The eyes of the world have been on the Ohio Valley this winter. Even if Murray State flounders and their name isn’t called on selection Sunday, the Ja Morant hype is real and you’ll be watching him at the next level this November. It will be a damn shame to not see him in the Big Dance but, sometimes that’s how the cookie crumbles and I’m sure the NBA paycheck he’s destined for will help ease that pain. This, as it turns out, is the conference I’ve bet the most amount of times this basketball season, going 14-10-2 ATS, so you’d think I’d have strong opinions on it. Looking back, it appears that I often was just taking the big points with the teams that didn’t even qualify for this tournament so, back to the drawing board I guess.
When and Where: March 6th-9th at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana (home of the Evansville Purple Aces of the Missouri Valley Conference)
Defending Champ: Murray State Racers
Who’s Good: Belmont, Murray State
Who’s Sneaky: Jacksonville State, Austin Peay
Who Stinks Out Loud: Tennessee Tech is one of the very worst teams in my model which is why they weren’t invited to play this week. Of the teams involved, I think Eastern Illinois is trash.
Coolest Team Nickname: UT Martin Skyhawks. Their logo it a hardass hawk with aviator goggles pushed up on his forehead, staring right into your eyes.
Seeding and Rules: Only the top 8 teams gets to play. Despite not having the home court advantage other league’s top seeds are afforded, you can’t feel bad for the two main contenders, as they are given double-byes to the semi-finals and only need to win two games to punch a ticket.
Multi-Bid League: There’s a fair enough chance of getting a second team in to at least mention it. Belmont has a better resume and higher NET rankings so, they would have a better shot at snagging an at-large bid than Murray State. Either team to get in without a conference title would still take some help in the form of some other bubble teams screwing the pooch though.
Breakdown: While they do have an identical record and everyone is talking about Ja Morant, Belmont is the true class of the league and has been just a half step better than Murray State all season, beating them handily on the road by a final of 79-66 back in January. Jacksonville State is somehow 3-0 this year versus Murray/Belmont but, does have to battle through an extra game. Austin Peay is very highly ranked by my model’s metrics and was able to keep it very close when hosting the top two seeds this year (losing by two and four points). They even managed a very nice road win over Jacksonville State in early February.
My Pick(s): While the format does appear to really give the top two seeds a leg up, they have only met in the final four of the past ten years, so I guess upsets aren’t quite as rare as my initial perception. We even had a #8 seed rip through the one, two, four and five on their way to a tournament berth a few years back. In the end, the prices on the favorites are prohibitive in my opinion. I’ll cheer against the chalk and split up a quarter unit on the two teams that have a sporting chance of scoring a semi-final upset. Very much looking forward to the possible Austin Peay/Belmont rematch on Friday. Last time out, Austin Peay put up 92 points and still lost. With them being two top-50 three-point shooting teams, it should be another high-scoring affair that just seems ripe for an upset.
Jacksonville St. +900 (0.15x)
Austin Peay +1350 (0.1x)