Let’s be honest: today’s game, on paper isn’t all that interesting. The line for SIU Edwardsville at Belmont opened with the Bruins as 26 1/2 point favorites, and while that number is likely to fall somewhat, the Cougars are going to be 20+ point underdogs heading to Nashville.
But what today represents in interesting: The final week, the final stretch. And it’s not that this game isn’t important. A win today by Belmont assures the Bruins, who have beaten Eastern Kentucky twice this year, at least a share of the first Ohio Valley Conference title and the one-seed next week. A win by the Cougars could lock up a spot in the OVC Tournament next week, and put a lot of pressure on UT Martin to get their first ever win at Murray tomorrow night
While there is only one game on tap, and it’s widely expected to be a blowout, it’s got a ton of importance behind it, even for teams not playing in it.
SIU Edwardsville 9-16 (5-9) at Belmont 22-6 (12-2)
7:00 p.m. CST
The two newest schools in the OVC meet up for their first meeting as conference foes with a lot on the line. But with the matchup nearly as one-sided on paper as it gets, what would it take for the Cougars to pull off the upset of the year?
First, Belmont has to struggle from 3-point range. The Cougars lead the league in 3-point defense during conference play, holding OVC opponents to 31.1%, so it’s not out of the question. That number is still probably on the high side, as 25% or lower would be much more preferable.
The Cougars must also limit turnovers, a much bigger issue for two reasons. First, SIUE commits over 14 a game, and second because Belmont in the top-15 in the nation in forced turnovers. If SIUE can hold onto the ball, and control tempo, they may be able to keep the Bruins in the 60’s, which given their own struggles to score is where they need Belmont to have any chance of the upset. This is quite possibly the most important of all the tasks. Four of Belmont’s five losses have come when they failed to reach 70 points, and SIUE hasn’t broken 70 themselves a lot this year.
Ian Clark‘s superhuman numbers are simply human in the past three games, and the Cougars could use that trend to continue. They just need Trevor Noack‘s numbers to fall as well. The 6’7″ senior averages 12 points a game, but has put up 16 or more over the past three.
SIU Edwardsville also needs to find the three-ball themselves. They’re shooting the deep ball worse in conference play than earlier in the year, but still at a very solid 36.6% on the season.
It’s a lot of things that need to go right for SIUE, and wrong for Belmont, and that might sound unfair to the Cougars. But make no mistake, an SIUE win in Nashville would be the upset of the year in the Ohio Valley Conference.