So I’ve taken a few looks this season at how each team’s non-conference schedules stack up, and I wanted to do that one more time before conference season began.
For the most part, not a lot has changed since the last time we took a look at this. Here’s the most updates SOS v Win Pct chart:
Some general notes:
- I did make some changes to the chart itself: Basically, three difficulty tiers have emerged, represented by the three colors on the chart above. For the most part, there is a fair comparison of teams across each tier: i.e., Belmont and EKU are clearly a step above Morehead State and Austin Peay through the early part of the season.
- There was actual math involved on determining the tiers, but I won’t bore you with it.
- Eastern Illinois doesn’t fall in any tier. Even with their win at Missouri, their SOS still puts them in a class of their own…below everyone else.
- Belmont’s SOS remains the toughest in the OVC according to KenPom, but it’s a lot closer than it was.
Okay, now for the fun part — PREDICTION TIME! Here’s where I see the OVC standing with conference play just over a week away:
Belmont’s SOS remains the toughest in the OVC according to KenPom
The East is probably just a two-horse race: In a radio interview last week, I said that I don’t think Belmont has the personnel to keep running their three-point heavy offense. More than half (54.4%, to be technical) of the Bruins field goal attempts are from three-point range, but they’re only hitting 29.9% on the season. As expected, they’re one of the best in the nation when they shoot inside (because it’s often layups) but the really good Belmont teams took fewer three’s: 39.9% of FGA’s in 2012-13 and 41.9% in 2013-14, both 26-win seasons.
TL:DR — Belmont needs to focus on the backdoor cut part of their game more, and the three-point part of their game less. But, they’re still Belmont, so I’m not going to start writing them off, either.
So, what about EKU? They’re 6-6 and have played a tough schedule: but they haven’t really beat any of the good teams on their schedule. Their best win is probably at home to Marshall, which is good, but not great. The Colonels offense, led in part by a sensational freshman in Asante Gist and sophomore Nick Mayo (this team could be really, really, good in two years) is going to put up points, but their defense may still be a year away. Making the OVC Tournament shouldn’t be a problem, and their scoring could be uncomfortable for teams at the top, but there’s just not enough reason to believe EKU will challenge for the title this year.
While I feel confident saying Tennessee State is good: they have one of the OVC’s best non-conference wins of the year at Middle Tennessee, they took NC State to overtime, and they have something the conference has been missing: a great defense; they’re not a great shooting team — which is fine if you can hold your opponents under 40% shooting, which they’ve been doing this year. But can you hold a hot-shooting EKU squad, or a Belmont team that finally gets it’s shooting going to that kind of numbers? It does them no favors that their most-likely challengers are two of the three most dynamic offenses in the conference. (Murray State is somewhere in this discussion as well.)
That being said, I do think TSU has the edge over a full 16-games. Even if they split with the Bruins and Colonels, the Tigers are best built for consistency, with the others built for flashy numbers that could be harder to replicate night-in and night-out.
The West is a much harder read: UT Martin has a lot of wins, which is good. They don’t have a lot of “good” wins, which is less good. The one big positive, though: three of UTM’s 9 wins came on the road, which is hard regardless of the opponent. Turnovers are the Skyhawks Achilles heel at the moment from being explosive as, say, an EKU team, and their defense is a liability.
But — who is going to challenge the defending West Division champions? Murray State is flawed defensively, and that win over Illinois State to start the season feels like forever ago. You could argue that the Racers are better than their record: they have two overtime losses, a loss by one-point to Bowling Green, and by five to Ole Miss. But you could also use those exact same results to argue that the Racers just aren’t great down the stretch in close games. Jonathan Stark has OVC-First Team written all over him, (possibly even Player of the Year) but the interior game is a struggle.
Eastern Illinois’ win over Missouri isn’t the eyeopener the name on the front of the jersey may suggest: The Tigers were ranked 147th in Ken Pom entering that game, and don’t have a win against a top-200 team. It’s easily the Panthers best win of the season, though, on a schedule littered with directionals. This is a defense that forces turnovers, and that can be deadly against teams that don’t have a great point-guard. But it’s hard to get too much of a read on a team that hasn’t played anyone!
Jonathan Stark has OVC-First Team written all over him
If I’m forced to make a choice now, I’m saying the West champion could come down to the final game of the season: Murray State at UT Martin. I’m giving the slight edge for now to the Skyhawks.
My four teams out of the OVC Tournament, in decreasing order of confidence: Tennessee Tech, SIUE, Southeast Missouri, Morehead State
Tennessee Tech isn’t really strong on either side of the basketball, while SIUE managed to only put up 44 points in a loss to a Division II team. Both are sub-500 against relatively weak schedules. I feel okay about those picks.
Here’s where things get more difficult.
Either Southeast Missouri or Austin Peay is likely to miss out, if not both, depending on the relative strength of the East this year. I could really make and argument for both: The Governors clearly miss Chris Horton on the defensive side of the ball, where they give up a lot of points and rebounds on the inside. The Redhawks don’t have a single win against a team in the top-300 (!) of Ken-Pom ratings, and their defense isn’t much better.
Oddly enough, these teams play on the final day of the season. Could the No. 8 seed be on the line?
Morehead State is…I don’t even know what to say here. Even without Woods, the Eagles continue the tradition of being one of the fouliest (is that a word? I’m making it a word) teams in the nation, only this year they’re not getting to the free-throw line like they have in the past. They’re just giving up free-throws. Opponents are shooting a downright shocking 44.5% from three-point range against the Eagles, who are on an 8-game losing streak.
But, here’s the thing about that streak: it’s legitimately been a tough stretch. Six of those eight losses are against top-200 teams, and the other two were on the road. They’re probably not as bad as their record makes them out to be…but are they better than Jacksonville State, likely the next team up in the division? I like what I’m seeing out of the Gamecocks. They’re patient (read: sllloooowwwww) on offense, but it works: JSU is hitting 41.1% three-point range and rank third in the league in adjusted offensive efficiency. They’re not going to put up the numbers of an EKU or UTM, but their offense is in that same range. They’re just not very good defensively.
Neither is Morehead State…but I’ll take the JSU offense over the Eagles offense right now.
If Morehead State gets in, I think it’s likely because a third team from the West misses out. I’m just not sure if the Eagles can go 4-2 or 5-1 against the West to help that cause.
Chaos could reign again at the OVC Tournament
…because of the lack of dominating defenses in the league, Tennessee State being the notable exception. If you rely on offense, you can, in my opinion, be more easily upset by another offense that gets hot at the right time, like Austin Peay last season. A four or five-seed EKU squad that’s putting up 80-90 points a game, for instance, is not a fun thought come tournament time if you’re not confident in your defense, and I don’t think any team not nicknamed “Tigers” are.
My predicted standings and Tournament Seeds
(1) TSU 12-4
(3) Belmont 11-5
(5) Eastern Kentucky 10-6
(6) Jacksonville State 8-8
Morehead State 6-10
Tennessee Tech 4-12
(2) UT Martin 11-5
(4) Murray State 11-5
(7) Eastern Illinois 8-8
(8) Austin Peay 6-10
Southeast Missouri 6-10