We’re entering the home stretch of the season, but there’s still a lot of teams trying to find their identity before the OVC Tournament in March.
1. The OVC Tournament could be chaotic
The Bruins nearly avoid an upset at home against last place Tennessee State. EKU trails wire-to-wire at Tennessee Tech, who then fall by 26 to Morehead State. JSU takes Morehead State to the wire, and then is blown out by Eastern Kentucky. And that’s just the East.
In the west, four teams are likely competing for two tournament spots, with EIU, Austin Peay, SEMO, and UT Martin just hoping to make their way to Nashville. Most teams have split their season series so far, with few sweeps not including Murray State. SIUE and EIU have proven they can beat EKU, Tennessee Tech has struggled against the division, and SEMO has arguably two of the best players in the league that could wreck havoc in Nashville.
In other words, expect the unexpected.
2. …unless it’s not
Close losses aren’t the same as upset wins. Despite their struggles at times, it’s hard not to see Murray State and Belmont as far and away favorites.
While the sample size is quite small, no team from the first round has yet to make the run to the finals. SIUE looks like a solid five or six seed, and has wins over EKU and Murray State on their resume, but they might only see one on their way to the finals. If Tennessee Tech earns the five-seed, they’ve also beaten Eastern Kentucky, and have had two tight contests with Belmont, including a win over the Bruins.
Each of the past two years, it’s been No. 1 vs No. 2, with the tournament’s top seed being crowned champion.
3. You’re not crazy if you think the universe is conspiring against Southeast Missouri
Two weeks ago, it was a last-second 30-footer at EKU. This week, Jarekious Bradley hurts his knee as the Redhawks enter the stretch run with a relatively soft schedule. If it could go wrong, it has for the Redhawks, who are sitting at 4-8 and one game out of eighth place with four game remaining. Bradley’s MRI came back negative, and he remains day-to-day, but it’s hard not to get the feeling that there is some grand conspiracy against SEMO, a team who has fallen well short of expectations.
4. No team is more inconsistent than Tennessee Tech
They’ve beaten Belmont. They’ve beaten Eastern Kentucky. And along they way, they’ve lost to Austin Peay, Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri, and were blown out by almost 40 against Murray State. I present to you your still offensively challenged, defensively all over the place Golden Eagles. This week was just more proof of their incredible inconsistency: they struggle to defend the team that can’t shoot three’s (TTU’s weakness) and beats the team that does.
5. UT Martin isn’t dead in the water just yet
With it becoming increasingly likely that a 6-10 team with the right tiebreakers could make it to the OVC Tournament, the Skyhawks hopes were lifted with a 79-70 win over SEMO last week. And if you’re a UTM fan, you can see a definite path to 6-10, with Tennessee Tech, SEMO and Austin Peay all coming to Martin. Their defense, which ranks in the bottom 10 nationally, is still quite a concern, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility that the Skyhawks find a way to extend their season past March 1st.
6. Belmont still has a size problem
Does this sound familiar? It’s only been the Bruins Achilles heel since joining the OVC, and it reared it’s head in a big way in the Bruins squeaker over last place Tennessee State last week. The Tigers outrebounded the Bruins 41-27, as the Bruins rebounding continues to rank last in the conference. They can score inside thanks to incredible guards that know how to get to the basket, but it’s looking clear that bigger teams could provide a significant challenge to Belmont’s chances at a two-peat.
7. The Player of the Year race is tight
J.J. Mann leads the OVC in player of the week awards, but doesn’t lead the league in a single major statistical category. The league’s top rebounder, Jarvis Williams, has been shut out of the award. The best shooter, statistically, isn’t even in the conversation. (It’s Keaton Jackson, BTW) Neither is the top assist man, Lucas Nutt. One of the bright newcomers, Jarekious Bradley, is fighting injury, the league’s top scorer, Patrick Miller is on a team with three wins. Glenn Cosey is the best three-point shooter in the conference and among the top scorers, and almost no one is paying attention to the 19.2 ppg and 9.1 rpg from the preseason player of the year Tyler Stone. Murray State freshman Cameron Payne has to be in the conversation too, right? Did I leave anyone out? How about Belmont point guard Craig Bradshaw, just barely behind Mann in scoring, but well ahead in assists. Or Morehead’s Angelo Warner? Last year, it was a two-way race that ended in a tie. This year? Oh boy.
8. The Freshman of the Year race is not
It’s Cameron Payne. He picked up yet another freshman of the week award this week. Let’s move on.
9. Does anyone really miss Bracketbusters?
Just asking. Haven’t heard, well, anything about it. There’s some high drama in the OVC, and while there was an occasionally quality game around this time every year, let’s be honest: most of them were just distractions.
10. A cross-division battle is the top game of the week ahead
When it comes to the top four seeds, we’ve seen every combination but one: Morehead State and Murray State. The third place Eagles can’t top Murray for the two-seed in Nashville, but they can send a message on the road Thursday. If Murray State’s free-throw shooting woes show up, it could lead to some issues against the foul-happy Eagles.
Other games worth watching:
- Thursday: Tennessee Tech at UT Martin. Both teams need wins for their OVC Tournament hopes, especially the host Skyhawks. It’s no offense versus no defense in a battle with big implications.
- Thursday: Jacksonville State at Southeast Missouri. The loser isn’t eliminated from the OVC Tournament race, but it’s pretty close.
- Saturday: Eastern Kentucky at Austin Peay. The Colonels aren’t a lock for the final single-bye with SIUE a game behind, and up a tiebreaker. Austin Peay could use the win not just for the win column, but also for potential tiebreakers they could find themselves in.