Monday , Feb , 27 , 2006 C.Y. Ellis

2006 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview

The Sports Network

By Pat Taggart, College Basketball Staff Writer

FACTS & STATS: Site: Campus Sites (Quarterfinals); Gaylord Entertainment
Center (17,000) — Nashville, Tennessee. Dates: February 28th through March
4th. Television: ESPN2 (Championship Game). Annual: 43rd. Defending Champion:
Eastern Kentucky.

OUTLOOK: The 43rd annual Ohio Valley Conference Tournament begins on Tuesday,
February 28th, and the top eight teams in the league will compete for an
automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Last year, Eastern Kentucky entered this
event as the second seed and went on to beat fifth-seeded Austin Peay in the
championship game. The Governors have reached the title game in each of the
last three years, but they are the sixth seed this time around and figure to
be a long shot at best. Murray State enters as the top seed, and it has won 12
OVC championships. To put that figure into context, no other current member of
the league has more than four titles. After Tuesday’s quarterfinal round,
which will feature four games on the home floors of the higher-seeded teams,
the tournament will move on to the Gaylord Entertainment Center in Nashville
for the semifinal and championship rounds.

The first of four quarterfinal matchups pits the top-seeded Murray State
Racers against the eighth-seeded Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks. Murray State won
the regular season title and recorded a league-record 17 wins versus OVC
opponents. The Racers are the favorites to win what would be their third
tourney title in the last five years, and the fact that they are 21-6 overall
despite not having a single player averaging more than 10.7 ppg is remarkable.
As for UT-Martin, it closed the regular season with an 81-63 loss to Murray
State, the second time this season that the club was knocked off by the
Racers. The Skyhawks did run off five consecutive victories recently, but
since that run the squad has lost two of its last three games. Tennessee-
Martin has never won an OVC Tournament game, as it is 0-4 as a part of this
event.

The fifth-seeded Eastern Kentucky Colonels travel to fourth-seeded
Jacksonville State for what figures to be an extremely competitive
quarterfinal-round matchup. Eastern Kentucky finished in a three-way tie for
fifth place in the league standings with Austin Peay and Tennessee State, but
the Colonels grabbed the fifth seed because of tie-breakers. They have won
this tournament four times, more than any current member other than Murray
State. Expect EKU to enter Tuesday’s game with plenty of confidence, as it
beat Jacksonville State twice during the regular season. Speaking of the
Gamecocks, they lead the OVC in scoring at 76.7 ppg, but they are last in
scoring defense at 76.5 ppg. The team enters this event on a major role, as it
won its final three regular season games and five of its last six overall.
Jacksonville State is 0-1 all-time in OVC Tournament games.

The seventh-seeded Tennessee State Tigers will attempt to upset the second-
seeded Samford Bulldogs on Tuesday. Considering that Samford won both meetings
during the regular season by double figures, the Tigers enter as big-time
underdogs. There is reason for optimism, however, as the club closed out the
regular season with wins in three straight games and in five of its last six
outings overall. TSU has two OVC crowns to its credit, but it has been 12
years since the program’s last championship. In fact, the Tigers are just 8-15
all-time in OVC Tournament games. Samford has never won the title, as it has
lost both of its previous tilts as part of this event. The Bulldogs are only
surrendering 59.1 ppg, the best mark in the conference, and strong defense
figures to be the key in this quarterfinal-round matchup. Samford lost four
of its final six regular season bouts, so there is some reason for concern.

The final quarterfinal matchup pits the third-seeded Tennessee Tech Golden
Eagles against the sixth-seeded Austin Peay Governors. Tennessee Tech made a
statement in its regular season finale by knocking off Murray State by four
points after trailing by nine at intermission. The Golden Eagles were a bit
inconsistent down the stretch, but they should be confident considering that
they have won 11 of their 14 home games this season. Also, they knocked off
Austin Peay in both regular season meetings. Tech won its only OVC title way
back in 1967. Austin Peay has three championships to its credit, the most
recent of which came in 2003. The Governors played well down the stretch,
winning five of their final seven games. Still, they are just 4-11 in true
road tilts and deserve to be underdogs in this matchup.

Murray State plays well at both ends of the floor and is the best rebounding
team in the OVC. Sure, there is not a standout player on the roster for the
Racers, but that is not necessarily a bad thing. They are a balanced group
that has won because of their unselfishness and commitment to playing the
right way. Expect that success to carry over to this tournament, as Murray
State will win the crown and move on to the “Big Dance.”

Sports Network Predicted Champion: Murray State