Belmont's Evan Bradds averages 20.8 points per game on 64.1% field-goal shooting. (Photo courtesy Belmont Athletics)

MARK MADNESS | Mark Adams previews the OVC Tournament

It's tournament time!

And with all eyes on the conference tournaments starting this week, here's a look at the challengers for the Ohio Valley Conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament:

Favorite

BELMONT

  • Key question: Can anyone stop Belmont from its fifth NCAA appearance in the last seven years? How do you stop Evan Bradds?
  • Key players: Evan Bradds averages 20.8 points per game, second in the OVC, on 64.1% field-goal shooting. Taylor Barnette (11.7) and Amanze Egekeeze (11.3) are also double-figure scorers. Austin Luke leads the OVC in assists.
  • Record: 22-5, 15-1 OVC (No. 1 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Friday vs. Thursday's Jacksonville State-Southeast Missouri/Tennessee State winner.
  • NCAA leaders: Luke 7.2 assists per game (No. 2); Bradds .641 field-goal percentage (No. 8); Belmont 10.1 3-pointers made per game (No. 9) and .767 free-throw percentage (T14).
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in scoring margin (8.7), field-goal percentage (.478), free-throw percentage (.767), assist/turnover ratio (1.3), 3-pointers made (273), 3-point defensive percentage (.314) and assists per game (16.4).

Contenders

UT MARTIN

  • Key question: Will UT Martin's inside presence control the tournament?
  • Key players: Jacolby Mobley (19.4 points per game and the OVC's 3-point leader) can play and Javier Martinez (12.8 points and 8.6 rebounds per game) has come on strong. Watch out for these Skyhawks!
  • Record: 20-11, 10-6 OVC (No. 2 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Friday vs. Thursday's Morehead State-Tennessee Tech/Murray State winner.
  • NCAA leaders: Javier Martinez .667 field-goal percentage (T4), Jacolby Mobley 3.32 3-pointers per game (No. 11).
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in rebound margin (5.4); No. 2 in field-goal percentage (.470) and assists per game (16.3).

MOREHEAD STATE

  • Key question: Can anyone challenge these Eagle-eye shooters?
  • Key players: Led by Xavier Moon and Bryce Jones, MSU's top seven scorers average between 5.0 and 16.a points per game and shoot 46% as a team.
  • Record: 14-15, 10-6 OVC (No. 3 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Tennessee Tech-Murray State winner.
  • NCAA leaders: MSU 13.38 offensive rebounds per game (No. 15).
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in 3-point percentage (.391); No. 2 in scoring offense (79.3), steals per game (6.9) and rebound margin (5.3).

JACKSONVILLE STATE

  • Key question: Can anyone out-coach Ray Harper at crunch time?
  • Key players: Erik Durham is the OVC's No. 2 3-point shooter (47.9%) and Christian Cunningham patrols the paint with 8.0 rebounds and 1.5 blocks per game.
  • Record: 17-14, 9-7 OVC (No. 4 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Thursday vs. Wednesday's Southeast Missouri-Tennessee State winner.
  • NCAA leaders: None.
  • OVC ranks: No. 2 in scoring defense (68.9 points per game) and field-goal defensive percentage (.422).

Darkhorses

SOUTHEAST MISSOURI

  • Key question: Can anyone handle SEMO’s pressure?
  • Key players: Antonius Cleveland and Jamaal Calvin are two of the top thieves in the OVC. Cleveland also leads the team in scoring with 17 points per game.
  • Record: 14-17, 9-7 OVC (No. 5 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 8 seed Tennessee State.
  • NCAA leaders: None.
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in steals per game (7.7); No. 2 in turnover margin (3.0).

TENNESSEE TECH

  • Key question: Can any OVC team consistently make shots against this defensive-minded team?
  • Key player: Aleksa Jugovic leads the Golden Eagles in scoring with 15.2 points per game.
  • Record: 12-19, 8-8 OVC (No. 6 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 7 seed Murray State.
  • NCAA leaders: Aleksa Jugovic .903 free-throw percentage (No. 12).
  • OVC ranks: No. 2 in blocks per game (3.8).

MURRAY STATE

  • Key question: Who can slow down the Racers and Jonathan Stark?
  • Key players: Jonathan Starks leads the OVC with 21.1 points per game. Terrell Miller (16.1) and Bryce Jones (12.0) also average double figures.
  • Record: 14-16, 8-8 OVC (No. 7 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 6 seed Tennessee Tech.
  • NCAA leaders: None.
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in scoring offense (80.4).

TENNESSEE STATE

  • Key question: Can the Tigers catch a title by the tail? They've already beaten Southeast Missouri this season.
  • Key players: Tahjere McCall (14.4 points, 5.1 assists and 2.9 steals per game) and Wayne Martin (14.3 points and 9.2 rebounds per game) are a two-man wrecking crew for the Tigers.
  • Record: 17-12, 8-8 OVC (No. 8 seed).
  • Conference tournament opener: Wednesday vs. No. 5 seed Southeast Missouri.
  • NCAA leaders: Tahjere McCall 2.92 steals per game (No. 6).
  • OVC ranks: No. 1 in scoring defense (67.4 points per game) and field-goal defensive percentage (.409); No. 2 in scoring margin (3.6).

Tournament schedule

WEDNESDAY

  • No. 5 Southeast Missouri vs. No. 8 Tennessee State, 6:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 6 Tennessee Tech vs. No. 7 Murray State, 8:30 p.m. ET

THURSDAY

  • No. 4 Jacksonville State vs. Southeast Missouri-Tennessee State winner, 6:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 3 Morehead State vs. Tennessee Tech-Murray State winner, 8:30 p.m. ET

FRIDAY

  • No. 2 Belmont vs. Jacksonville State-Southeast Missouri/Tennessee State winner, 6:30 p.m. ET
  • No. 1 UT Martin vs. Morehead State vs. Tennessee Tech/Murray State winner, 9 p.m. ET

SATURDAY

  • Championship: 7 p.m. ET

Projected automatic bid

BELMONT


Mark Adams is ASN's lead basketball analyst. Follow him on Twitter at @EnthusiAdams.

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