Ohio Valley: March 6-9, Municipal Auditorium (Nashville, TN) | Bracket
A banner season in the Ohio Valley will culminate with what could be an entertaining and unpredictable conference tournament. Should all four league heavies face-off in the semifinals, the last two days of this event will be really good television. Belmont is the nominal favorite, but far from a lock.
Key Matchup: No. 4 Tennessee State vs. No. 5 Morehead State
This is a potential quarterfinal matchup (should the Eagles win their quarterfinal against 8-seed Tennessee-Martin) that could have a huge impact on how the rest of the tournament plays out. Top seed Belmont is the semifinal opponent on this side of the bracket, and Tennessee State handed the Bruins one of their two league losses. The hitch in this storyline: Morehead State swept the season series from the Tigers, including a wild 101-100 win last week on the road. Belmont escaped by one on the road at Morehead but crushed them at home and likely would prefer that draw over TSU.
Team to Watch: Eastern Kentucky
The sweet-shooting (at least from inside the arc) Colonels are staring at a semifinal showdown with Murray State, a team they handled by 12 on the road earlier this season. They played Belmont fairly tough in two losses, also, so it wouldn't be a lopsided final if that's the matchup. They don't defend very well when they don't force a turnover, but they do that on 26.8 percent of opponent possessions. Their huge positive turnover differential equates to a lot of "free" possessions each night.
Hottest Storyline: Can Belmont get an at-large, if needed?
The Bruins will enter the OVC tournament with a gaudy RPI, but without the quality wins to match it. As major-conference bubble teams continue to spit the bit, could a spot remain open for a team like the Bruins should they lose a tough final to a solid Murray State or Eastern Kentucky team? It feels unlikely, but thanks to the improvements of the league as a whole, the debutants could have a safety net.
The Pick: BelmontThe tournament's in their hometown and they're the best team in the conference, with senior guards in Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark that would be the envy of a lot of larger programs. Experience + talent = auto-bid and no need to tempt the whims of the selection committee.