March Madness is in full effect at the Ford Center, as the new-look Ohio Valley Conference hosts its men’s and women’s basketball championship with automatic NCAA Tournament bids on the line.
The University of Southern Indiana, a first-year member of the OVC after moving up from NCAA Division II to Division I, qualified for the men’s OVC event as the No. 7 seed. The Screaming Eagles have a 9 p.m. tipoff on March 1 vs. Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville, the No. 6 seed.
The winner of that game plays on March 2, again at 9 p.m., vs. University of Tennessee-Martin, the No. 3 seed.
The OVC’s addition of USI, as well as the University of Arkansas at Little Rock and Lindenwood University, came after the league announced the departures of Murray State University, Belmont University, and Austin Peay State University.
Murray State and Belmont joined the Missouri Valley Conference, of which University of Evansville is a member and faces Indiana State in a first-round game at 2:30 p.m. March 2 in St. Louis. Austin Peay joined the ASUN Conference.
Murray State’s and Belmont’s teams both drew large crowds to prior OVC events at the Ford Center, so league officials are hopeful USI fans will fill some of that void this week.
As a first-year member of Division I, the Screaming Eagles aren’t eligible for an NCAA Tournament automatic bid, but they are participating in the conference championship. The USI women’s team did not advance to the OVC event this year; only the top eight men’s and women’s teams qualify.
Festive banners from USI and all the current OVC members adorn light posts on Main Street this week, as teams and their fans arrive in town. Teams are receiving police escorts from their hotels to the Ford Center for their games.
Presented this year by United Fidelity Bank, the OVC championship has been at the Ford Center since 2018. Conference officials announced this week the event will remain in Evansville through 2026, with an option for 2027.
The OVC women’s basketball championship tipped off on the afternoon of March 1, with games matching No. 5 University of Tennessee-Martin vs. No. 8 Morehead State University, and No. 6 Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville vs. No. 7 Tennessee State University.
On March 2, the UTM/Morehead State winner faces No. 4 Southeast Missouri State University at 1 p.m., followed by the SIUE/TSU winner vs. Tennessee Tech University at 3:30 p.m.
Semifinal games are on March 3 with No. 1 University of Arkansas at Little Rock playing at 1 p.m. and No. 2 Eastern Illinois University tipping off at 3:30 p.m.
The title game is 2 p.m. on March 4, with the winner qualifying for the NCAA Tournament.
Games on March 1 in the OVC men’s championship are No. 5 Southeast Missouri State University vs. No. 8 Lindenwood University at 6:30 p.m., followed by USI’s matchup with SIUE at 9.
On March 2, the SEMO/Lindenwood winner plays No. 4 Tennessee State University at 6:30 p.m., followed by the USI/SIUE winner vs. No. 3 UTM at 9 p.m.
Semifinal games are on March 3 with No. 1 Morehead State University playing at 7 p.m., followed by No. 2 Tennessee Tech University at 9:30 p.m.
The title game is 7 p.m. on March 4, with the winner qualifying for the NCAA Tournament. (Unless USI or Lindenwood win, in which case the runner-up would receive the bid).
How to watch or attend
The men’s title game is on ESPN2 and Westwood One radio. The men’s semifinals are on ESPNU. All other men’s games are streamed via ESPN+. All women’s games are streamed via ESPN+.
Tickets are available via Ticketmaster or the Ford Center box office.