Predicted Order of Finish.
- Austin Peay (20-9) (16-4)
- Eastern Kentucky (17-11) (14-6)
- Murray St. (17-10) (13-7)
- Tennessee Tech (17-13) (12-8)
- Southeast Missouri (15-14) (11-9)
- Eastern Illinois (13-14) (10-10)
- Samford (12-16) (9-11)
- Tennessee St. (10-17) (8-12)
- Morehead St. (9-18) (8-12)
- Jacksonville St. (10-17) (6-14)
- Tennessee-Martin (3-23) (3-17)
WYN2K. The OVC is a league that has been incredibly up-and-down depending on a given year. In the last five years its RPI has hovered between the 19th and 25th best conference, and its Sagarin rating between 16th and 26th. As a testament to its herky-jerkiness, no league champion has received the same seed as the prior year’s champion for the last eight years (13/15/14/13/12/15/14/16). But if there is one trend worth noting, it is that the league’s overall profile appears to be dropping. After a seven-year period from 1998-2004 where the league champion averaged a #12.7 seed, the last three seasons have resulted in an average of #15.0. This is supported by the reality on the court, as no OVC team has won an NCAA Tourney game since the 80s, when Austin Peay (1987), Murray St. (1988), and Middle Tennessee St. (1989) comprised a three-year string of first round upsets.
Predicted Champion. Austin Peay (#15 Seed NCAA). This was the easiest pick of the previews yet. “Let’s Go Peay” returns all five starters (including OVC POY Drake Reed) from a team that was the regular-season champion in 2007, but who lost on a buzzer beater to Eastern Kentucky in improbable fashion. 6’5 forward and resident muscle man Fernandez Lockett is likely another first-team all-OVC selection.
Others Considered. Eastern Kentucky was the second-best team in the OVC last season, and Jeff Neubauer’s methodical style (310th in tempo nationally) led to EKU rankings near the top of the nation in effective FG% (18th) and two-point FG% (8th). In other words, the Colonels consistently take and make good shots. If any team is ready to supplant Austin Peay again, it’s likely to be EKU. Murray St. is always in the mix in this conference (20 straight winning seasons), and we expect this year to be no different. The Racers finished strong in 2007 winning eight of their last ten, and return many of their key players from last season. Another team that finished very strong last year was Tennessee Tech, who won twelve of their last fifteen games as their coach Mike Sutton continued to arduously work his way back from Guillain-Barre Syndrome.
Games to Watch. If they OVC Championship game is anything like last year’s, then it should most definitely be on your March viewing calendar.
- OVC Championship Game (03.08.08). ESPN.
RPI Booster Games. Last year the only BCS opponent that the OVC managed to defeat was Northwestern (by Tennessee Tech) at a neutral site. Otherwise, the league was 0-20 against BCS teams. We’ve identified several opportunities for an OVC squad to pull an upset this year to help the league’s overall RPI.
- Tennessee Tech @ Rutgers (11.09.07)
- Austin Peay @ Vanderbilt (11.10.07)
- Georgia Tech @ Tennessee St. (11.11.07)
- Murray St. @ Mississippi St. (12.01.07)
- Samford @ Florida St. (12.02.07)
- Tennessee Tech @ Oregon St. (12.16.07)
Odds of Multiple NCAA Bids. Absolutely no chance.
Neat-o Stat. Reigning OVC Player of the Year Drake Reed was the first sophomore to win the honor since Popeye Jones did so back in 1990 at Murray St. It’s unclear whether Reed is related to Jones (see below).
64/65-Team Era. The OVC has gone 3-24 (.111) over the era. As mentioned above, the glory days were the late 80s, when the OVC won a first round NCAA game each year from 1987-89. The league hasn’t won a game since, although it has had a couple of very close calls (#2 Duke 81, #15 Murray St. 78 – 1997; #1 Michigan St. 75, #16 Murray St. 71 (OT) – 1990).
Final Thought. The OVC is definitely a top-heavy league this year. There are three or four teams that can realistically win the NCAA bid, while the others are fairly noncompetitive. Even with the lack of a balanced league, there is likely only one team with the experience and talent for us to consider it as possible first round upset material – Austin Peay. But as we saw last year, even with the best team in the OVC, there’s no certainty that the Governors can win the conference tournament in its own back yard (47 miles from Clarksville, TN, to this year’s site again, Nashville, TN).