Winners and losers in OVC men’s basketball

Dillan Schorfheide, Sports Editor

Dillan Schorfheide | The Daily Eastern News
Junior Mack Smith goes up for a dunk in Eastern’s 83-80 overtime win against Austin Peay on Feb. 22 at Lantz Arena.

Eastern simultaneously propelled itself into a good spot to make the OVC tournament, while also muddying the waters of the OVC standings with its wins over Murray State and Austin Peay last week.

There is still a clear line between the top three teams (kind of four with Eastern Kentucky) and even just the fifth team and below, but now the best team in the conference is hard to pick out.

More on that later, but since this is the final week of OVC play, there is a lot riding for the four teams behind Eastern Kentucky in the standings (teams four through eight), while the top three teams also have a lot to think about.

With that, here are the winners and losers in the OVC going into this week.

Eastern- winner

The Panthers had to make it, considering they took down two of the OVC powerhouses.

Defeating Murray State and Austin Peay on its own is incredible, especially considering they came-from-behind in both wins, but due to the wins, Eastern now has a very good chance to be at least the eight seed in the OVC tournament.

The only way Eastern can miss the tournament is this: The Panthers go 0-2 this weekend (finish 7-11), Morehead State wins one of its two games (finishes 8-10), Jacksonville State loses to Tennessee Tech but beats Tennessee State (finishes 8-10) and Tennessee Tech defeats Belmont on the road, finishes 8-10.

The likelihood of these all happening is slim, especially Tennessee Tech defeating Belmont on the road.

But, hey, crazier things have happened, so the Panthers really need to defeat Southeast Missouri Thursday to secure their spot and not have to worry.

What will help the Panthers is the fact that Tennessee State hosts Jacksonville State and Belmont this week, and Morehead State visits Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky. On top of that, Jacksonville State visits Tennessee State Thursday, so if those three teams lose all those games, and Eastern wins out, the Panthers are looking at the five seed in the tournament.

Belmont- winner

As if they have not won enough, the Bruins are even bigger winners going into this final week.

They finish the year hosting Tennessee Tech Thursday and visiting Tennessee State Saturday. Despite Tennessee State being a decent team, Belmont should sweep the week’s games.

If they do, they will be sitting pretty and will likely finish in first place going into the tournament. No matter if Austin Peay or Murray State tie them in conference wins, the Bruins have a better overall record, which is the tiebreaker.

Why did I say “or” in that last sentence?

Because of the next point I am about to make.

But, really quickly, Belmont started the OVC schedule with a home loss to Southern Illinois Edwardsville, which gave some people doubts (also lost to Murray State and Austin Peay on the road), so seeing the Bruins manage to come back and be in first again is the quality of a winner.

Murray State or Austin Peay- losers

One of these teams holds the key to staying in the top two of the conference.

Which one is not known yet, but considering they face each other Saturday, if they both win their Thursday games, one of them will have to drop to third place. It will be a home game for Murray State, so as of right now, favorability may be on their side.

And, no matter which team wins Saturday, assuming Belmont wins both of its games, the winner will still be second place to Belmont because of the overall record tiebreaker.

On top of that, only the top two seeds get byes to the semifinals (three and four seeds get byes to the quarterfinals), so Saturday’s game will be even more important for the winner.

Tennessee Tech- loser

The poor Golden Eagles.

They won both games last week, still have a chance to make the tournament if things go right, only to (likely) see that chance fade away Thursday.

Starting Thursday, they have to visit Belmont, which very likely is the end of their tournament hopes because Belmont cannot afford to lose either, if the Bruins want to stay on top.

Then Saturday, if they can pull off a miracle against Belmont, the Golden Eagles travel to face Jacksonville State on the road, and the Gamecocks will be playing for a lot too.

Jacksonville State faces Tennessee State on the road Thursday, which is not an easy game, then they face Tennessee Tech.

Should the Gamecocks lose Thursday, and depending on how other games turn out, they will want to win to try and get the best possible seeding

What would be really interesting is if Tennessee Tech defeats Belmont Thursday, and Jacksonville State loses to Tennessee State Thursday.

That would make Saturday, if Morehead State and Eastern win Thursday, the game that decides which team, between the Gamecocks and Golden Eagles, makes it in the tournament.

But, again, the Golden Eagles have to do a lot to get to that point, and the odds of that happening are slim.

Tennessee-Martin- loser

Schedules are a big factor on how a team may perform, and the Skyhawks looked to have a pretty good chance of coming back and making the tournament.

After defeating Eastern on a buzzer-beating three-pointer Feb. 15, they had road games at Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech last week and would close out the season this week against Southern Illinois Edwardsville and Southeast Missouri at home.

Defeating Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State on the road is not easy, but had the Skyhawks swept last week and won both home games this week, they had a chance of making the tournament (possibly).

Plus, what better way to do that then by clinching on your home court?

But looking at the bigger picture, Tennessee-Martin is also a loser because of the expectations put on it before the season.

The Skyhawks were picked to finish fifth this season in the media poll and the coaches/communication directors poll.

Tennessee-Martin had one of the highest-powered offense in the conference (fifth-most points per game) and had the second-leading scorer in the conference in Parker Stewart (19.8 points per game).

But after the Skyhawks’ ninth game, they lost Craig Randall II, and he contributed 12.9 points per game.

The Skyhawks also had Quinton Dove and Derek Hawthorne Jr. returning as senior leaders on the team, but the season did not end the way the Skyhawks may have thought it would.

Morehead State- winner (somehow)

Morehead State probably has the most daunting ending to its season of any OVC team, but the Eagles still have a good chance to make the tournament.

I mentioned it earlier with the point about Eastern, but the Eagles face Austin Peay and Eastern Kentucky on the road this week.


And yet, the Eagles can still make the tournament, and likely will.

There is only one way the Eagles miss the tournament.

It is this: If Tennessee Tech wins out (which is not likely), and if Jacksonville State wins just one game (fairly likely, but Tennessee Tech and Jacksonville State meet Saturday), Morehead State will miss the tournament (if they lose both games) and the other two will make it (as long as Jacksonville State would beat Tennessee State on the road Thursday, which is not an easy thing to do).

Eastern could lose both games and still make it because even though the Panthers and Eagles would have the same conference record (7-11), the Panthers have the better overall record for the tiebreaker.

In all likeliness, Tennessee tech will not win either game, so Morehead State should be fine, but man is it fun to think about the worst possible thing that could happen.

If Tennessee Tech loses both of its games, Morehead State could lose both games and still make it, so in the end, nothing terrible would happen.

Also since the bottom four teams out of the eight that would make it as of right now (Tennessee State, Jacksonville State, Morehead State and Eastern) will face each other no matter the seeding, losing both games or winning a game or whatever has no huge impact on Morehead State, as long as Tennessee Tech minds its business and loses like it is supposed to.

With all that said, here are my power rankings for the final week of OVC play:

  1. Belmont
  2. Austin Peay
  3. Murray State
  4. Eastern Kentucky
  5. Eastern
  6. Tennessee State
  7. Morehead State
  8. Jacksonville State
  9. Tennessee Tech
  10. Southern Illinois Edwardsville
  11. Tennessee-Martin
  12. Southeast Missouri

Dillan Schorfheide can be reached at 581-2812 or [email protected].