Including tonight, there are just five days of Ohio Valley Conference basketball to determine the eight teams that will punch their ticket to Nashville. With the battle raging over the final few spots, every game, every outcome, could be the difference between keeping your season alive, and watching the tournament from your dorm.
14-14 (7-6 OVC)
8-20 (3-10 OVC)
10-19 (4-10 OVC)
14-13 (5-8 OVC)
9-18 (6-9 OVC)
21-8 (12-2 OVC)
11-17 (7-7 OVC)
4-24 (3-11 OVC)
Tennessee Tech at UT Martin
Vegas has the Skyhawks as home favorites as of this writing, which may seem a bit surprising on face. But there’s one reason I can somewhat get behind the point spread: Tennessee Tech has gotten absolutely pummeled in their two trips West so far this year. Last month, the Golden Eagles lost by 39 in Murray, and 14 in Clarksville. While they’re 4-8 on the road, none of their road wins really give you pause: at Texas A&M-Corpus Christi, at Lamar, at Tennessee State and at Jacksonville State. All four of those teams are ranked 275th or worse.
Of course, so is UT Martin, who haven’t exactly been defenders of their home floor.
From a statistics point of view, what you have is the least efficient offense in OVC play, Tennessee Tech, traveling to the least efficient defense, UT Martin.
What’s on the line here is simple: UT Martin is in a must-win situations. Sure, they can still get to 6-10 with a loss today, but with West Division leaders Murray State still on the slate, you don’t want to be in a situation where you have to beat the Racers to keep your admitting slim OVC Tournament hopes alive. While in a better position overall, TTU doesn’t want to be in a tie against virtually any team in the West Division: they’ve lost head-to-heads with Austin Peay, Southeast Missouri, both teams that are in the race for eighth. If they lost tonight, they can add UT Martin to that list.
There are two categories that could get each team into trouble: UT Martin needs to keep Tennessee Tech off the free-throw line, and TTU can’t turnover the ball. While Tech isn’t the greatest of free-throw shooting teams, giving them any boost to their offense could provide trouble when you really can’t defend. The Skyhawks, on the other hand, do actually lead the league in steals (it’s very much a high-risk / reward defense they run) and the Golden Eagles have struggled with turnovers in many of their losses.
Jacksonville State at Southeast Missouri
Think of this as an elimination game, because the odds of the loser making the OVC Tournament drop to near zero tonight.
SEMO will likely have to go without leading scorer Jarekious Bradley, who is listed as doubtful for tonight’s contest after injuring his knee against UT Martin last week. Head coach Dickie Nutt told the Southeast Missourian that Bradley would go through practice today, and did leave open a slim chance he could play tonight.
The biggest loss from Bradley absence is his three-point shooting, which will make it harder for the Redhawks to exploit the Gamecocks biggest weakness on defense: the arc. Despite not being a big team, JSU holds opponents under 50% shooting from inside, fourth best in the conference. They’re also solid at denying the ball to the post, which will make it harder on Tyler Stone to take over the game.
In fact, the turnover differential should be SEMO’s number one concern.
Jacksonville State’s offense has struggled throughout the year, and against a team that can score in bunches like the Redhawks, that somewhat worrysome.
Eastern Illinois at Belmont
EIU is in the rather crowded six-win boat right now, and with just two games left in the season, they could use a win to secure their spot in Nashville.
The question is: which Belmont team shows up at the Curb Events Center tonight? The team that blew out Austin Peay, or the one that struggled to get past Tennessee State.
The Panthers offensive attack has been as strong in the past few weeks as almost anyone. Sherman Blanford is averaging 26.4 points over the last five games, and shot 6-8 from the field or better in all five contests. Still, though, Eastern Illinois has lost three straight, due in part to suspensions and less than stellar defense.
The Bruins have been on the razor’s edge for some time now. Five of their last six games have been one-possession games late, with three of their wins coming by three-points or less. As is completely unsurprising, the Bruins have struggled on the boards, struggled against teams with solid size guys (like Eastern Illinois) and relied on their offense to boost them to wins.
Head Coach Rick Byrd has made is known he’s not been happy with the Bruins defensive effort as of late. Going against a team that would love nothing more than get the ball in the paint on every play, their defense will very likely get tested tonight once again.
SIUE at Tennessee State
What’s in stake in this game? Almost nothing. Key word: almost.
SIU Edwardsville sits a full game back of Eastern Kentucky for the fourth and final bye in the OVC Tournament, and they do hold the tiebreaker over the Colonels. While they do need some help, they could conceivably start their first ever OVC Tournament on Thursday, instead of Wednesday.
Record aside, Tennessee State isn’t a pushover at home. Vegas agrees, and saw fit to make the Tigers slight favorites.
The big question remains can they win away from home, and more importantly can they win in Nashville, where the OVC Tournament is being held. SIUE is 2-5 away from Edwardsville this year, and with one of the longest drives to the Music City, they’ll essentially be considered a road team for the entire tournament, however long they last.
The Cougars defense tonight likely won’t be tested on the perimeter, where it’s strong, rather inside, where it’s really not. Keeping Patrick Miller from driving, and shutting down M.J. Rhett will be two key defensive goals for SIUE.