By Chase Phillips
March Madness is right around the corner, and as the great Dick Vitale would say, “It’s awesome with a capital A!” The Ohio Valley Conference is certainly a part of that. It boasts many candidates for at-large bids and make some serious noise in the 2019 NCAA Tournament.
Before that, KCOU Sports’ Chase Phillips checks in with a preview of this week’s OVC men’s basketball tournament in Evansville, Indiana starting Wednesday.
Player to Watch not named Ja Morant: Nick Mayo
When it comes the Ohio Valley, everyone knows about Murray State guard Ja Morant, who will likely be a top-three pick in this year’s NBA Draft. He is undoubtedly a player to watch- but someone else I have my eye on is Eastern Kentucky’s Nick Mayo.
Mayo has absolutely lit up the OVC this year, averaging 23.7 points per game. He led the entire conference in total points- even after he missed one game this season. Standing at 6-foot-9, he’s a physically imposing player that has been a four-year starter at EKU. I am expecting a big tournament from the senior. The Colonels have underperformed this season as a team, but Mayo is a star of his own.
Team to Watch: Jacksonville State
We all know the South Carolina Gamecocks- but not many people know about the Jacksonville State Gamecocks. Jacksonville State has been absolutely on fire over the past few weeks, boasting an impressive seven-game winning streak. They finished with a 23-9 record and 15-3 clip in-conference. The Gamecocks are led by Jason Burnell, a 6-foot-7 combo forward who leads the team in points, rebounds, and assists.
Jacksonville State finished third in the Ohio Valley, and holds three of the most impressive wins in conference play with two wins over Belmont and a blowout win over Murray State at home. The Gamecocks will open tournament play up on Thursday Night against the winner of the first-round game Eastern Illinois or Tennessee-Martin on Wednesday.
Tournament Sleeper: Austin Peay
The Governors have had a very up and down year, but when they are playing right they can be in almost any game. With a 21-10 record and 13-5 mark in conference play, this team is no slouch.
A few bad losses may have some thinking otherwise, but they played first-place Belmont very close, and had two games against Murray State go down to the wire. Austin Peay is very high scoring team that averages 83 PPG while shooting an incredible 40 percent from the 3-point line. If you want a team that capable of making noise and pulling upsets, look no further than these Governors.
Tournament Winner: Murray State Racers
This should be Morant’s one shining moment. I believe that he simply isn’t going to let his team lose. It will likely be a similar situation to LSU’s Ben Simmons in 2016, where an electric player on a less-talented team will shine in his chance to prove himself on a national level. Belmont should be in the title game as well, I expect this two teams to battle hard for the right to go to the NCAA Tournament.
Edited by Garrett Jones | firstname.lastname@example.org