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Ohio Valley Conference Preview: Belmont reigns supreme

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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.

MORE: 2015-16 Season Preview Coverage | Conference Previews | Preview Schedule

COACH’S TAKE

  • 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.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @OVCBall

PREDICTED FINISH

East Division

1. Belmont
2. Morehead State
3. Eastern Kentucky
4. Jacksonville State
5. Tennessee Tech
6. Tennessee State

West Division

1. Murray State
2. UT Martin
3. Eastern Illinois
4. Southeast Missouri State
5. Austin Peay
6. SIU-Edwardsville

Oklahoma State lands graduate transfer big man

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Oklahoma State picked up a much-needed experienced big man late this week as Eastern Illinois graduate transfer Chris Olivier pledged to the Cowboys.

The 6-foot-8 Olivier began his career at Northern Iowa before transferring and spending his last two seasons at Eastern Illinois. Olivier confirmed his commitment to Oklahoma State on Twitter.

Olivier is an athletic big man who had spurts of productivity for the Panthers the last two seasons. He averaged 13 points, 5.3 rebounds and 1.4 blocks per game in 23.5 minutes per game. Olivier also shot 54 percent from the field during his junior season.

The Cowboys return 7-foot-0 senior-to-be Anthony Allen and 6-foot-9 sophomore-to-be Mitchell Soloman but both of them were small-time contributors last season. Incoming junior college transfer Igor Ibaka didn’t play basketball last season. So adding Olivier is an insurance policy and he should be able to help for a few minutes each game.

Forward Chris Olivier transferring from Eastern Illinois, eligible immediately

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Another productive front court player is on the transfer market, as Eastern Illinois announced earlier this week that forward Chris Olivier will be transferring. Olivier, who began his college career at Northern Iowa before playing two seasons at EIU, will be eligible immediately as a graduate student.

Olivier averaged 13.0 points and 5.3 rebounds per game last season, shooting 54.2 percent from the field. Olivier played in 27 games last season, starting ten, and averaged 23.5 minutes per contest.

“We realized that this was a possibility at the beginning of the season, with the ‘fifth- year transfer rule,’” Eastern Illinois head coach Jay Spoonhour said Monday according to the Journal Gazette and Times-Courier. “It opens up a great opportunity for Chris professionally. Chris has worked very hard to complete his degree in four years, which has afforded him the opportunity to explore several options as he continues his career.

“Our team will miss his production, but I truly think this is a smart move for him. He’s been very good for us and I hope that this move allows him to get one step closer to his goals.”

One program that has already reached out the Olivier this week is Iowa State, with the Ames Tribune reporting this on Wednesday. The Cyclones are looking to add a body to their front court, with the program having hosted graduate students Tyler Harris (Providence) and Max Bielfeldt (Michigan) last weekend and former Brown forward Leland King scheduled to visit this weekend.

Nike EYBL record holder commits to Eastern Illinois

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During the 2013-2014 season, Eastern Illinois shot 32 percent from beyond the arc, which was the third-worse percentage in the Ohio Valley Conference. Deep shooting should improve when Casey Teson steps on campus in the fall of 2015.

The 6-foot-2 sharpshooter committed to Eastern Illinois on Friday evening, according to Evan Daniels of Scout.

In May, Teson tied a Nike EYBL record when he connected on 10 3-pointers in a single game. Teson, who played with MOKAN Elite out of Kansas on the grassroots circuit, dropped 34 points — shooting 10-of-12 from deep — in a 105-70 win over Team Takeover during Session Three of the EYBL regular season on May 17 in Hampton, Virginia.

Teson went on to average 10.2 points, connecting on 43 threes in 16 EYBL games. He shot 49 percent from three on the circuit.

He is the first commitment for Eastern Illinois in the Class of 2015.

2013-2014 Ohio Valley Season Preview: Is this the year for Eastern Kentucky or Southeast Missouri State?

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source:
Facebook/Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

All month long, CBT will be rolling out our 2013-2014 season preview. Check back throughout the day, as we’ll be posting three or four preview items every day.

To browse through the preview posts we’ve already published, click here. To see the rest of our preview lists, click here. For a schedule of our previews for the month, click here.

Last season, the Ohio Valley Conference title game ended in a thriller between Murray State and Belmont. Kerron Johnson hit a game-winner to advance the Bruins to the NCAA tournament in Belmont’s first year in the conference.

This season, Murray State no longer has one of the conference’s all-time greats in Isaiah Canaan, aand Ed Daniel and Stacy Wilson graduate as well. Belmont lost the back court of Johnson and leading scorer Ian Clark. That gives several teams then chance to take over the conference in 2013-2014.

Eastern Kentucky is one of the preseason favorites, bringing back two OVC all-newcomer selections in Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden. The Colonels return three other starters besides Cosey, but one of the starters they lost was point guard and all-OVC selection Mike DiNunno.

Southeast Missouri State is coming off a 17-win season this past year, and with Murray State without three key players — as well as sophomore point guard Zay Jackson, who tore his ACL earlier this month — the Redhawks should be able to make that jump atop the West Division this season. SeMo brings back Tyler Stone and Nino Johnson, a combo that makes up the conference’s best frontline.

source: Getty Images
Rick Byrd (Getty Images)

Eastern Illinois and Austin Peay lead the group of sleepers this season in the OVC, while Belmont can’t be counted out. Rick Byrd has created a winning culture at the Nashville school, and the Bruins will contend if J.J. Mann, Reece Chamberlain and Samford transfer Drew Windler embrace their bigger roles this season.

PRESEASON OHIO VALLEY PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Tyler Stone, Southeast Missouri State

Tyler Stone helped the Redhawks finish second in the West Division, behind Isaiah Canaan-led Murray State, last season. The 6-foot-8 Stone led the team in scoring at 15.5 points and was second in rebounding at 7.8 boards per game, which put him top-10 in the conference in both those categories.

FOUR MORE NAMES TO KNOW:

  • Patrick Miller, Tennessee State: The 6-foot-1 senior guard was the best playmaker last season with 5.9 assists per game. Miller is one of two returning starters following a junior campaign averaging 14.8 points per game.
  • J.J. Mann, Belmont: No more Ian Clark or Kerron Johnson or Trevor Noack. Rick Byrd will have to rely on more production from returning starter J.J. Mann. The 6-foot-6 wing is the only returner to average double figures last season.
  • Glenn Cosey, Eastern Kentucky: Leading an experienced Colonels team that returns four starters as well as Corey Walden. He put in 15.2 points, 3.3 rebounds and 3.2 assists per game.
  • Chris Horton, Austin Peay: The Austin Peay sophomore has a lot of upside after a freshman campaign that saw him average 8.2 points and 6.8 rebounds per game. The Governors also return Travis Betran, who averaged 17.2 points a night.

ONE TWITTER FEED TO FOLLOW: @OVCBall

PREDICTED FINISH:

East

1. Eastern Kentucky
2. Belmont
3. Morehead State
4. Tennessee State
5. Jacksonville State
6. Tennessee Tech

West

1. Southeast Missouri State
2. Eastern Illinois
3. Murray State
4. Tennessee-Martin
5. Austin Peay
6. SIU-Edwardsville