Ohio Valley Conference Tournament Betting Preview: Bet Austin Peay & Jacksonville State With Belmont Vulnerable?
Mitchell Layton/Getty Images. Pictured: Nick Muszynski (left) and Dylan Windler (right).
The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will get underway on Tuesday in Evansville, Indiana, and will run through the championship on Saturday this week.
Like a handful of other leagues, the OVC actually changed the tourney format this season, which actually hurt the top two seeds that would normally receive a double-bye into the semifinals.
Instead, the OVC will play a standard eight-team, single-elimination bracket with no byes.
Now, the top two seeds (Belmont and Morehead State) do have the advantage of playing first-round games on Wednesday. Assuming both advance, they would get a day of rest on Thursday while Eastern Kentucky, Murray State and Jacksonville State start on Thursday and would need to win three games in three nights to cut down the nets.
So, where is the betting value from a futures perspective? Let's take a closer look.
Top seed Belmont (-175) is clearly the favorite. The Bruins have a fantastic offense that grades out in the top-10 percentile no matter where you look: half-court, transition, against man or zone. Their defense isn't quite as elite, but still grades out in the 84th percentile nationally, per Synergy. They are particularly stingy in transition but more than capable in the half court.
Belmont prefers to play fast (60th in Adjusted Tempo, per KenPom) and doesn't turn the ball over. That's scary for opposing defenses when you consider the Bruins rank seventh in the country in Effective FG%. They share the ball well and attempt a high frequency of shots from beyond the arc, where they hit at just under 35%.
If you haven't watched junior guard Grayson Murphy play, it's a treat. He does all of the little things as one of the highest-IQ players I've seen play this season. Despite standing at only 6-foot-2, he averages over eight rebounds per game to go along with 10.6 points and 5.4 assists. He's also an efficiency monster, shooting at just under 60% on the year.
For all of the positive things I can say about what head coach Casey Alexander has done with this relatively inexperienced team in his second season, there's an elephant in the room I haven't mentioned. The status of star junior center Nick Muszynski, who didn't play in Belmont's final two games due to injury.
Not only is he Belmont's best overall player, but everything in the offense runs through him. It's no coincidence that Belmont lost its final two games after starting out 18-0 in conference play. It's a significantly worse and much more vulnerable team without him on the floor.
— Mike Organ (@MikeOrganWriter) February 28, 2021
Per Alexander, Moose will actually be available for Belmont's first-round game against SIU-Edwardsville. However, it remains to be seen how healthy and effective he will be — especially in a potential back-to-back scenario for the conference title game on Saturday.
Let's take a quick look at each of the seven other OVC tourney teams in descending order of seed:
(8) SIU-Edwardsville (500-1)
Gassed? Credit to the Cougars for even qualifying for the OVC tournament. After a month-long covid pause, they played 18 games in 38 days to finish up the regular season. They play hard and contest a lot of shots at the rim, but they're lacking in talent and are also banged up at the moment.
With or without Muszynski, Belmont should have no issues against an opponent it defeated by a combined 84 points in two regular-season meetings.
(7) Southeast Missouri State (100-1)
Overmatched. SEMO won 4-of-5 (including three as an underdog) to close out the regular season and lock up one of the two remaining spots in the OVC tourney. When they aren't incessantly turning it over, the Redhawks do have some outside shooters who can get red hot (like Eric Reed) and they do get to the line at a high frequency.
However, that's not a winning formula against their first-round opponent, Morehead State, which plays elite perimeter defense (32nd in 3-point percentage) without fouling (18th).
SEMO will battle on the defensive glass, but it's hard to see it scoring enough or defending well enough at the rim to have a shot at a first-round upset against an opponent that beat it twice by double digits in the regular season.
Maybe a red-hot shooting night can lead it to a stunner, but it's not a viable threat to cut down the nets here in my opinion.
(3) Eastern Kentucky (8-1)
Press and Tempo. EKU certainly has a style. The Colonels press at the fourth-highest rate in the country and also ranks third in Adjusted Tempo. Their half-court defense has been good, primarily as a result of the turnovers they force, which they've done at a top-five rate nationally to date.
When they aren't scoring off of turnovers, they are very reliant on the deep ball, which they hit at a league-high 38.2% during OVC play. Point guard Wendell Green has been awesome as a freshman for an inexperienced team that will be super intriguing next year. However, this team struggles at the rim and is very vulnerable on the glass.
They are also overdue for some negative shooting regression on both ends, especially on offense, where they rank in the 99th percentile on open jump shots. It's a very streaky team that will go on huge runs and suffer through extended droughts.
Their high-variance style is intriguing, but I would need higher than 8-1 to dabble. It also might be a tall task to win three games in three nights with their up-tempo, pressing style.
(4) Jacksonville State (14-1)
Ray Harper Curveballs? The offense, which runs at a snail's pace in the half-court, has been excellent all season. And when the Gamecocks do actually get out in transition, they've graded out as elite.
The defense has also performed at an above-average level, especially at the rim. That said, they don't turn opponents over.
