Sorry for the delay, if anyone was really concerned. Anyway here's my 4th tournament preview, for the OVC tourney which starts tomorrow. Be sure to check out the others if you haven't yet.
Ohio Valley Conference 2013 Tournament Preview
Location: Nashville Municipal Auditorium – Nashville, TN
March 6 – 9
2012 Tournament Champion: Murray State
2013 Regular Season Champion: Belmont (East), Murray State (West)
Favorites: Belmont (24-6 overall, 14-2 conference), Murray State (20-9, 10-6)
Don’t Rule Out: Eastern Kentucky (23-8, 12-4)
Darkhorse: Tennessee State (17-13, 11-5)
The Others: Morehead State (14-17, 8-8), SE Missouri State (16-15, 8-8), Eastern Illinois (11-20, 6-10), Tennessee-Martin (9-20, 5-11)
Not Participating: (only top 8 teams qualify)
Jacksonville State* (17-11, 8-8), Tennessee Tech (12-17, 5-11), SIU Edwardsville (9-28, 5-11), Austin Peay (8-23, 4-12)
* Ineligible for postseason play due to APR penalties, replaced by Tennessee-Martin
First Round Matchups
Morehead State (5) vs. UT-Martin (8)
SE Missouri State (6) vs. Eastern Illinois (7)
First Round Bye
(4) TN State
(3) E. Kentucky
The OVC is another conference with two divisions; each with 6 teams. For seeding purposes, the top team in each division based on conference winning percentage automatically earns a berth into the OVC Tournament. The next six teams with the highest conference winning percentage also earn a bid, regardless of division. The No. 1 seed goes to the divisional winner with the top conference winning percentage, while the No. 2 seed goes to the other divisional winner. The remaining six teams are seeded 3-8 by conference winning percentage, regardless of division.
The Ohio Valley Conference is another perennial weak conference that until Murray State’s magic season last year, was largely irrelevant in the national picture. The Murray State Racers burst onto the nation scene last year, going 30-1 during the regular season, including a 65-51 win over #16 Saint Mary’s in a Bracketbusters matchup. The Racers were led by Isaiah Canaan and his 19 ppg, but despite the record earned only a 6 seed. Murray state did win their second round (1st game) tourney matchup against the Colorado State Rams from the Mountain West Conference, but had their Cinderella dream’s dashed by a bigger, more experienced 3 seed Marquette team.
This year’s Racer’s squad did not go unopposed in the OVC conference season, as Belmont, the 2-time defending Atlantic Sun Conference Champ, transitioned to the OVC and immediately challenged the Racers. Despite Canaan’s 21.6 ppg, Belmont upended Murray State as conference King, taking the regular season title for the East division, including the best overall record. Head-to-head, however, the Racers won the only matchup between the new conference foes 79-74 on their home court. The win by the Racers snapped a 10 game winning streak by the Bruins. Despite the overall record of 24-6, Belmont is most likely going to have to win to get in. Their nonconference schedule’s highlights include a win at Stanford, and wins against solid teams from Oral Roberts and South Dakota State. However, the Bruins missed their chances to really make a statement in two big road games – losses at VCU and at Kansas.
The 2012 Racers took a lot of criticism for having had a relatively weak schedule propel them to a gaudy record (Not unlike a certain team from Moraga). The 2013 version, even if had matched 2012’s success, wouldn’t have been much more impressive. The non-conference slate included a neutral court win over a mid-Big East team St. Johns, and a Bracketbuster win over South Dakota State and that’s about it. The Racers failed their other ‘big’ tests in losses to Colorado, Dayton, and Valparaiso. Additionally, the Racers lack much momentum entering the OVC, having lost 4 of their final 6 games.
Eastern Kentucky, whose nickname is Colonels, and who’s logo strongly resembles a certain Fried Chicken Proprietor, had a surprisingly solid season, going 23-8 overall. In conference play, the Colonels beat Murray State in their only meeting, but lost both matchups with Belmont. The Colonels had no significant non-conference wins, but did play two common opponents of the Zags, and surprisingly close at that, losing by only 13 at #10 Illinois and by 7 at West Virginia. In their Bracketbusters game, EKU fell to Valparaiso of the Horizon league 82-60.
Of the 8 teams, these 3 have the best chance to pull off the auto-bid, but I expect Belmont to be dancing for a 3rd consecutive season.