The Ohio Valley Conference has certainly changed from this year compared to last year. The top two teams in the conference over the past five years went elsewhere, as Murray State and Belmont moved to the Missouri Valley Conference. The conference quickly replaced these teams by adding Lindenwood University and Southern Indiana University from Division II. With the transition process, neither of these teams will be eligible to compete in the postseason tournament for four years. With the heavy hitters of the conference gone, the race for the top is closer than ever. Here is my breakdown of the Ohio Valley Conference schools and my projections for the seedings come conference tournament time. Note: All stats and records are as of 1/15.
1) SIU-Edwardsville (14-5 Overall, 5-1 Conference)
Overview: After a 2021 season that found themselves at the bottom of the Ohio Valley, the Cougars have found their stride this season. Their ATS record speaks volumes, as they are one of the best ATS in the country, but their overall record does as well. Outside of the conference, SIU-Edwardsville has some quality wins over Longwood (current leader of the Big South), Troy, Fairleigh Dickinson, and Saint Louis (2nd in the Atlantic-10). The key to success of the season thus far has come on the balanced scoring attack that the Cougars have produced every game. 2021 Newcomer All-OVC guard, Ray’Sean Taylor is having another solid season, leading the Cougars in points per game (13.9) and assists per game (2.8). He does not have to do all of the work offensively, as opposing defenses must also respect Forward Deejuan Pruit (12.0 ppg, 7.9 rpg). This combination and the scoring they get off the bench will provide a lot of success for the Cougars in the regular season to earn them the one seed come conference tournament time.
2) Southeast Missouri State (9-10 overall, 4-2 Conference)
Overview: The term “roller coaster” can be used and said about a number of teams this season, and SEMO is no exception. The Redhawks started the season hot by winning five of their first six games. They went on to lose eight straight games, half of them by single digits. Now entering conference play, the Redhawks have started out 4-2 with one of the wins coming to SIU Edwardsville, their only loss in the conference thus far. The injury bug has played a big part in the season thus far, as only two players have played all 19 games for the Redhawks thus far. One of those players is someone, who if he continues the season that he is having, could make a case for OVC Player of the Year: Sophomore guard Phillip Russell. The second year-man is leading the team with 17.5 ppg and 4.5 apg (both 2nd in the OVC). Russell has been very impressive as of late, including a 35 point performance in a win over Morehead State in their last game. With guards Chris Harris and Israel Barnes also scoring double digits with 13.5 and 11.5 ppg respectively, this is a squad with a ton of guard depth. For that very reason, the Redhawks are my pick to win the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament.
3) Tennessee Tech (8-11 Overall, 4-2 Conference)
Overview: The non-conference games for Tennessee Tech certainly was not easy, as they took on Tennessee, Marshall, and Butler in their early slate of games this season. However, following losses to SIU-Edwardsville and Lindenwood to start the conference regular season play, the Golden Eagles have been on a roll, winning four straight games by an average of 11.25 ppg. The first two teams have had success with their backcourt thus far this season, but Tennessee Tech is different, as they rely on a frontcourt presence to win them games. Forward Jaylen Sebree has been the go-to guy for the Golden Eagles, leading the team in points (13.2 ppg), rebounds (6.3 rpg), and steals (1.4 spg), while also shooting an impressive 40.5% from beyond the arc. With the tougher part of their schedule coming up, defense will need to be improved, as they are giving up 74.4 ppg. If Tennessee Tech can continue their hot streak winning and improve defensively, they can become a dark horse in the conference as a three seed.
4) Morehead State (10-9 Overall, 3-3 Conference)
Overview: The Eagles are my darkhorse team of the conference this year. There is talent on this squad to win the conference, but in some games they have played thus far this season, defensive mistakes have cost them games. Their record is also misleading, as the Eagles have faced the likes of Indiana, West Virginia, Vanderbilt, and Marshall all on the road in their non-conference slate of games. However, when the Eagles are in a rhythm offensively, there are not many teams in the conference that will be able to slow them down. To get themselves in that rhythm, they have an offense that makes defenses have to respect the guard play and the inside post play. Guard Marcus Freeman has been the team MVP thus far this season, leading the Eagles in points (14.7), assists (3.6), steals (1.3), and 3 point percentage (40.6%). However, forward Alex Gross has made his presence known down in the paint, averaging 12.1 ppg, 7.1 rpg, and 1.4 bpg. When Morehead State plays up to their potential without the mental mistakes defensively, they are very tough to beat and are my dark horse team this season.
