Well, this is approaching zany.
This past weekend offered a chance for some separation to take place at the top of the Ohio Valley standings if a few games went a certain way.
They didn’t. Murray State presented more evidence of its fallibility in being dusted by Jacksonville State Thursday night. The Gamecocks hummed along at 1.22 points per possession and committed just 11 turnovers against the Racers’ pressure defense.
Then they followed up that 88-68 home win by trudging through Saturday’s meeting with Austin Peay as if they were still hung over. They went 0-for-15 on 3-pointers and lost 74-71.
Austin Peay and Belmont, meanwhile, completed 2-0 weekends to create a four-way tie for first place. Those two, plus Murray State and Jacksonville State, are each 8-2 in the OVC. All four have taken a home loss to one of the others.
In other words, let’s get weird.
Here are the records of those four teams against each other and the remaining meetings between them.
Belmont: 2-2 (Wins: at Austin Peay, at Murray State. Losses: Jacksonville State twice. Games left: none).
Murray State: 0-2 (Wins: none. Losses: vs. Belmont, at Jacksonville State. Games left: Austin Peay twice).
Jacksonville State: 3-1 (Wins: Belmont twice, vs. Murray State. Losses: vs. Austin Peay. Games left: none).
Austin Peay: 1-1 (Wins: at Jacksonville State, Losses: vs. Belmont. Games left: Murray State twice).
Sort through that mess for the unofficial first-place team if you choose, but it would be a tireless endeavor for something that won’t matter in a few weeks.
Jacksonville State and Belmont have less tripwire to navigate on their remaining schedules than the other two. A Feb. 28 visit to Eastern Illinois looks like the Gamecocks’ hardest game, while a Thursday visit to Morehead State appears to be Belmont’s biggest remaining challenge. The Bruins end the regular season with six road games in their final eight, though.
Belmont and Murray State have not lost to teams outside of the top spot. Jacksonville State has a road loss at Eastern Kentucky, while Austin Peay went to EIU and squandered a 14-point second-half lead.
Feb. 14 will guarantee some separation, and not because you bungled your Valentine’s Day plans. That’s when Murray State and Austin Peay meet for the first of their two dates this year. It’ll go down at the Winfield Dunn Center, where the Governors have lost once this season, a four-point defeat against Belmont.
Those four teams are the clear top tier. But elsewhere, the next six teams in the standings are all within three games of each other. None has been able to pull away from the pack and put itself in a tier of its own or gravitate closer to that top four. EIU is 6-4 and alone in fifth place, but the Panthers have let double-digit first-half advantages slip away in two of their last three games, including an 84-78 home loss to Morehead State in which they once led 16-4. They look like the best of that bunch, but aren’t removed from the middle just yet. They embark on a tough trip to Murray and Clarksville this week.
SIU-Edwardsville, on the other hand, was 2-6 and coming off a loss to UT-Martin just a week ago. Defeating Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky, though, entrenched the Cougars right in the race for the final four tournament spots for now.
Now onto this week’s rankings.
Power Rankings (Feb. 4)
1. Belmont (17-4, 6-2, last week: 2)
2. Murray State (17-4, 7-1, last week: 1)
3. Jacksonville State (16-7, 8-2, last week: 3)
4. Austin Peay (16-7, 8-2, last week: 4)
5. Eastern Illinois (13-10, 6-4, last week: 5)
6. Morehead State (9-14, 5-5, last week: 7)
7. SIU-Edwardsville (8-14, 4-6, last week: 11)
8. Tennessee State (7-15, 4-6, last week: 10)
9. Tennessee Tech (7-16, 3-7, last week: 8)
10. Eastern Kentucky (10-13, 3-7, last week: 6)
11. Southeast Missouri State (7-16, 2-8, last week: 9)
12. Tennessee Martin (6-15, 1-9, last week: 12)
The Cougars earned home wins over KenPom’s No. 5 and 6 teams in the OVC last week. They erased an eight-point halftime deficit against Morehead State on Thursday behind Tyresse Williford’s 16 second-half points. Saturday, they blew a 15-point halftime lead against Eastern Kentucky, but prevailed in double overtime. Williford dropped 27 points, and Brandon Jackson 24.
Nothing is shameful about losing to Belmont on the road, but SEMO was noncompetitive during its entire trip last weekend. The Redhawks gave up 97 points and averaged 0.9 points per possession in a wire-to-wire blowout at Belmont. Remarkably, it got worse. They averaged 0.78 points per possession against Tennessee State in a 79-50 clunker. SEMO never led in either game and is now 2-8 in conference play with one game left against each of the teams currently tied for first. A conference tournament spot is growing less and less likely.
Player to watch:
Jordan Walker, Morehead State. The junior combo guard was sensational in lifting his team to a win Saturday at EIU. Beginning with 11:44 left in the game, he scored or assisted on 16 of the Eagles’ next 22 points. He scored 13 of them himself and handled whoever EIU used to defend him. He’s now sixth in the OVC in scoring at 16.0 points per game and the main reason Morehead State is 5-2 since opening its conference schedule with road losses at Murray State, Austin Peay and Belmont.
Game of the week:
Belmont at Morehead State, 3:35 p.m. Saturday, ESPN+. The Bruins have an 80 percent or higher win expectancy in each of their final eight games. This one is the lowest probability, at 81 percent. It’s the Eagles’ first of three chances to pick off one of the current 8-2 teams at home. After hosting Belmont, they’ll welcome Austin Peay and Murray State to the Johnson Center. Jacksonville State escaped from it on Jan. 26 with a 77-71 win.