Checking In On… the Ohio Valley ConferencePosted by cbogard on November 18th, 2011
The Week That Was
- Rough Week For Big Men: Two of the top big men in the conference have already missed games this year due to injury. SEMO’s Leon Powell injured the same knee that caused him to miss an entire season two years ago in the Redhawks’ final exhibition game. Powell did not play in their opener against Missouri, but did return against Harris Stowe, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field. Austin Peay’s John Fraley is out of the hospital after suffering a concussion in the Governors opening game against Middle Tennessee. Fraley was sorely missed on the Governors’ trip to California, and could miss a couple of weeks according to the Leaf-Chronicle.
- It Hasn’t Even Been Close: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t off to the best of starts, with only ten wins in its first 29 outings. But what’s surprising is how many haven’t even been close. Of the conference’s 19 losses, 14 have been by double digits. The exceptions? Tennessee Martin’s nine-point loss to Ohio, Austin Peay’s nine-point loss to Middle Tennessee, Eastern Illinois’ seven-point loss to Indiana State, Tennessee State‘s three-point loss to Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri State‘s one-point loss to Bradley.
- The Flip Side: Not everything is bleak in the OVC. The Racers are off to a 3-0 start, after a big win on the road against the favorites to win the MEAC, Morgan State. Tennessee Tech held a late second half lead against Miami before things fell apart in the closing minutes. And while there haven’t been a lot of wins, there haven’t been any embarrassing upsets for the conference either.
- Murray State (3-0): Only three games in, and one Ohio Valley Conference team remains undefeated. There are still some questions about the Racers’ depth, as they are heavily relying on their veteran starting five early in the season. But their defense has been solid, forcing an average of 27 turnovers in their contests so far. Last season, the Racers were last in the nation to have a 20-point scorer in a game; This year they’ve already had two.
- Tennessee Tech (1-1): Tennessee Tech gets the “what might have been” award for week one, falling after having a late lead on the road against the Miami Hurricanes. The Golden Eagles are the best shooting team in the conference so far, hitting 53% from the field, and 41% from 3-point range. Zac Swansey is proving to be one of the best guards in the league, leading Tennessee Tech in both scoring and assists.
- Austin Peay (0-2): Austin Peay is testing themselves in this young season, traveling on the road to Middle Tennessee State (who just upset UCLA at home by 20) and to No. 22 California. The bad news is that’s left them with two losses and an injured center. Until John Fraley returns, this team’s success relies on the shooting of senior guards Josh Terry and Tyshwan Edmondson. Against California, the Governors only managed 13 points in the first half. In that half, Edmonson went 0-6 from the field.
- Eastern Illinois (1-1): Jeremy Granger is beginning his campaign for OVC player of the year early, putting up 26 points in the Panthers’ first game of the season against a solid Indiana State team, but followed it up with just a ten-point performance in a win over Loyola. But James Hollowell, one of the team’s talented juniors, has played just 27 minutes in the two games while battling a minor back injury, but has still managed to score 18 points. If Hollowell isn’t the man to help out Granger, who is? Could be forward Alfonzo McKinnie, who scored a team high 13 in the Panthers only win, and is averaging eight rebounds in two games. One thing is for sure: Mike Miller isn’t afraid to go to his bench: 11 players have seen ten or more minutes in two close contests.
- Southeast Missouri State (1-2): The return of Leon Powell is great news for the Redhawks, but even without Powell, Southeast Missouri State tested No. 25 Missouri well into the second half. Tyler Stone is emerging as a viable threat in the frontcourt, averaging over 15 points and six rebounds for the Redhawks. So is true freshman Nino Johnson, although Johnson faded Wednesday night in a one-point loss at Bradley. But the guards, aside from Marcus Brister, have been largely absent. Much like Eastern Illinois, there’s somewhat of an identity crisis for SEMO: 13 players have played significant minutes so far.
- Eastern Kentucky (1-2): Through three games, the Colonels are playing a game of hot or cold. But one thing they’ve hot on all year: ball control. The Colonels have just 31 total turnovers in their three games. Mike DiNunno is emerging as the team’s leader, leading the team in points, assists, and steals. And while this team is known for playing four guard lineups, one of their few forwards, freshman Eric Stutz, is averaging over six rebounds a contest. But the three-point shooting has to improve for EKU to succeed: over the past four years, they’ve led the OVC in three-point shots taken three times. So far this season, they’re hitting just 28% from deep.
