Tennessee-Martin at Murray State (Ohio Valley)
Regional Special Event Center - Murray, KY
8:30 PM ESTWith BracketBusters complete, it's time to make the mad dash towards the first tourneys. In just a little over a week, a number of smaller conferences will begin elimination procedures; one of them is the Ohio Valley, which will wrap up league play in just five short days.
A buzzer-beating floater by Missouri State's Kyle Weems
put an end to UT Martin's 11-game winning streak -- but that was BracketBusters, a context unto itself. In OVC play, the Skyhawks (19-7, 12-3 OVC) still have 11 consecutive victories, are outscoring opponents by an average of 10 points, and took sole control of first place last Wednesday at Eastern Illinois
. With three games remaining in the regular season, UTM is a game up on Morehead State with a home showdown looming on Saturday
(MSU won at home in December). For now, a win tonight gives the school its first-ever 20-win season. No. 2 national scorer Lester "Done Ruthless" Hudson
(27.4 ppg) has been outdone on the scoresheet over the last two games by soph sensation Marquis Weddle
(14 ppg, 25 vs. EIU and 26 against Mo-State) which is a very good thing in terms of the team's March chances. Should D.R. & Co. make it to the NCAA Tournament for the first time ever, Weddle is high-premium triple-team insurance -- that's something opponents had been starting to make use of against Hudson.
We haven't talked about Murray that much this year (15-11, 10-5 OVC), the school with the most NCAA bids of any current conference member (13). That's mostly because of a weak performance against a weak non-conference schedule (5-5, SOS: 244) and a seeason sweep by league champs Austin Peay. But aside from a Buster loss at home against the WAC's Louisiana Tech
, the Racers have won seven of eight league games and have moved to fourth place in the standings, a position that would net them a home game in the opening campus-site round of the tourney next week -- with three straight at home to close the regular season, they'll have an excellent chance to maintain or improve that placement. Murray has been accomplishing recent excellence with defense -- the squad allows 60 points per game in OVC play, and is league-best in 3-point defense (32.1 percent) and opponent turnover rate (23 percent). On the offensive end, it's mostly Danero Thomas
, a junior who's leading the team with 11.8 ppg but who's been struggling to find his shot of late. In an echo of the 2006 team that nearly upset North Carolina in the NCAA first round (remember Shawn Witherspoon?), he's the only Racer in double figures consistently, with three at 8.0 ppg or better.Basketball State Preview/Box