By Brandon Lawrence, College Basketball Associate Editor
FACTS & STATS:
Site: Municipal Auditorium (8,000) -- Nashville, Tennessee.
DATES: Wednesday, March 5th through Saturday, March 8th. Television: OVC
Digital (First Round, Quarterfinals), ESPN U (Semifinals), ESPN 2
(Championship). Annual: 51st. Defending Champion: Belmont.
The 51st Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will span from Wednesday,
March 5, and run through to Saturday, March 8, at Nashville's Municipal
Auditorium. The winner of the OVC Tournament will receive the league's
automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament field.
The Belmont Bruins (23-8), who entered the OVC a year ago and won the
conference regular season and tournament title in their first year as a member
of the league, repeated as regular-season champs after posting a 14-2
conference record in 2013-14. They will be the top seed this year once again,
coming out of the OVC East Division. It's the second consecutive season in
which Belmont has lost just two games in league play. The Bruins finished one
game ahead of the Murray State Racers (18-10), who won the OVC's West Division
The rivalry in the conference between Belmont and Murray State doesn't go back
very far, but is continuously fueled even when the programs aren't playing
head-to-head. The Bruins catapulted themselves into the spotlight by winning
their last six regular season contests, starting with a thrilling 99-96
offensive showcase against the Racers back on Feb. 6. It was the only time
during the regular season the two OVC powerhouses met on the court.
Murray State, which was tied with Belmont at 13-2 in conference play heading
into Saturday's regular-season finale, dropped a heartbreaking 118-115 double-
overtime classic to Southeast Missouri State, setting the Racers back to 13-3
in league action to end the season.
By virtue of Belmont's top overall seed and Murray State's second seed, the
two squads will receive double-byes into the semifinal round of the conference
Eastern Kentucky (21-9) earned the three seed after finishing with an 11-5
conference record and in second place in the East Division. Morehead State
(19-12) ended the season at 10-6 in OVC play and will be the fourth seed. Both
teams will receive a first-round bye and move straight to the quarterfinal
Tennessee Tech (fifth seed), Southeast Missouri State (sixth seed), Eastern
Illinois (seventh seed) and SIU Edwardsville (eighth seed) will all play in
the first round on Wednesday.
First-round action kicks off with the fifth-seeded Tennessee Tech Golden
Eagles playing against the eighth-seeded SIU Edwardsville Cougars. SIUE backed
into the conference tournament after losing four three in a row to finish off
the year, and dropping four of the team's last five. The Cougars (11-19, 7-9
OVC) made it in by the skin of their teeth, as the OVC ninth-place finisher
(Austin Peay) was eliminated from postseason contention with a 6-10 conference
mark. This is SIU Edwardsville's first time taking part in the OVC Conference
Tournament, and is going up against a team with significant history in the
conference postseason. Donivine Stewart paced the Cougars this season in
scoring, netting a team-high 12.2 ppg with 135 assists on the year. He was the
only SIUE player to average a double-digit point total, though Keaton Jackson
(9.3 ppg) and Kris Davis (9.1 ppg) weren't far off. SIUE was near the bottom
of the league in scoring defense, checking in at ninth place by giving up 76.3
ppg to opponents.
Tennessee Tech (16-15, 9-7 OVC) won three of its last four games in the
regular season, including a season-ending victory over Morehead State, 91-84.
The conference tournament hasn't been very friendly to the Golden Eagles in
the past, though. Tennessee Tech owns a 23-41 record in the season-ending
tournament all-time, and hasn't won a league title since the 1967 season - the
program's only OVC title in history. Dennis Ogbe paces the team with a 10.8
ppg average with a team-high 5.9 rpg. Dwan Caldwell chips in 10.7 ppg, and
Jeremiah Samarrippas adds 10.3 ppg. Samarrippas dishes out a team-best 4.6
apg. Tennessee Tech's 72 ppg allowed is third best in the conference, but 72.3
ppg offense is ninth-best in the OVC this season. Tennessee Tech is one of two
conference teams all season to defeat Belmont. Tennessee Tech got the better
of SIUE in the regular season with a 64-63 victory.
The second of two first-round matchups features the seventh-seeded Eastern
Illinois Panthers taking on the sixth-seeded Southeast Missouri State
Redhawks. EIU (11-18, 7-9 OVC) had an up-and-down season, losing four of the
team's last six games in the final stretch of the year. The Panthers own a
5-10 record all-time in the OVC tournament, and have won one conference title
- back in the 2001 season. Sherman Blanford was a rock for EIU this season,
averaging a team-best 14.3 ppg and 8 rpg (sixth-best in the OVC). Reggie Smith
added 13 ppg, and Chris Olivier chipped in 11 ppg. The Panthers sported the
league's second-worst scoring offense (67.9 ppg) and didn't exactly make up
for it in terms of their scoring defense (73.3 ppg).
