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The 2012-2013 season could be the Ohio Valley Conference’s finest hour. With the mid-major landscape in a state of flux, this could be the season that the OVC legitimizes itself as a basketball conference. The conference features a first team All-American, two 2012 NCAA tournament appearances, a future-Hall of Fame coach, and anywhere from two to six future-NBA players. A lot of things have to go right, but there’s a definite possibility the OVC sends at least two teams to the NCAA Tournament.
With the addition of Belmont, the OVC has split up into and East and West divisions. The Bruins enter the season as the prohibitive favorites to win the East division. Head coach Rick Byrd has compiled a 545-284 record in his 26 years at Belmont, and brings his squad into the OVC for the first time looking to do what they do almost every year, which is make the NCAA tournament. The Bruins joined the OVC because a) it made more geographical sense and b) the competition is better, plus they might actually tout the best back-court in the OVC, made up of Kerron Johnson and Ian Clark. Tennessee State returns four starters from the 2011-2012 that handed Murray State it’s first and only loss of the regular season and will compete with Belmont for the top spot. They are led by sharpshooting wing Robert Covington, arguably the conference’s best scorer not named Isaiah Canaan. Tennessee Tech has to replace Kevin Murphy, who was drafted by the Utah Jazz, but second year head coach Steve Payne returns forward Jud Dillard, a first team All-Conference selection last season. The Owls have talent and experience, two items essential in making a late season run. Morehead State doesn’t have Kenny Faried anymore, but they have first year head coach Sean Woods, who did great things at Mississippi Valley State. The Eagles won’t be a title contender, but they will be a very difficult-out.
Murray State is the conference’s “golden goose”, and the favorite to come out of the West division, led by first team All-American guard Isaiah Canaan. The senior guard torched the competition en route to the nation’s longest undefeated streak (23-0) and an conference record for wins (31-2). The question is, can he do it again? The Racers graduated three significant pieces and lost another (Zay Jackson) to a season-ending suspension. If Ed Daniel and Latreze Mushatt can elevate their games, Isaiah Canaan is a special type of player. The west division is Murray State’s for the taking, but Southeast Missouri has improved tremendously under third year head coach Dickey Nutt, and put up a very tough fight on both occasions against Murray State last season. The Redhawks return All-OVC players in junior forward Tyler Stone and senior guard Marland Smith.
While Murray State and Belmont are the only two teams with real, legitimate at-large potential, there are at least three teams that have the talent needed to win the OVC Tournament. There’s a real possibility that the OVC has three representatives come March Madness time.
Take the time now to mark down your schedules for March 6-9 in Nashville, because the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament may end up being the most exciting three days of the college hoops season.
Don’t be shocked to see three OVC representatives in the Big dance.
All-Conference Team (* denotes Player of the Year)
G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)*
F Robert Covington (Tennessee State)
G Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech)
G Kerron Johnson (Belmont)
F Tyler Stone (Southeast Missouri)
2. Tennessee State
3. Tennessee Tech
4. Morehead State
5. Eastern Kentucky
6. Jacksonville State
1. Murray State
2. Southeast Missouri
3. Austin Peay
5. Eastern Illinois