Checking In On… the OVC

Posted by cbogard on December 1st, 2011

Catlin Bogard is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at OVC Ball or on Twitter @OVCBall.

Reader’s Take

Austin Peay is now 0-8 on the season, with non-conference games against Memphis, Arkansas State, Tennessee, Rochester (MI), and Belmont before starting conference play.

 

The Week That Was

  • Tennessee State Suspends Kenny Moore: Last season’s OVC all-newcomer selection Kenny Moore has been suspended indefinitely for “conduct detrimental to the team,” according to a press release from the school Tuesday. Head coach John Cooper said in a statement that Moore will graduate in December “and that should be the of the utmost importance for him at this time.” That line has us wondering if we will see ever see Moore back in a Tigers uniform. Although the suspension was announced Tuesday, Moore did not play in the Tigers win over Morgan State last Saturday.

Murray Won the Great Alaska Shootout and Remains Unbeaten (ADN)

  • Murray State Wins The Great Alaska Shootout: The Racers are off to their best start since the 2003-04 season, and are returning to the continental 48 this week as the winners of the Great Alaska Shootout. Murray State edged all three of its opponents, including a two-point win over Division II host Alaska-Anchorage in the first round. The final against Southern Mississippi went to double overtime before the Racers pulled away with a nine point win. Things don’t get any easier this week: Murray faces rival Western Kentucky in Bowling Green on Thursday before hosting co-Atlantic 10 favorite Dayton on Sunday.
  • Can I get a win?: As mentioned in the Reader’s Take poll above, Austin Peay is not off to the best of starts, but they’re not the only ones. Only two OVC teams are over .500 for November, and the conference as a whole has won less than 30% of their games to this point.
  • No New Teams: The Ohio Valley Conference has rejected two schools from joining the conference, Northern Kentucky University, and Alabama A&M University. Both schools received only nine votes, with 10 required to be accepted. Both schools are currently in NCAA Division II, and were looking to the OVC to make the transition into Division I.

Power Rankings

  1. Murray State (7-0): The Racers remain undefeated, and turnovers are a big reason why. Murray State forces their opponents into an average of 22 turnovers a game, tops in the nation, while the Racers themselves average just 12.4 turnovers a game. They’re also third in the nation in free throw shooting, hitting just under 80% as team, and hit a cool 41% from three-point range for good measure. Preseason all-OVC selection Isaiah Canaan leads the OVC in scoring, and has exploded in his last two games, including a 36-point performance in their Great Alaska Shootout win over Southern Miss. This team is surprisingly deep, with nine players having played in all seven contests and averaging more than 10 minutes a game. The Racers have struggled holding onto second half leads, something that plagued MSU in all three of its games in Alaska.
  2. Eastern Illinois (4-2): Defense sunk the Panthers in a double overtime loss at Central Arkansas, and has been inconsistent for Eastern Illinois through the first month of the season. Senior guard Jeremy Granger has shined as of late, averaging over 17 points a game (good for third in the conference) and hitting over 50% from the field. Sophomore Alfonzo McKinnie is also having a great start, currently third in the OVC with over six rebounds a game. But head coach Mike Miller doesn’t have appeared to have settled on who to play: 12 players have seen significant minutes, with Granger being the only player averaging more than 22 minutes a game.
  3. Southeast Missouri State (3-4): Arkansas State might have ruined head coach Dickie Nutt‘s return to his former school, but the Redhawks can still boast about a win over Miami (OH). And if Nutt could find a way to keep senior forward Leon Powell out of foul trouble, they would be doing even better. The preseason all-OVC selection has already fouled out twice after returning from injury, and hasn’t played more than 25 minutes in a single contest due to foul trouble. The flip side to his limited minutes has been the emergence of sophomore forward Tyler Stone, who leads the team in scoring and rebounds. The guard play has been inconsistent, although Nick Niemczyk has played much better over the team’s last 3 games, earning him last weeks OVC newcomer of the week award.
  4. Tennessee State (3-4): The Tigers will be hurt from a basketball standpoint by the suspension of Kenny Moore, but his output was down on the season compared to last year. His suspension leaves the team with just one senior, guard Wil Peters, who also hasn’t been wholly effective. Junior forward Robert Covington has emerged as the clear leader of the team in November, leading the team in points (16.9 PPG), rebounds (7.1 RPG), and blocks (.08 BPG). Freshman M.J. Rhett has become a rebounding force off the bench, but is shooting just 22% from the field on the season. The Tigers got a big win on the road at South Carolina, but since then are just 1-2, with the sole win coming over currently winless Morgan State.
  5. UT Martin (2-6): The Skyhawks notched a huge win at UAB, but when you’re team’s leading scorer is coming off the bench, I have some concerns. Mike Liabo is the only Skyhawk averaging double digit scoring, is second on the team in minutes played, but hasn’t been in the starting lineup for the team’s last five games. The reason? Head coach Jason James told me after his team’s loss to Lamar that Liabo was benched because they “want him to play better defensively.” As a whole, defense continues to be the Skyhawks’ Achilles heel: UT Martin’s opponents are shooting better than 50% from the field against them this season.
  6. Tennessee Tech (3-3): Tennessee Tech has been somewhat disappointing on the season, with just one win against Division I teams, and two others against NAIA squads. Zac Swansey, Kevin Murphy and Jud Dillard have been great, as expected, and they’ve gotten good performances from other players. In fact, it’s hard to point out one thing that has caused this team to be just 3-3 on the season, except that they’re just inconsistent.
  7. Morehead State (3-4): Credit an easy schedule for part of the Eagles 3-4 record: Much like Tennessee Tech, the Eagles have just one win against Division I teams. They have not been able to keep teams from scoring in the paint, due mainly to being an extremely undersized team, which has also created difficulty scoring in the paint. Head coach Donnie Tyndall appears to still be trying to find the right mix, as 12 players have played significant minutes, with 11 playing in all seven games. Senior guard Terrance Hill has emerged as a leader in the early going, while the team’s other senior guards, Ty Proffitt and Lamont Austin, haven’t stepped up.
  8. Eastern Kentucky (3-5): The saying goes “Live by the three, die by the three” and so far, the Colonels seem to be dying by it. They are in the top 20 in the nation in three point shots attempted per game, which is almost standard under head coach Jeff Neubauer, but are hitting less that 30% from that distance. Teams don’t score a lot against the Colonels, but that has as much to do with their pace as their defense, which has allowed teams to hit 45% from the field against it. The good news is this team scores by committee, with their top five players all averaging between 8.5 and 10.1 points per game, and are in the top 10 in the nation in fewest turnovers per game, although, again, partially because of pace.
  9. Jacksonville State (2-5): For such a young team, things were looking pretty positive. Then the Gamecocks lost to Division II San Francisco State at the Shamrock Classic in California, reminding us how young this team really is. Senior forward Stephen Hall, the only Jacksonville State player with more than a year of experience in the program, hasn’t emerged as the team’s clear leader as expected, which has caused a power vacuum of sorts on the team. Sophomore guard Brian Williams has probably been the most consistent scorer this season, and is the only player averaging over 30 minutes a game.
  10. SIU Edwardsville (1-4): The Cougars stay out of the basement for the second straight time in the Power Rankings, but that’s more because of who’s there than what the Cougars have done themselves. SIU Edwardsville seems to have found a second consistent scorer in junior forward Jerome Jones, but as a team can’t keep from turning over the ball. Another plus: The Cougars are hitting 40% from three-point range.
  11. Austin Peay (0-8): What has happened to the Governors? This is more than just the loss of John Fraley, although that hasn’t done them any favors, and neither has Austin Peay’s schedule. Preseason all-OVC selection Tyshwan Edmondson is leading the team in scoring, but doing so with three fewer points per game and much worse shooting, especially from three point range. Sophomore forward Wil Triggs has stepped up his production, but not enough to fill Fraley’s shoes. Austin Peay hasn’t been good on defense, something that’s only made worse by the team’s quick pace of play.

