OVC Tournament Preview & Predictions

March 3rd, 2009


This is one in a series of my conference tournament previews, in which I run down all the teams involved, giving a brief statistical review and picking out some of the key players, and presenting the log5 projections, using in-conference offensive and defensive efficiency. The basic log5 methodology comes from Bill James, and this is an area Ken Pomeroy has looked at in the past as well. I claim nothing new in the application, but obviously with slightly different methodologies, these numbers may differ from others you find.  I don’t claim to be an expert on any particular conference, and I’m sure there are some mis-characterizations on some players I’ve seen sparingly at best, so please add your thoughts in the comments. Anyway, with no further ado, the preview follows below:


Ohio Valley

The OVC Tournament features the top 8 teams out of a 10 team league, with the quarterfinals being hosted at the home courts of the top 4 seeds, and the two later rounds hosted at the Sommet Center in Nashville.


OVC Tournament Odds







Tennessee Martin





Austin Peay





Murray St.





Morehead St.





Eastern Kentucky





Tennessee St.





Eastern Illinois





Tennessee Tech




It’s interesting to see that the #1 seeds and league champions aren’t the favorites, a title that belongs to #3 Murray St. The first four teams were separated by just two games in the standings, but the efficiency stats tell us that Martin and Murray St. are in a separate class.



#1 – Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks (21-8, 14-4) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.114


Last NCAA Tournament bid: None

Tennessee-Martin has had an excellent season, claiming its first OVC regular season title, powered by a ten-game winning streak early in the conference schedule. The Skyhawks aren’t spectacular in any area, but do a lot of things well, and don’t make a lot of mistakes. Their main weakness is long-distance shooting, where they sit last in the OVC, but they make up for it by shooting 74% at the free throw line and earning a lot of extra possessions on the glass and by avoiding turnovers. Martin also defends well, managing to dominate the turnover margin by forcing a lot.


Players to watch:

6-2 SR Lester Hudson, 26.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 50.8 eFG% - The only player more important to his team than Hudson is some Curry guy that you might have heard about once or twice. Like Curry, Hudson’s shooting percentages aren’t that impressive on their own, but when you consider how many shots he takes, you really get a sense of how valuable he is. He also is a key player in lot of other areas, leading the Skyhawks in rebounding and steals, and putting up a very good assist rate.


6-1 JR Delrico Lane, 5.2 PPG, 4.6 RPG, 4.9 APG, 2.3 SPG, 51.5 eFG% - Lane doesn’t score much, but let’s face it, there’s not a lot of shots available once Hudson and second-best scorer Marquis Weddle get their share. Lane has done a good job getting the ball to Hudson, leading the OVC in assists, and like Hudson has an excellent steal rate.


#2 – Austin Peay Governors (17-12, 13-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.053


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2008 (1st Round)

The Governors face the strange situation of being lucky, as their record is somewhat better than their efficiency margin would suggest, but also unlucky, as a couple of losses in overtime are the only thing separating them from a conference title. Still, it’s telling that this is the #4 favorite by the log5 method, and to see them suffer an ‘upset’ wouldn’t be a big surprise. Austin Peay is the best pure shooting team in the conference, well over 50% from inside and at 39% from behind the arc, and the second best OVC offense overall. For all their ability to make shots, though, stopping opponents from doing the same has been difficult, especially from long distance, where they put up the conference’s worst defensive mark. The Governors are the only team of the top 4 seeds to give up more than a point-per possession, and their defensive woes will probably be their downfall.


Players to watch:

6-5 SR Drake Reed, 22.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 59.0 eFG% - In  a lot of other conferences in the nation, Reed’s numbers would be good enough to make him a clear top scorer and the favorite for player of the year, but with Hudson taking the spotlight, Reed has to settle for being the OVC’s #2 scorer. Reed doesn’t take as large a proportion of his team’s shots as Hudson does, but he’s much more efficient, nearly 60% from inside the arc and a 40% outside shooter. He’s also in the top 5 in the conference in rebounding and  rarely turns the ball over.


6-3 JR Wes Channels, 16.8 PPG, 3.7 RPG, 3.2 APG, 1.2 SPG,  51.1 eFG% - Channels takes a similar proportion of the Governors’ shots as Reed, but is much more dependent on the three-pointer, and isn’t quite as good a percentage shooter. Still, he’s a good scoring guard who leads the team in assists, and combines with Reed to form a deadly inside-outside duo.



