(SportsNetwork.com) - The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament gets underway Wednesday as the top eight finishers in the regular season converge on Nashville's Municipal Auditorium. The last team standing following the March 7 championship game will be crowned the winner of the bracket, and will advance to the NCAA Tournament via the league's automatic bid.
Murray State, which moved into the nation's Top-25 earlier this week for the first time all season, finished its regular-season slate with a perfect 16-0 record in Ohio Valley Conference play. The Racers garner the top overall seed in the tournament, and receive an automatic bye all the way through to the semifinal round. Murray State capped off its 26-4 season with 24 consecutive wins - the second-longest streak in the nation.
Sophomore point guard Cameron Payne led the way for the Racers with 20.2 ppg this season, and garnered OVC Player of the Year honors as well as being named to the all-conference first-team. He is joined in that regards by forward Jarvis Williams, who nets 15.4 ppg with 8.3 rpg. Murray State coach Steve Prohm took home the OVC Coach of the Year award as well.
Second-seeded Eastern Kentucky, last year's OVC champion, also moves along to the semifinal round via the double-bye. The Colonels finished off a 19-10 season with an 11-5 mark in conference play, and held the tiebreaker over third-seeded Belmont. EKU heads into the postseason on a three-game win streak after narrowly escaping Tennessee Tech in the regular-season finale, 70-67.
The Colonels also had two players named to the All-OVC First-Team in senior guard Corey Walden along with forward Eric Stutz. Walden led the squad in scoring with 18.6 ppg, and Stutz finished the season with 15.5 ppg and a team- high 5,8 rpg. Walden earned his second straight OVC Defensive Player of the Year honor.
Belmont picks up the third seed in the league and will advance past the first round with a bye, awaiting the winner of the SIU Edwardsville/Eastern Illinois clash. The Bruins ended their 2014-15 campaign on a four-game win streak that boosted their record to 19-10 overall with an 11-5 ledger in league play, after they dominated Tennessee State in the season finale, 88-62.
Craig Bradshaw filled in for last year's leading scorer J.J. Mann nicely after his departure in the offseason. Bradshaw netted 17.9 ppg and rounds out the five-member All-OVC First-Team.
UT Martin received the final first-round bye after garnering the fourth seed following a 10-6 marker in OVC play, with an 18-11 overall record. The Skyhawks dropped the regular-season finale, 73-67, to Murray State, and have lost two of their last three heading into postseason play.
Deville Smith paced UT Martin during the regular season in scoring with 14.0 ppg, adding in 128 assists. Marshun Newell chipped in with 13.3 ppg and a team-best 7.0 rpg.
First-round action kicks off Wednesday with a matchup between Southeast Missouri State and Morehead State. Morehead State earned the fifth seed in the tournament after finishing with a 10-6 league record, and will hope a three- game win streak to end the regular season does the team some good. Southeast Missouri State snuck in as the eighth seed with a 7-9 conference record, capping off the regular season with a resounding 89-65 victory over Austin Peay that ended a three-game losing streak. The winner advances to face UT Martin in the second round.
SIU Edwardsville takes on Eastern Illinois in a first-round contest Wednesday. The Cougars are the seventh seed after finishing the year at 8-8 in OVC play, while the Panthers head in as the sixth seed at 9-7 against league foes. Both teams are coming off season-ending defeats, but one will advance to take on Belmont in the next round of play.
All games will be played in Nashville, which means Belmont may have the competitive advantage. However, Murray State's outstanding season and wild win streak likely won't come to an end anytime soon.
Sports Network Predicted Champion: Murray State