The Gophers will not be participating in the NCAA Tournament this March. But the first weekend of the NCAA Tournament is the best weekend of the calendar year (this is fact, not an opinion). Dozens of college basketball games with teams and players trying to make themselves a household name, even if for just the weekend. Small schools from smaller conferences get their shot at knocking off schools with more established basketball pedigrees. This is going to be a series where we take a look at 24 conferences and the schools most likely to represent them in the NCAA Tournament. Consider this early bracket research to find that Cinderella team that busts everyone’s bracket...except yours.
Last Year’s NCAA Participant: (16) Jacksonville State
Prior Years Upset Team: Murray State has been a thorn in people’s sides for the better part of two decades, and even had a year it was ranked in the top 10 at one point. Belmont, a recent addition to the conference, is also experienced at giving other teams fits in March.
Murray State Racers
KenPom Rank: 63
Off Efficiency: 113.7 (52)
Def Efficiency: 101.9 (105)
eFG%: 55.6% (25)
Why are they dangerous: The Racers have three of the conference’s top five players, including the OVC’s best in Jonathan Stark. Stark, a senior guard, is averaging nearly 22 points per game and has been on an absolute tear of late, with 22 or more points in six of his last seven games. Along with Terrell Miller Jr. and Ja Morant, the Racers are loaded. Their kryptonite? It just might be Belmont. Murray State lost its only meeting of the season to the Bruins, but haven’t faced them since mid-January. That changes tonight.
KenPom Rank: 82
Off Efficiency: 114.2 (47)
Def Efficiency: 104.4 (150)
eFG%: 59.3% (3)
Why are they dangerous: The Bruins just know how to score, and it’s propelled them to the top of the OVC and established them as perhaps the conference’s most dangerous team. They went 15-1 last year but stumbled in the conference semifinals and were denied an NCAA bid [don’t get me started on that one]. Picked to finish at the top of the conference this year, the Bruins didn’t take a Murray State surge into account, and find themselves with the #2 seed in the OVC tournament. With the other two of the conference’s top five players, the Bruins are tough to stop when Dylan Windler (17.6 ppg) and Amanze Egekeze (16.6 ppg) are lighting it up. Oh, and they can all step out and shoot. In fact, Belmont nailed a ridiculous 20 three-pointers in one of its most recent games.
NCAA Tournament Outlook
The Racers and Bruins won their respective semifinal games, so they’re in the championship tonight looking to lock up the season’s first autobid. Both teams are absolutely on fire and feature some of the OVC’s best players, so it’s sure to be a doozy. The winner will certainly be an under-the-radar upset pick, especially a team like Belmont, who can score in droves. Watch out for either of these teams.