Head coach Ray Harper should be applauded for taking an experienced group of transfers and making it work in a very difficult season to manage a roster that ranked 326th in Minutes Continuity, per KenPom.
For my money, Harper is one of the most underrated coaches in the country, especially in a tournament setting. Don't be surprised if you see him completely shake things up schematically on the defensive end with some new looks his opponents didn't prepare for.
The Gamecocks will kick things off with a Murray State team they beat twice this year, scoring 85+ in both victories. I actually make that game a coin flip, so getting Jacksonville State 14-1 is much more appealing to me than Murray State 8-1.
(5) Murray State (8-1)
Inconsistent. Murray State has loads of talent on offense but has just been maddeningly inconsistent all season.
Lack of consistency at the point guard position is a primary reason. Yet, overall, the offense has graded out at an outstanding level all season, especially in transition. The Racers rank in the top 50 nationally in 2-point percentage, 3-point percentage and Effective field goal percentage, per KenPom.
They rely a little too much on the 3, which they've fortunately made at a high clip. However, when that's not falling, things can unravel quickly for a team that doesn't get to the line often and struggles when they do.
Defensively, they can be exploited at the rim, especially if Demond Robinson remains sidelined.
During his pregame interview with Neal Bradley, Murray State Head Coach Matt McMahon said Demond Robinson will not need surgery to repair a knee injury, but he will be out for both games this week. Robinson will be reassessed next week prior to the OVC Tournament.
— Jeff Bidwell (@AKAJeffBidwell) February 26, 2021
The talent is there with KJ Williams and company.
The Racers also took Belmont down to the wire at home, but I can't trust them to put three clean efforts in a row together at a price of 8-1.
(6) Austin Peay (20-1)
Terry Taylor Time. The Governors had a very disappointing season compared to many's preseason expectations. I actually had them ranked as the second-best team in the OVC before the season, they and were my pick to get to the dance.
The offense has two very talented players in Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams, both of whom dipped their toes in the NBA waters before deciding to come back this year.
Taylor, a quasi-guard, does most of his damage on the low block, where he plays even bigger than his 6-foot-8 height. For the season, Taylor averages 21.7 points and 11.0 rebounds per game. He's an unstoppable force in the OVC.
Adams, meanwhile, has had a very disappointing campaign in part due to nagging injuries throughout the season. He has shown flashes but has been extremely inconsistent.
Turnovers are an issue for a very young backcourt, but Taylor makes this offense very potent on the low block and offensive glass despite a lack of overall raw size. The Governors are also superb from the line.
At the same time, the defense flat out stinks in the half-court. They do excel in transition, but this is not a defensive team by any stretch.
(2) Morehead State (4-1)
Rebounding and Defense. It all starts with the half-court defense for the Eagles.
They rate in the 95th percentile nationally in half-court man-to-man defense, which they run over 93% of the time. Morehead can really switch everything and suffocate opponents from start to finish.
A lock for OVC Freshman of the Year, 6-foot-10 freshman big man Johni Broome has been a revelation inside. Broome and his companions also thrive on the glass on both ends.
There are flaws on the offensive end, where Morehead isn't a model of efficiency.
The Eagles, who want to play very slow, do have a handful of decent outside shooters. However, they turn it over at a troubling clip (332nd in D-I) and struggle from the free-throw line.
- Austin Peay 20-1 (0.25 units)
- Jacksonville State 14-1 (0.25 units)
Based on how Belmont plays and his replacement drop-off, Muszynski is one of the most valuable players to his team in the country.
If I knew he was fully healthy, I would've considered playing the favored Bruins here. However, with his health and effectiveness in doubt, I think this revised no-bye tournament is much more wide open.
I personally placed two small wagers on Austin Peay and Jacksonville State. They're actually both playing virtual coin flips in their opening-round games against opponents with worse futures prices.
With Austin Peay, I'm getting the most talented player in the conference in Taylor, who can single-handedly win games. I also fancy a few matchup advantages against its first two likely opponents (Morehead State and Eastern Kentucky).
The Governors, whose last eight conference losses all came by eight points or fewer — including two in overtime — split with EKU and lost by one at Morehead in one of those overtime games. If they can get the good version of Adams, this team can make a run. I think the fair value is a tad below 15-1, and that's assuming a fully healthy Belmont team.
Meanwhile, if Jacksonville State can get by Murray State, it would likely face Belmont for a third time. JSU had no issues putting up points in the first meeting but allowed a staggering 1.32 points per possession in a 98-91 loss.
In the second meeting, it had Belmont on the ropes, but the Bruins rallied to pull out an ugly 63-59 despite shooting a horrid 3-of-26 from 3.
JSU was at least fairly competitive in both and should have plenty of confidence after winning 7-of-8 to close out the regular season. And again, a potentially limited Muszynski makes Belmont more vulnerable.
Look, both could easily lose their opening round games, but I think the "Moose" injury provides an opportunity to take a shot or two here. I decided to go with JSU and APSU, but there are certainly arguments to be made for EKU, Morehead or Murray.
For what it's worth, I would not go below 15-1 on Austin Peay or 12-1 on Jacksonville State. Good luck.