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Ohio Valley Notebook

December 7, 2003 Conference Notes No Comments



Ohio Valley Conference Notebook

by Michael Protos

Racing out to a hot start

The Murray State Racers were picked to finish third in our conference
preview, but perhaps we missed by a bit. New coach Mick Cronin has the
Racers playing dominant basketball and a 5-0 start.

Cronin is a former Louisville assistant coach and appears determined to
bring the Cardinals’ winning tradition to Murray, Ky. Cronin has the
advantage of two dominant players in the frontcourt in junior forward Kelvin
Brown and senior forward Cuthbert Victor. Junior point guard Adam Chiles has
run Cronin’s offense effectively, averaging nearly six assists per game.

Cronin deserves credit for making a smart schedule. Although he is blessed
with a team full of talent, especially in player of the year candidate
Victor, Cronin scheduled three easy games to start the season followed by a
stretch of tough games. Wagner, West Florida and SIU-Edwardsville did not
pose much of a threat to Murray State and helped the Racers build some
confidence under Cronin. More importantly, the Racers had an opportunity to
learn Cronin’s system in a game-time situation.

After the three cupcakes, Murray State played Southern Miss and TCU from
Conference USA. Although these two schools do not represent the upper
echelon of the conference, Murray State can differentiate itself from other
OVC schools by claiming victories over these major conference schools.
Murray State can add to its resume by beating Western Kentucky, Southern
Illinois and the two gems on the schedule – No. 22 Pittsburgh and No. 25
Louisville. Think Cronin would like to celebrate his homecoming with a major
upset for Murray State?

New kids on the block

Samford and Jacksonville State started their inaugural season in the OVC,
compiling a combined 5-4 record. Neither team is expected to compete for the
conference title, but the conference newcomers have proven they have the
weapons to challenge anyone on any given night.

Home cooking

Austin Peay entered the season with the 11th best home win streak at 16
games. With wins over Knoxville College and Evansville, the streak has
extended to 18 games. The Governors cooked up a little something extra
against Knoxville, allowing only 35 points. That’s the fewest points Austin
Peay has ever allowed in the Dunn Center. The previous mark has been 41
against Georgia State and Akron.

Player of the Week

Cuthbert Victor, Murray State

Victor has been a key component of Murray State’s 5-0 start, averaging a
double-double with 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game. If Victor
maintains this torrid pace, Murray State could work its way into the
national rankings in a few weeks.

Team News

Austin Peay Governors 2-2

Austin Peay was named the preseason favorite to win the OVC and so far the
Governors are off to a good start. They beat Knoxville College in the season
opener, 90-35, then lost two in a row on the road at Belmont and Memphis
before returning home to beat Evansville, 62-54.

Austin Peay returns all five starters from last season’s NCAA Tournament
squad, which is one reason why the team is favored to have a strong season
this year. But despite their experience, the Governors still rotate nine men
a game, each averaging more than 10 minutes. Junior guard Anthony Davis
leads the team with 15.3 points per game, including a 26-point performance
against Evansville that helped lift the Governors to victory.

Although Austin Peay owns one of the nation’s longest home winning streaks,
the Governors will only have one more opportunity to extend it until Jan.
22. The Governors play Maryville, TN, Dec. 15 but then do not play another
home game until conference play starts. The Governors play several tough
opponents on the road, including Alabama, Western Kentucky, No. 25
Louisville and No. 9 Kentucky. Don’t be shocked if the Governors win one or
two of these road games against supposedly superior opponents.

Eastern Illinois Panthers 0-3

The Panthers are not afraid to play tough opponents to start the season.
Eastern Illinois started the season on the road against Northern Illinois
and No. 14 Wisconsin, losing both games. The Panthers played their first
home game against Horizon Conference favorite Illinois-Chicago, which
torched Eastern Illinois 77-60.

