On paper, 12th-ranked Southern Oregon should have no problem Saturday night at Oregon Tech. On the court, who knows.
The Cascade Collegiate Conference men's basketball clash is not an even matchup in terms of the win-loss records of the teams involved — SOU is 13-4 overall, 5-1 in league play; OIT 10-8 and 1-5 — or the statistics of the opposing players. But, as in most rivalry games, the numbers usually don't mean a whole lot when the Raiders and Owls square off.
Tipoff is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. at Danny Miles Court, where Southern Oregon hasn't won since 1999 (and that was in double-overtime).
"We expect it to be a good game, but that's a hard place to win at," SOU head coach Brian McDermott said. "Not too many people get it done over there."
Part of the reason for that is the Owls' crowd, which, points out McDermott, is so loud that relaying in plays is a challenge. The crowd noise also tends to rattle visitors.
Of course, the Owls themselves have also made it hard on opponents by consistently rolling out teams that almost always contend for Cascade Conference titles and often compete for an NAIA Division II national titles. Which, so far at least, makes this season an exception. Since winning six of their first seven games, the defending national champions have lost seven of 11 and are unranked after opening the season as the preseason No. 2.
But don't let that fool you, McDermott says.
"All you've got to do is look at what they did with Eastern over there, and what they did with Warner Pacific," McDermott said, referring to two narrow losses the Owls suffered against a pair of teams currently ranked in the top 14 nationally.
The Raiders will be going for their second win of the season over Oregon Tech after beating the then-No. 2-ranked Owls 76-60 at Bob Riehm Arena on Nov. 20. In that nonconference game, SOU's Eric Thompson had 17 points and 11 rebounds, Kyle Tedder scored 16 and David Sturner added 12 points and eight boards as the Raiders grabbed a 14-point halftime lead and won easily.
Thompson leads the Raiders in points (17.6 per game) and ranks second in rebounds (7.1), while Tedder is scoring 14 per game while shooting 52 percent from the field, including 44 percent from 3-point land (42-for-95).
"Whenever the three of them [Thompson, Tedder and Sturner] have big nights together, we're pretty tough to beat," McDermott said.
The Owls rely heavily on the 3-point shot, ranking sixth in the nation in 3-pointers per game (9.4). Mihajlo Matic leads Oregon Tech in scoring (13.8 ppg) and has hit 62 3-pointers. Josh Wiseman is second on the team with 12.1 points per game and David Clarke third (10.9).
The Raiders have won 11 of their last 13 games, including an 85-83 nonconference win over William Jessup on Wednesday. SOU has done it mostly with efficient offense. The Raiders are shooting 49 percent and are scoring 81.7 points per game, ranking 12th and 17th in the nation, respectively.
A win Saturday would give SOU four Cascade Conference road wins and set it up nicely for a run at a league title with a favorable schedule the rest of the way — seven of the Raiders' last 11 games will be played in Ashland.
"You don't win these things this time of year, but you can certainly position yourself," McDermott said. "But, we want to get to the national tournament, and every win gets us a step closer. So that's No. 1."