There are three NCAA Tournament-worthy teams in the Ohio Valley Conference. Unfortunately, only one team from the OVC will make it into the Field of 68. We assume that it will be one of the three teams, but crazier things have happened. We’ll see what happens in Evansville, Indiana for the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament that begins on Wednesday March 4 and runs through Saturday March 7.
Only the top eight teams qualified for the conference tournament, so the bottom four were sent home for the season. Those were Tennessee Tech, UT Martin, SIU Edwardsville, and SE Missouri State.
This is a conference tournament in which the top two seeds get byes to the semifinals, which made this past weekend very important. Belmont struggled, but took care of business against Tennessee State to secure the #1 seed. Murray State beat Austin Peay by 14 to get the bye to the semis and force Austin Peay into action on Thursday night. Both Belmont and Murray State split the regular season meetings against Austin Peay with a loss on the road. Now we go to a neutral setting where the playing field will be level for just about all teams involved.
Here are the teams, seeds, and the odds from Circa Sports for the 2020 OVC Tournament:
- Belmont 24-7 (15-3) (record vs. Tenn State & Eastern Illinois) -135
- Murray State 22-8 (15-3) +225
- Austin Peay 20-11 (14-4) +750
- Eastern Kentucky 15-16 (12-6) +6000
- Tennessee State 17-14 (9-9) (H2H tiebreaker) +6000
- Eastern Illinois 16-14 (9-9) +3000
- Jacksonville State 13-18 (8-10) +6000
- Morehead State 13-18 (7-11) +15000
The bottom four teams play on Wednesday night to get things underway. The #3 and #4 seeds play for the first time in the quarterfinals. Belmont and Murray State have the double byes. The double bye can be a blessing and a curse. It sometimes helps the lower-seeded team to have played a game and get those nerves out of the way. Belmont and Murray State are the two best teams in this league, but Austin Peay is very good and Eastern Kentucky presents challenges by being one of the fastest teams in the country from a tempo standpoint.
Here is the schedule for the 2020 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament:
Wednesday March 4
6:30 p.m. CT: 8 Morehead State vs. 5 Tennessee State
8:30 p.m. CT: 7 Jacksonville State vs. 6 Eastern Illinois
Thursday March 5
6:30 p.m. CT: 8/5 winner vs. 4 Eastern Kentucky
8:30 p.m. CT: 7/6 winner vs. 3 Austin Peay
Friday March 6
7 p.m. CT: 8/5/4 winner vs. 1 Belmont
9 p.m. CT: 7/6/3 winner vs. 2 Murray State
Saturday March 7
7 p.m. CT: Championship Game
There are a lot of things to consider for this conference tournament. The first is that the top four seeds should all advance to the semifinals. There is a significant drop-off between the four best teams and the rest of the league. There is a decent chance that Tennessee State, who ranked second in conference play in 3P% can knock off Eastern Kentucky if the Colonels have problems scoring, but that hasn’t been a problem for them most of the year.
If we get the top four, that is when this gets really interesting. We’ll get Part Three of Murray State vs. Austin Peay and Belmont vs. Eastern Kentucky. Belmont beat Eastern Kentucky both times and without much concern, but that will be a very fast-paced game on Friday night for a Belmont team that will have to play the next day.
Murray State and Austin Peay split the regular season meetings, each winning at home. Muray State is the league’s best defensive team by a big margin and also ranks first in 3P% and second in 2P%. The reason why the Racers rank poorly in offense is that they have a TO% over 20%. Austin Peay will need each and every one of the extra possessions in hopes of pulling off an upset.
The interesting thing to note about Austin Peay’s wins over Belmont and Murray State is that the Governors basically won those games at the free throw line. Austin Peay outscored Belmont by 12 at the stripe in an eight-point win and outscored Murray State by nine in a three-point win. The fouls were pretty even in both games.
Ultimately, this looks like it comes down to Belmont vs. Murray State in a 1 vs. 2 matchup for the conference crown. For Murray State, it would be a third straight title. Amazingly, Belmont hasn’t won one since 2015 when the tournament was in Nashville. It sure seems like Belmont would be extra motivated to get back in the winner’s circle, especially with first-year head coach Casey Alexander who came over from Lipscomb.
Belmont was -6 at home and +1 on the road in the two meetings against Murray State. That puts this line in the -3 to -3.5 range. That puts Belmont in the -160 to -165 area in all likelihood for the title game. If you don’t think there is any way that the Bruins lose to Eastern Kentucky or somebody else, then the price on Belmont carries some value, even at -135. It is lame to take a minus price with a conference like this, but it seems like just about the only option unless you like Murray State +225.
Pick: Belmont -135