Sports, Thrill of Victory

Music City Madness at OVC Tournament Day One

OVC bannerThe true road to the NCAA Tournament started tonight in Nashville with the tip off of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. What started with eight teams eyeing a spot in college basketball’s showcase tournament will ultimately end in heartbreak for seven. Even if the favorite Murray State gets knocked out in the OVC Tournament there is no guarantee of an at-large bid for the Racers so every game, for every team, very well could be their last. That sense of urgency and abrupt finality are what make the mid-major conference tournaments great.

The first night of “Music City Madness” did not disappoint as despite miserable weather outside, the atmosphere was electric inside Municipal Auditorium.

What we learned tonight:

Eastern Illinois is much better than their No. 6 seed. Chris Olivier is a beast in the paint and the only reason the Panthers were not among the top four seeds that received automatic byes, was his mid-season bout with mononucleosis which kept him out of the lineup for weeks. Against Southeast Missouri Olivier did whatever he wanted, and sent a message to the rest of the league that he will not allow EIU to be an easy out for anyone.

Morehead State’s aggressive play will either be their meal ticket or their bus ticket. The Eagles forced 17 turnovers against Southeast Missouri, but also sent the Redhawks to the line 35 times which kept them in the game until the final minute. That same aggressive strategy may not work as well against the experienced guards of UT Martin they will face in the next round.

Eastern Illinois' Chris Olivier celebrating a basket at the OVC Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Eastern Illinois’ Chris Olivier celebrating a basket at the OVC Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Player of the Night:

Chris Olivier of Eastern Illinois dominated the paint against SIU Edwardsville. When he wanted to score, he did, and when he wanted to grab a rebound, he did. He faced double teams most of the night, but in his 29 minutes of play Olivier set the tone for the Panthers and when he wasn’t scoring himself he was drawing defenders to open up his teammates who knocked down nine three-pointers on the night.

What to watch for in the next round:

The match up between Eastern Illinois and Belmont will be a clash of opposing styles. Eastern Illinois likes to pound the ball in the paint to Olivier, while this year’s Belmont team even more so than most years will live and die by the three-point shot. You’ll never catch an analyst worth his salt betting against a Rick Byrd coached team, but the Bruins from Belmont should be on full upset alert. Thursday’s nightcap may come down to how hot the Bruins are from the outside, vs how much they can slow Olivier.

In the other game of the evening, Morehead State and UT Martin, sets up to be a knock-down, drag out fight between two teams that needed overtime to decide their only regular season meeting. The No. 4 Skyhawks will come into the game with the fresh legs, but Morehead State showed against SEMO that it can cause turnovers. If the Eagles want to reach the semi-finals though, they will have to do a much better job of converting those turnovers into points.

Women’s Tournament

OVC Coach of the Year Kevin McMillian led his Skyhawks to a 68-35 win over Eastern Illinois in the OVC Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

OVC Coach of the Year Kevin McMillian led his Skyhawks to a 68-35 win over Eastern Illinois in the OVC Tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

What we learned tonight:

UT Martin is really good, even when they struggle. The Skyhawk women showed why they are the top seed and are seeking their fifth straight OVC Tournament championships, cruising to a 68-35 win over No. 8 seed Eastern Illinois. Eastern Illinois made a game of it early, but UT Martin closed the first half on a 20-8 run, then held the Panthers to only 16 second half points. OVC Player of the Year Ashia Jones nearly outscored Eastern Illinois herself, pouring in 30 points to go along with eight rebounds, before taking a seat early to rest her legs for the next rounds. If anyone is going to knock off UT Martin, stopping Jones has to be priority number one.

SIU Edwardsville is vulnerable. The No. 2 seed Cougars entered the tournament expected to march to the finals and another showdown with UT Martin, but barely escaped a very scrappy Austin Peay team in the first round. SIU Edwardsville showed a bit of weakness on the inside, and if they survive the winner of tomorrow’s Tennessee State/Morehead State game, they will have to correct their inside game quickly if they plan to contain UT Martin and Jones.

Player of the Night:

The OVC Player of the Year, Ashia Jones, did more than just score 30 and pull down eight rebounds. She also dictated the game – for both teams. Eastern Illinois could not contain her in the post, and when they tried to throw a double team her way, she either drew the foul or kicked the ball out to one of the many dangerous three-point shooters in the Skyhawks line up.

What to watch for in the next round:

Because of the winter weather in Nashville, Thursday’s first round games which feature a pair of local favorites have been pushed back and hour. Belmont’s opening game of the tournament against Jacksonville State will now begin at 1 p.m., and Tennessee State’s game against Morehead State will follow 30 minutes after.