Ohio Valley Conference 2007-08 Preview
by Josh Bagriansky
The Ohio Valley Conference continued to prove impossible to predict last season. A young Austin Peay team that was seemingly on the decline proved everyone wrong by finishing the season on a tear to win the regular season title. And then Eastern Kentucky, another team not picked to do much, took the conference title. They proceeded to give North Carolina a run for their money in the NCAA Tournament, but the Heels proved too much in the end.
With another season looming around the corner, it looks to be another wild ride in the OVC.
Preseason All Conference
G Anthony Fisher, Tennessee Tech, Sr.
G Drake Reed, Jr., Austin Peay
G Mike Rose, Eastern Kentucky, Jr.
F Amadi McKenzie, Tennessee Tech, Sr.
F Brandon Foust, Southerm Missouri, Sr.
Conference MVP: Amadi McKenzie, Tennessee Tech
Freshman of the year: David Minaya, Tennessee Tech
Newcomer of the year: Leon Buchanan, Morehead State
Defensive Player of the Year: Amadi McKenzie, Tennssee Tech
Most Improved Player: Danero Thomas, Murray State
Coach on the Hot Seat: Bret Campbell, Tennessee-Martin
Predicted Order of Finish
1. Austin Peay
2. Tennessee Tech
3. Murray State
4. Eastern Kentucky
5. Tennessee State
6. Southeast Missouri
7. Morehead State
9. Jacksonville State
10. Eastern Illinois
Austin Peay Governors
2006-07 record: 21-12 (16-4, 1st)
Key players: Jr. G Drake Reed, Sr. F Lockett Fernandez
Key matchups: 11/10 @Vandy, 11.20 @Utah State, 12/1 @Tennessee Tech, 1/31 vs. Murray State, 2/28 @Eastern Kentucky
APSU snuck up on everyone last season. Dave Loos’ young squad finished on an unbelievable hot streak and won the OVC regular season. And although they suffered a heartbreaking one-point loss to Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament Championship, they figure to return with a vengeance this season.
The Governors’ success was largely dependent on the emergence of talented young guard Drake Reed. Just a sophomore last season, Reed exploded onto the scene by averaging nearly 16 points per game on 51% shooting. This year defenses will have the 6-5 forward scouted, so it’s imperative that a second option rises up.
With all kinds of scoring coming back in the backcourt, that shouldn’t be a problem. Senior Lockett Fernandez is a similar build to Reed. He led the team in rebounding last season and provide the ying to Reed’s yang. Between the two there is little question that APSU will be among the more prolific offenses in the OVC.
The only question is whether a true point guard can step up and become the guy to distribute the ball to Reed and Fernandez. Derek Wright looks to be that man. At just 5-9, the point guard dished out 4.1 APG last season. Meanwhile, Wes Channels, Landon Shipley and Todd Babington all had their moments last season and will continue to help a team that shot 35% from outside the arc.
There is one glaring weakness for the Governors: center. Duran Robertson, Tomas Janusaukas and J.P. Felder all struggled last season. That was evident by Reed and Fernandez being the top rebounders on the team. Someone must step up down low.
With Belmont, Vanderbilt, Memphis and Utah State all on the non-conference schedule they should be plenty battle-tested for conference play. If the Governors can just get adequate production from their low post players and with virtually everyone returning to the fray, the Governors are the odds-on favorite to repeat as regular season champs.
Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
2006-07 record: 19-13 (13-7, 3rd)
Key players: Senior G Anthony Fishers, Sr. F Amadi McKenzie
Key matchups: 11.11 @Florida, 12/1 vs. Austin Peay, 1/24 @Murray State, 2/2 vs. Eastern Kentucky
The Golden Eagles might have actually been the most talented OVC team last year. They had impressive wins against Northwestern and Bradley and finished 13-7 in the conference. A three-point loss to Eastern Kentucky kept them out of the conference championship. It seems like TTU has been on the brink of the NCAA Tournament forever. But this year they have yet another chance to get over the hump.
Everyone talks about the great play of senior Anthony Fisher (17.2 PPG last season), but it’s banger Amadi McKenize that makes the team go. He averaged 7.7 RPG to go with 13.9 PPG to become one of the best low post threats in the conference. This year he is probably the best of them.
