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We’ve gone more than a month since our last power rankings, meaning this is our first since conference play began. A lot has changed in just a few weeks. This is also my weekly reminder (which no one ever reads) saying this isn’t my predicted order of finish. Simply where teams stand right now from a momentum standpoint.

 

Tennessee-Tech

(1) TENNESSEE TECH (17-7, 8-2)
Last ranking: 5th

After years of being almost the “forgotten” team in the East Division, Tennessee Tech has made their presence known in conference play this season — essentially by becoming Belmont. The Golden Eagles offense is more potent, statistically, through their first 10 conference games than the Bruins, and their defensive profile (forces missed shots, struggles to generate turnovers and rebounds) is quite similar.

If Torrance Rowe isn’t the first or second name you’re putting on your OVC player-of-the-year lists, then you’re doing it wrong. Rowe is averaging 19.1 points a contest in conference play, and has a 1.79 assist-to-turnover ratio to boot. Ryan Martin‘s name shouldn’t be far behind, as the forward is averaging 16 points a game along with nearly nine rebounds. Add in the amazing three-point shooting of Aleska Jugovic (29-56, 51.8% in OVC play) and Hakeem Rogers 10 points per game despite averaging just 19 minutes a contest — and it’s not hard to build the case for Tennessee Tech being among, if not alone as, the league’s best.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 100  / Rebounding: 73 / Ball Control: 96 (+7) / Defense: 79

Belmont(2) BELMONT (16-7, 8-1)
Last ranking: 1st

To some extent, we knew a Bruins loss had to be coming. Belmont had made a habit of simply outscoring their opponents, which provided a lot of cover for their shortcomings. The problem had been that, simply, no team could keep up with the Bruins scoring pace.

That being said, it’s hard to make the argument that the Bruins still aren’t the favorites to come out of the OVC Tournament unscathed. They have the experience of winning there, and I’m not one to bet against head coach Rick Byrd in a winner-take-all scenario.

Belmont’s 1-2 punch, much like Tennessee Tech, is as good as ever: Evan Bradds is still a key player of the year candidate, averaging a double-double in conference play, including a league best 11 rebounds a contest. (On a team that, overall, is only average on the boards.) Craig Bradshaw can still score in bunches, and has improved his assist-to-turnover ratio from near one in non-conference play to 2.56 against OVC competition

One negative note: Taylor Barnette is having the worst three-point shooting season of his career. (He’s down to just 29% in OVC play)

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 94 (-4)  / Rebounding: 75 (+1) / Ball Control: 88 (+1) / Defense: 84 (-3)


Tennessee-State

(3) TENNESSEE STATE (15-6, 6-2)
Last ranking: 3rd

TSU has two conference losses, same as the Tennessee Tech team at the top of our Power Rankings. Those two losses — the two teams ahead of them, both on the road.

For a team that’s built to win with defense, how they lost to Belmont is a bit concerning. The Bruins jumped out to an early 16-point lead, and scored 103 points in regulation despite making just nine three’s against Tennessee State, gutting the Tigers instead on the inside. The question now isn’t whether TSU is a good team — they absolutely are — but how well do they matchup against the other top-tier teams in the OVC.

According to KenPom’s predictions, TSU is favored in all but one of their final eight games — when they travel to Morehead State. That means the Tigers are favored in both their return matchups against Belmont and Tennessee Tech. TSU still has a solid chance to steal the double-bye from the Golden Eagles and Bruins, which could be a major boost in their chances of getting out of Nashville with a title

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 85 / Rebounding: 90 (+1) / Ball Control: 92  (+4) / Defense: 85 (+2)


EIU Logo 2015

(4) EASTERN ILLINOIS (9-13, 6-4)
Last ranking: 10th

We knew the West Division would be wide-open this year, but there’s still something surprising about seeing the Panthers on top past the midway point, especially given their loss at Murray.

Part of that surprise is that they’re doing this without a “star.” Four Panthers average double-digit scoring, but none above 13.5 points a game. No one’s averaging more than five rebounds a game, only Cornell Johnston averages more than 30 minutes a game. It’s as balanced as balanced gets — which doesn’t always work on the floor. In this case, it does.