Southeast Missouri State (17-13, 8-8 OVC) won its last four games to end the
regular season, including the double-overtime 118-115 thriller against Murray
State Saturday. The Redhawks finished in second place in the OVC West, but
will play in the first round because of their conference record. SEMO is 9-11
all-time in the OVC tournament, and won its only OVC title in the 2000 season.
The Redhawks were an offensive power this season, averaging a conference-best
83.3 ppg and sporting two of the top three individual scorers in the OVC in
Jarekious Bradley (19.4 ppg) and Tyler Stone (19.1 ppg). Only Tennessee
State's Patrick Miller (23.7 ppg) averaged a better offensive game. Stone (9.5
rpg) is third in the OVC in the category, and Lucas Nutt topped the OVC with
5.9 apg. What troubled SEMO during the season, however, was its defense. The
team averaged a second-to-last 79 ppg allowed on the year.
The winner of SIU Edwardsville and Tennessee Tech will play Morehead State on
Thursday in the first quarterfinal round matchup. The Eagles racked up a five-
game win streak from Feb. 1 to Feb. 19, but faltered in the final three games
of the regular season, losing them all to finish 10-6 in conference play.
Morehead State has a rich history in the OVC tournament, entering this
postseason having won 28 tourney games all-time. The Eagles are tied with
Austin Peay for the third-most league titles in conference history, each with
four. The last Eagles Ohio Valley championship came in 2011. Morehead State
averaged 77.3 ppg this season, and gave up 72.9 ppg to its opponents. The team
was second in the conference in field goal percentage defense (44.8 percent)
and had a plus-8.5 rebounding margin to top the OVC. Angelo Warner led the
team with 17.5 ppg (sixth-best in the conference), followed by Brent Arrington
(11.7 ppg), Drew Kelly (10.5 ppg) and Chad Posthumus (10 ppg). Posthumus leads
the Eagles and the conference in rebounding at 11.3 rpg.
Eastern Kentucky awaits the winner of Eastern Illinois and Southeast Missouri
State in the second quarterfinal matchup Thursday. The Colonels had plenty of
success in the conference this season at 11-5, having won their last four
games entering postseason play. EKU owns a 35-34 all-time tournament record,
and has won the second-most OVC titles in the league's history with five, the
most recent coming in 2007. The Colonels had a strong offensive and defensive
year, checking in at third in the OVC in scoring offense (78.6 ppg) and
topping the league in scoring defense (70 ppg allowed). The team also had the
best free-throw percentage in the OVC (74.9 percent). Glenn Cosey topped the
Colonels with 18.9 ppg (fourth in OVC) and had a team-best 64 assists, while
Corey Walden added 14.4 ppg. Tarius Johnson rounded out the team's double-
digit scorers with 12.1 ppg on the season. The Colonels sported the league's
worst rebounding average per game at 26.4 per contest.
Belmont will kick things off in the first semifinal contest on Friday, and
will await the winner of Morehead State and SIUE/Tennessee Tech. The top-
seeded Bruins finished with a 14-2 record in the conference, and won their
last six games in of the regular season. Last year's premiere in the OVC saw
Belmont win both of its conference tournament contests, including a 70-68
overtime thriller in the finals over Murray State. Belmont's 80.2 ppg is
second in the conference, and a plus-5.7 ppg scoring margin is also the OVC's
second-best. J.J. Mann averages 18.4 ppg to pace the Bruins (fifth in the
OVC), while Craig Bradshaw nets 15.6 ppg and Reece Chamberlain adds 11.5 ppg
with 135 assists on the year. The Bruins top the conference with a 50.6
shooting percentage from the field, and a 39.7 3-point field-goal percentage
is another league leader.
Finally, Murray State will conclude the semifinal round of the tournament with
a bout against the winner of Eastern Kentucky and EIU/SEMO. The Racers had won
five straight games before the double-overtime defeat at the hands of SEMO in
the regular-season finale Saturday. Still, the Racers won the OVC West
Division and went a total of 3-1 against their potential semifinal
competition during the regular season. Murray State will be looking for its
league-leading 16th conference title, and will try to improve on a 62-33 all-
time tournament record. The Racers won the OVC championship and automatic bid
last in 2012. Freshman Cameron Payne played well beyond his years this season,
leading the team with a 15.9 ppg average and racking up 156 total assists (5.6
apg), which was good for second in the OVC. Jarvis Williams was a monster
under the basket, averaging 14.5 ppg with a 10.4 rpg mark (second in OVC) with
41 blocked shots. T.J. Sapp (14.2 ppg) and Jeffery Moss (13.3 ppg) rounded out
the Murray State double-digit scorers.
Eastern Kentucky and Morehead State have a shot to pull off some upsets in the
tournament, but ultimately it just won't feel like an Ohio Valley title fight
if it isn't between Murray State and Belmont. If last year's OVC final and the
regular-season meeting between the two squads is any indicator of a potential
championship bout, the OVC postseason will be one worth watching. Both teams
have serious playmakers, but the Nashville advantage will help the Bruins
immensely. The Racers have the history, but Belmont, since joining the league
prior to last season, has established itself as the team to beat.