- Jacksonville State (1-2): If the Gamecocks were going to make any kind of wave this year, we all expected it to be on the shoulders of Stephen Hall, the team’s only senior and the only player with more than one year in a Jacksonville State uniform. That hasn’t been the case, but it might be a great thing for the Gamecocks as three other players, who all return next year, have emerged. Guards Mason Leggett and Brian Williams, as well as forward Tarvin Gaines, are all scoring more than Hall so far. Hall sat out the team’s only win over Division II Miles College.
- Tennessee State (1-2): It took three games, but the Tigers finally found some offense. In their first two games, Tennessee State only scored 86 points total. In their third game, against non-Division I competition, the Tigers hit 80. Robert Covington is playing well, almost averaging a double-double on the young season (16 PPG, 9 RPG). But TSU is hardly shooting well, shooting under 38% on the season, and the Tigers are averaging just over 20 turnovers a game.
- SIU Edwardsville (0-2): Something you don’t see very often: A road underdog wins the turnover battle against a major conference team by seven, but loses by 20 points. It probably didn’t help that the Cougars lost the rebounding battle against Illinois by 20 as well, or that the team shot better from 3 point range (36.4%) than two point range (25.7%). We’re still not sure where the scoring comes from for the Cougars.
- Tennessee Martin (0-3): Rule number one of college basketball: You cannot score if you can’t hold onto the basketball. Troy King coughed up the ball nine times in the Skyhawks’ opener against Louisville, and Mike Liabo turned the ball over six times in the Skyhawks next game against Ohio. These are the Skyhawk guards that are doing this. UT Martin is also giving up 48% shooting from the field. Liabo, turnovers aside, is playing well through two games, averaging 14.7 points, five rebounds, and four assists per game.
- Morehead State (1-2): We knew this wouldn’t be the same team without Kenneth Faried. But I don’t think anyone, us included, expected this. Prior to Thursday night’s win over Asbury, Morehead’s opponents were hitting 56.6% from the field and a lofty 71.2% from two-point range. Prior to that, the Eagles have managed only 22 rebounds a contest. The Eagles are clearly undersized this year, but we’ve seen small teams succeed before. That not the case with Morehead State in the early going.
Just go ahead and circle November 20 on your calendar, as the OVC gets four big games on Sunday afternoon:
- Murray State at UAB. The Racers head to Birmingham to face the Blazers in a game that could tell us a lot about how Murray will fare in the OVC this season. It will be a matchup of styles, as the defensive-minded Racers will look to slow down the run-and-gun Blazers.
- SEMO at Oregon. The Redhawks look much improved, and stayed within a basket of top-25 Missouri late into the second half. And that was without Leon Powell in the lineup. Oregon has already lost this season to the enigma that is Vanderbilt. Powell will have to find ways to score against Wake Forest transfer Tony Woods.
- Tennessee State at South Carolina. We may be down on the Tigers early in the season, but they can start a turnaround with a win over South Carolina, who put up only 58 points in their only game of the season against Elon. And if the Tigers fail here, they get current No. 1 North Carolina two days later.
- Eastern Kentucky vs Lehigh (Coaches vs. Cancer). The Colonels defense will be tested against C.J. McCollum, who is putting up just under 20 points a game, while pulling down six rebounds and dishing three assists. He also rarely comes out of the game, averaging over 40 minutes a game thanks to an early OT game for the Mountain Hawks.
OVC POY Stock Watch
- Robert Covington (Tennessee State): His team might not be playing well, but it’s hard to fault Covington for their problems.
- Zac Swansey (Tennesssee Tech): The leader of a good ball club. Has shown he can both score and set up other players to score.
- Jeremy Granger (Eastern Illinois): 26 points in his first outing against Indiana State, followed up by just 10 against Loyola. What do we see in game 3?
- Leon Powell (SEMO): We need a few more games to see if how his knee holds up. But in his first two games back from injury, Powell is 15-16 from the field.
- Tyshwan Edmondson (Austin Peay): You expect his production to fall somewhat as defenses hone in on him given the injury to John Fraley, but he didn’t even show up in the Governors’ lopsided loss to California.
- Isaiah Canaan (Murray State): Canaan will have a problem much of the year shining over his own teammates. The Racers’ success in recent years can rarely be attributed to one single player. Again this season, no one is emerging as one of the conference’s best, but that’s because there are three or four players that could easily lead other teams in the conference.
- Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech): Murphy hasn’t been bad so far this season, it’s just that he hasn’t been particularly good either. He’s only hitting 40% of his shots, compared to teammate Swansey’s 77%