OHIO VALLEY NOTES AND RAMBLINGS
-9 of the 11 teams in the conference have three or more starters returning, and if there is any truth to the theory that teams improve with experience then the league should be stronger this year. Tennesee Martin and Tennessee Tech are the only schools who dont seem to have a whole lot of experience.
-The conference has not won an NCAA Tournament game since 1989.
-All 11 teams in the league play each other home and home, which makes for 20 conference games in total. That limits the amount of OOC games each team has to nine, which can make it difficult for teams to get multiple opportunities to make a case for themselves as an at-large caliber team. OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE TEAMS
-AUSTIN PEAY exceeded all expectations last season with a fairly young team. They won the Ohio Valley regular season championship and advanced to the championship game of the conference tournament, but fell to Eastern Kentucky by just one point after EKU hit a shot in the final seconds. All five starters are back this season
along with everyone else. Austin Peay has NCAA Tournament hopes. Unfortunately, they dont have many chances to prove themselves out of conference, which will make it difficult for them to receive an at-large bid if they were to need it. One of their best chances to make a statement is in their season opener when they travel to Vanderbilt. They also play Memphis this season, but that game isnt as winnable as the Vandy game. In addition to that they get another shot late this season when they play in the Bracket Buster. If they cant win any of those games, then their margin for error is virtually zero once they enter conference play. That wont be easy because the league should be rather competitive this year. Forward Drake Reed is definitely a player to watch. He shot 52% from the floor last season and averaged over 15ppg. They are also strong and experienced at the guard position, and can hit shots from the outside. If they do make the NCAA Tournament then they wont be an easy out in the first round.
-EASTERN KENTUCKY won 11 of their final 13 games last year, which included the OVC Tournament Championship, before losing in the first round of the NCAA Tournament to North Carolina. They welcome back three starters and have a very strong perimeter, which is led by Mike Rose and Adam Leonard. If this team has any question marks, then its in the front court. Their style of play very much resembles West Virginias, and feeds off good passing and good outside shooting. Expect them to be in the mix for the title once again.
-Despite being the most dominant team in the league for the past several seasons, not much was expected out of MURRAY STATE last season. Head coach Mick Cronin had left for Cincinnati and the team looked to be lacking in personnel. Still, it was a successful year for the Racers and they really finished the season strong by winning eight of their last ten regular season games and finishing 16-14 overall. It was a pretty big turnaround for a team that just started they year 2-6. The Racers love to go deep into their bench, and this year should be no different. Bruce Carter and Tyler Holloway both averaged double figures last year and return at the guard position. The Racers should be an improved team and could end up at the top of the standings if they stay healthy. They are a very strong program who seems to have undergone one coaching change after another, but can still remained competitive.
-TENNESSEE TECH had a big season last year and ended up losing by just three points to Eastern Kentucky in the OVC semifinals. Two of their best players are gone so they do have some big shoes to fill, but forward Amadi McKenzie is back, who is a huge force underneath in both scoring and rebounding. Guard Anthony Fisher, who averaged over 17ppg last season, also returns. Still, those two guys cant do it alone, and some of the players who came off the bench last year will have to step up as starters this year.
-SAMFORD will be joining the Southern Conference next year, which makes this their final year in the OVC. This is a team that loves to slow it down and whos success relies heavily on their execution and ability to shoot the ball. Unfortunately, the Bulldogs will need to replace Randall Gulina, who was the teams leading scorer last season. Three starters are back, and their offense should once again be the slow-down Princeton style of play.
-EASTERN ILLINOIS was just 10-20 last season and really shot the ball poorly all year long, but they were playing their best basketball at the end of the year. All five starters are back, and the team has a very good guard in sophomore Romain Martin, who averaged just under 15ppg as a freshman last season. Their experience should help them out some, but they really need to improve in all areas if they want to be a force in the league.
-SOUTHEAST MISSOURI STATE was 11-20 last season after winning just five games the previous year. They love to push the pace, and with four starters coming back they should continue to improve. I dont see them competing for a conference championship, but they are definitely moving in the right direction. One of their biggest problems is that they turn the ball over a lot, but thats typical of a team that likes to run as much as they do. Perhaps the turnovers will decrease now that they are more experienced.
-JACKSONVILLE STATE had a frustrating season last year, but 7 of their 13 conference losses were by five points or less, so perhaps there is reason to hope. Five new players join the squad this year, including three juco transfers. They did lose their best player in Courtney Bradley, and replacing his 17ppg and 7rpg wont be easy.
-TENNESSEE STATE was just 11-20 last season and played very poorly down the stretch losing 10 of their last 12. They are much more experienced this year with three starters coming back. In addition to the three returning starters, Bruce Price
is back, who sat out last season with a medical redshirt, but averaged over 19ppg the previous season. If he is fully recovered from his injury than he should be a major asset. Tennessee State does have reason to hope.
-MOREHEAD STATE went 12-18 last year and earned a spot in the conference tournament after going just 4-23 the year before. Still, they were 2-12 in their final 14 games after getting off to a 6-2 start in league play, and their top two scorers from last years team are gone. They are way stronger at the guard position than they are in the post, so theyll have to step it up underneath if they want to be successful in the league.
-TENNESSEE MARTIN finished last in the conference last year, and hasnt had a winning season in league play since the 1995-96 season. Only one starter is back, but that may not be the worst thing in the world since one of the things the team evidently needs is better players. Several juco transfers join the squad this year, and see significant minutes right away.