The OVC heads to Nashville as the Belmont Bruins look to defend their city and win the conference tournament championship in just their first season as conference members. But in order to do so they will have to stave off several talented and feisty teams looking to make a name for themselves at the Bruins expense.
This hasn’t been the banner year that many expected. The conference’s previous powerhouse, Murray State, has struggled to maintain their lofty status following a breakout season. Morehead State, a postseason legend of years’ past, is in the first year of a coaching change and Tennessee State played without their star player for much of the regular season.
Anything less than a Belmont victory in the championship game over Murray State would have to be considered both a disappointment and a shocking upset.
But if we’ve learned anything from this season thus far, it’s to expect the unexpected.
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Where: Municipal Auditorium (Nashville, TN)
When: March 6-9
Final: March 9, 6 p.m. (ESPN2)
Belmont enters their first OVC Tournament as the prohibitive favorites following their inaugural OVC campaign in which they finished 14-2 in league play. Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson anchor one of the top backcourts in the country. The senior duo combines to average 31.6ppg and stopping them will be the number one priority for all opponents who run in to them. But the Bruins have other weapons too. Forwards Trevor Noack and J.J. Mann both average double figures and are high-percentage shooters.
And if they lose?
Murray State, the darlings of 2012 have been pushed to the conference backburner with the arrival of Belmont into the OVC. But the Racers still have Isaiah Canaan and his 21.6ppg. The Racers also have Ed Daniel, the league’s top rebounder. If the Racers want to make the NCAA Tournament for the third time in four years, they will need to ride the coattails of their team leaders.
The Colonels of Eastern Kentucky will have a tough task in front of them if they want to steal the league’s automatic bid away from Belmont. But EKU does have the benefit of being 3-0 against teams they will have to face before potentially playing Belmont in the finals. But the x-factor will be team rebounding. The Colonels are ranked a dreadful 345th in total rebounding. But they can help the cause by making a high percentage of their field goals.
– Ian Clark & Kerron Johnson, Belmont: They make up arguably the most dynamic and prolific backcourt in in both Atlantic Sun and Ohio Valley history. Only twice this season have both players failed to reach double figures in the same game.
– Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: Everybody knows his name and everybody knows his game. But that hasn’t helped teams stifle the league’s top scorer. Canaan has failed to score less than 15 points just twice this season and has scored at least 20 points in each of the past four games.
– Robert Covington, Tennessee State: Despite missing the first nine games of league play due to knee injury, Covington is capable of scoring in volume on any given night. He also has developed a knack for being a big game player, and tends to save his best performances for high stakes situations.
– Nino Johnson, Southeast Missouri State: The sophomore big-man has been playing his best basketball of the season as of late, registering a double-double in three of the past four games and has been a match-up nightmare for many of the top teams in the league.
CBT Prediction: The Murray State racers boune back from a two-game losing streak to make a run to the OVC championship where they will face No. 1-seed Belmont. Isaiah Canaan will lead the Racers to the brink of victory, only to have the Bruins close the door on them, winning the OVC championship in their first year as members.
You can contact Troy Machir on Twitter at @TroyMachir