January 2nd, meaning the Governors likely need to clear EKU by a full game to get to bid. (Unless Jacksonville State gets in the mix, it’s unlikely we’ll see a three-way tie) But Austin Peay will likely be favored in two of their remaining contests. EKU? No more than one.
It’s time to re-visit the whole “division champs get the two seed” debate. …because this keeps happening. This will be the fourth year of the OVC’s new Tournament format, which happened after the league was split into divisions with the addition of SIUE. For the second time, a team (out of the East) will have to play in the second round while a team (from the West) will get an extra bye to the third round despite having a worst record.
The funny thing is, this problem has already been solved…by the women. Keep the divisions for scheduling if you like. But give the second-best record the double-bye. They’ve deserved it.
What about the drama of the division races, you ask with puppy dog eyes. Well, this season, instead of falling over ourselves to determine which 7-5 team should get a huge advantage in Nashville, we’d be discussing better teams, like Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State, fighting over the second double-bye. Somehow, I think we’d be okay.
Can we stop talking about seeds for a minute? Sure. Instead, let’s talk about how we got here, i.e. why the OVC seems even more unpredictable than usual. Remember how I went on a rant last year about defense, and the conference’s lack of it? Well, turns out, the same thing is happening this year — and I think the new rules are helping exaggerate the result.
According to KenPom, the OVC is the third best league in the nation in effective field goal percentage. (eFG% for short) Thanks to teams like Belmont, Tennessee Tech, and “good EKU,” the OVC as a whole has really good offenses, which creates fun to watch high scoring basketball.
The flip side of this is that the OVC, by virtue of being so good offensively, has the third worst in the nation eFG% defense, thanks to a lot of teams, really. Anytime you’re on one extreme or the other, these wild swings seems more plausible. If you’re a great offense, who has an awful night, what do you have to fall back on?
the OVC is the third best league in the nation in effective field goal percentage
What’s interesting is that no defense, through, is really good, or really awful. Teams that have strong shooting defense (Tennessee State, Morehead State, and Murray State) struggle with fouls, sending teams to the free-throw line so much that it undoes a lot of the good they do on the defensive end. The best teams at keeping opponents off the charity stripe (Southeast Missouri, UT Martin) give up too many points on the floor. Few, if any teams, really have a proper balance between forcing turnovers, stopping shooters, and keeping players off the free-throw line. The good teams do two of the three well. The bad teams do one.
…and before the “OVC referees are terrible” laments begin, some food for thought: the OVC is 15th in conference free-throw rate. Which means the refs call fewer fouls than about half the nation, and more fouls than the other half. So, right down the middle.
Players make up the teams, right? Let’s talk about them, shall we?
- Evan Bradds (pictured above) is currently at the top of KenPom’s all-conference team, and is still our favorite to be named conference-player of the year. The rest of the KenPom top 5? Chris Horton, Tahjere McCall, Jarelle Reishel, and Torrance Rowe. As we’ve discussed before, the player of the year tends to go to the best player on the best team, meaning Bradds, McCall and Rowe are probably your top-3 at this point in time, although Bradds is probably a 2:1 favorite over either.
- UT Martin’s Jacolby Mobley may be the best sixth man in the OVC. Mobley scored 15 points in 22 minutes in the Skyhawks win over Southeast Missouri this week, and he’s proving he can be a three-point threat, hitting 45% from three-point range in OVC play. He’s still a bit inconsistent (part of the reason, I’m sure, he tends to come off the bench) but it’s great to that kind of weapon waiting in the wings to spell the starters.
- There’s a trend brewing with Murray State’s Wayne Langston: when he stays out of foul trouble, (like he did against SIUE and recently SEMO) the Racers often win. When he gets into foul trouble, (like he did against UT Martin and earlier this year against Belmont) things don’t go so well. With Brion Sanchious done for the year, the Racers simply don’t have the depth for Langston to get into foul trouble — which has to be a major concern if Murray can’t find a way to get that double-bye for the OVC Tournament.
OVC Ball Stat-based ratings update
Rating out of 100 (Change in last week)
Shooting Rebounding Ball Control Defense
Austin Peay 81 (+3) 78 (+3) 81 (+2) 81 (+1)
Belmont 94 (-2) 79 (+6) 86 (+1) 82 (-3)
Eastern Illinois 76 (+1) 75 (+3) 100 77 (+2)
Eastern Kentucky 94 (+2) 61 (-1) 72 (-12) 81 (+4)
Jacksonville State 69 (-1) 74 (+2) 96 (-1) 70 (-2)
Morehead State 71 (-1) 93 (+2) 85 (-4) 82 (-1)
Murray State 81 (+2) 95 (-1) 88 (-7) 78 (-1)
SIUE 66 (+2) 83 (-1) 68 (+3) 76 (-3)
Southeast Missouri 63 (+1) 80 (-1) 81 74 (+2)
Tennessee State 87 (+5) 91 (-1) 94 (+3) 83 (-3)
Tennessee Tech 99 (-1) 69 (-3) 92 (-4) 81 (+2)
UT Martin 79 (+2) 78 (-4) 91 (+2) 78 (+1)