#3 – Murray St. Racers (17-12, 13-5) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.129


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2006 (1st Round)

Murray St. may be the third seed, but don’t be surprised to see it run off with a 14th NCAA tourney appearance, the best of any OVC team. The worst of the Racers’ five losses came by 6 points, meaning that their efficiency margin is the highest in the league. This is mostly due to a defense that is clearly the best in the OVC; opponents make few threes and turn the ball over a lot, a clear sign of how good the Racers are on the perimeter. They aren’t great at making threes themselves, but tend to focus on scoring from two, where they are efficient enough to have  a decent offense overall. The Racers’ style probably contributes to why they’ve had so many close losses; their defensive, slow-paced game makes it a lot more difficult to get a big margin against weaker teams.


Players to watch:

6-2 SO Isaac Miles, 10.3 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.8 APG, 48.2 eFG% - The team’s second leading scorer is entering the tournament on a roll, having scored in double digits in each of the last five games, and has done this despite taking a lot of bad shots from behind the arc, where he hits less than 30%. He’s a good scorer from two who gets a lot of chances at the line, and while he puts up a lot of assists, he also has occasional bouts of major turnover trouble.


6-4 JR Danero Thomas, 11.8 PPG, 4.1 RPG, 1.6 SPG, 0.6 BPG, 47.1 eFG% - Thomas isn’t a great offensive player, but leads the Racers in scoring, and is a decent shooter, though like Miles he struggles from behind the arc. His best performance comes on the defensive end, where he’s the team’s best shot-blocker and one of the conference leaders in steals.


#4 – Morehead St. Eagles (16-15, 12-6) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.066


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1984 (1st Round)

The last of the teams that open the season at home, Morehead seemed to be destined for a tough year when they started 0-6, but had turned it around by the time conference play began, though they should be concerned after closing the season on a four-game losing streak. The Eagles are similar to Murray St., depending on inside play on the offensive end, but doing their best work defensively, but they aren’t as effective at either end as the Racers. Morehead isn’t too strong from the field, but is a good offensive rebounding team that does a great job getting to the line, and making shots once there. Defensively, the Eagles best play also comes inside, as they hold opponents to a conference-best 44.5% from two, and are good rebounders and shot-blockers.


Players to watch:

6-8 SO Kenneth Faried, 13.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 56.4 eFG% - Faried is probably the conference’s best big man, fourth nationally in rebounding and the only Valley player averaging more than nine boards a game.  He’s a 56% shooter from the field who also sits in the top 3 of the conference rankings in steals and blocks. The only real weakness in his game is his free throw shooting, where he’s worse than from the field, but he looks like he’ll be a great player in the conference in the years to come.


6-5 SR Leon Buchanan, 15.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 53.5 eFG% - Buchanan is a great interior partner for Faried, a decent rebounder who shoots a good percentage, and unlike the sophomore, does a really great job at the free throw line. He’s an 81% shooter who makes a lot of appearances, and the points he gets there are enough to make him the team’s leading scorer.



#5 – Eastern Kentucky Colonels (18-12, 10-8) ; Efficiency Margin: +0.036


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2007 (1st Round)

Eastern Kentucky are an ideal example of how a team’s tempo can confuse those who don’t take it into account. The Colonels are easily the slowest team in the OVC, and a look at their point-per-game numbers would lead you to suggest that they are merely average offensively. In reality, the Colonels tend to be involved in the conference’s most offensively efficient games, boasting the OVC’s best offense, and the worst defense of the teams qualifying for the tournament. The Colonels are an offensive dream, putting up a 55.7 eFG% in conference, and one of the nation’s best marks in the category of the whole season, and having the OVC’s lowest turnover rate. Their problems come inside, where they don’t get much of their offense (the second-most three-dependent team in the country), and are terrible on the glass. Opponents shred EKU’s defense seemingly at will, shooting 54%, and even the ability to force a lot of turnovers doesn’t help much.


Players to watch:

6-4 SR Mike Rose, 20.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 59.2 eFG% - The third 20 PPG player in the conference, Rose is the deadliest three-point shooter on a team that thrives behind the arc. Shooting 49% from long-distance is the kind of percentage we expect from an occasional shooter, not someone who puts up more than 200 attempts a season. He’s one of the team’s better rebounders and a solid defender, but his value is all in that shot.


6-7 SO Justin Stommes, 10.2 PPG, 3.3 RPG, 59.4 eFG% - Behind Rose, there are a group of other strong shooters, though none with the frequency, or the success, of the Colonels’ leading scorer. Stommes is the best of the bunch, and he provides a great alternative option from outside.


#6 – Tennessee St. Tigers (12-17, 9-9) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.048


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1994 (1st Round)

The Tigers made a lot of headlines, and got a lot of criticism, for firing Cy Alexander mid-season, but it worked out pretty well, as they went 6-1, including six straight wins entering the tournament, to manage a .500 finish in the conference. Tennessee St.’s defense is almost as bad as EKU’s, one of the worst in the tournament, but unlike the Colonels, TSU’s offense isn’t good enough to bail it out. Tennessee St. is focused on attacking the inside, and does it decently, but struggles with turnovers and free throws. The Tigers should watch their opponents to find a better example of inside play, as they allow 52% of attempts from inside, and don’t do much on the defensive glass either. They actually have the poorest odds of any team in the tournament, and a #6 seed probably flatters them somewhat.


