By Kevin Sweeney
In recent years, the Ohio Valley has consistently been one of the strongest one-bid leagues in college basketball. It has produced some great mid-major teams, like Murray State’s near-undefeated season in 2011-12, Morehead State’s upset of Louisville in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, and Belmont’s 4 straight 20 win seasons highlighted by 2 NCAA berths. While former OVC stars like Murray State’s Cameron Payne & Isaiah Canaan, as well as Morehead State’s Kenneth Faried, are currently making a name for themselves in the NBA, the next generation of stars are looking to etch their name into the record books and bring their teams to NCAA tournament glory.
- Tennessee State
- Morehead State
- Eastern Kentucky
- Tennessee Tech
- Jacksonville State
- Murray State
- Austin Peay
- Eastern Illinois
- SE Missouri State
Champions: Belmont- Led by one of the best mid-major players in college basketball in Evan Bradds, Belmont has an excellent chance to reach its 5th NCAA Tournament in 7 seasons. Bradds is one of 4 starters returning from last year’s Bruin team, which crashed out of the OVC Tournament early despite earning the top seed. Other than starting guard Craig Bradshaw, who averaged over 16 points per game last season, everyone is back for the Bruins from last season, and that spells bad news for the rest of the Ohio Valley. One of the best offenses in college basketball, the Bruins ranked 18th in all of college basketball in offensive efficiency, per teamrankings.com. That’s mostly due to the Bruins’s emphasis on getting good looks, with the team’s effective field goal percentage, which produces a field goal percentage based on a weighting system, 2nd in college basketball at 58.6%. Those numbers tell me that Belmont will be difficult to stop this season, and should have an excellent chance to return to the Big Dance.
Dark Horse: Tennessee State- While Belmont will draw nearly all the attention in the East, Tennessee State is also a very capable team. With 3 starters returning from last season’s 20 win season, an incredible turnaround after 2 straight 5 win campaigns, Tennessee State should be competitive once again. Among the returning starters is the guard-forward duo of Tahjere McCall and Wayne Martin, who each averaged double figures last season. Another boost for the Tigers will come in a pair of transfers, Chris Bolden, a guard from Georgia Tech, and Jordan Reed, a former all-league forward at Binghamton. If that duo can provide a good scoring punch, the Tigers should win 20 games once again.
Preseason First Team:
- F: Evan Bradds-Belmont
- F: Nick Mayo-Eastern Kentucky
- G: Tahjere McCall-Tennessee State
- G: Bryce Jones-Murray State
- G: Josh Robinson-Austin Peay
Player of the Year: Evan Bradds- Bradds is one of the most important players for any team in college basketball. The 6-7 forward may be seen as undersized by many, but you wouldn’t know it watching him play, as he consistently dominates in the post and on the glass. Bradds gets good looks and is an excellent finisher around the rim, leading the nation in field goal percentage over the last 2 years. Last season, he made an incredible 71.4% of his shots. This season, he has a chance to put up a rare 20 point, 10 rebound average, something just 1 player, Pascal Siakam, did last season.
Newcomer of the Year: Jonathan Stark (Murray State)- Plenty of great point guards have played at Murray State. Recently, Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne have drawn national recognition during their time with the Racers. Stark has a chance to be next. After sitting last season following a transfer from Tulane, Stark will immediately be looked to to provide a scoring punch and to team up with backcourt teammate Bryce Jones in handling point guard duties. Stark, who garnered freshman All-American honors from collegeinsider.com after averaging 14.4 points per game at Tulane, is certainly a talented scorer who should be able to make a huge impact in his first season with the Racers.