OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE
And then there was one. At one time, playing divisional format was all the rage in college basketball, leading to such fun inventions as the “Big East 6/Big East 7” and Conference USA’s Red, White and Blue divisions. This season, the Ohio Valley becomes the second-to-last conference to get rid of divisions (leaving only the Mid-American), as they simultaneously expand to an 18-game conference regular season. Getting rid of divisions is not the only change though, as the OVC also says farewell to Dave Loos, who spent 27 seasons on the bench at Austin Peay.
Having a new head coach proved to be a good thing last season as Jacksonville State (with Ray Harper) and Tennessee-Martin (with Anthony Stewart) met in the conference tournament championship game. UT-Martin may take a step back this season, but Jacksonville State should be right back in contention and is our preseason pick to take the crown. Belmont is always tough and will be in the picture, along with Murray State, a very dangerous team with Jonathan Stark leading the way. Stark is the only active college player to average at least 21 points, 5 rebounds and 3.8 assists per game in a season, and one of only 15 players since 2000 to do so.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Jacksonville State – The Gamecocks are no longer an after-thought in the OVC, thanks to head coach Ray Harper working his magic last year, in his first season at the helm, guiding them to 20 wins and their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They could be back again this season in part due to the combination of point guard Malcolm Drumwright outside and big man Norbertas Giga inside.
- Belmont – Even without two-time OVC Player of the Year Evan Bradds, the Bruins will be tough to beat as they are led by Amanze Egekeze and Austin Luke. Having both a 6-10 and a 6-11 center on the roster should also help a ton.
- Murray State – The Racers had their first losing season in 30 years last season, but don’t expect them to stay down long. Jonathan Stark can take over games, as he averaged almost 22 points per game and could put up even bigger numbers this season. Also keep an eye on junior college transfer Anthony Smith, who joins Terrell Miller in the frontcourt.
- Eastern Illinois – The Panthers should be improved on last season, when they missed qualifying for the OVC Tournament, thanks to four returning starters. Three of those four averaged over ten points a game, and the fourth was actually their best player. Forward Muusa Dama averaged 9.1 points and 9.6 rebounds and will likely take those averages into a double-double this year.
- Eastern Kentucky – The Colonels have one of the conference’s most exciting players in Nick Mayo, who averaged over 18 points and 6 rebounds a game as a sophomore last season. The question will be whether they have enough help for him, though three other returning starters, including guard Asante Gist, should be a good start.
- Tennessee State – The Tigers lose over 28 points per game in offense without Wayne Martin and Tahjere McCall. Although they do have some depth and experience, it will be tough for them to be successful if someone does not step up to take over the scoring load.
- Tennessee-Martin – The Skyhawks won the OVC’s West Division last season and advanced to the conference tournament championship game, losing there to Jacksonville State, before going on to the CIT. Unfortunately, four of the five starters from that team are gone and head coach Anthony Stewart is going to need to get a ton of production from 10 newcomers on the roster in order to have success this time around.
- Tennessee Tech – The Golden Eagles lost a pair of double-digit scorers from last season’s 20 loss team, but do have some prospects for success with the return of guard Aleksa Jugovic. Jugovic averaged over 15 points per game last season and will be called on to score even more this time around.
- SIU Edwardsville – The Cougars only won one game in OVC play last season, but do return Jalen Henry who averaged over 12 points per game. Finding a way into the top 8 and qualifying for the conference tournament would be a successful season this year.
- Austin Peay – The Governors have a new head coach for the first time in 27 years as Dave Loos retired following last season. Matt Figger takes over, and has his work cut out with only one starter returning. He has already made some noise with his recruiting, including grabbing South Carolina State graduate transfer Ed Stephens.
- Southeast Missouri* – The Redhawks had a chance to have 12 seniors on the roster this season, which probably would have landed them near the top of this list. Instead, they are banned from postseason play due to their APR and only have four seniors back, none of whom was a starter last season. Antonius Cleveland signed a contract with the Portland Trail Blazers during the offseason and it is not clear how they will make up for his loss, although sophomore guard Denzel Mahoney is a bright spot for the team.
- Morehead State – The Eagles removed Preston Spradlin’s interim head coach tag after a 14-16 record last year. This season will likely not even be close to that good as Spradlin needs to get six freshmen and three junior college transfers to learn to play as a team, and has no seniors or returning starters to help pull them together.
*Southeast Missouri is ineligible for postseason play due to APR scores.