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The Tournament is upon us. So who has the momentum heading into Nashville?

Well, that’s a lot more complicated a question than it probably should be.

 

Morehead-State

(1) MOREHEAD STATE (18-11, 11-5 OVC)
Last ranking: 5th

Ignore the Eagles seed, and take note of the following: Morehead State enters the OVC Tournament on a six-game winning streak. The second longest winning streak in the conference right now? Two games, held by the seven seed (Eastern Illinois) and the eight seed (Austin Peay.)

By virtue of gaining the three-seed, the Eagles avoid the murderers row that’s the opposite end of the bracket. Instead of being on the same side as Tennessee Tech, Tennessee State, and Belmont, the Eagles will face two teams from the West on a potential path to the championship game.

This tournament is set up quite nicely for the Sean Woods’ Eagles, who have heated up at just the right time.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 71 (-4) / Rebounding: 98 (+7) / Ball Control: 85 (-3) / Defense: 84 (-2)


Belmont(2) BELMONT (20-10, 12-4 OVC)
Last ranking: 2nd

So, I have to put Belmont here, right? They are the top overall seed, even though they’re 4-4 in their last eight games, and just turned the ball over 26 times in a loss at Tennessee State on the last day of the season. But, they’re the Bruins. The defending OVC Tournament champions, and winners of two of the last three conference tournament  championships. They have Craig Bradshaw and Evan Bradds, are coached by the legendary Rick Byrd. I couldn’t not put them here.

Well, that’s not true. I could have not put them here. Even if you excuse the TSU game, where the Bruins didn’t have anything to play for, and the Tigers had everything to play for, Belmont has struggled the past month. But with the tournament in their backyard, a double-bye, and a coach who always seems to make the right calls in March, it’s hard to drop the Bruins. They’re still the favorites to win the Tournament, even though February probably dropped Belmont at least a seed if they can make the NCAA Tournament.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 95 (+1)  / Rebounding: 76 (+1) / Ball Control: 82 (-6) / Defense: 82 (-2)


UT-Martin

(3) UT MARTIN (18-13, 10-6 OVC)
Last ranking: 7th

The shellacking to the Racers aside, (which, much like Belmont’s loss a day later, came against a team on the road with a whole lot more to play for) UT Martin is another team that’s hot at the right time. The Skyhawks have won eight of nine, and while most came against the lackluster West, and only two of those wins were on the road, it’s still an impressive run for a team that was 2-5 in conference play at one point. And we must point out, one of those eight wins was a 16 point sounding defeat of Tennessee State.

With a double-bye, UT Martin is in a solid position to make their first ever NCAA Tournament, but it will likely mean facing an equally hot Morehead State in the semis, and possibly Belmont in the finals, both teams UTM lost to during the regular season. Was their end of season run a statement, or just the benefit of uneven conference scheduling? Time will tell…

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 80 (+5)  / Rebounding: 79 (+9)  / Ball Control: 94 (+1) / Defense: 80 (+2)


Tennessee-State

(4) TENNESSEE STATE (20-9, 11-5 OVC)
Last ranking: 3rd

Tennessee State’s win over Belmont Sunday was big for one reason in particular: now the Tigers need just three wins to win the OVC Tournament title, not four. But by falling to the fourth seed, TSU gets stuck on the seemingly tougher side of the brackets.

That being said, just the fact that TSU earned a top-4 seed, and won twenty games — twice the number of the last two seasons combined — is in and of itself worthy of a lot of praise. I predicted that the Tigers lofty non-conference record wouldn’t stand in conference play, and they’ve proved me quite wrong with solid defense and rebounding, even if they’re not scoring on pace with much of the rest of the conference. Dana Ford is my pick for OVC coach of the year, because this turnaround is nothing short of spectacular.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 83 (-2) / Rebounding: 87 (-3) / Ball Control: 88  (-4) / Defense: 87 (+2)


Murray-State

(5) MURRAY STATE (16-13, 10-6 OVC)
Last ranking: 6th

Could Murray State, the sixth overall seed, be favored in every game on the path to the finals? I’m not joking — they’ll almost certainly be favored over Eastern Illinois. They beat Morehead State in their only meeting this season, and just shellacked UT Martin in the final game of the regular season. And Murray State has the history of winning games in Nashville that their potential opponents don’t. For what it’s worth, Ken Pom has them as a five-point favorite to start over EIU.

