Monday is a huge day of great OVC matchups, starting with a morning tip for the defending OVC Tournament champions. Sadly, Sunday wasn’t the greatest day as the conference fell in two games on the road.
Morehead State 70, Lipscomb 77. For the first few minutes, I was concerned that the Eagles offensive woes at Xavier were something more than just playing a good team. The Eagles seemed more concerned with using the entire shot clock than getting good looks in the first few minutes against Lipscomb, and they were stagnant as a result. The good news here is — it got a lot better. The Eagles were strong on the inside, all but abandoned the three when it wasn’t working.
Sadly, this game became a free-throw battle, which made coming back a near impossibility for the Eagles. They were making gains in the second half too. After a big first half, Morehead State shut down Garrison Mathews in the second half, holding him to 4 points (all from the free-throw line) after a 21-point opening 20 minutes. Foul trouble had been an issue in the first half, but the Eagles were in a good position early in the second. Sadly, that went away rather quickly, as both teams were in the double-bonus with more than 7 minutes to play. Five Eagles finished with four fouls. It was an ugly second half of basketball to watch.
Malek Green had a solid night for Morehead State, finishing with 12 points and seven rebounds, while Jordan Walker led the Eagles with 17 points, although nine came from the free-throw line. In that department, the Eagles were great, hitting 23-26 (88.5%) from the charity stripe. LaMontray Harris struggled, hitting just 1-6 from the field in the loss.
It was an ugly second half of basketball to watch.
UT Martin 74, Illinois 77. Illinois may stop scheduling OVC teams after this year because they haven’t had a particularly good run against them. UTM went on a 14-0 run in the second half to pull as close as six, they fell behind by double digits again, only to pull within three with two shots to tie it in the final 5 seconds of regulation. Matthew Butler had an open look off a steal, then the Skyhawks were forced to throw a deep pass from under their own basket with less than a second remaining, resulting in a long final attempt.
Illinois did a great job guarding the perimeter on that last possession. A 40-footer at the horn was about all they were giving up.
— Jeff Bidwell (@AKAJeffBidwell) November 13, 2017
Delfincko Bogan put on quite a show for the Skyhawks, scoring 23 points on 9-15 (60%) shooting in the loss, and had seven steals on defense as UTM forced 18 Illinois turnovers. The Skyhawks defense was mostly sold, holding Illinois to 44% shooting, 29% from three-point range, but fouls proved to be costly as Illinois made the most of a 12-free throw advantage. UTM was nearly even with Illinois on the boards and even outscored the Illini in the paint.
Worth pointing out: Butler once again played every minute for UT Martin. That’s 85 minutes out of 85 through two games. That’s not sustainable over the long term. He also struggled a bit offensively in this one, although he did finish with 16 points. (But on 5-15 shooting)
Teams Trending Upwards: UT Martin. I think the Skyhawks are closer to finding a solid core of guys and they’ve been in two tight games to start the year. Morehead State might be trending a bit upwards as well, as they found an offensive identity in their loss.
Player of the night: Bogan, no question. He was a double-digit scorer in the Skyhawks loss at Marshall too, so I’m starting to believe he might be a solid No. 2 scoring option for the Skyhawks. Looks like he’s a pretty good defender as well.
Wild Card Award: Eastern Illinois. Why? Because UTM’s performance shows their exhibition win over the Illini may have been no joke, and not just because #ItsOnlyExhibition.
Jacksonville State at Richmond
11:00 a.m. CT (NBC Sports Washington)
Monday morning basketball? MONDAY MORNING BASKETBALL! It’s also our first real look at Jacksonville State. (Destroying Tennessee Wesleyan does not count)
I will be curious to see how deep JSU plays against Division I competition, though. The Gamecocks played 13 guys, all of whom played for more than 10 minutes in the lopsided win against Tennessee Wesleyan, and it was a similar story in their exhibition against Delta State, where 12 guys played 9 minutes or more. I’m not suggesting that will be chase all season, but head coach Ray Harper is getting a good look at the talent he has up and down his roster.
