Ohio Valley Conference tournament preview
Evan Bradds leads heavily favored Belmont into the Ohio Valley Conference tournament/Photo: Jim Brown/USA Today Sports

Ohio Valley Conference tournament preview

Everybody is chasing Belmont as the top eight teams from the conference gather in Nashville to determine the league champion.

john-lupo
John Lupo

The Ohio Valley conference tournament begins tonight in Nashville as fifth through eighth place square off in two first round games. The top two teams will not see action until Friday while the third and fourth placed teams play Wednesday's winners on Thursday.

When: March 1 (first round), March 2 (quarterfinals), March 3 (semifinals), March 4 (final)

Where: All games will be held at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.

Matchups:

First round (Wednesday):

#8 Tennessee State vs #5 Southeast Missouri State, 6:30 CT.

#7 Murray State vs #6 Tennessee Tech, 8:30 CT.

Quarterfinals (Thursday):

Tennessee State/Southeast Missouri State vs #4 Jacksonville State, 6:30 CT.

Murray State/Tennessee Tech vs #3 Morehead State, 8:30 CT.

Semifinals (Friday):

Tennessee State/Southeast Missouri State/Jacksonville State vs #1 Belmont, 6:30 CT.

Murray State/Tennessee Tech/Morehead State vs #2 Tennessee-Martin, 9 CT.

Final (Saturday):

Tennessee State/Southeast Missouri State/Jacksonville State/Belmont vs Murray State/Tennessee Tech/Morehead State/Tennessee-Martin, 7 CT.

Belmont again dominates regular season, Tennessee-Martin represents biggest threat

Once again coach Rick Byrd's Bruins were the class of the league, posting a 15-1 mark, their best since joining from the Atlantic Sun 2012-13. They are an astounding 66-12 in OVC play in their five years in the league and this year are led by Evan Bradds, the leader in Ohio Valley history in field goal percentage (67.4). 

Luke is a terrific compliment to Bradds for the Bruins/Photo: Alan Poizner/The Tennessean
Luke is a terrific compliment to Bradds for the Bruins/Photo: Alan Poizner/The Tennessean

Bradds (20.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) is the 14th player in league history to repeat as Player of the Year and first since Murray State's Isiah Caanan accomplished the feat in 2012 and 2013. Austin Luke joins Bradds on the all-league first team.

Tennessee-Martin (11-5, 20-11) repeated as OVC West division champions and are Belmont's toughest challenge to reach the NCAA Tournament. Jacolby Mobley (19.4 ppg, 78.3 FT, 37.4 3 pt FG) is the Skyhawks' standout player, named to the OVC first team as looks to lead UTM to their first NCAA Tournament in school history.

Mobley is an excellent all-around player and gives Tennessee-Martin a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament/Photo: Mike Freed/Post-Gazette
Mobley is an excellent all-around player and gives Tennessee-Martin a chance to reach the NCAA Tournament/Photo: Mike Freed/Post-Gazette

Javier Martinez (12.8 ppg, 8.6 rpg) was an OVC second team performer while Matthew Butler (13.8 ppg, 38 % 3 pt FG) was named to the all-newcomer team and gives UTM another deep threat to go along with Mobley.

Morehead State, Jacksonville State finish third, fourth

Finishing a distant second to Belmont in the OVC's West division is Morehead State (10-6, 14-15). As the third seed, the Eagles receive a bye into Thursday night's quarterfinals and will turn to Xavier Moon (16.0 ppg, 4.6 apg, 88.9 FT) and DeJuan Marrero (12.0 ppg, 8.5 rpg) to lead the charge. 

Moon is an excellent scorer who can be counted on late in games due to his terrific percentage from the free throw line/Photo: Morehead State website
Moon is an excellent scorer who can be counted on late in games due to his terrific percentage from the free throw line/Photo: Morehead State website

Jacksonville State (9-7, 17-14) was picked to finish last in the East Division, but first-year coach Ray Harper guided the Gamecocks to a fourth place finish overall in the league, largely thanks to the talents of second-team OVC standout Malcolm Drumwright (12.2 ppg, 3.9 rpg, 2.4 apg) and Erik Durham, a deadly shooter from long range (47.9 %). 

Durham gives Jacksonville State one of the best long-range marksmen in the country/Photo: Matt reynolds/Jacksonville State
Durham gives Jacksonville State one of the best long-range marksmen in the country/Photo: Matt reynolds/Jacksonville State

SEMO leads rest of the pack

Southeast Missouri State (9-7, 14-17) finished fifth overall are paced by two of the finest players in the conference in first-team all-conference pick Antonius Cleveland (17.0 ppg, 55.7% FG, 39.7% 3-pt FG) and Denzel Mahoney (14.2 ppg, 4.2 rpg), named to both the second-team all-league and all-newcomer teams.

Cleveland is a versatile all-around performer for Southeast Missouri State/Photo: Aaron Palmer
Cleveland is a versatile all-around performer for Southeast Missouri State/Photo: Aaron Palmer

Tennessee Tech (8-8, 12-19) were the only team in the league to defeat Belmont, knocking off the Bruins at home 83-70 on February 11th. Coming in at sixth place, the Eagles are looking to reach the NCAA's for the first time since 1963 and will count on Aleksa Jugovic (15.2 ppg, 90.3 % FT, 35.9 % 3-pt FG) to help snap the drought.

Jugovic hopes to lead Tennessee Tech to their first NCAA bid in 54 years/Photo: Tennessee Tech website
Jugovic hopes to lead Tennessee Tech to their first NCAA bid in 54 years/Photo: Tennessee Tech website

It was a surprisingly down year for Murray State (8-8, 14-16), finishing with a losing overall record for the first time since the 1986-87 season. Despite finishing seventh, the Racers have two OVC first team all-league selections in Tulane transfer Jonathan Stark (21.1 ppg, 44.7 FG %, 82.1 FT % 42.3 3-pt FG %) and Terrell Miller. 

Stark is one of the best players in the conference on an average Murray State squad/Photo: Bill Lukitsch
Stark is one of the best players in the conference on an average Murray State squad/Photo: Bill Lukitsch

Tennessee State (8-8, 17-12) grabbed the eighth and final spot in the conference tournament on the back of Tahjere McCall (14.4 ppg, 5.1 apg, 4.9 rpg), a first-team OVC selection and the Defensive Player of the Year for the second straight season.

McCall is a dominant defensive presence/Photo: Tennessee State website
McCall is a dominant defensive presence/Photo: Tennessee State website

Who will go dancing?

It's hard to pick against Belmont. The Bruins cruised through the conference season with just the one loss to Tennessee Tech and have the added benefit of a double bye to the semifinals as a result of their excellent season. Tennessee-Martin is a very good team and in a one-game setting, Mobley could lead the Skyhawks to an upset, but Belmont looks set to claim to their third NCAA bid as members of the Ohio Valley and eighth in school history.

Prediction: Belmont defeats Tennessee-Martin in the final.

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