Christmas and the lead up to it brought no goodwill to OVC basketball, with the past week having been easily forgettable for fans of basically every single team in the conference.
With essentially everyone in the league picking up losses, while top squads like Belmont never saw the court and Jacksonville State took an L against Chattanooga, teams are certainly looking to put non-conference play behind them. In doing so, they’ve fixed their eyes firmly on OVC play, which begins this Thursday.
Due to this unhappy reality, many shakeups have taken place since last week’s rankings, and we’ll finally get a true sense of how these teams stand in relation to one another later this week.
12. SIU-Edwardsville Cougars (4-7) — Last week: 9
Recent results: @ Central Michigan (70-52 L)
The only other teams that could also vie for this last-place spot either (a) won this week or (b) played no games! By virtue of that result, SIUE takes the No. 12 spot in this week’s rankings. They looked dreadful against an albeit tough CMU team that limited their offense to a season low in scoring.
11. Morehead State Eagles (4-7) — Last week: 10
Recent results: n/a
The Eagles played no games since they were demolished by Butler last week, but they do fall a spot because Eastern Illinois managed to pick up a win. Their record might be the same as EIU’s, but the Panthers are probably the better team right now.
10. Eastern Illinois Panthers (4-7) — Last week: 11
Recent results: vs. St. Francis (ILL) (74-38 W)
Their win over St. Francis, an NAIA team, allowed them to vault Morehead State in the rankings. After a long non-conference slate that saw a four-game slide prior to a win over Western Illinois, perhaps a chance to pick up a win by a large margin is just what they need before opening OVC play against Murray State this Thursday.
9. UT Martin Skyhawks (5-8) — Last week: 12
Recent results: vs. Blue Mountain College (84-76 W); vs. UAPB (74-68 W)
The biggest upward mover this week is UT Martin, which has been hard at work in recent weeks, attempting to make something out of their 1-6 start. Two wins against very weak teams has helped them do that, thanks in large part to Fatodd Lewis recording double-double Nos. 4 and 5. He—along with Matthew Butler—continues to be the heart and soul of this Skyhawks team.
8. Southeast Missouri Redhawks (6-7) — Last week: 7
Recent results: vs. Bradley (75-67 L); @ Saint Louis (78-48 L)
If SEMO had lost to the Billikens by less than 30 points, I would have ranked them higher than the Colonels this week. Bradley is a solid squad that might contend in the MVC, and—while Saint Louis is tough—a 30-point loss really shouldn’t be excusable. The Billikens exploited SEMO’s weak defense, and it’s going to be a glaring vulnerability for a Redhawks team that lives and dies by its offensive ability.
7. Eastern Kentucky Colonels (6-7) — Last week: 8
Recent results: @ Marshall (91-71 L)
A 20-point loss to Marshall on the road is a bit more excusable than what SEMO did, so advantage EKU. Now, the Colonels were without their second-leading scorer Dedric Boyd, who was out with a groin injury, as well as Asante Gist. Both absences were certainly felt by the Colonels, who—despite the key losses—still looked pretty solid in the second half of their matchup with the Thundering Herd.
6. Austin Peay Governors (5-7) — Last week: 6
Recent results: vs. Western Kentucky (72-55 L)
Western Kentucky is a team whose skill is belied by their unassuming 8-5 record. The Governors gave the Hilltoppers all they could in the first half, but WKU owned the last 12 minutes of the game, propelling themselves to the victory. Terry Taylor and Averyl Ugba continue to impress me; perhaps I’m a bit bullish on them, but I do think the Governors have what it takes to surprise a whole lot of OVC watchers this year.
5. Tennessee State Tigers (5-6) — Last week: 5
Recent results: @ Purdue (97-48 L)
After their near-win on the road against the Texas Longhorns, I was hoping that the Tigers would show a similar fight against the Boilermakers. However, it appeared that the long road trip against two very talented teams proved too much for Tennessee State. Indeed, Dana Ford’s squad was decimated by Purdue, but Tigers fans shouldn’t fret. Christian Mekowulu and Delano Spencer are still leading this team who plays unlike anyone else in the conference. They’re entertaining, methodical, and still my dark horse pick for the OVC title.
4. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (8-5) — Last week: 4
Recent results: @ Indiana (87-59 L)
Clearly the Hoosiers were not looking to lose a second home game to a mid-major team last week, as they came out firing against the Golden Eagles. Uncharacteristically poor perimeter shooting, along with the no-show from Curtis Phillips Jr., helped lead to the large margin of defeat. The Golden Eagles have dropped four of their past five games, and they’re eagerly awaiting conference play to get back to the success they enjoyed earlier this season.
3. Jacksonville State Gamecocks (9-4) — Last week: 3
Recent results: vs. Chattanooga (70-67 L)
Last week, I was busy talking about how the Gamecocks’ non-conference schedule has been completely lackluster, meaning that losses should be limited to good teams only. Chattanooga is not a good team. They were simply on fire from three against Jacksonville State. Despite Malcolm Drumwright’s fantastic performance, it wasn’t meant to be for Ray Harper’s team, and the stats indicate just that:
2. Murray State Racers (8-3) — Last week: 2
Recent results: @ Detroit Mercy (81-72 W)
The Racers hit the road after nearly taking down the Auburn Tigers in Murray, and it was a pair of stellar showings from Jonathan Stark and freshman standout Ja Morant that helped them along to a win against the Titans. They’re the only KenPom top-100 team from the OVC, and a favorable start to conference play should allow them to pad their standing even more.
1. Belmont Bruins (8-5) — Last week: 1
Recent results: n/a
The Bruins remain the No. 1 team in this week’s rankings because Murray State’s win wasn’t impressive enough to convince me that the Racers deserved this spot over them. Plus, the Bruins sit right at No. 101 in KenPom’s rankings—one spot below MSU. Belmont recovered well from a 1-4 stretch to finish non-conference play on a three-game winning streak, but they won’t see their home court again until well into the new year. If all goes according to plan for them, they will have notched two victories by then.