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How the conferences shake out as 2014 approaches

by - Published December 31, 2013 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops

Non-conference play is just about over at this point. Conference games are ready to take over the rest of the slate, with a few having an “opening day” of sorts, including the Big East with its well-publicized day of five games on Tuesday. A few have already had early conference games, with the West Coast Conference having its opening day on Saturday.

How are the conferences shaping up? Which ones look like we thought and which ones look nothing like what we thought before the season? Here is a look at all 32 conferences as conference play beckons.

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Quick hitters from the past weekend of tournaments

by - Published November 27, 2013 in Columns

The past weekend was quite a stretch with some early-season tournaments, and now we’re into another week full of them. It’s a fun time of the year as we form some early impressions of many teams and some pick up wins that can have shelf life later in the season.

Here are some quick hitters coming out of the weekend:

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How the conferences shake out as 2013 approaches

by - Published December 28, 2012 in Columns, Your Phil of Hoops

Non-conference play is almost over, and it has been quite a stretch. We’ve learned a good deal about a lot of teams, while some are still a mystery for various reasons – injuries, suspensions, ineligibility and a light schedule are all possible reasons. In addition, a few conferences have already seen a game or two mixed in with the non-conference schedule.

Conference play is right around the corner, and while a non-conference resume doesn’t tell the whole story, it does shed some light on teams and conferences. In conference play, there is more familiarity since teams play each other every year, although the changing landscape is starting to diminish that factor a bit. That’s one reason why we see some teams put forth a very good non-conference showing, including some good wins, then go on to have a mediocre showing in conference play.

With that in mind, here’s a look at how every conference in America shapes up.

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Experienced Murray State shows they can overcome adversity

by - Published November 17, 2012 in Columns

CHARLESTON, S.C. – You can choose to look at Murray State’s 72-67 semifinal win over St. John’s as an instance of youth being served, experience winning out, or some other cliché. While those things apply to a degree, the big story should probably be something Murray State head coach Steve Prohm talked about after the game: resilience.

Murray State has been nothing if not resilient thus far this season. Before the games even started, they had to suspend projected starting guard Zay Jackson for the season after he was arrested and charged with striking two people with his car in a store parking lot following an altercation. That was sure to leave even more on the shoulders of Isaiah Canaan, the All-American guard who bypassed the NBA Draft for another season of college. But it also meant that other players needed to improve to take advantage of the attention opponents will give to Canaan, and thus far that seems to be happening.

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Monson’s 49ers reap the rewards of a tough schedule

by - Published January 24, 2012 in Full Court Sprints

If any team could claim to be battle-tested heading into conference play, it had to be Long Beach State.

The 49ers loaded up their nonconference slate with the likes of Kansas, North Carolina, San Diego State, Louisville and Xavier. The team struggled through many of those games, ending up with a 7-6 record heading into Big West play.

But don’t be fooled. The 49ers were more than competitive against the big boys, with single-digit losses on the road at San Diego State, Kansas and North Carolina. Plus, the 49ers beat Pittsburgh, Xavier and Auburn. None of those are particularly outstanding — the Xavier win came during the Musketeers’ tailspin following the brawl against Cincinnati. But in short, Dan Monson’s team learned how to win and how to believe in itself.

This team has taken that lesson and applied it well through the first seven games of Big West play. Long Beach State sits atop the conference standings with a 7-0 record, and only Cal Poly stayed within 10 points of the 49ers.

If Long Beach State can continue to plow through the Big West and claim an automatic to the NCAA Tournament, the 49ers should be a popular first-round upset pick. Their lack of hefty wins will prevent the team from earning a seed much higher than a No. 12 or 13 spot. But that just makes this team a sound pick to upset any No. 4 or 5 seed from a major conference on a neutral court.

The benefits of such a tough schedule might not show up in the win-loss columns immediately. But if Long Beach State goes 1-1 or 2-0 during the first weekend of March, that tournament success will be partially due to the team’s preparation early in the season.

We take you coast to coast with news from around the college basketball nation.

Murray State will get back leading rebounder Ivan Aska, who grabs 6.0 rpg and scores 12.6 ppg, for the team’s game against Eastern Illinois Saturday, according to the Associated Press.

Michigan could have big Jon Horford back for the Wolverines’ game against Purdue Tuesday, coach John Beilein told Wolverine Nation’s Chantel Jennings for ESPN.com. Horford has been out with a stress fracture since early December.

