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Ohio Valley Notebook

January 19, 2004 Conference Notes No Comments



Ohio Valley Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Although the OVC is far from being a power conference, college basketball connoisseurs know that conferences like the OVC often produce an unheralded champion loaded with unappreciated talented that can upset an unsuspecting national powerhouse in the first round of the NCAA Tournament.

Although there is still more than a month left in conference play, the OVC may have already found its NCAA darling – Murray State. The Racers have torn through the early portion of the season, building a 12-3 record, which includes wins over schools from major and mid-major conferences like Conference USA, the Missouri Valley Conference and the Sun Belt Conference. Unlike their peers, the Racers have only one bad loss – an unexplainable let down at home against conference newcomer Samford Thursday night.

But Samford’s upset provides an all-too-easy segue to an update on the OVC’s two new members. Samford and Jacksonville State left the Atlantic Sun conference to join the OVC this season. As of last week, the OVC is ranked 22nd according to conference RPI rankings, while the Atlantic Sun conference is ranked 21st. Only two teams in the OVC are in the top half of the RPI rankings, according to CollegeRPI.com. Samford and Jacksonville State have proven ready to handle their new OVC brethren, combining for a 3-4 conference record thus far.

The story for the remainder of this season, however, will be whether any OVC team can overpass Murray State to become conference champion. The list of contenders is short – Southeast Missouri State and Tennessee Tech appear to have the best chances. Last season’s co-champions Austin Peay and Morehead State have the talent necessary to threaten the Racers, but neither team has played to its full potential yet.

Despite Murray State’s success to date, the truth is that the regular season title is for pride only. The real meal ticket is the conference tournament championship. Win that, go to the Dance.

The top eight teams from the conference will advance to the conference tournament. First-round games will be played at the home court of the team with the better record. So the reward for a strong regular season is a single home game in the conference tournament. The semifinals and conference championship game will be in Nashville, Tenn., March 5 and 6.

As conference play continues, keep in my mind that your favorite OVC team must finish in the top eight to have a chance to dance.

Southern Hospitality

Although Austin Peay may not host powerhouses like Arizona, Connecticut or Duke, the Governors still can brag about their success at home. They have won 19 consecutive games in the Dunn Center and look to stretch the streak to 21 next week. The streak is the eighth longest in the nation.

Austin Peay Governors (7-7, 4-0)

The Governors’ promising season ran into some problems during non-conference play. Austin Peay won only one game over a Division I opponent and lost every possible attempt to show that the Governors are a conference contender, despite having five returning starters. But Austin Peay has fared well so far against OVC opponents, winning the first three four games on the road. Austin Peay is in the midst of an eight-game road trip, which will finally end Jan. 22 when the Governors host Eastern Illinois.

If he were a superhero, senior center Josh Lewis would be The Eraser with the power to annihilate opponents’ shots. He became the fourth OVC player to register 200 career rejections and is fourth in OVC history with 206. Meanwhile, senior swingman Adrian Henning leads the team in scoring with 13.1 points per game, one of only two Governors to average double-figures in scoring.

Austin Peay’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: At Morehead State
Jan. 22: Eastern Illinois
Jan. 24: Southeast Missouri State
Jan. 27: At Tennessee Tech
Jan. 29: At Tennessee State

Eastern Illinois Panthers (3-10, 1-2)

The Panthers are struggling this season, winning only one Division I game so far this season. The victory came against conference-foe Tennessee Tech, 83-70, Jan. 8. The Panthers are 0-6 on the road but hold a respectable 3-4 home record. But their worst home loss was the previous game against Southeast Missouri State, in which the Panthers failed to protect their house, losing 84-64. I bet Eastern Illinois does not have a contract with Under Armor sportswear. Will you protect this house?!?!

Sophomore guard Josh Gomes is the present and the future for Eastern Illinois, leading the team with 11.5 points per game. But when someone averaging only 11.5 points per game leads your team in scoring, you know you lack a dominant player.

Eastern Illinois’ remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: Tennessee State
Jan. 22: At Austin Peay
Jan. 24: At Tennessee Tech
Jan. 29: At Samford
Jan. 31: At Jacksonville State

Eastern Kentucky Colonels (6-8, 1-2)

Despite winning six games so far this season, the Colonels lack any good wins. Eastern Kentucky has started OVC play 1-2, with a victory over Tennessee Martin and losses to Murray State and Austin Peay. The loss to the Racers was Eastern Kentucky’s first loss at home. On the flip side of the schedule, though, the Colonels are still searching for their first road win. With a mascot resembling Colonel Sanders of KFC, Eastern Kentucky is unlikely to strike fear into many opponents’ hearts. But the home cookin’ is finger lickin’ good.

