Tuesday, March 4, 2008

Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Preview

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Coming into the season, Austin Peay was expected to be the clear-cut favorite in the Ohio Valley Conference – and the season turned out exactly that way. The race for the regular-season title was a two-team race for the majority of the year between APU and Murray State, but the latter lost four of its last eight conference games to finish in second-place, three games back of the Governors. APU won seven of its last eight OVC contests; the Govs are one of just a few teams with legitimate momentum heading into the tourney.

Favorite: Austin Peay is certainly the favorite heading into the league tourney. The Governors have five double-figure scorers, and their balance and number of options makes them difficult to defend. Drake Reed is a very solid inside player and one of the best players in the league, while the athletic Fernandez Lockett flanks him down low. The diminutive Derek Wright runs the show – he is a terrific passer and defender. Todd Babington and Wes Channels are shooters and scorers on the wings. The Governors are very good offensively, but struggle defensively when they are not getting steals and forcing turnovers.

Contenders: Murray State looked like it would stay with Austin Peay down to the final stretch, but an overtime loss to the Governors began a tailspin that saw the Racers drop four of its final eight league games, as well as a Bracket Busters contest to Indiana State. Still, MSU has the weapons to fight for the championship. Bruce Carter is one of the better guards in the league, while Tyler Holloway can really shoot. Danero Thomas and Tony Easley are also solid. The Racers are extremely efficient offensively. Tennessee-Martin might be the second-hottest team in the league outside of Austin Peay. The Skyhawks have won six of their last seven, the lone loss coming in the season finale at Murray State. The main reason for their success this year? Lester Hudson, one of the best players in the entire country. He is near the top of nation in scoring, and is also an outstanding rebounder, passer and defender. Marquis Weddle is another big-time scorer and Gerald Robinson is one of the better big men in the league. UT-M loves to get out and run.

Sleeper: Any team that beats both Austin Peay and Murray State in the final four games of the season has to be considered a threat for the league title. Tennessee State did just that, and also beat Illinois earlier in the year. All but one of the Tigers’ conference losses this season came by single-digits. The up-tempo Tigers are led by Bruce Price, one of the best all-around players in the league, as well as guard Gerald Robinson Jr. and forward Jerrell Houston.

Prediction: Austin Peay came into the season as the heavy favorite, and enter the league tournament as the heavy favorite. As a result, it’s tough to bet against the Governors. Their balance and inside-outside scoring ability make them difficult to defend. Furthermore, their experience will help them late in games. Tennessee-Martin is going to be a tough match-up in the semi-finals, but APU should be able to force enough turnovers to beat them. In the finals, APU will knock off upstart Tennessee State to get the auto-bid.

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