Right now, there is little argument to this statement: Belmont is the best team in the OVC.
Check that. There is no valid argument to that statement. With wins over two East Division contenders and West leader Murray State scraping by to get wins at home, at this point in time no team is better.
That doesn’t mean the Bruins go undefeated in conference play; that’s hard to do for anyone. Even Murray State couldn’t pull off the feat last year. But if the OVC tournament were held today, Belmont would likely be double-digit favorites over just about everyone.
The sentiment I heard more than once at Belmont this weekend was how much better the quality of basketball was in the OVC versus the Atlantic Sun, at least at the top of the conference, and they’re absolutely right. Especially this year. And Belmont helps raise the OVC profile even more.
But their talk about whether Belmont will “dominate” the OVC like they did the A-Sun, (5 Tournament Titles over the last seven years, for instance) is beyond premature. It’s one season, and while they’re the best now, will they be when they lose their top three scorers, all seniors. Will they have a run like Murray State, winning at least a share of the OVC regular season title the past three years. (Even though those don’t exist any more, according to the conference.) Can they, assuming they reach the NCAA tournament, keep the OVC’s streak of 4 straight years with a win alive?
That’s by no means a defense of Murray. Right now, I’d put Murray at best fourth in the conference this season. But handing over the conference to Belmont after just six conference game is pulling the trigger a bit quickly.
Last Night’s Scores
Eastern Kentucky 73, Jacksonville State 62
Tennessee State 66, Belmont 78
Tennessee Tech 62, Southeast Missouri 74
Morehead State 88, UT Martin 74
Eastern Illinois 77, Austin Peay 67
SIU Edwardsville 61, Murray State 70
Three Point Shot
- Does anyone really want to win the West Division? Murray State doesn’t wake up against SIU Edwardsville until halftime, or alternatively, the Cougars collapsed in the second half. Austin Peay, which has had games where they looked like a contender, lost to Eastern Illinois in a game they were never in. Southeast Missouri got a much needed win at home. But no one right now looks dominant. Heck, does anyone even look “good” right now?
- Is there a good defensive team in the OVC right now? It feels like football season all over again, with teams just trying to outscore one another. Belmont’s defense comes and goes in waves, Jacksonville State can’t stop anyone in the paint. Even Eastern Kentucky isn’t stopping teams. Last year, Murray State and Tennessee State were dominant defenses with capable offenses. This year, there’s definitely no dominant defense, but plenty of scoring.
- The battle for the eight seed is going to be interesting. Tennessee Tech needs some help, playing in the East, but SIU Edwardsville, Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois and UT Martin could all make or miss the tournament right now. Southeast Missouri seems safe, but they’re a few upsets from the same bubble.
Co-Player of the Night: Corey Walden, Eastern Kentucky. A career high 28 points on 8-11 shooting from the field, as the Colonels bounced back from Thursday’s loss at Belmont. Less than a week from the huge rematch in Richmond.
Co-Player of the Night: Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri. 20 points, 15 rebounds, and perhaps more importantly, helped keep TTU standout Jud Dillard to just 15 points. SEMO needs big play out of their frontcourt to compete, and last night they got it.
Player of the Night in a Loss: Jordan Cyphers, Tennessee State. With 7-10 shooting from three, Cyphers almost single handedly keep the Tigers in the game against Belmont.
Unsung Hero: Devon Atkinson, Morehead State. 12 points from the senior guard is a good night. 12 assists is downright amazing.
Team Trending Upwards: Eastern Illinois. I’ve been saying it for weeks, they’re improving. They’re getting better. They showed how much so in a dominating win on the road.
Teams Trending Downwards: The rest of the West, minus Southeast Missouri. Austin Peay looked horrible. Murray State looked horrible for 20 minutes, SIU Edwardsville the same for the other 20 minutes, and UT Martin loses again. I do think the Racers are easily the best team of the bunch. I’m not sure from there.