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Ohio Valley Conference Tournament: Will Murray State complete the perfect conference season?

The Racers are the heavy favorites, but Belmont and Morehead State pose legitimate threats

NCAA Basketball: Belmont at Murray State
KJ Williams leads Murray State with 18.2 points and 8.2 rebounds.
Steve Roberts-USA TODAY Sports

The OVC Conference Tournament tips off in Evansville, Ind., this afternoon. It will be the last chance for Murray State or Belmont to take control of the conference tourney crown as both schools will leave for the Missouri Valley Conference this upcoming summer.

There should not be much variance in the outcomes- the conference title will run through the top three teams. Nevertheless, the Ohio Valley has always been one of the more entertaining conference tournaments.

This year the tournament is headlined by the Murray State Racers. Murray State comes into the tournament with a perfect 18-0 conference record. The combination of Tevin Brown and KJ Williams makes the Racers tough to beat.

Then there is the veteran Belmont squad that can never be counted out. Morehead State is the defending tournament champ.

The question is: which stars will shine, and is their anyone that upend the massive favorites in the conference?

Bracket:

Schedule:

Wednesday, March 2

Game 1: No. 8 SIU-Edwardsville vs. No. 5 Tennessee State, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Game 2: No. 7 Tennessee Tech vs. No. 6 Austin Peay, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Wednesday, March 3

Game 3: Game 1 Winner vs. No. 4 Southeast Missouri, 6:30 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Game 4: Game 2 Winner vs. No. 3 Morehead State, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN+

Thursday, March 4

Game 5: Game 3 Winner vs. No. 1 Murray State, 7 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Game 6: Game 4 Winner vs. No. 2 Belmont, 9:30 p.m. ET, ESPNU

Friday, March 5

Game 7: Game 5 Winner vs. Game 6 Winner 7:30 p.m. ET, ESPN2

Favorite: Murray State: odds -190

The regular season champion is a -190 favorite to cut down Nets in Evansville. I don’t blame the oddsmakers here. The Racers rank 23rd in the NET and 25th in Ken Pom. They have yet to lose a game in 2022.

It’s fair to mention Murray State has had close calls against Southeast Missouri and Tennessee Martin over the last couple weeks and won both games by just two points. On the flip side, the Racers beat second-place Belmont by a combined 55 points in their two meetings.

The Racers have one of the best big-man and guard combos in college basketball. Brown is a four-year starter who has scored over 1,800 career points in a Racers uniform. He is lethal off the dribble and is a career 38% 3-point shooter. Williams has been a menace in the front court by averaging 18.2 points and 8.5 rebounds this season.

Murray State is the top contender to win the OVC Tournament but has its sights set on making a deep run in the NCAA Tournament as well.

Contender: Belmont odds: +250

Since joining the conference from the Atlantic Sun in the 2012-2013 season, Belmont has won three OVC tournament titles and has been dominant in the regular season as well. The Bruins are far away from at-large contention, so they need to win the tournament to grab an NCAA Tourney bid, which they are more than capable of doing it.

This team fell short in the OVC title game last season. Now it is playing the underdog role once again. The Bruins are +250 to cut the nets in Evansville.

The Bruins are lead by seniors Grayson Murphy and center Nick Muszynski. Murphy ranks in the top 10 nationally in assists per game (5.9) and Muszynski is averaging 15.9 points per game on 57% shooting.

The breakthrough season of wing Ben Sheppard (16.3 ppg), gives Belmont one of the most efficient offenses in the country ranking 10th in effective field goal percentage and first nationally in two-point field goal percentage.

Belmont could have a tough matchup with Morehead State in the semis before having a chance to most likely play Murray State in the final. This team is too experienced and talented to be counted out.

Darkhorse: Morehead State +800

We could not finish the preview without mentioning the defending tournament champions. Morehead returned four starters from last year’s team and had a pretty good season going 21-10 overall and 13-5 in the conference

The Eagles had some impressive showings against the league’s top two teams. In a four-point loss to Murray State, they led by seven with less than four minutes to play. They also have a win over Belmont.

Morehead State is lead by 6-foot-10-inch center Johni Broome. Broome is a legit NBA prospect who is averaging 16.5 points and 10.6 rebounds a game this season. He is a guy who can match up with Williams and Muszynski.

The Eagles are a team that can be very streaky. They have problems with turnovers. When the Eagles play smart, they can beat anyone in this conference on a given night. This a team that shouldn’t be slept on, and +800 is pretty good value for this team.

Prediction:

Murray State is overwhelmingly the best team in the conference. But the best team doesn’t always win these conference tournaments.

I’m going to go with the team that has the most experience and pedigree. Belmont will have a chip on its shoulder after losing the OVC final as a huge favorite last year. The Bruins can score in a variety of ways and they have the size to be competitive on the glass against Murray State.

Remember, it’s hard to beat a team three times. Murray State should get an at-large bid if it loses at the OVC tournament, but Belmont needs to win it all. I expect the Bruins to be a bid stealer and we will have a two-bid OVC.