Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Belmont captures OVC regular season title

March Madness. It’s the two words that every basketball fan around the country waits patiently for year after year. And guess what? It’s almost here.

Conference tournaments get started next week, which means that we are only a few short weeks away from the start of this year’s NCAA tournament.

The question is, which Nashville-area teams will find themselves in the field of 68? Let’s run through what’s happening with several local teams.

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd led the Bruins to yet another OVC regular season title. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Belmont head coach Rick Byrd led the Bruins to yet another OVC regular season title. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

1. Belmont is OVC champion yet again

They did it again. Despite entering the season with a target on their back, the Belmont Bruins once again found a way to capture the outright Ohio Valley Conference championship.

Losses by Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech secured the regular season title for Rick Byrd’s team with one game left to play. It’s the third time the Bruins have won the OVC since joining the conference four years ago.

So while Belmont’s final regular season game at Tennessee State will hold little weight from a regular season standpoint, it will mean a lot heading into the OVC tournament in Nashville next week.

The Bruins will head into the tournament as the No. 1 seed, and beating TSU will give Byrd’s squad a nice boost of momentum.

It’s also important for them not to give a team like TSU a lot of confidence considering that the Tigers are the type of team that could upset Belmont.

Just like it was to start the season, Belmont is the favorite. The road to the NCAA tournament will go through the Bruins, as they’re the favorite to make it to the Big Dance for the fifth time in six seasons.

Is this the year that Belmont finally wins a game in that tournament? That’s the big question.

But before we can ask that question, this team still has to win the OVC tournament. And this year could be the most unpredictable tournament we’ve seen in this conference in several years.

The good news for Byrd and his team is that they are sitting right where they want to be. The bad news is that the pressure is on them yet again.

However, as it’s proven so many times over the years, Belmont is more than equipped to handle it.

Can Wade Baldwin and Vandy score a huge win over Kentucky on Saturday? PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Can Wade Baldwin and Vandy score a huge win over Kentucky on Saturday? PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

2. Can Vandy clinch NCAA tournament bid with win over Kentucky?

The NCAA tournament bubble continues to be very intriguing.

Teams all around the country are battling for at-large bids in this year’s tournament, and the Vanderbilt Commodores find themselves among that group.

Vandy took a huge step towards securing a tournament berth with a rare win at Florida on Tuesday, which gave the Commodores another big RPI win on their resume.

The best way to make that resume look even better? By beating Kentucky at Memorial Gym on Saturday.

There’s no doubt that the gym will be rocking when John Calipari brings his team to town. The Wildcats are playing some of their best basketball of the season right now, so Vandy will face a significant challenge.

But something Kevin Stallings’ team seems to be getting better at is responding to the challenge. After having their backs against the wall heading into a home game against Georgia last weekend, the Commodores had a solid performance to pick up the win. And then they followed it up with their most important win of the season at Florida.

Just when people started to count out this Vandy team, here it is with another chance to make a statement.

And a win over Kentucky would certainly do just that.

Twymond Howard and UT Martin are riding a huge hot streak heading into March. PHOTO COURTESY UT-MARTIN

Twymond Howard and UT Martin are riding a huge hot streak heading into March. PHOTO COURTESY UT MARTIN

3. UT Martin riding a wave of momentum heading into March

It seemed apparent that UT Martin had a shot to win the OVC West Division before the season even started.

The Skyhawks were picked to finish second in the division behind Murray State, which is nothing to be upset about.

But the preseason predictions were a little bit off. That’s because UT Martin wrapped up at least a share of the West division title and the No. 2 seed in the OVC tournament with a 72-56 win over TSU on Thursday.

How did the Skyhawks do it? Well, winning eight straight games during the stretch run of the regular season certainly helps. UT Martin has yet to lose a game in the month of February, with their last loss coming in late January at Eastern Illinois.

At the time, the Skyhawks were 10-12 and seemingly going nowhere. Now here they sit as champions of the West Division.

That’s a good place to be in heading into March. This team will be a part of the group that is looking to take down Belmont and earn the OVC’s automatic bid into the NCAA tournament.

Six weeks ago, you never would have thought that. But now? It’s time to start considering UT Martin as a legitimate threat to knock off the Bruins and take home the OVC tournament crown.

And-1:

The OVC tournament will get underway on Wednesday at the Municipal Auditorium in Nashville.

You can find out all you need to know about the tournament by visiting this tournament central link on OVCSports.com.

Anything else I should know about in Nashville hoops this week? Let me know on Twitter.