As college football has ended, the NFL is winding down towards the Super Bowl, and conference play is well under way, the eyes of the sports world are starting to focus more and more on the greatest sport out there – college basketball. With that in mind, it is time to kick off the “Small Conference Game of the Day.”
For this season’s inaugural game, we have three great choices. Valparaiso is playing at Detroit (in a nationally televised game nonetheless) in a game that could help eventually decide the Horizon League regular season championship. South Dakota State is at Western Illinois tonight as well, in a game involving a matchup of the defending Summit League champions and the upstart Leathernecks. However, for tonight’s game we are going to the Ohio Valley Conference.
Eastern Kentucky has been one of the most surprising teams, not only in the OVC, but possibly in the entire country so far this season. Preseason prognosticators saw the Ohio Valley as a two team race, between perennial mid-major powers Murray State and Belmont (who just moved over to the OVC from the Atlantic Sun this season). Eastern Kentucky was in fact picked by some to finish dead last in the OVC’s Eastern Division. Instead, EKU is sitting at 14-3 overall and 4-0 in conference. Their only losses to date have come at West Virginia, at Illinois, and at North Carolina A&T (ok, that last one is not really defensible). The Colonels do not have any marquee non-conference wins (the best being a home win over Towson), but did send a message through the OVC that they are legitimate by winning at Murray State 77-65 last week.
Tonight, EKU gets to take on arguably the best team in the OVC, Belmont. Belmont is 13-4 on the season including questionable losses to Northeastern and Central Florida, but also has solid wins at Stanford, and homes wins over good teams from South Dakota State and Middle Tennessee. This is the first of two meetings between EKU and Belmont, and a win tonight by Belmont will go a long way to cementing them as the team to beat come conference tournament time. On the other hand, a win by Eastern Kentucky tonight will go a long way to sending notice to the league that the Colonels are legitimate contenders. In any event, the OVC has clearly changed from the one-team show that Murray State has been putting on the past few seasons to a legitimately intriguing league with at least three teams capable of not only winning the league title but also making some noise come NCAA tournament time.