As we enter conference play, we’re looking at the best, worst, and most likely scenarios that could play out for every OVC team.
We call OVC play the “second season” here at OVC Ball, but in a way, it’s almost the third season for the Skyhawks. There was the pre-Myles Taylor and Mike Liabo non-conference campaign, the one with them back in the lineup, and now conference play. How much impact does a fully healthy lineup make?
Best Case Scenario: The Skyhawks have lost two-straight heading into conference play against great to fair competition, but had their first three-game win streak in the last three-years previous. With the OVC down, and the Skyhawks in the West, you feel comfortable about the Skyhawks taking care of business against the lower end of the conference, possibly netting as many as five wins against Eastern Illinois, Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, and SIU Edwardsville combined. (That assumes they lose a goofy game they shouldn’t. Which happens) If they can split with Austin Peay and another Western division foe, they’re already to seven wins, and easily into the conference tournament.
The question is, how high can their seeding get, and how far can they go once there. All three of their Division I wins are against teams with an RPI of 275 or higher, but this team has only played two 200+ RPI teams since Liabo returned to the linuep: an expected loss to Arkansas, and a narrow defeat to Southeast Louisiana. (159 RPI) While challenging a Belmont or Eastern Kentucky may be a tall order, the Skyhawks could easily hang against the West, and the right bracket could lead UTM to the semi-finals before having to face one of the conference’s elite (relatively…) teams.
Worst Case Scenario: Of course, they haven’t actually beaten a team with a top-275 RPI yet, so maybe we should curb our excitement somewhat. Last year’s team only swept SIU Edwardsville, and lost both against Eastern Illinois. This year they start with three on the road, before hosting Belmont and Tennessee State, and traveling to Morehead State. Could they be 1-5 by the time they reach the heart of OVC play? We don’t know when, or if Taylor will return to 100%. While Liabo has had good games, he was non-existent in the Skyhawks recent losses, and is shooting well above his career average statistically. Will his numbers fall back to reality? While I can’t imagine this team finishing at the bottom of the conference, or the division, and OVC tournament birth is far from guaranteed, especially with, arguably, five teams of fairly equal strength in the West.
Most Likely Scenario: Barring injury (which, given this team’s history, is in and of itself a victory) I see this trending more towards the best case. I just feel like we haven’t seen UT Martin’s best yet. Terence Smith is having a standout year that virtually no one is paying attention to (us included) and Taylor has been playing just 23-minutes a game, a number I expect to see rise almost immediately with the games now holding increased importance. They’re in all likelihood not going to challenge for the conference crown, but a .500 conference season? It’s in reach.