More was expected out of South Alabama transfer Daniel Northern last season, but he didn’t have much of an effect after becoming eligible for second semester. If he puts things together, he will provide a decent low post body that isn’t McKenzie. 6-6 freshman guard David Minaya had the talent to be a big-time recruit but slipped through the cracks and looks like a steal for this team. He could be the best freshman in the league.
Mike Sutton’s squad has a legitimate shot to win the OVC. They will also be battle-tested for the bulk of the conference schedule after consecutive matchups at Oregon State, Kentucky, and Georgia Tech in December. Without a doubt, they are primed to make a run at the conference title.
Murray State Racers
2006-07 record: 16-14 (13-7, 4th)
Key players: Sr. G Bruce Carter, So. F Danero Thomas
Key matchups: 11/17 @Western Kentucky, 12/5 vs. Eastern Kentucky, 1/24 vs. Tennessee Tech, 1/31 @Austin Peay
First-year coach Billy Kennedy experienced mixed results last season. The team got off to a miserable start, but finished up the season with a 13-7 conference record. Now they’re looking to get back to where they belong, atop the OVC.
The main strength for the Racers is in the backcourt. Senior Bruce Carter and junior Tyler Holloway were the top two scorers last season. They’re both back, and sophomore Ray George also returns.
The guard play should help the Racers win, but to win it all they need production from their forwards. Big-time recruit Danero Thomas was inconsistent last season, though he started to pick it up down the stretch. He is talented enough to jump right into the fray and be a big time player. JUCO transfer Tarod Sanders will help bring some serious muscle in the paint as well.
State took their bumps last season. They will need frontcourt help this season if they want to get back into the elite of the OVC. Holloway and Carter will win some games on their own, but production from Thomas is a must. If he can be the impact player that coaches think he can be, the Racers have a shot to win the conference. Look for them to finish with a similar record to last season and be a solid team with a serious chance to win the OVC tournament by March.
Eastern Kentucky Colonels
2006-07 record: 21-12 (13-7, 2nd)
Key players: Jr. G Mike Rose, So G. Adam Leonard
Key matchups: 11/25 @Duke, 12/5 @Murray State, 1/5 vs. Tennessee Tech, 2/28 vs. Austin Peay
The Colonels surprised everyone last season just by finishing tied for second in the conference. Then the dream run continued when they beat APSU to qualify for the NCAA Tournament. And with plenty of talent back from last season, it’s not unthinkable that they do it again.
Junior Guard Mike Rose was as good as anybody in the conference last season, dropping 15 PPG and leading the Colonels to the tournament title. He has already developed into one of the stars in the conference. Adam Leonard flashed star ability last season as well, as in just his freshman year he played a pivotal role in EKU’s success. He and Rose formed a terrifying tandem from beyond the arc and he also averaged 1.6 SPG. Between the two EKU has the best backcourt duo in the conference.
EKU will have to replace the bulk of their rebounding with Michael Brock and Julian Mascoll gone. But Jamaal Douglass and Darnell Dials are both similar players that look to take over their roles.
No one expected Jeff Neubauer’s West Virginia styled offense to catch on so quickly, but it did. And with their top scorers back in Rose and Leonard, they seem poised to have the most prolific offense in the OVC. If they can replace the void down low they will have a good chance to be a part of the Big Dance for a second straight season.
Tennessee State Tigers
2006-07 record: 12-20 (8-12, 8th)
Key players: Sr. F LaDarious Weaver, Sr. G Andrae Belton
Key matchups: 12/3 @Indiana, 1/3 vs. Morehead State, 1/31 vs. Samford, 3/1 @Eastern Kentucky
Cy Alexander’s team looked poised to make a run at a conference title last season. But when the season was over, they had only had an 8-12 OVC record to show for it and were one of the conferences more underachieving teams. This season they’ll hope to fix things.
One of the reasons for the losing last season was the loss of guard Bruce Price. He hasn’t played a game since December of 2005 when tore his ACL, as he tore it a second time before last season. He was one of the greatest talents in the OVC before the knee problems. If he can find his previous form he could lead the Tigers to greatness.
Seniors LaDarious Weaver and Andrae Belton are back after averaging double digits last season. Weaver and Price could form one of the more dynamic scoring duos in the conference. Senior Ervin Reiley will spread the ball around after averaging over four APG last season. The Tigers also brought in two big-time recruits. Reiley should help get freshman Gerald Robinson up to speed, and Robinson’s classmate Dontrell Taylor has the size and ability to contribute right away.
