The past few seasons, it’s been easy to get spoiled. As a whole, the Ohio Valley Conference has been in it’s best place in recent history. From four straight years with a win in the NCAA Tournament, to a top-10 team in the nation. Teams have ranked high on every mid-major list, and the OVC has been in the same discussion as the mid-major conferences.
But it’s not always been that way. Before Morehead State broke through five years ago, the OVC has lost every NCAA Tournament game for more than the past decade. The Ohio Valley Conference was regularly found near the bottom of Sagarin conference rankings, and it’s champion hoped just to avoid the 16-seed.
There’s no reason to believe the OVC is regressing back to that point, as on the basketball side they’ve made moves to help remain more relevant. The addition of Belmont and SIUE to become a full 12-team conference, additional money to programs thanks to those NCAA wins.
But it’s hard to ignore what the conference has lost. Four former OVC players are currently on NBA rosters, and while I don’t have hard data on this to be certain, I can’t remember another time in recent history that was the case. Three of those players came out of last year’s senior class, arguably one of the best overall in the past decade, perhaps longer.
This season, there’s not just one or two teams rebuilding, it’s the entire conference. In a way, it should be fun to watch, as we’re already getting the feeling that the gap between the top and bottom isn’t that large.
But when it comes to the OVC’s spot in the national picture, they may need some time to get back. There’s no reason to believe that can’t do it, just that it might not happen this year.
It’s alright though. While it’s great for the conference to be in that discussion, what’s made this conference so fun is what happens when they playing each other. OVC Chaos seems to always reign supreme, and there are few others in the nation where you truly get the feeling any team can win on any night.
Oh, and despite their 5-12 record to start the year, the OVC is currently ranked 16th among conferences by BB State. So maybe they’re not sliding as far as it seems.
Belmont (1-0) at Richmond (1-0, Atlantic 10)
6:00 p.m. CST
This has all the markings of a solid mid-major bout. Richmond returns three double-digit scorers from a team that won 19 games, and finished .500 in the very good Atlantic 10. The good news for Belmont is that the Spiders seem to share an apparent weakness with the Bruins: rebounding.
While the Spiders don’t have a ton of size, they do have a talented 6’9 sophomore in Alonzo Nelson-Ododa. As a freshman, he averaged four rebounds while averaging 20 minutes a game, both of which will no undoubtedly rise this season. He’s joined by another young forward in the frontcourt, Trey Davis, and while he may be just 6’5, he led the Spiders in rebounding in their season opening win against Delaware. A third sophomore forward, Allen Terry, looks to be a solid option off the bench.
Senior forward Derrick Williams, one of those returning double-digit scorers, played 18 minutes in the Spiders season opener. He’s recovering from an ankle injury, and could see reduced time once again.
The real key for Belmont defensively is stopping guard Lindsey Cedrick. The senior averaged more than 12 points a game last year, and put up 20 against Delaware on Friday. Cedrick likes to attack the basket, and if the lane is full, he’ll no undoubtedly look for Kendall Anthony on the perimeter, a 42% 3-point shooter.
The Bruins struggled in their opener against Lipscomb, but what surprised me wasn’t the offense, but their inability to stop the Bisons. Lipscomb hit 70% of two-point attempts, which is a clear indicator of Belmont’s lack not of just size, but of impactful players in the middle of the defense. With Blake Jenkins at 6’8 and Drew Windler at 6’9, they have the height needed, but have to be more of a physical presence on that side of the ball. Lipscomb was also able to stretch the defense with their three-point shooting, and had Belmont made free-throws the game would have been much less in doubt.
Tennessee State (0-2) vs Western Michigan (1-1, MAC)
6:00 p.m. CST
After a day off, the Tigers wrap up their trip to Hawaii with a game against a very good Western Michigan team, coming off a 22-win season. The trip has been pretty dreadful for the Tigers so far, as it seems clear the Tigers don’t have near enough weapons on offense.
Need proof? Through two games this year, Tennessee State has scored 110 total points, exactly 55 in both games. Senior guard Patrick Miller has scored 45 of them. Outside of Miller, who is shooting 50% from the floor, the rest of the Tigers are a combined 24-78 from the field, which means they’re hitting 30.7%. If I took out M.J. Rhett‘s numbers from those, it gets even worse.
Of course, when you’re giving up 85 and 70 points over the first two games, you can’t wholly blame the offense. The Tigers defense will likely have their hands full with Broncos guard David Brown. Brown scored 11 points a game as a junior, and already has a 25-point performance under his belt against New Mexico State.
The Tigers will also have to contend with 6’10 forward Shayne Whittington. The WMU big man was suspended for the first two games of the year by the NCAA after appearing in an exhibition game as a sophomore before redshirting that same year with an injury. Whittington is considered one of the best players in the MAC, and was the Broncos leading scorer a year ago, averaging 13 points a game, and finished tied for second in the conference with 8.8 rebounds a game.
Central Baptist (NAIA) at SEMO (0-1)
8:00 p.m. CST
Tyler Stone and Nino Johnson will sit out their final suspension game as the Redhawks take on an NAIA program at home. Although I’m not certain how many minutes he’ll play if the score gets out of hand, (which it still should) I’m really curious if Jarekious Bradley can repeat his terrific performance from their season opener.