Sophomore guard Matt Witt is the leader of a young Colonels team that has potential for future success. Witt averages 13.6 points and 5.4 assists per game. As a team, the Colonels shoot well, making over 45 percent of the team’s field goal attempts. But the Colonels are abysmal at making the free ones, shooting just 62 percent from the line.

Eastern Kentucky’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: Tennessee Tech
Jan. 22: At Jacksonville State
Jan. 24: At Samford
Jan. 29: At Murray State
Jan. 31: At Tennessee Martin

Jacksonville State Gamecocks (7-7, 1-3)

OVC newcomer Jacksonville State won its first OVC conference game Jan. 15 against Tennessee Martin, winning a rare road game 96-85. The Gamecocks lost the first three OVC games to Austin Peay, Samford and Tennessee State. The Gamecocks have won five of six home games, albeit against three non-Division I schools.

Senior forward Trent Eager is the force behind the Gamecocks’ attack, averaging 13.2 points and 5.3 rebounds per game. As a team, though, Jacksonville State does not crash the boards well, averaging 33 rebounds per game.

Jacksonville State’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: At Murray State
Jan. 19: Savannah State
Jan. 22: Eastern Kentucky
Jan. 24: Morehead State
Jan. 29: Southeast Missouri State
Jan. 31: Eastern Illinois

Morehead State Eagles (7-7, 2-1)

Like Jacksonville State, the Eagles have a decent record inflated by several victories against non-Division I schools. At home no less. The Eagles have won seven of eight home games, with the only loss coming against Murray State, which is no shame as the Racers look to run away with the conference title. The Eagles can build a decent conference record with a win over Austin Peay to conclude a five-game home stand, which precedes a four-game road trip.

Morehead State’s bid to overtake Murray State took a hit when junior guard Kyle Hankins injured his knee, possibly ending his season. Hankins is the ninth man in an eight-man rotation, so the Eagles’ season certainly is not lost, but they do have less depth than before and cannot afford another major injury.

Senior guard Ricky Minard continues to be a scoring machine for the Eagles, averaging 19.2 points per game. He has moved into second place in school history, behind Herbie Stamper, who scored 2,072 points in his career from 1975-79. As prolific a scorer as Minard is, he does not lead the team in scoring – a claim only senior guard Chez Marks can make. He averages 19.9 points per game.

Morehead State’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: Austin Peay
Jan. 22: At Samford
Jan. 24: At Jacksonville State
Jan. 29: At Tennessee Martin
Jan. 31: At Murray State

Murray State Racers (12-3, 2-1)

The class of the OVC can be found in Murray, Ky., as the Murray State Racers have sprinted to a 12-3 start, which includes good wins against Southern Miss, Southern Illinois, at Western Kentucky and at TCU. The Racers’ only losses have come against No. 9 Louisville, at No. 13 Pittsburgh and at home to Samford. Racer fans must hope the unexpected home breakdown to Samford was an aberration and not an omen of impending difficulties. Despite the strong record, the Racers only path to the NCAA Tournament is through the OVC. Murray State must continue to play well when it counts – in conference play and in the conference tournament. If the Racers get to the NCAA Tournament, they could easily scare a Top 25 team and perhaps walk away with an upset.

There’s no secret that a large portion of the Racers’ success is because senior forward Cuthbert Victor has been unstoppable, averaging 16.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, which is good for second in the nation. His teammates support the scoring attack, as the Racers average 81.6 points per game.

Murray State’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: Jacksonville State
Jan. 20: Tennessee Martin
Jan. 24: At Tennessee State
Jan. 26: At Texas A&M Corpus Christi
Jan. 29: Eastern Kentucky
Jan. 31: Morehead State

Samford Bulldogs (7-7, 2-1)

Samford, which entered the week with the nation’s top 3-point field goal shooting percentage (43.4%), converted just 12-of-43 (27.%) from behind the arc in the two contests.

Another OVC newcomer, Samford has paralleled fellow Atlantic Sun transfer, Jacksonville State, with several non-conference victories against non-Division I schools. The Bulldogs have just three victories against Division I opponents, one of which is a victory against Jacksonville State. But the other is a fantastic victory over OVC powerhouse – definitely a relative term – Murray State on the Racers’ home floor. Samford might like its new digs after all.

