Beginning in October and running up through November 13th, the first day of the regular season, College Basketball Talk will be unveiling the 2015-2016 NBCSports.com college hoops preview package.
Today, we are previewing the Ohio Valley Conference.
The Ohio Valley Conference Tournament championship game didn’t lack any drama. Taylor Barnette drilled a 3-pointer with 3.2 seconds left to send the Belmont to the NCAA tournament for the fourth time in five years. It handed Murray State, which was undefeated in conference play, an invitation to the NIT.
The Bruins and Racers are expected to top their respective divisions again this season despite going through two very different offseasons.
Belmont head coach Rick Byrd, entering his 30th season, brings back four starters. Barnette, the OVC Tournament MVP and Craig Bradshaw, the Ohio Valley Preseason Player of the Year, make up the conference’s top back court, while Evan Bradds mans the frontline after a breakout sophomore season. Belmont is one of the nation’s best mid-major programs year-after-year, and that shouldn’t change this season.
Murray State, however, experienced an offseason of change. In April, Cameron Payne left for the NBA, becoming a lottery pick that will continue his career alongside Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook. Then in June, head coach Steve Prohm left to take over the Iowa State program. Despite the coaching change and the loss of three of its top four scorers, Murray State remains a contender in the OVC. First-year head coach Matt McMahon has an all-OVC caliber guard in Jeffery Moss, the lone returning starter. Justin Seymour also returns, but the perimeter will be enhanced by the additions of Texas transfer Damarcus Croaker, Chattanooga transfer Gee McGhee and JuCo transfer Bryce Jones.
In total, there are four new head coaches in the league: McMahon, Dan McHale (Eastern Kentucky), Rick Ray (Southeast Missouri State) and Jon Harris (SIU-Edwardsville).
Even after graduating two all-OVC players, McHale and the Colonels could still be Belmont’s toughest challenge in the East Division, relying on the returning back court of Ja’Mill Powell and Isaac McGlone. Morehead State won five of its last six games, narrowly losing to Murray State in the OVC Tournament semifinals, to close out 2014-15. The Eagles could build of last season’s strong push with Brent Arrington returning to lead the team’s hard-nose defense. But Jacksonville State poses as a deep sleeper, a cast of newcomers headlined by well-traveled forward Cameron Biedscheid.
UT Martin, coming off one of the better turnarounds in the nation a season ago, will likely be Murray State’s toughest competition in the West Division. Twymond Howard and Alex Anderson make up a solid 1-2 punch, while Myles Taylor, another double-digit scorer, returns from a shortened 2014-15 season. Chris Olivier transferring hurts Eastern Illinois up front, but Trae Anderson and Cornell Johnston should be enough to keep the Panthers in play this year.
- Favorite: “I think Belmont is the best team. They won the conference tournament last year. They have bulk of the guys coming back and they definitely have the best coach coming back.”
- Sleeper: “I would say Morehead State. I think they’re going to have a really good team. They play hard, they play physical, they guard you. You really have to prepare for them. Heck, they were close to making the conference championship game last year.”
- Star to watch: “I think Craig Bradshaw from Belmont. He can score from anywhere on the floor. He plays with a great motor and within the team concept. He can put points on the board, really quickly too.”
PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont
One of the best mid-major players in the nation, Bradshaw is coming off a junior campaign of 18.3 points, 3.8 rebounds and 3.1 assists per game, shooting 42 percent from behind the 3-point line. An intense competitor, the 6-foot-3 senior had arguably his best game against one of the nation’s premier defenses, scoring 25 points (10-of-19 shooting) and nine rebounds against Virginia in the NCAA tournament.
THE REST OF THE PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY CONFERENCE TEAM:
- Evan Bradds, Belmont: The anchor in the middle for the Bruins, the 6-foot-7 junior averaged 14.2 points and 7.2 boards per game, shooting 69 percent from the field, second in the nation in that category.
- Chris Horton, Austin Peay: One of the bright lights for the Governors in 2014-15, Horton averaged a double-double: 13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds per game. Tops in the conference with 2.3 blocks per game.
- Twymond Howard, UT Martin: One of the top newcomers in the league from a season ago, the 6-foot-6 forward recorded five of his six double-doubles during conference play.
- Jeffery Moss, Murray State: A long, athletic guard who can connect from three should see a bump in his offensive numbers with Cameron Payne in the NBA and two of the Racers’ other double-digit scorers gone from a season ago.
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2. Morehead State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Jacksonville State
5. Tennessee Tech
6. Tennessee State
1. Murray State
2. UT Martin
3. Eastern Illinois
4. Southeast Missouri State
5. Austin Peay