OVC Tournament Preview

28 Feb


WHEN: 3/1-3/4

WHERE: Nashville

TEAM TO BEAT: Top seeded Belmont nearly ran the table in OVC play and dominated both offensively and defensively. It’s typical that a Rick Byrd coaches his league’s most efficient offense, but this is the first time since Belmont’s first year in the OVC that they were also the league’s best defense, and they’re allowing zilch in transition this year. If Belmont is defending at a high level in addition to that prolific three point offense couple with efficiency monster Evan Bradds inside…watch out. If the perimeter shots are falling for Belmont, you have no chance. Basically have to hope to catch them on an off night.

IF NOT THEM THEN: Woof. I guess similar to last year, if Belmont gets upset it could literally be anyone else. Anthony Stewart did a phenomenal job in his first year at #2 UT Martin, getting the Skyhawks to the 2 seed thanks to a 9-3 finish to conference play. Offensively the Skyhawks are a force thanks to slashing/sharp shooting Jacolby Mobley on the perimeter and hyper efficient/glass eater Javier Martinez inside. Defensively…it’s another story. Stewart uses a fairly ineffectual matchup zone, and if you can shoot, you can score in bunches against UTM. The Skyhawks did go 3-1 vs their half of the bracket this year, and as the two seed of course have the double bye to the semis. That said, they matchup excessively poor against Belmont if chalk holds to the finals.

SLEEPERS: Again, everyone else. Let’s just break down the other six teams quickly. #3 Morehead State lucked out with their draw a bit, avoiding Tennessee State and Jacksonville State, two teams that gave them trouble with their frontcourts. Preston Spradlin did a “remove the interim tag” worthy job after taking over the head coaching position following the Sean Woods mess. The Eagles under Spradlin are a little less physical, a little aggressive, and more guard oriented instead of brute force oriented. The Eagles will run dual PG sets with Xavier Moon and Miguel Dicent, creating high quality three point looks and opening things up for DeJuan Marrero, who has played poorly down the stretch and suffered a suspension as well. The Eagles finished in a tailspin largely due to Marrero’s drop off in production in the paint. You can gash them at the rim routinely, but like I said, the teams that pound it inside are in the top half of the bracket. Good for the Eagles.

#4 Jacksonville State received the final bye after Ray Harper came in from WKU and worked miracles in his first season. JSU’s an intriguing entry at the 4. They have a veteran backcourt with Drumwright at the point, the slashing Tucker off the ball, and sharp shooting Durham on the outside. They have a 7 footer in Giga who can dominate when game flowed in (and healthy). Defensively they don’t allow much of anything at the rim with Giga, the athletic Cross, and Cunningham protecting the paint. For that reason, JSU matches up very favorably against pound it inside Tennessee St in their bracket, and if they play SEMO, they have the veteran backcourt to handle the traps Rick Ray throws at you and consequently expose a weak SEMO frontcourt. That said, they didn’t fare well vs Belmont in their two meetings.

#5 SEMO will have #8 Tennessee State first, a fairly tough break for the Redhawks, who simply don’t have the frontcourt to contain Wayne Martin, unless Rick Ray wants to utilize some sort of junk defense. McCall will probably have his fair share of turnovers vs that vs wave of traps/pressure, but when he doesn’t turn it over TSU should score fairly routinely. Defensively Dana Ford’s philosophy has McCall and Chaney in the ball handlers jersey, and basically everyone else with at least a foot in the paint. SEMO’s offense isn’t just slashing Cleveland, as FOY Mahoney and PG Calvin can really shoot the ball. Really interesting game to kick off the tourney.

I hate to count out the inside/out duo of Jonathan Stark and Terrell Miller, but #7 Murray State looks like they’re really limping into Nashville. Maybe the spirited comeback at the end of the UT Martin game on Saturday is a turning point (also the play of Dupree inside was a major head turner), but the Racers, already prone to poor defense, haven’t stopped anyone since they lost Croaker. The good news for the Racers is that #6 Tennessee Tech’s defense, while solid, is compact. If Stark, Miller, and Jones are getting the shots to fall, the Racers can overcome their porous defense with copious offense. Furthermore, Tech doesn’t have the frontcourt to challenge the Racers at the rim, meaning if Stark and Jones actually defend against Rogers, Jugovic, and Mack, MSU should be fine. Murray State will of course have a big crowd on hand in Nashville, as the Racers always travel well.

PREDICTIONS: Belmont over JSU in the semis, Murray State over UTM in the semis

Belmont over Murray State

First round predictions: Tennessee St -4.5, Murray St -3.5


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