Richmond didn’t look great in their season opener, losing to a Delaware team picked to finish 7th in the Colonial, and the Atlantic 10 Spiders enter the season with a senior in the starting lineup. In fact, they started two freshman and two sophomores in that loss. Richmond is also still expected to be without guard Khawn Fore who has been out since late October with a shin injury. That means much of the scoring is expected to fall on guard De’Monte Buckingham who scored a team-high 18 points in the Spiders loss to the Blue Hens.
The JSU backcourt is probably in for the greater challenge tonight defensively, but this is an area where the Gamecocks shined last year.
Eastern Kentucky at Ole Miss
5:30 p.m. CT (SEC Network Plus)
I didn’t realize this until I looked it up: Ole Miss hasn’t had a losing season since 2005-06. They’ve had three straight 20-win seasons, although they’re not a team that gets a lot of respect for what they do. (Blame soft non-conference scheduling, partially, for that) But this is a team that could be in the “at-large” discussion for an NCAA Tournament berth at the end of the season.
There was a lot to like about EKU’s win at Rice. Wins on the road aren’t easy, and EKU won despite a rough night offensively, which we expect to be the Colonels strength this year. Nick Mayo is already showing that he’s going to pick up where he left off last season and Dedric Boyd is another young gun on this EKU squad worth watching. Asante Gist didn’t have his best game but that’s going to happen from time-to-time; his teammates helped lift the team up to a win.
The duo to watch for the Rebels are Terence Davis and Deandre Burnett. They combined for more than 31 points a game last year and both were named preseason All-SEC. Burnett came off the bench in the Rebels’ opener, presumably due to injury, and it’s not clear if he’ll be in the starting lineup on Monday. Ole Miss may have a remarkable freshman of their own: Devontae Shuler scored 14 points on 5-7 shooting in their win over Louisiana Lafayette.
Austin Peay at Virginia
6:00 p.m. CT (ESPN3)
I think most people, including me, didn’t really know what to expect out of the Governors in their opener against Vanderbilt — but I was pleasantly surprised with their performance. Defensively, the Governors struggled in the latter part of the first half and struggled with Vanderbilt’s size on the interior, but freshman Terry Taylor gave the team an early spark and Austin Peay kept the game competitive despite struggling from the three-point arc.
Things don’t get much easier against Virginia. The Cavaliers have become well known for their suffocating defense under head coach Tony Bennett and held UNC Greensboro to 29% shooting and 15% from three-point range in a 60-48 win on Friday. Points likely aren’t going to be easy to come by. The Governors are also going to need to limit turnover: Vanderbilt turned 17 Austin Peay turnovers into 18 points in their opener.
Vanderbilt at Belmont
6:30 p.m. CT (OVC Digital Network)
Belmont already had one good shot at beating a Power 5 team. Shot number two comes on their home floor against a cross-town school. This should be fun.
We could nitpick what happened in the closing minutes against Washington, but instead I want to focus on what went well: Dylan Windler and Amanze Egekeze were both able to score with ease on the inside against Washington’s defense, Nick Hopkins, a freshman, was the Bruins best three-point threat, and Belmont rebounded well against the larger Huskies squad. Defense, overall, was an issue but a lot of teams don’t have a guy like Jaylen Nowell, so I’m not sure that it’s going to be a larger issue, say, like it was two years ago for the Bruins.
Vanderbilt contained Austin Peay on the interior, so Windler and Egekeze could have a harder time getting as free on the inside. Offensively, they’re going to look to do what Washington did, though, and drive the ball into the paint. This is where Belmont had a lot of foul issues, which is something they’ll need to clean up to pull off an upset. (And yes, the Bruins are underdogs on their home floor. This will be just the fourth time the Bruins are underdogs at home since 2007-08.)
BTW: It appears the Curb will be full for this one. (As it should be!)