Looking Ahead

  • Dayton at Murray State. (December 4) One of the teams picked to finish at the top of the Atlantic 10 will head to the CFSB Center to face a Murray State squad that could likely still be undefeated. Both teams feature elite guards, with the Flyers’ Kevin Dillard facing the Racers’ Isaiah Canaan.
  • Arkansas State at Austin Peay. (December 5) This gets put on the list for one reason: It’s Austin’s Peay best chance to get their first win before the next Power Rankings.
  • Tennessee State at Belmont. (December 6) The Tigers will get the OVC’s first look at the conference’s new member next season, facing a Belmont team that’s responded nicely to two tough losses to ranked teams to start the center.
  • Murray State at Memphis. (December 11) Assuming the Tigers stay in the top 25, this could be the OVC’s only realistic chance of pulling off a Top 25 upset this season. The Racers defense will be tested against one of the top scoring teams in the nation, led by sophomore guard Will Barton.

OVC POY Stock Watch

Rising

  • Isaiah Canaan (Murray State): Discounting the season opener against Harris Stowe, Canaan has scored at least 15 points in every contest, and dished out at least three assists in all but one. He was named last week’s OVC Player of the week, and is the current player to beat for POY.
  • Kevin Murphy (Tennessee Tech): It’s hard to say that a player averaging over 19 points a game has been overlooked, but with Tennessee Tech struggling, Murphy’s dominance hasn’t garnered the attention it should have.
  • Jeremy Granger (Eastern Illinois): The Panthers leading scorer is coming of a 27 point performance against Central Arkansas, and is an impressive 20-21 from the free throw line this year.
  • Robert Covington (Tennessee State): In the Tigers last two games, Covington is averaging over 20 points and seven rebounds. With the loss of Kenny Moore to suspension, Covington will have an opportunity to step up even more.

Falling

  • Leon Powell (SEMO): You can’t help your team if you can’t stay in the game. It’s that simple.
  • Tyshwan Edmondson (Austin Peay): With John Fraley injured, Edmondson should be taking the team on his shoulders. He hasn’t.
  • Zac Swansey (Tennessee Tech): Swansey is a great role player, but I just don’t get the feeling that he’s the best player on his team, much less in the conference.

Spotlight on…Mike Liabo

Mike Liabo isn’t the only regular starter from last season on UT Martin’s team that started this season and was benched. So was sophomore forward Troy King. The difference is in how they have responded. In the first four games since King was taken out of the starting lineup, he scored just 14 points total and played fewer minutes in each game than the one previous. Liabo on the other hand, has responded with two 20+ point performances, and has played more than 20 minutes in those four games off the bench. Liabo might not have made his way back into the Skyhawks’ starting lineup yet, but I’m confident he will soon. He has responded in the right way, is making the most of his time in each game, and the young guard might be better in the long run thanks to being taken out of the starting lineup by head coach Jason Jones.

cbogard (3 Posts)


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