Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview

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The Ohio Valley didn’t turn out as expected. Preseason favorite Samford finished fifth; league champion Austin Peay was projected to finish seventh in the preseason poll. Even Tennessee State, picked to finish second, ended in seventh-place. The title race lacked excitement. Austin Peay got off to a 15-2 start to conference play, and locked up the regular-season championship with several games left. Despite that, expect a wide-open conference race.

Favorite: Austin Peay won the league by three games—and lost two of their final three. In other words, the Governors ran away with the conference championship. They are led by their forward duo of Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett. Diminutive point guard Derek Wright runs the show, and wings Landon Shipley and Todd Babington are solid. Austin Peay is efficient at both ends of the floor, and is the best shooting team in the country. Their late struggles mean they lack momentum heading into the conference tournament, though.

Contenders: Tennessee Tech could be a real threat to Austin Peay. They knocked off the Governors a week ago, and have the best backcourt and trio in the conference. Belton Rivers and Anthony Fisher are explosive in the backcourt. They are two of the top scorers in the conference, and are capable of carrying the Golden Eagles to an automatic bid. Inside, Amadi McKenzie is one of the premier post players in the conference. Another team with a chance to make a run is Murray State. The perennial power has won three in a row and eight of their last ten. Bruce Carter and Tyler Holloway form a very good guard duo, while Shawn Witherspoon is tough but undersized down low.

Sleeper: Samford came into the year as the preseason favorite, but they went 3-7 down the stretch to drop out of contention. However, only two of those losses were by double-figures, and the Bulldogs still have talent. Randall Gulina is a big-time scorer at the guard position, and Jerry Smith does a little bit of everything next to him in the backcourt. Travis Peterson is one of the best big men in the conference.

Prediction: Even though Austin Peay dominated the league for the most part, the Governors come into the conference tournament losing three of their last four games. They still have the ability to win it all, but I’m going with Tennessee Tech to get the automatic bid. The Golden Eagles have terrific guards in Anthony Fisher and Belton Rivers, as well as an inside presence with Amadi McKenzie. They have won 12 of 15, and are the only team in the league to beat every OVC squad.

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