Arguably the most intense and spite-filled rivalry in the ACC, Maryland and Duke will clash for the first time this season Wednesday night in College Park. And the Terrapins will likely have freshman 7-footer Alex Len, even though he twisted his ankle during the Terps’ loss at Temple last weekend, according to the Washington Post’s Liz Clarke.

Of course, that’s no disrespect to the North Carolina vs. Duke rivalry. And this year, coach Roy Williams won’t have his best defender, Dexter Strickland, who tore his ACL in the team’s win against Virginia Tech Thursday, according ESPN.com’s Robbi Pickeral.

Arkansas coach Mike Anderson is considering adding a hometown hero to the Razorbacks squad, according to the Associated Press. Former Oklahoma State guard Fred Gulley has enrolled at Arkansas and plans to play for Anderson as a walk-on or scholarship player. He was a star high school basketball player in Arkansas before leaving the state to play for the Cowboys.

Wisconsin coach Bo Ryan railed against the rule that allows graduated players to transfer and play immediately during a news conference Monday, writes Benjamin Worgull for Badger Nation.com.

Undefeated teams remain focused on the task at hand

by - Published January 20, 2012 in Full Court Sprints

As we approach the end of January, we still have two undefeated teams out there: Syracuse and Murray State.

The Orange and Racers will take their undefeated records on the road this weekend as Syracuse visits Notre Dame and Murray State faces SIU-Edwardsville. In both games, the undefeated squads should win. But that word “should” is a funny thing.

In conference play, you just never know when a rival will step up and pull off a major upset. Look at Florida State, which got amped for the team’s home game against North Carolina last weekend. Given the Seminoles’ defensive prowess, it wouldn’t have been a shock if they kept the game close or even eked out a slim victory. But a 30-point trouncing of a top five team? That’s ridiculous.

So as Syracuse and Murray State continue to plow through their schedules, plenty of onlookers will speculate about whether these teams can finish the regular season with a perfect record. Murray State will get a bunch of speculation because the Racers are head and shoulders above the rest of their Ohio Valley Conference competition. In the Big East, the general consensus is at least one team will knock off the Orange. But in a rebuilding year for many teams in the conference, it’s not unreasonable to think that Syracuse will be a favorite in every game the team plays.

But there we go again with the speculation. I can almost guarantee you that coaches Jim Boeheim and Steve Prohm aren’t looking further than Saturday’s game. And nor should they lest the Fighting Irish or Cougars come up with a big game to protect their home court like the Seminoles did against North Carolina last weekend.

Here are some of the big games on tap for this weekend.


  • Missouri at Baylor
  • Purdue at Michigan State
  • Florida State at Duke
  • Syracuse at Notre Dame
  • Cincinnati at West Virginia
  • Alabama at Kentucky
  • Mississippi State at Vanderbilt
  • Xavier at Dayton
  • Marshall at Southern Miss
  • Kansas at Texas
  • New Mexico at UNLV
  • Murray State at SIU-Edwardsville
  • Rutgers at Georgetown
  • Maryland at Temple
  • Kansas State at Oklahoma State
  • Stanford at Washington
  • Arizona at Colorado
  • Old Dominion at VCU
  • Long Beach State at UC Santa Barbara


  • Virginia Tech at Virginia
  • NC State at Miami
  • Wisconsin at Illinois
  • Milwaukee at Cleveland State
  • Boston U. at Hartford

Jacksonville State Gets a Building Block Win

by - Published November 25, 2008 in Columns

AMHERST, Mass. – You can’t read too much into one game, especially early in the season. But the final score on Monday night can’t be the only good thing Jacksonville State takes home.

The Gamecocks came to town on an evening that was big for the UMass faithful, although the crowd wasn’t very large. The paid attendance was over 4,800 (the Mullins Center seats nearly 9,500), but they were there for the home debut of new head coach Derek Kellogg, a hometown hero who was among the keys to UMass becoming a national power in the 1990s. The young Gamecocks at first glance would seem like an opponent the Minutemen could certainly beat to give Kellogg a win in his home debut.

But that’s not what happened. Despite trailing by five points with 29 seconds left, Jacksonville State walked out with a 75-74 win that had plenty of positives.

Jacksonville State was picked last in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll of the head coaches and sports information directors. At first glance, that seems like an understandable selection. The Gamecocks have just four upperclassmen among their top 11 players and a new head coach after a 7-22 showing last season. Four true freshmen are on the roster, and a fifth freshman, Geddes Robinson, was a non-qualifier last season.