Winning the West will, likely, mean beating Murray State when they head to Charleston. Barring a sudden surge by the Skyhawks, that may be the only think standing in EIU’s way of a double-bye.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 77 (-2) / Rebounding: 79 (-5) / Ball Control: 100 (+1) / Defense: 74 (+8)


Morehead-State

(5) MOREHEAD STATE (12-9, 6-3)
Last ranking: 4th

If there’s a “good” team in the East that everyone’s forgotten about, that team is Morehead State. As has been the case under most of head coach Sean Woods‘ tenure in Morehead, the Eagles continue their love affair with rebounding (at least — on the offensive side) and still suffer from their Achilles heel — sending teams to the foul line, although for the first time in four years, the Eagles aren’t the worst in the conference at sending opposing players to the charity stripe. (EKU is holding that torch, currently)

The Eagles have taken the fewest three-point attempts in the OVC in league play — but they’re choosing the right ones to take: Morehead State leads the league in three-point shooting, hitting 43.5%. Corban Collins is your league leader in three-point percentage as well in OVC play, hitting 57.6%, while Xavier Moon ranks sixth. Maybe the Eagles should shoot from deep more?

Morehead State still holds the key to their own future, with five games remaining against teams above them in the division standings. If a double-bye isn’t in the cards — it’s looking more likely that both single bye’s will come from the East, meaning the Eagles will need to jump at least one of those teams to keep from playing on the OVC Tournament’s opening night.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 75 (+1) / Rebounding: 91 / Ball Control: 88 (-3) / Defense: 86 (+1)


Murray-State

(6) MURRAY STATE (11-11, 5-4)
Last ranking: 7th

Heading into what fans less-than-affectionally call “CFSB South,” things were looking up for the Racers. After Saturday’s loss at UT Martin — Murray State is back at .500 for the season, a full game back of division leaders Eastern Illinois, and it’s looking like the Racers strong hold on the winning the West division since the split may be in danger.

Saturday was the first time that the Racers really seemed to miss Brion SanchiousWayne Langston got in early foul trouble, which limited his minutes and helped UTM keep the game close at the end of the first half. Depth will continue to be an issue through the rest of the year — which is a key reason why the Racers, maybe more so than any other team in the league, needs a double-bye if they’re going to make any waves in Nashville in March.

The Racers lead the league in scoring defense, but that may be a bit of a red herring — Murray State also plays at the slowest tempo in the league, meaning scores are artificially lowered. Their defensive eFG%, a better representative of first-shot defense, is mid-pack. On the positive side: the Racers are the only team in the top-3 in both offensive and defensive rebounding.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 77  / Rebounding: 97 (+4)  / Ball Control: 97 (-3) / Defense: 80 (-4)


UT-Martin

(7) UT MARTIN (11-12, 3-5)
Last ranking: 2nd

I would love to try and explain the Skyhawks but…I can’t, really. The offense is inconsistent. The defense is alright, neither good or awful. Twymond Howard has star-like qualities, averaging more than 15 points and 7 rebounds a game in conference play, and the team has plenty of balance.

But a similar balance — that works well in Charleston — isn’t working well here, for whatever reason. It’s not close losses either. Outside their OT loss to SEMO, their closest loss in conference play was six points. Two of their five losses were by double-digits.

In reality, things aren’t entirely bleak. The Skyhawks are only one game back in the loss column of EIU, but due to uneven scheduling, they’re three back in the win column, putting them more like two games behind. The good news — they have a combined five games remaining against SIUE, SEMO and Austin Peay. Whether they can take care of business, consistently, against those teams is yet to be seen.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 75 (+4)  / Rebounding: 70 (-1)  / Ball Control: 93 (-7) / Defense: 78 (+1)


Jacksonville State JSU Logo(8) JACKSONVILLE STATE (8-17, 4-6)
Last ranking: 11th

A lot of the good vibes JSU basketball had been spreading came crashing down on Saturday, as the Gamecocks were pummeled in a loss against Tennessee State — on JSU’s home floor. If history holds, and 7-9 is an OVC Tournament lock, then the Gamecocks need to go .500 in their final six, with two games remaining against TTU, and having to travel to Belmont and TSU still on the slate. It’s doable, especially for a conference-tournament quality team.

JSU, a program known for their defensive prowess under head coach James Green, is remarkably bad on defense this year. They’re second only to Austin Peay for worst eFG% defense in the league, as their opponents seem to have no problem scoring on the interior — giving up 57% of their points on the inside in OVC play, well above the league average. It’s not a great formula for a team finding success against the toughest teams in the conference.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 70 (-5)  / Rebounding: 72 (-1)  / Ball Control: 97 (+1) / Defense: 72 (-3)


Austin-Peay

(9) AUSTIN PEAY (10-14, 3-6)
Last ranking: 8th

I feel like everything I’ve written about Austin Peay this year can be distilled down into the following.