5) Tennessee-Martin (11-8 Overall, 3-3 Conference)
Overview: On offense statistically, Tennessee Martin is one of the best there is in the conference. They have some of the best scorers in the conference starting for them and are averaging 73.3 ppg (best in OVC, 89th in NCAA). They have two starters in guards Parker Stewart and KJ Simon that are in the top five in the conference in points per game with 16.7 and 15.2 ppg respectively (3rd and 4th in the conference). They have a solid down-low player in KK Curry that takes the pressure off the guards as well, scoring 9.4 ppg and hauling in 5.2 rpg. However, their one major flaw is the thing that is going to prevent them from having any success moving forward in the conference: Their defense. The Skyhawks are giving up 77.9 ppg, which is the worst in the OVC and the 27th worst in the entire country. In seven of their eight losses this season, they have given up 80+ points. They have the offense to beat any team they face, but if things do not get changed on the defensive end, the Skyhawks will not even make it past the first round of the conference tournament.
6) Tennessee State (10-9 Overall, 2-4 Conference)
Overview: The Tigers are a team that is very similar to UT-Martin in the fact that their offense is very talented and have a number of guys who can contribute. The Tigers have four starters scoring in double figures and have each been one of the top scorers for the team every game. However, the storyline of Tennessee State thus far this season has been the play of guard Jr. Clay. The senior guard has had a phenomenal season thus far, averaging 18.2 ppg and 4.6 assists per game, stats that lead not only his team but also the conference in the respective categories. Guards Marcus Fitgerald and Dedric Boyd, along with Center Adong Makuoi round out the starters averaging double figures with 14.2, 14.0, and 10.3 ppg respectively. However, the Tigers have given up 74.3 ppg, and their defense has been poor in a majority of their conference games. They are talented enough offensively to beat the bottom two teams in the conference, but they absolutely need to clean things up on the defensive end to prove they can make a run to a conference championship.
7) Eastern Illinois (7-12 Overall, 3-3 Conference)
Overview: One thing that I will give the Panthers credit on this season is that they had pulled off an upset as one of the biggest underdogs in college basketball history. They went into Iowa CIty as 32 point underdogs and took down the Hawkeyes 92-83. However, outside of that big win, the Panthers have not looked very good this season. Two of their non-conference wins came to Division II schools and the other came to IUPUI. In conference they have defeated Little Rock (who is at the bottom of the conference), Lindenwood and Southern Indiana (who are both in the transition from Division II to NCAA. The Panthers do have a very good trio starting in their backcourt in Kinyon Hodges, Yaakema Rose Jr., and Caleb Donaldson. All three of these guards have been the top scorer for the Panthers this season and each contributes every game. The Panthers need to find a way to respond to a good team like they did to Iowa in the OVC. Otherwise, the season is going to be very long for them, and a first round exit is very likely.
8) Little Rock (5-14 Overall, 1-5 Conference)
Overview: To round out the conference, we have the Trojans of Little Rock. Unfortunately, the season has been very disappointing and underwhelming for the Trojans. Their wins have come to two Division II schools, Jackson State, Central Arkansas, and UT-Martin (which is their biggest win of the season without a doubt). It is very upsetting to see the lack of success that Arkansas has had, as they have a very solid player in forward Myron Gardner leading them. However, it appears that he is doing all of the work for the Trojans, leading them in points (13.9), rebounds (9.5 – 2nd in OVC), assists (3.6 – Tied for 5th in conference), and steals (1.7 – 4th in conference). If Gardner could get help on the offensive end, the Trojans would be in a much better position than they currently are. With the tougher part of their schedule coming up, it does not appear that we will see much of Little Rock after the first round of the conference tournament.
Ineligible Schools due to Division II Transition:
- Southern Indiana (10-9 Overall, 3-3 Conference): The Screamin’ Eagles have shown that they are ready to compete in the OVC and have defeated the likes of Little Rock, UT-Martin and Southeast Missouri State. They have a very solid forward in Jacob Polakovich, who is leading his team and the conference with 11.5 rebounds per game (also is fourth in NCAA). Although they cannot make the conference tournament for a few years, they very well could spoil some teams wanting high seeds in the conference.
- Lindenwood (7-12 Overall, 2-4 Conference): Although the Lions have not had quite the success that Southern Indiana has had in their NCAA debut, they have still shown that they are ready to be a NCAA team. Lindenwood has defeated Little Rock and Tennessee Tech in the conference, while also being a possession shy in losses to Eastern Illinois and Tennessee State. They have a very solid guard in Chris Childs leading the way with 14.4 ppg. Time will tell if the Lions continue to adapt well to the Division I play as they continue to transition.
This is the first time that I will admit when doing these conference previews that I do not see anyone outside of the top two seeds winning the conference. However, schools in the three through six seed slot could make things very interesting come tournament time. The talent within the conference is even across the board, and things will start to heat up over the next couple of months. These teams love to score points, so the games moving forward will likely be high scoring and a shootout. Good basketball all around yet to be played in the OVC, and you may just see a few people on these teams in the SportsCenter Top 10 as well!