Eastern Illinois has struggled to find a consistent offensive weapon. The
Panthers’ lost their leading scorer from last season with the graduation of
Henry Domercant, and no one has emerged has a clear successor. Sophomore
guard Josh Gomes and junior guard Derik Hollyfield are the only two players
averaging double figures, and as a team, Eastern Illinois only manages 61
points per game. Senior center Jesse Mackinson must start to dominate the
paint to create more opportunities for the Panthers’ guards.

Eastern Illinois plays Indiana State Dec. 6, St. Francis, Ill., Dec. 10 and
at Evansville Dec. 13. If the Panthers fail to beat Indiana State, they
should be able to register their first win against non-division I opponent
St. Francis.

Eastern Kentucky Colonels 1-3

Sophomore guard Matt Witt has been the highlight of a less than spectacular
start to this season for Eastern Kentucky. Witt is averaging 19.3 points per
game for the Colonels, including two consecutive 20-point games in losses to
Alabama A&M and Winthrop. Witt is shooting better than 50 percent from
three-point range. Unfortunately, Witt has not received consistent support
from his teammates.

The Colonels lone win this season was against Ohio Wesleyan. Eastern
Kentucky opened the season with a 64-58 loss at Saint Louis. Although
Eastern Kentucky has not lost by more than six in any game, they have
struggled to find the extra punch to get over the hump. The Colonels have
lost two games which they led at the half.

Eastern Kentucky plays Centre College Dec. 6 then at Savannah State Dec. 8
before taking a break for finals.

Jacksonville State Gamecocks 3-2

The Gamecocks are looking to make a good first impression amongst their new
conference brethren. Jacksonville State bolted the Atlantic Sun Conference
after last season in favor of the OVC. So far Jacksonville State has proven
to be a solid member of the conference with wins over Alabama A&M, Shorter
and Jackson State. Although the competition may not include any schools from
major or conferences, or even mid-major conferences, at least Jacksonville
State is winning a few games.

Senior forward Trent Eager and junior guard Carl Brown have been a pleasant
surprise for Jacksonville State. Together, they averaged about eight points
per game last season, but so far this season the pair accounts for over 32
points per game and each adds five rebounds per game. Eager and Brown
account for nearly half of the Gamecocks’ 70 points per game, so
Jacksonville State needs other scorers to emerge to support Eager and Brown.

Jacksonville State plays two more games they should win this week – home
against Tennessee-Temple Dec. 6 and at Alcorn State Dec. 13.

Morehead State Eagles 2-2

The Eagles have pleased the home crowd with two home victories over Asbury
and Wright State. But Morehead State has not fared as well on the road with
losses at George Mason and Marshall. The Eagles have struggled to play solid
defense on the road. George Mason shot over 55 percent from the field
against Morehead State.

The Eagles heavily rely on their senior superstars Chez Marks and Ricky
Minard. Marks and Minard are each averaging better than 17 points per game.
The question for Morehead State is who else will become an offensive threat
to prevent defenses from doubling Minard and Marks. Morehead State shoots
well from three-point range, making 38 percent from beyond the arc.

Marks and Minard look to carry Morehead State to two more victories this
week against Texas A&M – Corpus Christi Dec. 6 and at IPFW Dec. 13.

Murray State Racers 5-0

The Racers have done everything a team from a non-major conference should do
– win every big game possible. Murray State destroyed Southern Miss 94-54,
then beat TCU on the road, 73-67. In addition to wins over these two
Conference USA squads, Murray State shellacked Wagner, West Florida and
SIU-Edwardsville.

New coach Mick Cronin masterfully scheduled three creampuff to start the
year to give his team a chance to get into a rhythm and adjusted to his
style before playing more difficult opponents. In response, the Racers
embarrassed Southern Miss and are beginning to create rumbles nationwide as
a team to watch come March.

Junior forward Kelvin Brown and senior forward Cuthbert Victor have led the
way for Murray State. Brown is averaging 18.8 points per game and 5.8
rebounds per game. But Victor is the dominant force, averaging a
double-double with 15.6 points and 10.2 rebounds per game.

Murray State continues the toughest stretch of its schedule with a game
against Western Kentucky Dec. 7, then a home game against Chicago State Dec.
13.