“They have Chris Horton, but…”

That’s not really changing here.

They also have Josh Robinson, who, on paper, is scoring an impressive 17 points a game against OVC opponents — but it doing so despite sub-40% shooting. He’s taken 30 more shots than Horton over the Governors nine conference games, and given that Horton is really your team’s star, that can’t be a great thing. His sub-one assist-to-turnover ratio, given his position (guard) is none too hot either.

Austin Peay has taken care of the games you feel they should be winning: at home against Jacksonville State and SIUE, and at SEMO. They play their first game against UT Martin this week, and if they want to end their streak of missing the OVC Tournament, they can’t afford any worst than a split against the Skyhawks.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 78 (+3)  / Rebounding: 79 (-2)  / Ball Control: 78 / Defense: 81


Eastern-Kentucky

(10) EASTERN KENTUCKY (12-12, 3-6)
Last ranking: 6th

I will not blame the soft non-conference schedule…I will not blame the soft non-conference schedule….I will not blame the soft non-conference schedule.

I’ve said it all season long: EKU’s record was inflated because of a soft non-conference schedule.

Damn.

Now that that’s out of the way, it’s also worth pointing out that I called TSU’s non-conference slate soft as well, and they’ve performed quite well in conference play. The one key thing that’s changed for EKU is their shooting — it was red hot in November in December. It’s ordinary in OVC play — and that’s not going to cut it with the way their defense has struggled when opponents can avoid turnovers.

Getting to 7-9, and a conference tournament lock would be tough. (Ken Pom has the Colonels as underdogs in every remaining game) EKU needs wins, obviously, and probably some upsets from SEMO and SIUE in the West if the Colonels are going to head back to Nashville.

Jarelle Reischell‘s 18.0 PPG in conference play probably won’t be enough to keep him in the player of the year discussion, which is a shame given how great the senior played in the first two months of the season.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 87 (-1)  / Rebounding: 63 (-6)  / Ball Control: 89 (-2) / Defense: 75 (+3)


Southeast-Missouri

(11) SOUTHEAST MISSOURI (5-17, 2-7)
Last ranking: 12th

After five (arguably six) straight blowout losses against the East Division amid more suspensions, things are looking up in Cape Girardeau. The Redhawks still say alive, given the relative strength of the East, to a back-door OVC Tournament bid, and other then their game at Thursday at Murray, there’s not a game on the schedule where you wouldn’t give SEMO at least a fighter’s chance of pulling out a win.

…and let’s be honest. Even an upset at Murray wouldn’t be entirely out of the question this season.

Defense was the key to SEMO’s three-game winning streak, (which ended on Saturday against Austin Peay) as the Redhawks kept both SIUE and UT Martin under 0.8 points per possession in the wins.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 61 (+1)  / Rebounding: 81 (+4)  / Ball Control: 81 (+6) / Defense: 73 (+2)


SIUE

(12) SIUE (4-18, 1-9)
Last ranking: 9th

Well, this season hasn’t gone well.

That’s enough here, right?

The Cougars offense, which hasn’t exactly been the conference torchbearer this season, has flatlined in SIUE’s last three games, being held under 55 points for three straight contests. The result is that the Cougars have been reduced to a spoiler role with three weeks to play, and three teams still vying for the division crown.

The good news is that the Cougars are getting some experience back next year — and they’re guys like C.J. CarrBurak Eslik, and Jalen Henry — guys you can build a little something around.

With some more help, that is.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST WEEK):
Shooting: 64 (-8)  / Rebounding: 84 (-3)  / Ball Control: 65 (-4) / Defense: 79 (+5)


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OVC Ball
Compiling all OVC non-conference games

2016 Football Standings

OVC Overall
Jacksonville State 7-0 10-2
UT Martin 6-2 7-5
Tennessee Tech 5-3 5-6
Tennessee State 4-3 7-4
Eastern Illinois 4-4 6-5
Murray State 4-4 4-7
SEMO 3-5 3-8
Eastern Kentucky 2-6 3-8
Austin Peay 0-8 0-11


2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVC Overall

EAST

Belmont 15-1 23-7
Morehead State 10-6 14-16
Jacksonville State 9-7 20-15
Tennessee State 8-8 17-13
Tennessee Tech 8-8 12-20
Eastern Kentucky 5-11 12-19

WEST

UT Martin 10-6 22-13
SEMO 9-7 15-18
Murray State 8-8 16-17
Austin Peay 7-9 11-19
Eastern Illinois 6-10 14-15
SIUE 1-15 6-24


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