OVC Tournament Preview

2 Mar

DATES: 3/2-3/5

SITE: Municipal Auditorium, Nashville



WHO SHOULD WIN: The OVC field is fairly wide open, but you have to consider 1 seed Belmont the favorite with their double bye, experience, potent motion offense, and quasi HCA. Two of Belmont’s four losses are in their half of the bracket with Tennessee Tech and Tennessee State likely semifinal opponents, but the Bruins will have the extra rest and prep on their side. While Belmont’s motion sets are efficient at creating quick shots from 3 or a foot away from the rim for Evan Bradds, they have their issues against teams that make them grind (see Valpo, Morehead State, and the unforgivable loss to Cleveland State), and they’re not generating steals at all, as Rick Byrd has tried to adapt to the “freedom of movement” rules the past two years. So when teams have slowed down their motion offense and kept that lethal drag screen transition offense in check, they’ve had trouble generating extra possessions, and if they’re having a cold shooting night, it’s well within the realm of possibility that they don’t repeat as OVC champs.

IF NOT THEM THEN: Let’s go with 3 seed Morehead State here. Sean Woods’ Eagles have won their last 5 OVC games, and their 5 losses in conference play were by a total of 18 points, and they sport wins over Belmont and UT Martin (but also close losses to EIU and Murray State, who they play the winner of on their side of the bracket). The Eagles will likely have a healthier Corban Collins back as well for the OVC Tournament, which well help an offense that can be a clunky at times because of their lack of shooters and Woods’ philosophy of getting the ball to the rim at all costs. Defensively, you know what you’re going to get from Morehead State, a lot of harassing pressure and a lot of fouls, and tenacious rebounding on both ends. A potential semifinal matchup with 2 seed UT Martin is likely going to be another ugly slugfest, as both defenses (UT Martin with a matchup zone) are designed to keep you away from the rim and completely cut off the paint, and Morehead relies so heavily on offensive rebounding, while a Heath Schroyer team always places a high premium on crashing the defensive glass with all 5 guys. Basically the winner of that potential semifinal comes down to who hits more jump shots: Anderson and Mobley for UTM, or Collins and Moon for Morehead State?

SLEEPER: Dana Ford did a phenomenal job with 4 seed Tennessee State, using high level transfers to whip TSU into contenders with a massive turnaround from a dreadful first season. The Tigers have the best defense in the league, and produce the repeatable (blocks and steals) at a high rate, and they wall off the paint defensively, forcing you to beat them with jumpers. The problem is that they’re in the half of the bracket that has two teams that can kill you with the 3, Tennessee Tech and Belmont (they went 2-2 vs those teams). The problem comes on the offensive end for the Tigers, as they can’t shoot the ball. I love the toughness and experience of the McCall/DeShields backcourt, but neither can hit a jumper consistently, and Marcus Roper, the only guy who can, can’t handle the ball and is a liability defensively when you put him at the 3 or go small with him at the 4. TSU will have the winner of 8 seed Austin Peay and 5 seed Tennessee Tech (and I’m sure if Dana Ford had his druthers, he would pick APSU because they match up a lot better with the Govs). This could very well be longtime APSU coach Dave Loos’ swan song, and thus his team could very well be playing with a little extra motivation, but TTU matches up well against the Govs, despite the fact that they have the most dominant big man in recent OVC history in Chris Horton. Loos likes to play an extended pressure zone defensively, which is a bad idea against a Tenn Tech team that can handle pressure with SR PG Torrance Rowe, and they can shoot the ball from deep as well as anyone in the league (although they might be down Hakeem Rogers). Horton got his in the first meeting and dominated the offensive glass, and the Govs even turned Tech over at a 23% rate, but Rowe was very clearly several notches above ASPU’s inexperienced point guard trio, and that’s once again going to be the difference tonight. The Golden Eagles’ defense has been an issue though, and Steve Payne desperately needs Morse and Martin to stay out of foul trouble when they pack it tonight against Horton.

DEEPER SLEEPERS: No team playing in PIG Wednesday in the OVC has won the tournament, but the bottom half of this bracket is so up in the air, that you have to consider the winner of 6 seed Murray State and 7 Eastern Illinois a threat to Morehead/UTM. Despite the fact that EIU will likely have the lowest fan attendance at the Muni (they’re the farthest away from Nashville), I think this is a pretty good matchup for the Panthers. Despite being the second smallest team in the country (hopefully Piotrowski is good to go with a knee issue) Spoonhour wants to methodically work the ball into the paint with Trae Anderson, an undersized hybrid 2/3/4 player who can pass, rebound, and draw a ton of contact. He just can’t shoot (but a big development has been the 3 point shooting of PG Lil T Johnston, who has turned himself into one of the best shooters in the league for 2 years running when teams collapse on Anderson). Anderson got in early foul trouble in the first meeting in Murray and EIU was really never competitive. In the rematch, the Racers traveled to Charleston in what was a must win at the time for Murray State in terms of earning the West title and the second double bye. For the Panthers it’s all about getting Wayne Langston in foul trouble early. The Racers have nothing behind him in the frontcourt, and if he’s relegated to the bench early, Trae Anderson is going to go nuts again like he did in Charleston. Murray State’s an outstanding transition defense in terms of limiting those opportunities, but that’s not how EIU plays offensively. Defensively for EIU, they have to chase Jeffery Moss off the three point line and force him to put the ball on the floor, where he’s a lot less lethal. Essentially, this game likely comes down to how the refs are calling it in the paint early. In reality, the winners of the PIGs should both be considered “deeper than deep sleepers” because no PIG team has even reached the finals in the OVC Tournament since they went to the double bye format in 2011.

OVC FINALS PREDICTION: 1 Belmont over 3 Morehead State






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