The coaches picked TSU to finish sixth in the conference. If Price is back to his form of 2005, they will finish much higher. There is enough potential across the board to make a surprise run at a conference title.
Southeast Missouri Redhawks
2006-07 record: 11-20 (9-11, 6th)
Key players: Sr. F Brandon Foust, Sr. C Michael Rembert
Key matchups: 12/1 @Bradley, 12/6 vs. Tennessee State, 1/7 vs. Murray State, 2/9 @Eastern Kentucky
SEMO Head Coach Scott Edgar demands his team play at an extremely fast pace. The result is one of the more exciting teams in the NCAA. Unfortunately that didn’t translate into many wins last season. But with virtually everyone returning, there’s no doubt that the Redhawks will be more efficient running Edgar’s frenetically paced offense.
The Redhawks have talent coming back at a variety of positions. Swingman Brandon Foust, a transfer from Oklahoma, was the top scorer at 11.8 PPG and also led the team in rebounds. Senior center Michael Rembert was another transfer who impressed (from Bradley). Like Foust, he was a solid scoring and rebounding option, but he struggled on the defensive end by fouling out of a staggering six games. Senior David Johnson also dropped double-digit points last season. And sophomore guard Roderick Pearson is also back after leading the team in assists.
With practically all of the contributors from last season back, SEMO should be one of the most improved teams in the conference. Being a serious threat for a conference title is unlikely, but the Redhawks are definitely going to make a serious jump into the second level of the OVC. Expect them to have a winning conference record.
Morehead State Eagles
2006-07 record: 12-18 (8-12,7th)
Key players: Jr. F Leon Buchanan, Sr. G Maze Stallworth
Key matchups: 11/21 @Oklahoma, 12/17 vs. Tennessee-Martin, 1/19 vs. Jacksonville State, 2/20 @Eastern Kentucky
MSU alum Donnie Tyndall had a seemingly impossible task facing him when he became the Eagles’ head coach last season. But you would be hard-pressed to find anyone who didn’t think Tyndall got the most out of his bunch last season. The Eagles opened up the OVC season with a surprising 6-2 record before faltering down the stretch.
Unfortunately, it might take another year before MSU becomes truly competitive, as their top two scorers from last year are gone. Versatile guards Cordaryl Ballard and Maze Stallworth are back, but the keys to success are the newcomers. Leon Buchanan joins MSU after an impressive JUCO season with Abraham Baldwin Agricultural College. He garnered All-America honors while averaging 17.1 PPG on 62 percent shooting. 6-7 Lee Simmons was also a JUCO All-American last spring and should provide much needed size for the Eagles. Incoming freshmen guards T.J. Clark and John Lamb should also get into the mix.
Things are suddenly picking up for this dormant basketball program. Although MSU has four NCAA tournament wins in its history, they haven’t gotten into the tourney since 1984. But Tyndall has this team back on the right track. It will take the newcomers some time to get acclimated, but once they do this could be a dangerous team. They aren’t among the upper-echelon of the OVC, but expect them to spring a few upsets before season’s end.
2006-07 record: 16-16 (12-8, 5th)
Key players: Sr. C Travis Peterson, Sr. G Joe Ross Merritt
Key matchups: 12/2 @Florida State, 12/18 vs. Southeast Missouri, 1/10 vs. Tennessee State, 3/1 @Eastern Illinois
The Bulldogs were picked to win the conference by OVC coaches last season. After a 9-2 start in the OVC they were certainly one of the front-runners, before it all came falling down as the Bulldogs won just three of their final ten games. Now after losing all-conference guard Randall Gulina to graduation they will have to rely on plenty of youth to pick up the slack.
Senior Travis Peterson will lead the way. At 6-10 he averaged five boards and over a block a game. He also figures to improve on his 11.3 PPG since he will likely be the focal point of Jimmy Tillete’s Princeton-like offense.
But the keys to the offense are the guards, meaning a pair of seniors in Jerry Smith and Joe Ross Merritt need to emerge. They both shot well from the field last season, but they were relied on mostly for passing and didn’t take many shots. Now they will get first crack to play in a wide-open backcourt rotation. Junior Jason Black and freshmen Jim Griffin and Trey Montgomery will also get a look.
