Last Updated: 2017-03-06
You down with OVC? Yeah, you know me. Well, you had better be down with the Ohio Valley Conference because that’s where we’re going for the matchup between the Belmont Bruins and the Murray State Racers. Mid and low-majors aren’t getting a whole lot of love this season, but this one draws an ESPNU time slot and features the best team in the conference and a very live home underdog. Belmont is favored by three for the trip from Nashville to Murray, Kentucky, where a loud crowd at the CFSB Center awaits. Bettors looking to get in on this 9 p.m. ET tilt can do so over at DSI Sportsbook. Use the promo code ‘BTBRADIO’ to pick up a $10 free bet simply for creating an account and then an additional 50 to 100 percent bonus based on the amount of your first deposit.
Belmont is 16-4 straight up this season with an 11-7 mark against the spread. The Bruins have beaten up on Ohio Valley Conference competition this year, outscoring opponents by an average of 13.3 points per game en route to a 10-0 conference record straight up and a 7-3 mark against the spread. Murray State is just 12-11 straight up and 9-11 against the number. They’ve gone 6-3 in conference play and 5-4 against the spread. This is the only meeting between the two teams in the regular season, but it wouldn’t be a surprise to see them meet in Nashville for the right to advance to the NCAA Tournament next month.
These two teams are the cream of the crop in the OVC. Belmont has won the East Division in the regular season four straight times. Murray State has done the same in the West Division. Belmont has won six of the seven regular season crowns in this decade, but has only won four of the seven conference tournaments. The Bruins made the NCAA Tournament for the first time in 2006 and have made it in 2007, 2008, 2011, 2012, 2013, and 2015 since. Head coach Rick Byrd has been at the helm for 31 years and now owns a 61-13 record in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Bruins were in the Atlantic Sun Conference from the 2001-02 season to the 2011-12 season. Belmont doesn’t have much of a non-conference resume, with losses to Vanderbilt, Florida, Rhode Island, and Middle Tennessee State, but all that matters is winning the OVC, which Belmont is set up to do. The Bruins are the only team in the OVC without at least three conference losses.
It certainly doesn’t hurt to have the league’s best player in Evan Bradds. Bradds has scored 21.1 points and has pulled down 8.6 rebounds this season. The 6-foot-7 senior from the Buckeye State is shooting 62 percent from the floor, which is actually down from the 71 percent he shot last season. He’s scored at least 20 points in each of his last seven games. Fellow senior Taylor Barnette and junior Amanze Egekeze provide the bulk of the secondary scoring. Junior point guard Austin Luke has supplied 7.5 assists per game. Belmont could be a dangerous team come March because there’s a lot of experience here. Ken Pomeroy has the Bruins ranked 77th in the country and in the top 65 in offensive efficiency. That’s very strong for an Ohio Valley Conference team.
It’s not a big surprise that Murray State is having a bit of a rough patch this season. The Racers do have a nice win over Illinois State, who is unbeaten in Missouri Valley Conference play with a huge showdown against Wichita State coming up this weekend. The Racers said goodbye to head coach Steve Prohm prior to last season when he took the job at Iowa State to replace Fred Hoiberg. Murray State promoted assistant Matt McMahon from within and he became one of the youngest coaches in college basketball. The Racers were 17-14 overall and 10-6 in OVC play on his watch last year, which was good enough to tie for first in the West Division. This season, the Racers have been a little bit up and down, but there is very little depth to go around. Only nine players have seen game action and McMahon relies very heavily on his upperclassmen.
Leading scorer Jonathan Stark has filled up the stat sheet with 20.7 points, 3.4 rebounds, and 5.6 assists per game. He’s also tasked with playing over 35 minutes per game. Bryce Jones, another senior, has scored 12.8 points per game while contributing in other ways. He’s shooting below 38 percent from the floor. Junior Damarcus Croaker is the other Racer above 10 points per game. Murray State ranks 260th in adjusted defensive efficiency per Ken Pomeroy’s metrics, which is a byproduct of not having much depth or size. Murray State doesn’t have a single player over 6-foot-8 on the roster.
College Basketball Free Pick: Belmont Bruins -3.5
Belmont runs a much deeper bench and it’s tough to see Murray State having an answer for Evan Bradds. For the Bruins, this is probably the stiffest test on the regular season roster and a chance to get some national TV exposure. Murray State is still a quality team, but McMahon doesn’t have much trust in his youngsters, so there’s going to be a large amount of responsibility for three players that haven’t been great defensively thus far. Everybody seems to be worried about upsets with how this season has gone, but this doesn’t look like it’s going to be one.
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