Samford is one of the most prolific three-point shooting teams in the nation, converting 42% of the team’s three-point attempts. Senior center Phillip Ramelli leads the team with 11.8 points and 5.4 rebounds per game. And as a big man, he has good range, making 37 percent of three-pointers.

Samford’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: At Tennessee Martin
Jan. 22: Morehead State
Jan. 24: Eastern Kentucky
Jan. 29: Eastern Illinois
Jan. 31: Southeast Missouri State

Southeast Missouri State Indians (9-6, 2-2)

The Indians have played well this season and lost several close games against better teams, such as Southern Illinois, Arkansas and DePaul. All of those games were on the road and the Indians lost each by 13 or less. Southeast Missouri State’s best win this season was a hard-fought victory on the West Coast against Santa Barbara, 77-75. The Indians started conference play slow, dropping the first two games to Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech at home. But they bounced back against Eastern Illinois, winning 84-64 on the road, and at home against Tennessee State, winning 81-75. The Indians appear to be one of the few teams capable of contending with Murray State for the conference title.

Senior center Brandon Griffin is third in the team in scoring with 11.1 points per game, but he does everything else for the Indians, grabbing 7.1 rebounds and dishing 3.3 assists per game. Junior guard Derek Winans leads the team in scoring with 14.3 points per game.

Southeast Missouri State’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 22: At Tennessee Tech
Jan. 24: At Austin Peay
Jan. 29: At Jacksonville State
Jan. 31: At Samford

Tennessee Martin Skyhawks (5-10, 0-3)

The Skyhawks have not had to play many close games this season, as only two games have been decided by less than 10 points. Unfortunately, the Skyhawks lost seven non-conference games in blowouts and can only boast about three blowout wins against Division I opponents. Handling non-Division I opponents, no matter what the margin, is like Shaq and the Los Angeles Lakers taking on a team of Pygmies.

Junior guard Justin Smith leads the Skyhawks with 16.3 points per game and could become the OVC’s best scorer next season. His team averages 75.5 points per game this season, but unfortunately, stop the opposition on defense about as efficiently as a sieve holds water.

Tennessee Martin’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: Samford
Jan. 20: At Murray State
Jan. 22: At Tennessee State
Jan. 29: Morehead State
Jan. 31: Eastern Kentucky

Tennessee State Tigers (3-11, 2-1)

At 2-1, the Tigers sit near the top of the OVC standings. For now. Those two victories are the Tigers’ only Division I wins, and they came at the expense of the OVC’s newest members – Jacksonville State and Samford. And both victories were at home. Although Tennessee State has lost to some good teams like No. 15 Georgia Tech, No. 23 Vanderbilt and Colorado, the Tigers also have lost to Fisk, a non-Division I foe, which is like that team of Pygmies actually beating the Lakers – rather embarrassing.

Junior forward Roshaun Bowens is the most dangerous Tiger on the team, averaging 17.0 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. Unfortunately, the other Tigers attack the glass with aggressiveness of a house cat – Tennessee State manages a meager 29 rebounds per game. And, unfortunately, there are many rebounds to claim because the Tigers also a shoot a frigid 39.6 percent from the field.

Tennessee State’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: At Eastern Illinois
Jan. 22: Tennessee Martin
Jan. 24: Murray State
Jan. 29: Austin Peay
Jan. 31: Tennessee Tech

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (7-7, 1-2)

The Golden Eagles appear to be a middle-of-the-pack type of team in the OVC this season. They have the potential to upset Murray State, especially at home where they have only lost once all season, which was a game against East Tennessee State, one of the better teams from the mid-major Southern Conference. The only bad loss so far this season was a four-point loss at Jacksonville. The Golden Eagles have lost two of three conference road games, losing at Eastern Illinois and Morehead State and winning at Southeast Missouri State.

Junior forward Willie Jenkins has delighted Golden Eagle fans, scoring 20.2 points per game and guiding Tennessee Tech to a position to become a contender at the top of the OVC. If Jenkins is around next season, the Golden Eagles will have to be considered one of the more dangerous teams in the conference. Again, dangerous being relative to the other OVC teams.

Tennessee Tech’s remaining January schedule:

Jan. 17: At Eastern Kentucky
Jan. 22: Southeast Missouri State
Jan. 24: Eastern Illinois
Jan. 27: Austin Peay
Jan. 31: At Tennessee State

     

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