The Ohio Valley Conference hasn’t sent two teams to the NCAA Tournament since 1987, but the OVC might send both the Murray State Racers and the Belmont Bruins to the Big Dance this year. Both teams are on the bubble coming into tonight’s Ohio Valley Conference Championship Game, and whichever team wins will have the guesswork taken out of their status. Oddly enough, no team has won the OVC Tournament in consecutive seasons in two decades, so that bodes well for Belmont after Murray State won the tournament last year.
There are no injuries to report for either team coming into tonight’s MVC Championship Game.
As of early Saturday morning, there has been no line posted for this game. However, Belmont is likely to be a short favorite considering they are the No. 1 seed and have better numbers than Murray State. I expect Belmont to be favored by 3-4 points with a total in the 140s.
What’s at Stake?
Either Belmont or Murray State will become the first team to officially punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament at the end of tonight’s OVC title game. The winner is likely to end up on the No. 12 or No. 13 line, and that would give them a better match-up than most small conference champions.
The Bruins probably have a better chance of getting an at-large bid than the Racers. Although both schools are 26-4 coming into tonight’s game, Belmont has a better resume than Murray State.
Belmont has two quality wins over fellow bubble team Lipscomb, a road win over UCLA, and a NET rating of 41. That last rating is huge since the Selection Committee has stated that they intend to use NET instead of RPI when it comes to determining at-large bids this season. The Bruins’ NET is higher than bubble teams like Syracuse, Furman, Iowa, TCU, and Ohio State, and considerably higher than Murray State.
Murray State doesn’t have the impressive wins that Belmont boasts, so while Belmont is probably 50-50 to get in, Murray State has about a 20 or 25 percent chance of getting in with a loss tonight. The Racers have a NET rating of 52, and the best thing they can say about their non-conference performance is that they kept it close in road losses to Alabama and Auburn.
Both teams have double-digit winning streaks coming into tonight’s game. Belmont has won 14 straight games, and Murray State has won 10 straight games.
These teams only played once this year, and that was back in late January. Belmont went on the road and beat Murray State 79-66, eventually earning the No. 1 seed off the back of that win. Kevin McClain and Nick Muszynski led the way for Belmont with both players scoring 20 or more points, but neither team’s best player performed well.
Belmont’s Dylan Windler had just five points on 2-7 shooting and turned the ball over four times, while Murray State’s Ja Morant went 5-19 while playing with an ankle injury.
This might be the final time we saw Ja Morant in a Murray State uniform. Morant looks certain to be a top ten pick in the NBA Draft this year, and he might not want to suit up again if the Racers don’t make the NCAA Tournament.
Morant has been incredible this season. You’ve seen him throwing down on outmatched opponents on highlight shows, but he is the complete package as a player. He is hitting over 50 percent of his field goals despite being the focal point of the offense, and he is dishing out more than 10 assists per game.
The Bruins have a great guard of their own in Windler. It’s not often that you see a guard averaging over 20 points and 10 rebounds per game, but he plays closer to the rim than you would think at 6’8 and takes advantage of that versatility. He is a dynamite three-point shooter, hitting 44 percent of his triples, and that height advantage makes him difficult to guard.
Morant will put on a show, but it won’t be enough as Belmont punches its ticket to the dance.