Those freshmen are among the reasons for Gamecock fans to be hopeful. Only Stephen Hall, who has already been a steady contributor off the bench, was signed before James Green took over as head coach. Green then had to work with just one live weekend in April to evaluate players, but went out and recruited Brandon Crawford, who has been an instant impact player, then added John Barnes and junior college forward Jacques Leeds.

Crawford already has the look of a star player. He’s athletic and has a good body for his position, and in his first four games he has averaged 16 points and is 9-15 from behind the three-point line. On Monday, he came into the game with his team trailing 13-12 and wasted little time making his presence felt. He scored six straight points to cap a run of eight unanswered to give the Gamecocks the lead at 20-13.

“During practice, we felt he had a chance to be a really good player for us, but he’s actually scored the ball a lot better in the games than what he did in practice,” said Green. “He’s very athletic, he’s long, and he gives us a guy that really sometimes is a mismatch for other teams in the fact that he’s athletic enough to go down inside and do some things there, too.”

Green can see the effect Crawford has had on his teammates with his play. While he surely wasn’t the sole or even main reason for the poise they showed late in the game, he had a role in the end as well, as he converted a four-point play with 23 seconds left that pulled the Gamecocks within one, setting up the dramatics in the final seconds.

“I think when you see young guys play like that, it gives everybody confidence,” said Green.

While this was one game in a long season, you have to think this gives them a confidence boost. This is a road win for a young team early on that can only help them. It also came after events that might normally deflate a young team and perhaps even serve as knockout blows. After the Gamecocks blew a seven-point lead by allowing UMass to run off 13 unanswered points, the psychological impact of giving up the lead might be damaging enough all by itself, especially that late in the game.

Green talked about this game being something for his team to learn from, and he felt they gained something from their season opener at South Carolina. Those are signs that this team is buying into what the coaches are teaching, and that their talent won’t be all that they have going for them.

“As a coach, and being a part of about seven different programs, I can’t really remember having as many young players that have been as poised as we have in the two road games that we’ve had,” said Green, who had been the head coach at Mississippi Valley State before taking this job.

Some of the credit there has to go to the veterans, notably seniors Jonathan Toles (who scored the winning basket) and DeAndre Bray, one of the shortest players in college basketball at 5’6″. Toles led the team with 18 points and added five assists with just one turnover. In fact, the Gamecocks had 19 assists with just nine turnovers on the night.

It’s still early in the season, and Jacksonville State is sure to have some growing pains along the way. They could just as easily finish the season winning just three more games to go with the three wins they already have. But a win like the one they had on Monday night can go a long way towards helping a team grow better, especially if, as Green talked about, it is a game his team learns from.

Austin Peay Wins A Year Later

by - Published March 9, 2008 in Columns

A Championship a Year in the Making

by Phil Kasiecki

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – This is what Austin Peay has been shooting for over the last year. It didn’t begin with the start of practice – it began a year ago.

The Governors were the regular season champions in the Ohio Valley Conference last season with a 16-4 mark in OVC games. They won by three games in the standings and were a clear favorite to take the conference’s NCAA Tournament bid. But Eastern Kentucky spoiled that in the title game with a 63-62 win and left the Governors to the NIT, where Air Force blew them out in the first round.

On Saturday, the feeling was different. Just over a year later, the Governors left no doubt in beating Tennessee State 82-64 to win the Ohio Valley Conference Championship after finishing with an identical 16-4 mark in the regular season.

While the Governors needed to stage a second-half rally to even have a chance in last year’s final, there was none necessary this time around. With 11:27 left in the first half, tournament MVP Todd Babington buried his fourth three-pointer of the half to give the Governors a 21-18 lead. They never relinquished it from there, getting it up to 15 at halftime and never leading by less than 11 for the entire second half.

“It’s like they weren’t going to be denied, they were so focused,” said head coach Dave Loos. “They really put the stamp on this thing today.”

The Governors were clearly a team on a mission after coming so close last season and after winning the regular season title. That was readily apparent to anyone who saw the game and how much they dominated Tennessee State.

“Austin Peay played like champions,” said Tennessee State head coach Cy Alexander. “They played like a team that had not had the opportunity to go last year to the NCAA Tournament. They came into this game on a mission, and they out-played us.”

Babington, who was also a standout quarterback on the gridiron in high school, led the charge with his three-point shooting. Challenged in Friday’s semifinal, he got going in the second half of that game for a spell, and on Saturday he was hot all along. When he got the ball, the defense may as well have just started heading back up the court.

