I don’t think it’s too early to say that Murray State is one of the favorites to make the NCAA Tournament out of the OVC. The Racers are 8-1, with their only loss to a very good Colorado team. While there’s still a lot of basketball to be played between now in March the following is food for thought:
If Murray were to play in the NCAA tournament this March, playing in the West Division could hurt Murray’s seeding, especially compared to Belmont or Eastern Kentucky if they were to come out of the East. Why? It’s simple.
The West is weak. And it already shows up in the Sagarin numbers and RPI.
Make no mistake, the OVC is improved from last year. But with just a few non-conference games remaining, the bottom 4-team in the OVC according to Sagarin rankings are in the West: Austin Peay (291), SIU Edwardsville (310), Eastern Illinois (311), and UT Martin (325)
The bottom four in the East? Morehead State (164), Tennessee State (207), Jacksonville State (214) and Tennessee Tech (240).
Baring some sort of major upset in the next two weeks, these numbers aren’t going to change much heading into conference play. At that point, Murray will be forced to play a much weaker division, whereas their counterparts in the East play better opposition.
Unless Murray doesn’t have another loss in them, the Racers will likely need to win the OVC Tournament this year to make the tournament, so it’s not that the division should or could cost them a birth. But with Belmont and Murray very close in Sagarin rankings, Belmont gets a much better path to ending up with a higher NCAA Tournament seed.
That being said, the Bruins also have the greater chance of having multiple losses conference play.
We knew divisions could have an impact on the OVC Tournament, but I never though that the divisions would be so different that an NCAA seed could be the issue. Unless those four teams in the West beat up the East in conference play, the impact on the Racers RPI could hurt, whereas Belmont’s wouldn’t be as heavily affected.
There are obviously a lot of if’s before this becomes an issue, and depending on who loses in Nashville this March, it might not be an issue at all. Just some food for thought as we get prepared to turn the calendar to conference play.