So there’s still a lot of conference play to go, and you might think that all 5 teams within a game of Austin Peay have a chance at at least a share of the conference title. 4 of the 5 do have that chance, but one will need some help. And with 5 teams vying for 4 byes, can a team lose just once the rest of the year against the conference, and guarantee themselves a bye? It’s time to break out the math.
One note before I get to the scenarios. While OVC Co-champions sounds nice, it’s completely meaningless. Top two seeds get a double-bye, but only team is guaranteed a spot in the NIT. So, tiebreakers are important.
Let’s start with the two three-loss teams. Austin Peay and Murray will still meet once in the regular season, meaning if any team goes undefeated, they will win the conference outright. As for one-loss scenarios, there’s too many tiebreaker possibilities to determine whether losing to a specific team can guarantee an outright title. But you can pretty well guarantee that both teams would be locked into a double-bye, with a few exceptions. There is a scenario for a 3-way tie atop the conference: if Murray beats AP, Morehead beats Murray, and all 3 win-out other games, all 3 would finish 14-4. Morehead would be the 1-seed based on a 3-1 record against the teams, AP would the 2-seed with a 2-2 record, and Murray would fall out of the double bye based on a 1-3 record. AP is safe as long as they beat Murray. If AP beats Murray, AP will be essentially 1.5 games up on Murray with the season sweep, meaning AP would have to drop 2 games for Murray to have a chance at the top seed.
Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech already have one win over Austin Peay, and one loss to Murray each. If either team wins out, they’ll should win the conference outright. Either Murray or Peay will take another loss since they meet, and both TSU and TTU will split the season series with Murray and hold the season series over Peay, which would give them the tiebreaker regardless who wins the Racers – Govs game. If Peay, who TSU and TTU would sweep in this scenario, were to fall out of the top 3, TSU and TTU could still be tied with Murray at the top, and another 3rd place team would step in the tiebreaker. But for this scenario to happen, Murray would have to win out, making them at worst even 1-1 against every top 6 team, the same that TSU or TTU would be. So, the tiebreaker would fall all the way to Austin Peay regarless, making TSU or TTU the top seed.
Morehead State is the only team in the top 5 that doesn’t control their destiny. They’re only one game out, but they are the only top 5 team that doesn’t play Austin Peay, so the Governors must lose a game for Morehead to have a shot at the top seed. As a note, Murray State still has to face the rest of the top 6 in the conference, so every team has a chance to knock off the Racers. Morehead is guaranteed a double-bye if they win-out, because they will have gone 2-0 against Murray.
One-loss scenarios for the 4-loss teams are murky at best. Because Tennessee State, Austin Peay, Murray State, and Tennessee Tech all play each other, no three teams can finish better than 5 loses in conference, which should guarantee that any 4-loss team that finishes the season 6-1 should at least be guaranteed a single bye in the OVC Tournament.