Checking in on the… OVCPosted by rtmsf on December 1st, 2008
Greg Miller of WPSD Local 6 is the RTC correspondent for the MAC and Ohio Valley Conferences.
(ed. note – this post was originally scheduled for publication on Friday 11/28, but due to unforeseen circumstances, we had to delay publication until today. Please accept our apologies.)
Hard to believe, but OVC conference play begins next Thursday. That’s right, less than a month into the season, we’ve already got conference play!
Not a lot of time to get a handle on how this league is shaping up, but here are some quick hits from the first few weeks:
Tennessee State (advanced to OVC Finals last year) lost their opener to Cumberland University, an NAIA school. Not the start Cy Alexander was hoping for. If there was a bright spot, sophomore Gerald Robinson, Jr. (one of league’s best young players) tallied 31 points. He’s leading the league at 25.0 points per game so far. Good news, TSU rebounded to win their last two over Northern Illinois (last-second layup) and Miles (Robinson scored 36 in that win.) The Tigers will get Belmont on Monday before opening league play next weekend. Coming up in mid-December is a brutal four-game stretch where they face Alabama, Kentucky, Marshall and Georgia Tech, all on the road, in 13 days. Yikes!
UT Martin is off to an auspicious start. The Skyhawks torched Maryville, lost to Tennessee, beat Elon and then lost to Arkansas State. This is supposed to be a team that will challenge for the league title, mainly thanks to the play of All-American Lester Hudson and All-OVC guard Marquis Weddle. Hudson is averaging just about 25 points per game, but in the two losses he and Weddle have been dreadful with their shooting. Against Tennessee and Arkansas State, the two are a combined 26-85. That’s barely 30%. They rest of the team is 17-53 in those two losses. It’s obvious that how Hudson and Weddle go, so go the Skyhawks. UTM better hope these two are on a lot more than they are off or they better find another source of offense. UTM will be tested at USC Friday night before opening league play with a trip to Death Valley (Morehead State and EKU).
Right now, Murray State looks like the best team in the league. The Racers picked up wins over Lyon College, Western Kentucky and Indiana State. The WKU win was by 28. This was the same WKU team, coming off a trip to the Sweet 16, that beat Southern Illinois just a few days later. They also scored a win at MVC school Indiana State. The one thing that looks to be plaguing the Racers is second half scoring. They’ve managed a combined three total field goals in the last 14+ minutes at Arkansas State (a loss) and the last 11+ minutes at Indiana State. If they can figure out a way to score the basketball late in games, they will be very dangerous. Keep an eye on freshman Ivan Aska. He’s been a beast in the low post. He should walk away with freshman of the year honors in the conference and could challenge for first team all-conference honors. This is the best Racer team Billy Kennedy has had since coming to Murray. It’s early, but the Racers look like they could make a 14th trip to the NCAA Tournament.
Jacksonville State has been a pleasant surprise under new head coach James Green. They’re 3-1 and posted back-to-back road wins at Georgia State and UMass. And earlier in the year, they played South Carolina within 15 on their floor. The UMass win was as improbable as they come. They erased a five-point deficit with less than :30 to play. A four-point play by Brandon Crawford followed up by a runner with :09 left by Jonathan Toles gave them the win. This was argubly the best win by an OVC team so far this season. We’ll see if the road karma continues with trips to UAB and Iowa State in mid-December.
Defending OVC Champ Austin Peay has played a challenging schedule out of the gates. The Govs lost at Evansville, snuck out a win at Belmont, then lost their home-opener to Ohio. They’ll open conference play on the road next weekend. Then it’s two more very tough road challenges at Louisville and Arkansas. OVC Player of the Year candidate Drake Reed has been strong, averaging over 18 points per game so far.
As we said, conference play starts next weekend. Here are a handful of games that we’ll have an eye on:
11/27 UTM at USC (Another chance for Lester Hudson to get a crack at the big boys) (USC 70, UTM 43)
11/29 VMI at Jax State (We’ll see if Gamecocks can slow down the same Keydet team that went to Rupp Arena and won) (Jax State 95, VMI 67)
11/29 EKU vs Akron (Another chance for a solid OVC team to measure up with a solid MAC team. Austin Peay failed at home to Ohio earlier) (EKU 69, Akron 57)
12/4 Murray State at Eastern Kentucky***
12/6 Murray State at Morehead State***
12/6 UT Martin at Eastern Kentucky***
12/4 UT Martin at Morehead State (***All four involve heavy hitters in the league. We’ll see if MSU and UTM have what it takes to win on the road early in league play)
12/4 Austin Peay at SEMO (A rematch of last year’s four-overtime thriller at the Show Me Center)