This year’s OVC tournament looks nothing like it’s predecessors; 4 days, all in Nashville, with a double-bye format for a simple 8-team tournament. It’s a format similar to the Big East’s 5-day 16-team double-bye tournament in New York, only here only one team, the tournament champion, will make the dance.
It seems like the top two seeds would have a huge advantage; Only playing 2 games in as many games versus other teams playing three or even four. But the Big East has noticed the advantage may actually go to the first teams facing the top seeds. Last year, the coaches voted to get rid of the double-bye in the conference tournament, after 3 of the 4 top seeds that receive that bye actually dropped their opening game. In the first season of the double-bye, the top 4 seeds went 2-2.
But that format didn’t change, because the format being used by the Big East and this year by the OVC aren’t about fairness at all; it’s all about money. For the Big East, a 5-day tournament brings in more money than a 4-day tournament would. For the OVC, a 4-day tournament all in Nashville with elevated ticket prices ($30 for a single Men’s Session) will bring more money into the conference than only 2 games in Nashville with one game previous Home / Away.
But is the problem the format, or the teams themselves? A double-bye is uncommon, so there isn’t a lot of data for or against it. But the Big East has been around since before their double-bye format, and top seeds there have had it rough. Since 2006, the top 4 seeds in the Big East are 9-11 in their opening round games. That could point to parity, not the tournament format, as the problem. (From 2006-2009 the Big East was a 12 team tournament set up much like the SEC, with a single-bye for the top 4 teams) Taking out the 3-5 from the double-bye years, Big East teams with a single-bye were 6-6 in the 3-years of that format. As for other single-bye conferences? The ACC top 4 are 14-6 since 2006, The Big 12 is 14-6, and the Big Ten is 11-9. In the SEC, last year’s final featured the winners of both divisions, Kentucky and Mississippi State.
So should we expect the OVC tournament to go down like the Big East Tournament of years past? If there was a year for it, this might be it, with the top seed looking at 4 losses or more depending on how things fall in the final week. But ever since the OVC tournament featured 8 teams (1997), one or both of the top 2 seeds have always made the final. The last tournament final not to feature either of the top 2 teams? 1987, when Akron and Middle Tennessee were the top 2 seeds. The last time the top seed lost their first game in the OVC Tournament? 1995, when Tennessee state lost to Austin Peay.
So to answer the question posed in the title of the post, could the double-bye sink Murray and Morehead? (The expected top 2) I wouldn’t bet on it.