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Ohio Valley Conference tournament: Preview, prediction, TV info

By Chip Patterson | College Football/Basketball Writer

J.J. Mann led Belmont to the No. 1 seed in its second-ever OVC Tournament.  (USATSI)
J.J. Mann led Belmont to the No. 1 seed in its second-ever OVC Tournament. (USATSI)

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What: Ohio Valley Conference championship

When: March 5-8

Where: Municipal Auditorium; Nashville, Tenn.

Bracket: View tournament field here.

TV: First round and quarterfinals available on the OVC Digital Network; semifinals (Friday, March 7) on ESPNU; championship (Saturday, March 8) on ESPN2

Last year's champ: Belmont (26-7, No. 11 seed)

What matters: Belmont made a splash in its first season of OVC play in 2013, winning the regular season title and conference championship with a thrilling 70-68 overtime win against Murray State. The Bruins claimed another regular season title in 2014, and the No. 1 seed in the conference tournament, thanks to a 99-96 win against the Racers in their only regular season meeting. Murray State was on track to earn a share of the league title until a 118-115 double overtime loss to Southeast Missouri State -- winners of four straight -- on Saturday.

Who matters: If Murray State is going to knock off Belmont and reclaim the OVC title, the Racers will likely get a couple of strong performances from Cameron Payne. The 6-2 freshman guard leads the team in scoring (15.9 PPG) and ranks second in the conference in assists (5.6 APG). Transfer forward Jarvis Williams has also made a huge impact for Murray State, recording 13 double-doubles and leading the league in field-goal percentage. Belmont's sharp-shooting offense -- the Bruins lead the OVC in field goal percentage (50.6) and three-point shooting (39.7 percent) -- is led by Craig Bradshaw (15.6 PPG) and J.J. Mann (18.4 PPG). Southeast Missouri State forward Tyler Stone enters the tournament coming off back-to-back OVC Player of the Week honors, helping the Redhawks secure a spot in the tournament and knock off Murray State in the regular season finale.

Fun fact: The Ohio Valley Conference has won at least one game in the NCAA tournament in four of the past five years. Belmont's loss to Arizona in the Round of 64 last year broke that streak.

Prediction: Belmont over Murray State. The OVC's double-bye format heavily favors the top two seeds, making it difficult to pick against a team that starts the tournament in the semifinals. Southeast Missouri State is hot, but not hot enough to knock off both conference title contenders in a four-game week. Belmont is currently slated as a No. 13 seed in Jerry Palm's Bracketology, an ideal spot for the Bruins to resume the OVC's winning ways in the NCAA Tournament.

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