Samford Bulldogs 2-2

The Bulldogs are the other new team the OVC this season, also formerly of
the Atlantic Sun Conference. Samford has wins over Bryan and Winthrop, a
perennial power in the Big South conference. The team’s losses were a
relatively close game at Purdue and a two-point loss at New Orleans.

In addition to joining the OVC, Samford celebrated joining the world of
video games. The school noted that it appears on EA Sports’ March Madness
2004, the first time Samford has made the cut on a college basketball video
game.

Sophomore forward Robert Merritt has emerged as a solid force for the
Bulldogs – in real life, not the video game – averaging 14 points and 5.3
rebounds per game. Merritt will need to play the best game of his career for
Samford to have a chance at Ohio State Dec. 13.

Southeast Missouri State Indians 3-2

The Indians have had a touch of a Western flavor to their season thus far,
playing Montana and Santa Barbara on the road. The Indians lost to Montana
61-50 and beat Santa Barbara 77-75. Southeast Missouri State also beat
Wisconsin-Green Bay and Kentucky Christian College and lost to Southern
Illinois.

Junior forward Dainmon Gonner, besides have a great name, is having a great
start to the season with 15 points per game and six rebounds per game.
Unfortunately, he is one of only two Indians averaging in double-figures,
and the team only averages 66 points per game. They need to find some more
offensive firepower among the ten-man rotation. Once several more step up,
the Indians will probably depend on seven or eight players to carry the
offensive load and use the others only in utility roles.

Southeast Missouri State plays UMKC Dec. 6, at Arkansas Dec. 9 and Oakland
City Dec. 13.

Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks 2-4

The Skyhawks have played a tough schedule early this season, with losses to
San Francisco, Memphis, Vanderbilt and Mississippi State. The two victories
came against Western Illinois and Central Baptist College.

Junior guard Justin Smith has paced Tennessee-Martin with 15 points per
game. As a team, the Skyhawks are one of the OVC’s better rebounding teams
with 38.5 rebounds per game. With four returning starts, the Skyhawks hope
to build off the experience from playing tough opponents to excel in
conference play.

The Skyhawks play at Mississippi Valley State Dec. 6 and Rochester Dec. 13.

Tennessee State Tigers 1-3

After the scandal of Nolan Richardson III last season, the new season had
nowhere to go but up. At least in terms of off-court troubles. On the court,
Tennessee State continues to struggle mightily. The Tigers have lost to
Tennessee, Tennessee-Chattanooga and Fish. The lone victory was over
Trevecca Nazarene, 73-71.

Junior forward Roshaun Bowers has been a bright spot for Tennessee State,
averaging 20.5 points and 10 rebounds per game. He is a force to reckon
with, but opposing teams have opted to contain Bowers rather than attempt to
shut him down. The Tigers’ starting five accounts for all but nine of the
team’s 69 points per game. The team struggles on the boards (31 per game)
and from the free throw line (61 percent).

New coach Cy Alexander has his work cut out to make a winner out of this
team this year. Bowers will be enjoyable to watch and will likely continue
to put up numbers worthy of conference most valuable player consideration.
Unfortunately, the rest of his team may not be enough to get Tennessee State
over the top for many victories.

The Tigers play at No. 15 Georgia Tech Dec. 6, at Vanderbilt Dec. 10 and at
Alabama A&M Dec. 12.

Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles 3-1

Tennessee Tech has started the season by beating the teams they should and
losing to a strong Kentucky team on the road. The Golden Eagles beat
Virginia-Intermont, Virginias-Wise and Idaho State, each by at least 25
points.

Junior forward Willie Jenkins has started the season on fire, averaging 20.5
points and 6.5 rebounds per game. The Golden Eagles have three other players
who average at least 10 points per game. Tennessee Tech is an excellent
shooting team, hitting over 52 percent of shots from the field and shooting
better than 40 percent from three-point range.

Tennessee Tech will play more challenging opponents this week against Middle
Tennessee State Dec. 6 and Vanderbilt Dec. 13.

     

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