Players to watch:

6-7 SO Darius Cox, 10.8 PPG, 6.9 RPG, 3.0 APG, 1.9 BPG, 54.3 eFG% - Cox is just fourth on the team in scoring, but is the most efficient offensive option when Tennessee St. has the ball, shooting over 50% from the field. He’s also an excellent rebounder, and a good shot-blocker.


6-8 SR Jerrell Houston, 14.0 PPG, 7.4 RPG, 1.3 BPG, 51.4 eFG% - Houston is another good interior player, with similar numbers to Cox, but with a larger role in the offense, and a much bigger problem with turnovers.


#7 – Eastern Illinois Panthers (12-17, 8-10) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.019


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 2001 (1st Round)

After talking about a couple of teams that struggle on the defensive end, Eastern Illinois are a bit of change of pace, decent defenders but the worst offensive team in the conference. A bright note for the Panthers’ offense is that they make a decent percentage of both threes and free throws; unfortunately, they don’t get to the line much, and take a large majority of their shots from inside the arc. Defensively, EIU is a solid team, especially inside, where it holds opponents to just 46% shooting. However, their offensive woes are too great to overcome, and they enter the tournament on a real low, losing their last six conference games.


Players to watch:

6-1 SO Tyler Laser, 11.6 PPG, 2.9 RPG, 3.1 APG, 1.0 SPG, 56.5 eFG% - Laser isn’t a go-to scorer, but is the kind of pure shooter who can be really effective as a secondary option. He hits over 40% from behind the arc, and is 6th nationally in free throw percentage, 50-of-52 on the season. He’s a good distributor of the ball and can also score from inside the arc, the kind of player who could really break out if he can handle a bigger role in future seasons.


6-3 JR Romain Martin, 15.2 PPG, 3.8 RPG, 53.5 eFG% - Martin is the other guy on the Panthers who can make threes, and while his percentage isn’t as high as Laser’s, he takes a lot more shots, and is much more important in the offense. Most of his value depends on his shooting, he doesn’t really contribute much in the other statistical areas.


#8 – Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles (12-17, 6-12) ; Efficiency Margin: -0.034


Last NCAA Tournament bid: 1963 (1st Round)

Tennessee Tech is the OVC’s fastest paced team, but its high speed hasn’t equalled highly effective offensive possessions, especially from two-point range, where you’d expect such a team to score in transition. Instead, the Golden Eagles are best when they put up threes, over 38% from behind the arc. This doesn’t happen nearly enough, though, with poor rebounding, turnovers, and a fairly two-point-heavy offense combining to limit the Eagles’ long distance-scoring. Defensively, Tennessee Tech force a lot of turnovers, but are terrible defensive rebounders and commit a lot of fouls.


Players to watch:

6-9 SR Daniel Northern, 12.4 PPG, 8.6 RPG, 2.5 BPG, 49.4 eFG% - Northern is an excellent big-man in almost every area except field goal percentage, and it’s only his 49% from the field that holds him back. He’s the second-best rebounder in the OVC, and leads the conference in shot-blocking. He gets to the line a lot, and while his 65% from the stripe isn’t great, it’s not too bad, and shows a clear improvement from previous seasons.


6-2 JR Frank Davis, 10.1 PPG, 1.9 RPG, 59.2 eFG% - If you’re looking for a great example of how a player who isn’t the offensive focus can really thrive, Davis may be a perfect. He doesn’t take a lot of shots, but his contribution on the stat sheet will be basically limited to whatever he manages to score. He’s a 43% three-point shooter, and has taken more attempts from behind the arc than the Eagles’ next two most prolific shooters combined. He doesn’t turn the ball over much, but he’s not the kind of player who will do much beside shoot when he does get it.


My statistical all-OVC team:

Tennessee Martin SR G Lester Hudson, 26.6 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 2.4 SPG, 50.8 eFG%

Eastern Kentucky SR G Mike Rose, 20.3 PPG, 5.4 RPG, 1.7 SPG, 59.2 eFG%

Austin Peay SR F Drake Reed, 22.4 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 59.0 eFG%

Morehead St. SR F Leon Buchanan, 15.3 PPG, 6.5 RPG, 53.5 eFG%6-8,

Morehead St. SO F/C Kenneth Faried, 13.5 PPG, 12.6 RPG, 2.1 SPG, 2.0 BPG, 56.4 eFG%