This is Samford’s last season in the OVC. After not having much success, they will probably be happy to be joining the Southern Conference. Peterson’s size is a nice asset, but he needs to be tougher to become a true inside force. And it’s also unclear who else might be ready to step up. If no one does, it will be a tough season.
Jacksonville State Gamecocks
2006-07 record: 9-21 (7-13, 9th)
Key players: G Sr. Dorien Brown, G Jr. Jonathan Toles
Key matchups: 11/9 @ Georgia, 12/6 @Samford, 1/31 vs. Eastern Illinois, 2/16 vs. vs. Morehead State
JSU has never been to the NCAA Tournament. But last season, with one of the best scorers in the conference in Courtney Bradley, they thought they had a chance. Instead they went through a season marred by disciplinary and chemistry issues. Now Bradley is gone and JSU is left with very little, meaning that just qualifying for the OVC Tournament might be a challenge.
Dorien Brown, who sat out ten games last season due to suspension, is the top returnee for JSU. He has the potential to be a very dynamic player for Mike LaPlante’s squad. But the key for the Gamecocks comes in the form of three JUCO recruits. Point guard Jonathan Toles averaged 8.6 APG at Bevill State-Sumiton CC, which was fourth amongst the JUCO ranks. Dwight Tolbert has a chance to join Brown as the top scoring option. And power forward Jozay King will help provide some muscle inside.
If it wasn’t for the trio of JUCO transfers, JSU may have been picked to finish last in the conference. But if they can get production from those three, they should have a good chance to qualify for the OVC Tournament. They are probably a year away from really competing.
Eastern Illinois Panthers
2006-07 record: 10-20 (6-14, 10th)
Key players: So. G Romain Martin, Sr. Bobby Catchings
Ket matchups: 11/30 vs. Rice, 12/19 @Morehead State, 1/5 vs. Southeast Missouri, 2/28 vs. Jacksonville State
Coach Mike Miller has had a tough time turning around one of the OVC’s perennial cellar-dwellars. Last season was no different as the Panthers suffered their second consecutive 20-loss season. But some talented youth may be able to finally steer EIU in the right direction this season.
The help came in the way of freshman guard Romain Martin, who led all OVC freshmen with 14.8 PPG. EIU has had trouble scoring in the past, but he looks to be the cure to those problems. Now the Panthers need others to step up and fill the void if they are to make drastic improvements for an offense that ranked next-to-last in the conference last season. Senior swingman Bobby Catchings and junior point guard Mike Robinson both stepped up down the stretch. Robinson may be a key to curing EIU’s offensive problems, as he flashed the ability to be a solid distributor last year.
EIU isn’t going to set the conference on fire this winter, but they are showing marked improvement. Martin’s presence gives them a player that will finally force opponents to take them seriously. Don’t expect much out of this team, but another 20- loss season is unlikely.
UT Martin Skyhawks
2006-07 record: 8-23 (5-15, 11th)
Key players: Sr. F Gerald Robinson, Fr. G Benzor Simmons
Key matchups: 12/1 @Saint Peter’s, 12/8 vs. Jacksonville State, 1/31 vs. Tennessee Tech, 2/16 vs. Southeast Missouri
Bret Campbell is entering his ninth year as coach of the Skyhawks. With the heightened expectations in college ball today, it’s quite surprising that he has hung on for so long. UTM hasn’t had a winning OVC record since 1995-96, and with just three players returning things aren’t looking much better.
The Skyhawks do have Gerald Robinson back. He has the right combination of size and strength to do a lot of different things. If he can raise his shooting percentage he will challenge for all-conference honors. Unfortunately, he’s the only sure thing for the Skyhawks.
Six freshmen and five JUCO transfers will all come in to try and handle the load. Shooting guard Benzor Simmons was a solid recruit. The Skyhawks will also have some help in the backcourt with the arrival of JUCO transfer George Pruitt, who once set a record for treys in a game at Des Moines Area Community College. The low post is the main weakness, with the Skyhawks handing the load off to JUCO transfer Djero Riedwald and freshmen Daron Hood and Andres Irrarazabal.
Robinson is a nice asset, but he’s the only proven returnee on a side that finished dead last in 2006-07. It’s hard to imagine that they won’t be returning to the basement this time around either.