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Ohio Valley Conference Preview

November 11, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments

Ohio Valley Conference Preview

by Zach Van Hart

Welcome back to the OC, wait, I meant the OVC. Last year, Austin Peay swept the Ohio Valley Conference, tying Morehead State for the regular season crown, then defeating Tennessee Tech for the conference title and a birth in the NCAA Tournament. Scary enough, The Governors return all five starters from last year’s squad, making them the easy choice as conference favorite. Here is the list of picks for the OVC this year, along with some team descriptions.

Preseason Hardware

First Team All-OVC:
Ricky Minard, Morehead State
Cuthbert Victor, Murray State
Adrian Henning, Austin Peay
Brandon Griffin, SE Missouri State
Cameron Crisp, Tennessee Tech

Ricky Minard, Morehead State

Defensive Player of the Year:
Brandon Griffin, SE Missouri State

1. Austin Peay (23-8, 13-3, 1st)

Basically, it’s the Governors and ten others this season. After winning both the regular season and tournament titles last year and then returning all five starters from a year ago, Peay is the heavy favored to repeat this year.

The starting five looks like this – senior guards Rhet Wierzba and Corey Gipson, junior guard Anthony Davis, senior forward Adrian Henning and senior center Josh Lewis. All four can score and the unit plays very well together. Henning, Davis and Lewis are the team’s top scorers, Henning averaged 15.5 points per game last year, Davis 14.0 and Lewis 12.8.

The Govs showed a knack for winning the close games last year. While usually not overpowering, they always find a way at the end to win games. With the starting five all back, expect more wins, perhaps by a wider margin, and another banner to hang in the rafters when the year is over.

2. Morehead State (20-9, 13-3, 2nd)

The Eagles are coming off its best season in nineteen years and only its second 20-win season in program history. MSU was lead by the Marks & Minard duo, guards Chez Marks and Ricky Minard. Half of the duo has departed, Marks graduated, but Minard’s return is all Eagles fans could ask for.

Minard, the reigning OVC Player of the Year, pondered skipping his senior year and declaring for the NBA. He eventually withdrew his name from consideration. Minard is the team’s leading returner in virtually every offensive category, averaging 22.5 points, 6.2 rebounds and 4.0 assists per game last year. He will need to take on even bigger role this year, if that’s possible.

Inside, the leader will be junior forward Chad McKnight, who averaged 7.3 points and 3.8 boards per game. Joining him inside will be senior center Anton Kerley, who averaged 5.1 points and 3.5 rebounds per game and lead the team with 20 blocks.

The Eagles are a step below Austin Peay, but they have a better chance than any to knock off the favorites.

3. Murray State (17-12, 9-7, 4th)

The Racers enter this year with a new head coach, former Louisville assistant Mick Cronin. Don’t expect to see too many changes though at Murray State as the team will likely finish towards the top of the league.

Leading the way for the Racers will be senior forward Cuthbert Victor, the team’s leading scorer from a year ago at 15.3 points per game, along as being the team’s top returning rebounder.

While Victor must control the inside, Murray State is more balanced in the backcourt. Seniors Rick Jones and Chris Schumate are capable scorers, both averaged in double digits last season, and like to shoot from deep. Jones averaged more than six three-point attempts a game last year. The two go toe-to-toe with any backcourt in the conference and where these two go, so go the Racers.

4. Tennessee Martin (14-14, 7-9, 6th)

While the Skyhawks struggled last season to a 7-9 conference mark, they have a key nucleus returning that will provide UT-Martin with a strong team in the OVC this season. This nucleus includes senior guard Earl Bullock, junior guard Jeremy Kelly and senior forward J. C. Howe. This trio is the key for the Skyhawks.

Bullock is the team’s leading returning scorer after averaging sixteen points per contest a year ago. If Bullock is shooting, he’s likely behind the three-point line. He took 278 shots from downtown last year, nearly 70 percent of his total attempts and an average of ten per game.

His partner in the backcourt, Kelly, averaged 3.4 assists last season but committed 84 turnovers in the process. He will need to take better care of the ball this season. Expect this to happen from the junior.

The leader in the frontcourt will be Howe. With bigman Joey Walker graduating, Howe will some help on the inside. Last year he averaged 13.9 points and 6.9 rebounds per game.

5. SE Missouri State (11-19, 5-11, 8th)

Experience is the key for the Indians this year. They return four out of five starters from the 2002-03 season and are hoping this until will improve upon its 11-19 record from a year ago.

Like many teams in the OVC this year, SE Missouri State’s strength resides in its backcourt. Juniors David Winans and Kevin Roberts are young but dangerous and could cause fits for opposing defenses.

Winans averaged 15.3 points per game last season while Roberts dropped 6.2 dimes a game. More importantly for Roberts, he lead the league in assist-to-turnover ration at 3.1. Winans is excellent from beyond the arc, shooting 41.3 percent from deep, and is also an excellent defensive player. He was third on the team in rebounding and led the team in steals.