Belmont-Vandy on OVCDN tomorrow? Tickets are near impossible to come by…
— Andrew Hard (@andrewhard592) November 12, 2017
To answer his question: Yes, it’s on the OVCDN.
Southeast Missouri at Louisiana Tech
6:30 p.m. CT
Much like the Gamecocks above, this is our first real look at the Redhawks this year, as SEMO plays their first Division I opponent. While the Bulldogs might not be a Power 5 team, Louisiana Tech has won no fewer than 23 games each of the past five years. Yeah, they’re pretty good.
We expect Denzel Mahoney to be the star of these Redhawks, and his sophomore year got off to a solid start against Missouri Baptist scoring a game-high 21 points off 5-9 shooting. (And 11-11 shooting from the charity stripe.) The Redhawks were a bit uneven in the win: Missouri Baptist hit 65% from the field in the second half, they were outrebounded by the NAIA squad. Was this just opening day jitters? We’ll see as the season goes on.
Louisiana Tech is also coming off a game against non-Division I competition, so I’m not reading too much into their 112-point performance. The Bulldogs return most of their backcourt from last year’s 23-win team, including senior guard Jacobi Boykins who averaged 15 points a game a year ago, but they may be a bit weaker on the interior. They’re looking at JUCO transfers Harrison Curry and Kyle McKinley to fill the holes left by two key departures.
Middle Tennessee at Murray State
7:00 p.m. CT (OVC Digital Network)
There are just so many good games tonight, and if it weren’t for the Bruins hosting an SEC foe this might have been at the top of the list. Just don’t expect Murray State to put up 118 against the Blue Raiders at the Bank…
I think the biggest thing coming out of the Racers season opener is whether there’s a third threat emerging: Bryon Hawkins scored 28 points in his debut for the Racers, hitting 5-7 from three-point range and 10-13 shooting overall. I want to see how he stacks up against stiffer competition before we get too excited, but if Murray has another scoring threat in the backcourt that makes this team quite scary.
As we’ve mentioned previously, it’s the defense though that we’re not certain of heading into the season, and MTSU also put up gaudy offensive numbers in their non-Division I win. Senior Giddy Potts will be a tough test for the Racers defense. Potts has hit 43% of his three-pointers over the last two years and has greatly improved his offense off the dribble. There are some questions about the supporting cast, as MTSU has to replace two all-CUSA players, but many pundits are expecting the Blue Raiders to make it back to the NCAA Tournament this season.
if Murray has another scoring threat in the backcourt that makes this team quite scary.
Reinhardt at Tennessee State
7:00 p.m. CT (OVC Digital Network)
TSU gets a breather as they host non-Division I Reinhardt.
(Our ‘no previews for non-DI games’ rule is back in effect)
Tennessee Tech at TCU
8:00 p.m. CT (Fox Sports Southwest)
Don’t let the final score fool you — Tennessee Tech didn’t dominate Midway from the tip. They played well throughout, but it wasn’t until a 29-3 run to start the second half that TTU really put Midway away. That being said, it was opening night. Slower starts can happen this time of year.
I think one of the biggest questions surrounding Tennessee Tech is consistency. The Golden Eagles need guys like Aleska Jugovic and Kajon Mack to play well night in and night out, and that really didn’t happen last year. They both had really good games and showed they can compete with the top tier, but it wasn’t there night in and night out. After the win against Midway, Steve Payne said he thinks his team has more firepower this year. “Last year we had a couple of guys who had to really perform well offensively for us to have a good night. I don’t think this team is like that.”
TCU fell just outside the AP top-25, but KenPom puts the Horned Frogs as a top-15 team entering the season. They return their entire starting five from last season including Vladimir Brodziansky, a forward who could possibly break the school’s all-time block record. He can score too, leading the Horned Frogs with 16 points in a win over UL-Monrow. He’s joined in the frontcourt with another All Big-12 preseason selection Kenrich Williams who put up 13 points, 14 rebounds and 7 assists in that opener. TCU’s going battle you inside.