While his shooting will be talked about the most, as he was 6-8 from long range, he did much more than that and more than his five rebounds. During the first half, he deflected an outlet pass to break up a fast break opportunity, then later tipped a rebound out to a teammate that led to a fast break. Later, he pump-faked a defender, stepped in and hit a leaner off the glass.

For all his efforts, he can be excused for a little comedy when asked if he had his dancing shoes for the NCAA Tournament. It turns out, he literally did have them – well, almost.

“I just haven’t put them on yet,” said Babington, noting that he got the red and white shoes from his brother and leading to laugher in the press room. “They’re brand new, pearly whites.”

But while Babington got the big honor on the strength of his play Saturday, the team’s floor leader was perhaps the biggest reason they got there. Derek Wright, a Los Angeles native who somehow got away from the California schools and came across much of the country, is closing out a fine career that has seen him become the school’s all-time leader in steals and place third in assists. He and Babington have played in an OVC record 130 career games. The three-year starter makes this team go and came up big in the conference tournament.

On Saturday, Wright had 13 points and four assists, but as is often the case with a point guard, the numbers don’t show his value. At the end of the first half, he helped bury Tennessee State with two back-breaking jumpers. The first was a three-pointer from near the top of the key with the shot clock running down and a defender in his face, then he did it again with a short jumper near the end of the half as they turned a 35-25 lead into a 15-point halftime advantage.

This came after he handed out seven assists with just one turnover as one of the unsung heroes in Friday night’s close win. It’s nothing he hasn’t done before.

“I hand him the ball, he knows the game plan, he knows how our coaching staff thinks, and I’ve gotten to where I absolutely trust him with our team,” said Loos. “He’s in charge, he is the guy.”

The Governors have reached this point with five double-figure scorers and several reserves who could probably do that if they played the kind of minutes starters do. This team returned all but two letterwinners from last season’s team, and the balance is a big reason they have been able to duplicate the success and take the next step. Three players made the all-tournament team. There’s also plenty of unselfishness that lends itself to the balance; all five starters average at least one assist per game.

A great example of this is junior Drake Reed, last season’s OVC Player of the Year. He didn’t put up the same numbers as last season, but led the balanced attack and plays so well within the team concept like everyone else. He’s second on the team in assists as a combo forward, which also shows his feel for the game.

With everyone back, the Governors didn’t just have the kind of team that could get back to this point and then win the title. They also had a team that was going to have a big target on their back from being picked to win. They were picked to win the conference by a wide margin by the conference’s coaches and sports information directors, as well as basically every prognosticator out there.

“I think that’s really significant. I don’t think a lot of people understand the pressure that’s involved there and the fact that you get everybody’s best shot night-in and night-out,” said Loos, who doubles as the school’s athletic director. “Being able to withstand and respond to all those punches is really something that you have to experience to understand. It’s a real tribute to these guys that they were able to deal with that almost from start to finish.”

The Governors certainly did that – in fact, they led the OVC wire-to-wire. They also accomplished something that only Murray State did about a decade ago, which is post two straight 16-win seasons in conference play. While last season might look impressive because the team was quite young, this season is just as impressive, if not more, because they had a big target on their back the entire time.

But the Governors also had a long time to get ready for this one. They started right away last year, because they remember the feeling when they lost the heart-breaker and didn’t want it to happen again.

“Ever since last year, ever since we lost on that heart-breaker, we’ve worked harder than we’ve ever worked this summer,” said Babington. “We kind of took it to heart. We knew the target was going to be on our back all year, and we played together all year.”

This was the goal all along, starting a year ago. Next Sunday, Austin Peay will enjoy the moment when their name is called – a much better feeling than they had a year ago when it was the NIT that called their name.


Ohio Valley Semifinals

by - Published March 8, 2008 in Columns

Ohio Valley Tournament Semifinal Notes

by Phil Kasiecki

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – The semifinals of the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament are in the books on a snowy night outside. The championship matchup is set, with the top seed set to take on a surprise contender with an NCAA Tournament bid on the line.

Austin Peay is back in the title game after a 78-77 win over UT-Martin. They will take on Tennessee State, which entered as the No. 6 seed, after the Tigers took out Murray State 83-75 in the nightcap. Both games had plenty of drama, and the outcome of each was in doubt until at least the final minute.

