Sports, Thrill of Victory

Three-Point Play: Can Belmont stay at the top of the OVC?

FEB 6 2016: Belmont guard Kevin McClain (30) guards Eastern Kentucky's Isaac McGlone in the first half of EKU's 88-78 win over Belmont at the Curb Event Center in Nashville, Tenn. (Photo by Matthew Maxey/Icon Sportswire)

March Madness is only weeks away, which means that plenty of teams around the country are still scratching and clawing to try and earn an NCAA tournament berth.

Several teams around Nashville are in that boat. Which teams will make it in? That’s the million dollar question.

Let’s roll through what’s happening.

The Curb Event Center will be rocking when Belmont hosts OVC rival Tennessee Tech. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

The Curb Event Center will be rocking when Belmont hosts OVC rival Tennessee Tech. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

1. Belmont prepares for major challenge against Tennessee Tech

The Belmont Bruins are the best team in the Ohio Valley Conference. At least right now.

But all that could change soon. Rick Byrd’s team kicks off a crucial stretch run of the season against Tennessee Tech on Saturday.

The last time these two teams met? The Golden Eagles scored a 10-point win in Cookeville.

Another win for Tennessee Tech could be a game-changer in terms of the OVC East Division race. Belmont currently owns a half-game lead, but the Golden Eagles would take over first with a win at Curb Event Center.

It’s an interesting spot for Belmont. The Bruins were the preseason favorite to top the East yet again, but it’s been far from easy.

After starting off seemingly in complete control, Byrd has seen his team struggle as of late. It started with the road loss at Tech, but a first-ever OVC home loss against Eastern Kentucky and a road loss at Morehead State changed the entire dynamic.

The good news for Belmont is that it does bring some confidence into Saturday’s content. The Bruins avenged their loss to Eastern Kentucky with an 86-78 win in Richmond earlier in the week.

One game at a time is typically the motto for most teams. For this team, that is what it’s all about.

There’s another good team waiting on Belmont in its season finale. But right now, all that matters is Tennessee Tech.

This game should be fun. Welcome to March. Well, almost.

Wade Baldwin and Vandy still have work to do to make the NCAA tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Wade Baldwin and Vandy still have work to do to make the NCAA tournament. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

2. Vandy’s tournament hopes fading down the stretch

It all comes down to this for the Vanderbilt Commodores.

After such high preseason expectations, Vandy finds itself in yet another must-win situation if it wants to be a part of the madness in March.

The Commodores lost their most excruciating game of the season this past week against Mississippi State after the Bulldogs knocked home a three-pointer at the buzzer. Of course, it should have never gotten to that point since Vandy had a huge lead in the second half.

But that’s been a common theme this season for Kevin Stallings’ team. For some reason, this team simply can’t hang onto big leads.

Vandy has now blown five double-digit leads this season, which isn’t something you want on your seemingly fading NCAA tournament resume.

If the tournament started today, the Commodores wouldn’t be in. And that makes the final stretch of the season all that more important.

It’ll all start with a home game against Georgia on Saturday. Once again, Vandy will go into the game as the favorite, and it’s a game that the Commodores should win. However, beating Georgia won’t be enough. There’s still more work to do.

At this point, it’s all about the next game for this Vandy team. A loss to Georgia, and an NCAA berth isn’t going to happen unless it wins the SEC tournament. It’s as simple as that.

So there’s no point in starting into the future. Right now is all that matters for Vandy.

Dana Ford has TSU playing well in the stretch run of the season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

Dana Ford has TSU playing well in the stretch run of the season. PHOTO BY MATTHEW MAXEY

3. TSU continues to exceed expectations

While all the talk is on Belmont and Tennessee Tech in the OVC, there’s no doubting the fact that the TSU Tigers are in the mix.

Despite being picked last in the conference in the preseason, Dana Ford finds his team close behind the East divison’s top two at the moment.

TSU is a game and a half back in the East title race, but things could still fall their way with a little of help.

Ford’s squad showed just how good it could be a couple of weeks ago when it blasted Tennessee Tech by 30 in Nashville, which was about as big of a statement as you could possibly make.

The Tigers still have three games to go in the regular season, but at this point, this isn’t a team you want to play come tournament time.

TSU has shown time and time again that it is more than willing to respond to the challenge, and both Belmont and Tennessee Tech better watch out when the OVC tournament rolls around in a few weeks.

And-1:

Lipscomb saw its three-game winning streak stopped with a loss at Florida Gulf Coast.

The Bison will finish up the regular season with a road game at Stetson and a home finale against Kennesaw State.

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