By: Payton Havermann
The Ohio Valley Conference has wrapped up their regular season conference play, and their conference tournament is slated to begin on March 3rd. Due to Covid-19, the tournament switched its format for one year only to only allow the top 8 teams in the conference to play in the tournament. The conference that has been notoriously dominated by Belmont and Murray State, has a much different look towards the top, with programs such as Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State having incredible years to get themselves into the top 3 in the conference. The regular season champs in the OVC are no strangers to the spot, however, as the powerhouse Belmont Bruins, once again, find themselves at the top of the conference standings.
Belmont figures to be the favorite in the OVC, as the Bruins march into the Ford Center with a 24-3 record with an 18-2 record in conference play. Belmont is led by 2nd year head coach Casey Alexander, whose unit relies on its potent offense. Belmont currently averages 82.1 points a game, which is good enough for 14th in the nation out of the 347 division 1 teams. The Bruins have 5 players that average double figures in scoring and are a very shooting-heavy team. They’re 9th in the nation in shots made per game and just 63rd in shots attempted per game, making them a very efficient shooting team. The Bruins also don’t rely on free throws, as they are just 223rd in the nation in free throw attempts a game. Belmont doesn’t have a very great defense, but when you’re shooting everyone out of the gym, it doesn’t really matter.
There are a few sleepers that have a better chance than you’d think to unseat Belmont in the conference. Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State each set their respective school records in conference wins with Eastern Kentucky winning 15, and Morehead State winning 17. They’re both very capable teams in their own right, and they each have wins over Belmont as well. Going into their February 25th matchup with Eastern Kentucky, Belmont was 24-1 and 18-0 in conference play, before losing by a score of 81-67 to the Colonels. Belmont then went on to lose to Morehead State 89-82, giving both the 2 and 3 seeds in the OVC a win over the top dog, and sending Belmont into the tournament on a 2 game losing streak. It is perfectly conceivable that either Eastern Kentucky or Morehead State could knock off Belmont and go on to win the OVC tournament.
It’s also always worth keeping an eye on Murray State. The Racers may not be their typical selves this year, falling to only the 5 seed and having to play another solid OVC team in Jacksonville State, but Murray State is more than capable of making a run at yet another OVC title.
The player to watch for this tournament is Austin Peay point guard Terry Taylor, who won conference player of the year for the 2019-2020 season. Taylor led the conference in scoring by a wide margin with 21.7 points a game. Taylor has been the main catalyst in getting an otherwise lackluster Austin Peay team to 10 conference wins. With Austin Peay playing a good Eastern Kentucky team to kick off the tournament, Taylor will have to put on a show to keep the Governors alive.
The Ohio Valley Conference is certainly more open than one would think upon first glance. Belmont is certainly the favorite, but their last 2 games have shown that they are far from invincible. The mixture of newer teams at the top, star power, and teams that have traditionally dominated the conference should make for a very entertaining conference tournament.
Edited by Tyler Kading