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2014 Ohio Valley Tournament Preview: Belmont looking to repeat

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source: AP
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Last season, Kerron Johnson propelled Belmont, in its first season as a conference member, to the Ohio Valley tournament title with a last-second bucket over Murray State. If all goes according to plan, the Bruins and the Racers will meet up again in the OVC championship game as they head into the field this season as the Nos. 1 and 2 teams, respectively. Although those two have byes into the semifinals, they will be hard-pressed to get back into the finals.

Eastern Kentucky, one of the league’s more well-balanced teams, can spoil that rematch as the three-seed. Morehead State has dropped three straight entering the tournament, but the Eagles played Belmont — a potential semifinal opponent — tight this season, losing by a combined seven points in two games. All the way toward the bottom of the bracket sits teams like No. 6 Southeast Missouri State, a team with enough offensive weapons to make a run.

Belmont may be playing in its hometown, but as the top seed, and eyeing the program’s fourth straight trip to the NCAA tournament, Rick Byrd’s club with have a target on its back once again.

(MORE: Browse through all of our conference tournament previews)

The Bracket

When: March 5-8

Where: Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tenn.

Final: Saturday, March 8 at 6 p.m. (ESPN2)

Favorite: Belmont

It’s tough to pick against the Bruins. Rick Byrd has built a well-respected program, and despite losing Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson, he’s got his team back in the hunt for another conference tournament title led by senior J.J. Mann, who has shined in his expanded role this season. Belmont once again challenged itself in non-league play with a 3-4 record against the RPI Top 100 and enters the conference tournament with six straight wins.

And if they lose?: Murray State

The Racers have been the royalty of the Ohio Valley Conference, last winning the title in 2012. Despite losing Isaiah Canaan, Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson — and sophomore Zay Jackson — the Racers remain near the top of the standings, led by talented freshman guard Cameron Payne, who is top 10 in the conference in points and assists per game. Murray State begins postseason play on the heels of a double-overtime loss to Southeast Missouri State, which snapped a five-game winning streak.

Sleepers:

  • Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels are one of the OVC’s most efficient teams on both sides of the ball. Though the glass is where they are most vulnerable.
  • Southeast Missouri State: Remember, this team was voted to ahead of Murray State in the preseason poll. We know the Redhawks have the scoring power, and if they get by Eastern Illinois in the first round, they’ll have an advantage on the boards against Eastern Kentucky in the quarterfinals. Riding a four-game winning streak, maybe SEMO is ready to make a postseason run.

Studs:

  • J.J. Mann, Belmont: He’s had a tremendous season (i.e. game-winner in Chapel Hill), scoring 18.5 points and grabbing 4.8 rebounds per game. Well deserving of his OVC Player of the Year honor.
  • Cameron Payne, Murray State: Went for a season-high 29 against Belmont this season. Averaged 15.9 points and 5.6 assists per game as a freshman.
  • Glenn Cosey, Eastern Kentucky: A bump up in points and assists for the senior guard. He’s gone for 20 or more points 13 times this season.
  • Jarekious Bradley and Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri State: The duo both average more than 19 points per game, leading the high-power offensive attack.

CBT Prediction: Belmont over Southeast Missouri State

PREGAME SHOOTAROUND: Some conference matchups play out before football

Oregon forward Dillon Brooks, left, reacts after scoring a basket against Utah during the second half of an NCAA college basketball game in Salt Lake City, Thursday, Jan. 14, 2016. Oregon defeated Utah 77-59. (AP Photo/George Frey)
(AP Photo/George Frey)
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GAME OF THE NIGHT: Utah at No. 16 Oregon, 4:00 p.m.

From Rob Dauster’s Weekend Preview:

Utah suffered one of the worst losses I’ve seen in a while on Thursday night, when Brandon Taylor, for some unknown reason, decided to foul an Oregon State player firing up a half court prayer at the buzzer. The Utes, who are arguably the second-best team in the Pac-12, will look to bounce-back on Sunday against the best team in the Pac-12, No. 16 Oregon at 4:00 p.m.

FIVE THINGS TO WATCH FOR:

1. No. 12 SMU will attempt to stay atop the American standings as they travel to South Florida. While the Mustangs won the first matchup between these two teams at home by 14, they’ve dropped their last two games on the road.

2. A few more American contests are going down as East Carolina travels to UConn and Houston heads to Tulsa. The game between the Cougars and Golden Hurricane is especially interesting because both teams are sitting two games back of SMU and trying to make a move on the postseason.

3. No. 5 Iowa continues the soft part of the schedule as they face Illinois on the road. The Hawkeyes posted recent easy victories over Northwestern and Penn State and will be heavily favored again on Sunday.

4. Could be an intriguing game as No. 17 Miami travels to Georgia Tech. Although the Yellow Jackets aren’t a major contender in the ACC, they’ve been tough this season, especially at home. The Hurricanes fell victim to Georgia Tech last season while they were ranked by Marcus Georges-Hunt has to get back on track after a recent slump for that to happen.

5. There is an Atlantic 10 game that will be featured on NBCSN on Sunday: Saint Louis at St. Bonaventure (2:00 p.m.).

CLICK HERE to watch these games on NBC Sports Live Extra Sunday afternoon.

Illinois State ends No. 21 Wichita State’s 12-game win streak

Fred VanVleet
AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki
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Having won 12 straight games, No. 21 Wichita State entered the weekend one of the hottest teams in the country. And with a four-game lead atop the Missouri Valley standings, clinching the regular season title was more a matter of “when” as opposed to “if.” But none of that mattered Saturday night at Illinois State, as the Redbirds managed to hand the Shockers their first conference loss by the final score of 58-53.

In addition to the 12-game win streak, which was second to Stony Brook (15 straight wins), Wichita State also saw its 19-game win streak in Valley regular season games come to an end. Illinois State was the last Valley team to beat Wichita State, eliminating the Shockers in the Arch Madness semifinals last March, and they played with the confidence of a team that believed it could win.

And after a rough first half the Redbirds found a way to come back, erasing a 16-point second half deficit in the process.

Wichita State’s issue in the second half was the fact that they couldn’t make shots. The Shockers shot just 26.7 percent from the field and 1-for-14 from three in the second half, with Fred VanVleet going scoreless and Shaq Morris scoring just one point. And just two players, Ron Baker and Conner Frankamp, managed to make multiple field goals in the game’s final 20 minutes. Illinois State certainly deserves credit for that, as they took away the quality looks Wichita State was able to find in building its lead.

And on the other end of the floor Paris Lee took control of the game during Illinois State’s comeback, scoring 13 of his 19 points in the second half with Deontae Hawkins adding 11 second-half points. Illinois State was even worse from the field, finishing the game shooting just over 27 percent from the field. But they were able to attack the Wichita State defense and get to the foul line, outscoring the Shockers 22-9 from the charity stripe. And in a game in which neither team could get much going offensively, the ability to get points from the line proved to be the difference.

This defeat doesn’t help Wichita State, but did anything really change? Maybe the margin for error when it comes to an at-large bid gets a little smaller with the loss in the eyes of some. But when considering injuries to the likes of VanVleet and Anton Grady in non-conference play, those early season losses are understandable. Saturday was a rough night for Wichita State, but given the maturity and talent on at Gregg Marshall’s disposal the Shockers will be fine moving forward.