Inside, senior center Brandon Griffin figures to be the man for the Indians. He was the league’s No. 2 rebounder last year, averaging 10.5 boards a game, to go along with 11.9 points per contest. If the Indians are going to make a run at the top of the conference, Griffin must have a breakout season.

6. Tennessee Tech (20-12, 11-5, 3rd)

The Golden Eagles finished last year third in the conference with a 11-5 OVC mark, then advanced to the conference tournament finals before losing to Austin Peay, 63-57. The team that steps out onto the court this season will look much different than the 20-12 squad of a year ago.

Gone are four of the team’s five starters. The only returnee is senior guard Cameron Crisp, the only player who serious contributions to the team a season ago. While the Eagles have capable players who were on the bench last year, this season could be a struggle.

Crisp last year averaged 13.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 4.5 assists per game, tops amongst all returnees to Tech. Simply put, the Golden Eagles will only go, especially early, as far as Crisp can take them.

7. Eastern Illinois (14-15, 9-7, 5th)

Henry Domercant is gone and there is nothing Panthers fans can do to bring him back. The star guard, who graduated last season, took with him his 27.9 points per game averaged, second in the country last year. His play will obviously be missed.

Filling the void will be senior center Jesse Mackinson, as the team will change its focus from outside scoring to inside. Mackinson is the top returning scorer and rebounder, having averaged 9.8 points and 5.0 boards a game. He will be joined in the middle by forwards David Roos and Andy Gobzcynski.

On the perimeter, Jason Wright will likely take over the point guard duties, even though he averaged only eleven minutes per game last year. Basically, the Panthers are going to struggle this season without their star.

8. Samford (13-15, 9-7, 3rd Place, A-Sun North)

The Bulldogs are one of two new teams to the OVC this season, having left the Atlantic Sun Conference. Last year Samford went 13-15 overall and 9-7 in conference play. They return four of five starters from a year ago and while they will likely not contend for the OVC title, they should be able to hold their own against almost any team.

Their top returner is 6-foot-10 senior center Phillip Ramelli, who averaged 11.5 points per game. Following Ramelli is senior guard Tyson Dorsey, who notched a 9.6 points per game average. Junior J. Robert Merritt is the swing man for the Bulldogs and netted 9.4 scoring average last year.

These three were the top three scorers a year ago so it’s plan to see Samford is a low-scoring team. They only averaged 64 points per a game during the 2002-03 season, proving to be their downfall. They will have to find their stroke this year to make some noise in its first year in the OVC.

9. Eastern Kentucky (11-17, 5-11, 7th)

The Coloniels struggled last year, finishing eighth in the then nine-team conference. But EKU returns several key contributors from a year ago and could improve upon last year’s results. Just don’t hold your breathe.

Sophomore guard Matt Witt could have a breakout season for the Coloniels. As a freshman he averaged 13.6 points per game, second on the team and tops for all returners. With Shawn Fields gone to graduation, he will be the go-to guy for EKU. But he also looks to distribute the ball, evident by his 5.1 assists last year. He will have several options to choose from on offense.

His counterparts include senior forward Jon Bentley, who averaged 11.9 points per game and was second on the team in rebounding. He trailed junior Michael Haney, who grabbed 5.9 boards per contest last year. With these three, EKU has an opportunity to move up some spots this year.

10. Jacksonville State (20-10, 10-6, 2nd Place, A-Sun North)

The Gamecocks are the second team to join the OVC this year from the Atlantic Sun Conference. Last year JSU went 20-10 and 10-6 in conference play. But the squad lost its top three scorers to graduation and will need to find someone to step up.

Yet again, the strength of this Gamecock team is in the backcourt. Seniors James Denson and Scott Watson will anchor the team. They are the top two returning scorers, Watson being the point guard, while Denson is the two-guard. They both averaged between seven and eight points a game last year, both need to step that by five to ten points for JSU to be competitive.

Fellow senior guard Emerson Brown will likely make the Gamecocks go with a three-guard lineup. This is the best bet for JSU. They will get to utilize their speed, cause other wise they could be in trouble.

11. Tennessee State (2-25, 0-16, 9th)

Speaking of trouble, that’s all you have to say to describe the state of Tennessee State’s basketball program. Cy Alexander has come to try and restore order at TSU. Order he may get, good basketball he will not. At least not yet.

His stud will be junior forward Roshuan Bowens, who averaged 15.4 points and 6.7 rebounds last year. A host of big men will share duties with Bowen, who figures to be the first half of a one-two punch on offense.

The other half is senior guard Garrett Richardson. The point averaged 12.6 points a contest and dropped 111 dimes on the year. He, also with Bowens, must step it up a notch to gain some respect, and some wins, in the OVC this year.


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