An automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament will be up for grabs as the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament begins on Wednesday, March 5.
Last year, Belmont won a thriller over Murray State in overtime. Those two teams are the two top seeds in this year's tournament, with the Bruins featuring a 14-2 mark against the OVC. The Racers finished one game back at 13-3. Needless to say, these are the two favorites to cut the nets down at Nashville Municipal Auditorium.
Belmont averages 80 points per game, ranking the Bruins in the top 20 nationally. They feature numerous sharpshooters from behind the arc, drilling 40 percent of their three-point attempts. They also shoot 51 percent from the floor and 73 percent from the line. J.J. Mann, a senior, is the leading scorer at 18.4 points per game and can be a matchup nightmare for opponents.
Where the Bruins struggle is on defense and on the glass. They rank 210th nationally in defensive efficiency, according to Ken Pomeroy, and are 331st in rebounding. Granted some of that is due to the style of offense they employ, but it is still a serious flaw to Rick Byrd's team.
Murray State struggled early on as the team adjusted to life without Isaiah Canaan, but the Racers have really turned it on lately. They have won 13 of their last 16 games, with two of their losses coming by three points. As a team, they rank 40th in scoring and shoot the ball at a 48 percent clip from the floor. Similarly to Belmont, defense has been an issue at times; they rank 216th nationally in efficiency, and they are coming off a double-overtime loss where they surrendered 118 points.
Eastern Kentucky comes in as the three seed and is also very dangerous. Its offense is rated 80th on Pomeroy, led by senior guard Glenn Cosey. Another offensive powerhouse, the Colonels' ability to protect the glass and get stops will ultimately determine just how far they can go in March.
For all of the great scorers in the conference, no team may have more balance than fourth-seeded Morehead State. The Eagles feature four players who average double-digits, led by junior guard Angelo Warner. Chad Posthumus is a force down low, averaging a double-double with 10 points and 11.3 rebounds.
Here is the full tournament bracket. The first two rounds can be watched on the OVC Digital Network. The semifinals will be shown on ESPNU, and the championship will be on ESPN2.
Wednesday, March 5 (First Round)
No. 5 Tennessee Tech (16-15, 9-7) vs. No. 8 SIU-Edwardsville (11-19, 7-9), 7 p.m. ET
No. 6 SE Missouri State (17-13, 8-8) vs. Eastern Illinois (11-18, 7-9), 9 p.m. ET
Thursday, March 6 (Quarterfinals)
No. 4 Morehead State (19-12, 10-6) vs. Winner of 5/8 game, 7 p.m. ET
No. 3 Eastern Kentucky (21-9, 11-5) vs. Winner of 6/7 game, 9 p.m. ET
Friday, March 7 (Semifinals)
No. 1 Belmont (23-8, 14-2) vs. Winner of 4/5/8 game, 7:30 p.m. ET
No. 2 Murray State (18-10, 13-3) vs. Winner of 3/6/7 game, 10 p.m. ET
Saturday, March 8
Championship Game, 7 p.m. ET