Semifinals Honor Roll

Wes Channels, Austin Peay: 16 points, 3 assists
Fernandez Lockett, Austin Peay: 15 points, 9 rebounds
Lester Hudson, UT-Martin: 31 points, 8 rebounds
Marquis Weddle, UT-Martin: 20 points
Bruce Price, Tennessee State: 20 points, 8 assists
Ray George, Murray State: 25 points on 8-13 shooting (5-7 on three-pointers), 3 assists
Danero Thomas, Murray State: 21 points on 7-9 shooting

Season Forward Ends With a Tough Loss

A season with a lot of firsts and broken records of futility for UT Martin ended on Friday night. Among the highlights:

  • The team won at least 10 OVC games for the first time since joining the conference in 1992.
  • This was the program’s first trip to the OVC Tournament semifinals.
  • Tuesday’s game was their first home game in the conference tournament
  • The Skyhawks’ No. 4 seed was the best in the school history.
  • Their 17 wins is the most in their Division I history.

Clearly, this season, fresh off one where the Skyhawks went 8-23, was a big step forward.

“I think it was a huge step forward for this program,” said head coach Bret Campbell. “I don’t think many people give Tennessee-Martin a lot of respect and I think we finally earned some respect by our players and our team this year that we could play with anybody.”

The Skyhawks have the conference’s best player in junior Lester Hudson, and also have the Rookie of the Year in promising freshman Marquis Weddle. Hudson, who earlier in the season recorded the NCAA’s first-ever quadruple-double, did everything he could to try to win this game by scoring 22 of his 31 points in the second half. Together, they helped lead a perfect month of February to have them playing well heading into the tournament.

With them at the core of a team that loses just one player, expectations next season are likely to be a little higher than this time around, when the Skyhawks were picked last in the conference in the preseason poll of the conference’s coaches and sports information directors.

“We’re only losing one player this year, we’ve got a great group coming back, and I’ll very much be expecting to be sitting here next year but only on Saturday night,” said Campbell.”

Defense Wins Championships, And Gets Teams There

At times, Austin Peay looked like they could be in danger against UT-Martin in the first semifinal game. The Governors were out-played in the first half, but UT-Martin missed a lot of good opportunities. That might be where the game was lost, but it was a ballgame all the way through.

Early in the second half, Todd Babington got going from long range and the Governors opened up a 60-53 lead at one point. They seemed to be on the verge of breaking it open, but they had to hold off Lester Hudson and the Skyhawks at the end.

While Babington responded to a halftime challenge to get involved, it was the defense that helped change the game for the Governors.

“Once we got a few stops, the body language of everybody just transformed,” said junior forward Drake Reed. “Everybody got a little swagger to them, and we got some big stops and caused some nice turnovers down the stretch.”

Defense got Austin Peay to the title game for the second year in a row. On Saturday, we will see if it wins them a title this time around.

Big Man Gives Unexpectedly Big Boost

A quick look at Tennessee State’s statistics entering Friday’s game would tell you that James Craft wouldn’t seem likely to be a big contributor. His stats are those of a bit player: 7.2 minutes per game, 0.8 points, 1.5 rebounds per game.

But on Friday night, he came through in a big way. Craft scored a career-high 10 points and grabbed four rebounds in 19 minutes, which also tied a career high. A few of his points were also important ones, as he hit two jumpers in the latter part of the second half while Murray State was trying to charge back.

His play was a big reason that after the Tigers took a 58-56 lead with 8:22 left, they never relinquished it. And it wasn’t something that surprised his point guard.

“We could tell he was shooting the ball well in practice the last three days, so we knew to get him the ball,” said Bruce Price, who handed out eight assists to go with his team-high 20 points. “I had no doubt in my mind if I got him the ball, because he’s a great shooter for a seven-footer.”

His coach said the shoot-around earlier in the day gave him an idea that this could happen.

“You coach by gut feeling. I just watched Craft, he wasn’t missing in shoot-around this morning,” said head coach Cy Alexander. “My gut told me to go with him as the first big off the bench, and he still wasn’t missing tonight.”

Career Night Ends College Days for Racer Senior

Ray George has been through a lot in his life, including his high school and college days. He spent time at Mt. Zion in Durham, N.C. early in his high school days, back when the school was a national power. He bounced around on travel teams, later wound up at Coastal Christian in Virginia, and still didn’t get to Division I despite having talent.

George instead spent two years at Georgia Perimeter College, where he averaged 20 points, 8.6 assists and 4.8 steals per game. Never known as a shooter, he even shot 55.2 percent from long range. That got him an opportunity at Murray State, and while he wasn’t a star, he contributed to the team’s success.

