For the 8 teams remaining in the OVC, their NCAA tournament starts now. In a one-bid conference, the conference tournaments are must-win, and for the first time in conference history, 4 of those teams must win 4 games in 4 days to keep their dreams alive. The first day of the newly formatted OVC tournament features teams heading in all different directions; 5th seeded Tennessee State was once battling for tops in the conference before dropping 9 of 10 in the Ohio Valley, but they battled back and put a 2-game win streak on the line tonight. 6th seeded Eastern Kentucky was the only team to take down Morehead State in Morehead, but they’ve lost their last 3 games, all to teams in the tournament. 7th seeded SEMO got a huge win over Murray State on their resume, but that’s their only win in their last 5 conference games. And 8th seeded UT Martin had to rally to make the tournament, winning half of their 6 conference wins in the last 3 weeks.
#8 UT Martin vs #5 Tennessee State – 6:00 p.m.
TSU won season series 2-0
It feels like everyone has been able to score against UT Martin this season; 4 opponents hit 100 against the Skyhawks. Tennessee State…wasn’t one of those teams. In fact, Tennessee State has only averaged just over 61 points a game against the OVC’s worst scoring, and FG% defense. In the 2nd meeting between the teams, the Tigers scraped by with 36% shooting.
The one area UTM defense has been strong: 3-point defense. The Skyhawks are 2nd in the OVC in 3pt defense, but the Tigers are 2nd in the league in 3-pointers made a game and 3pt%. In their two meetings, we’ve seen each side win out; TSU hit 10 of 21 3’s in the first meeting, just 4 of 14 in their second.
Another plus for the Skyhawks; Tennessee State has only forced 20 turnovers in their 2 meetings, well under their 15.5 average per game. TSU coughed up the ball 25 in those matchups. Rebounding, though, is another story. Despite both team averaging around 33 rebounds a game, the Tigers have out rebounded the Skyhawks 76-60 in their 2 meetings this season.
Robert Covington has come up big for the Tigers in their two meetings this year, with double-doubles in both matchups, as well as being both games’ leading scorer. UTM has scored by committee in both matchups this year, with Mike Liabo the only Skyhawk scoring in double-digits in both games. (11 and 11) Laibo was slightly outdone by OVC Freshman of the Year Patrick Miller, who put up 14 and 11 against UTM this season.
The game will be decided by: 2nd chance points. UTM doesn’t have to win this category, but they can’t lose this by 13 points like in the 2nd meeting of the year. If TSU gets into double digits in this category, that spells trouble.
Prediction: TSU over UTM 74-65. TSU is a better team on both sides of the ball
Game Notes: UTM, None posted for TSU
#7 SEMO vs #6 Eastern Kentucky – 8:00 ish
Eastern Kentucky won season series 2-0
The last time SEMO beat Eastern Kentucky…over 3 years ago; EKU has won 7 straight against the Redhawks, including both games by double digits this season. 3-point shooting has been the key in those wins, with EKU hitting 44% from long range against SEMO. But EKU has gone cold as of late, hitting just 28% from 3-point range in the last week to close out the regular season. EKU has lost 4 straight (3 of them conference games) leading into the tournament, including losing to 8th seeded UT Martin. SEMO hasn’t fared much better of late; The Redhawks have lost 4 of 6 and their last 2 heading into the tourney.
Turnovers have killed SEMO against the Colonels this season; 30 in 2-games, compared to just 18 for EKU. Expect that disparity again: EKU is 2nd in the OVC in turnover margin; SEMO dead last.
Rebounding is just a lopsided, just the other way. SEMO has out rebounded the Colonels in both meetings, as has just about every team this year; EKU…last in the OVC in multiple rebounding categories.
EKU’s top 3-scorers Justin Stommes, Josh Daniel, and Spencer Perrin have all scored well against SEMO so far this season, with Daniel and Perrin averaging over 15 points a contest. Cameron Butler has been an efficient 10-of-13 from the field for the Redhawks in the two meetings.
This game will be decided by: Turnovers. I gave you the stats earlier, and if SEMO turns the ball over 15 or more times, good night.
Prediction: EKU Tops SEMO 65-59. Both teams are struggling, and I don’t think EKU finds the range from 3 early or often. (Doesn’t mean they won’t try…) But SEMO’s ball control will end up being their demise.