Of course, the Racers could just as easily slip up in the first round. The Racers haven’t had a winning streak longer than three games all season long, and due to injuries, don’t have a lot of depth. Jeffery Moss appears to have found his three-point shot again, but the Muni is known much more for poor shooting than great. It’s not likely that Murray State has a deep run in them, but they couldn’t have asked for a better bracket to do just that.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 83 (+6)  / Rebounding: 96 (-1)  / Ball Control: 97 / Defense: 77 (-3)


Tennessee-Tech

(6) TENNESSEE TECH (19-10, 11-5 OVC)
Last ranking: 1st

Ah…what could have been. With just two weeks to go in the regular season, the Golden Eagles were in control of their fate for the regular season conference title. Instead, TTU need for wins in four days to get a conference tournament title, and has two 20-win teams in their path.

And if that wasn’t enough — those two teams are from Nashville, where the tournament is being held.

All-in-all, you have to appreciate the job head coach Steve Payne has done this year in Cookeville, and Torrance Rowe has been an absolute sensation this season. The Golden Eagles went 14-1 at home, (tied with Belmont with a single home loss this season) and are likely postseason bound regardless of what happens this week.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 97 (-3)  / Rebounding: 69 (-4) / Ball Control: 92 (-4) / Defense: 79 


EIU Logo 2015

(7) EASTERN ILLINOIS (13-16, 9-7 OVC)
Last ranking: 4th

Like the Golden Eagles, the Panthers had a stab a double-bye late in the season, but hit a three-game slide at the wrong time to fall out of contention for the division title. But the Panthers are coming off a confidence-boosting win over the same team they play in the first round, and have had three extra days rest entering the tournament.

Trae Anderson has been a volume shooter for the Panthers this season, but EIU has been able to pair his inside play with outside shooting from Demetrius McReynolds and Cornell Johnston. This is probably the most balanced offense Jay Spoonhour has had in his time in Charleston, but rebounding remains an Achilles heel. EIU is worst in the league in offensive rebounding. Their first round opponent, Murray State, is the best defensive rebounding team in the league. That’s a major mismatch for the Panthers’ opener

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 77 / Rebounding: 69 (-10) / Ball Control: 100 / Defense: 80 (+6)


Austin-Peay

(8) AUSTIN PEAY (14-17, 9-7 OVC)
Last ranking: 9th

They needed a little help in the end, but the Governors are back in the OVC Tournament after a lengthy drought, and enter the tournament winners of two straight, and four of their last six, which isn’t bad at all.

There can’t be much pressure on Austin Peay, as not many outside of Clarksville will be picking the Governors to pick up a first-round win, much less make a deep run. That could work in their advantage.

If a game devolves into a free-throw shooting contest, (which let’s be honest, happens from time to time in the tournament) Austin Peay is in a great position. No team was better in conference play at getting to the free-throw line, and the Governors were among the least offenders when it came to being called for fouls.

…and they still have Chris Horton, which can’t hurt.

OVCBALL STAT RATINGS (CHANGE IN THE LAST MONTH):
Shooting: 85 (+7)  / Rebounding: 75 (-4)  / Ball Control: 82 (+4) / Defense: 81


 

The non-participants

(9) Eastern Kentucky — It’s hard not to feel like that if the Colonels were in the West Division, they might be in the tournament, but it’s their games against the West that may have ultimately kept them out. EKU was just 3-3 against the West, whereas much of the rest of the division was above .500 in cross-division games. Among those losses, falling to SIUE.

(10) SIUE — The Cougars won two of their last four, but what’s really interesting is that both of those wins were on the road. The Cougars only won one home game all of last season. Tough first season for new head coach Jon Harris, but now we get to see how he is at building a program.

(11) Jacksonville State — A few fans have already began voicing their opinion that it’s time for James Green to go. Falling from 4-4 in the conference to 4-12 isn’t exactly how you want to finish your season, and few of those losses were close.

(12) Southeast Missouri — A last place finish in the league, and eight straight losses to finish the season. I’m not sure the end could have come quick enough. Rick Ray is taking the tough path to rebuilding, and it will be interesting to see if his tough love this season pays long term dividends. The great news for Redhawks fans? Ray has an player to anchor a team around next season in Antonius Cleveland.

 

 


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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