After scoring a career-high 25 points, including going 5-7 from long range, George was clearly distraught after the game. He’s come a long way in life and on the basketball court, and with his career over, he now closes in on his degree.

“In the last month, we had a good meeting and I’m really thankful that he was able to play as well as he did because he’s worked real hard on his game, he’s worked hard on doing the things I want him to do,” said head coach Billy Kennedy.

In many ways, George paralleled Lester Hudson on this Friday night. Both have been through well-documented struggles and had to go the junior college route before playing Division I basketball. Hudson did all he could to bring his team back in the evening’s opening game, and George did all he could in the nightcap as he scored 17 of his points in the second stanza. Kennedy took a chance on George, and vice versa given that Kennedy had just taken over as the head coach, and while they had ups and downs, the program moved forward and so did George.

Young Talent on Display

Mid-majors are often known for winning with experience, but Friday night wasn’t quite that. Of the 20 starters in the two games, only six were seniors, while four were freshmen. Add in some young reserves, and it’s clear that there is some good young talent.

Besides Weddle, the Rookie of the Year, UT-Martin starts forward Benzor Simmons, while Tennessee State starts Gerald Robinson, Jr. and Darius Cox. Robinson is the next best of the bunch, as he made the conference All-Rookie team and has a lot of potential, as he’s skilled and plays with a lot of confidence. Cox is third on the Tigers in rebounding and should grow into a good player, while Simmons is a role player who came on late in the year to move into the starting lineup.

This leads to Saturday’s championship, which will feature an experienced group with three senior starters in Austin Peay going up against a Tennessee State team that starts one senior and two freshmen. It’s a little different than last year, when two teams that were relatively inexperienced met in the title game.


Ohio Valley Preview

by - Published November 2, 2007 in Conference Notes

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
8. Samford
9. Jacksonville State
10. Eastern Illinois
11. Tennessee-Martin

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.

Samford Bulldogs
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.


College Basketball Tonight

COLLEGE BASKETBALL TONIGHT is a comprehensive look at the NCAA Tournament hosted by veteran college basketball broadcaster Ted Sarandis, who will be joined by former Manhattan and Seton Hall head coach Bobby Gonzalez and many great guests, including Hoopville's own Phil Kasiecki.

The show will air on AM 970 The Answer in New York City from 7-9 p.m. on every Sunday from Selection Sunday to the Final Four. You can listen to the show here.

Your Phil of Hoops

Watson’s transfer will sting BU the most

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Boston University recently saw three players transfer. The impact of the departure of one of them will be felt more than the other two.

Mihalich’s first year at Hofstra is over but will have plenty of value

March 9, 2014 by


The first year for Hofstra under Joe Mihalich is in the books. Many expected that wins would be hard to come by, and they were, but this season was about more than that and is hardly a throwaway year.

Cornell’s future can only be better

March 2, 2014 by


Cornell has had a rough season, as could be expected given some personnel losses. It’s almost in the books, and the future at least looks brighter.

2013 Prep School Tour

Missed a recap of an open gym workout? We have them all right here for you.

Sept. 9: St. Andrew's
Sept 10: Tilton
Sept. 11: South Kent School and Northfield Mount Hermon
Sept. 12: Putnam Science Academy
Sept. 16: St. Thomas More and Marianapolis Prep
Sept. 17: Brewster Academy and Phillips Exeter
Sept. 23: New Hampton School
Sept. 24: Brimmer and May
Sept. 25: Proctor Academy
Sept. 26: Notre Dame Prep and Cushing Academy
Sept. 29: Worcester Academy and Vermont Academy
Oct. 6: Charlestown High School and Milton Academy
Oct. 13: Tabor Academy
Oct. 15: Brooks School

Hoopville Archives

Even More: City Hoops Recruiting

Travel team profile: Expressions Elite

Expressions Elite has quickly become one of the deeper programs in New England

Cesar Fulcar commits to Wentworth

The senior guard led Watertown to the state semifinal this past season

Travel team profile: Bay State Magic

Bay State Magic doesn’t have much size on their junior team this season, so they’ll have to win with execution and intangibles

Travel team profile: Mass Elite

Mass Elite is one of the largest travel teams in the state despite being relatively new

Travel team profile: Middlesex Magic

Today we look at the Middlesex Magic, run by the son of the program’s founder and getting better every year

Coaching Changes and NBA Draft Early Entrants

The coaching carousel is already moving. Keep track of the latest coaching changes right here on Hoopville.

Also, keep track of players who have declared early for the NBA Draft.

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