RTC Conference Primers: #20 – Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on October 15th, 2010

Greg Waddell of The Murray State News is the RTC correspondent for the OVC.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Murray State (17-1)
  2. Morehead State (15-3)
  3. Austin Peay (11-7)
  4. Eastern Illinois (11-7)
  5. Eastern Kentucky (10-8)
  6. Jacksonville State (8-10)
  7. Tennessee Tech (8-10)
  8. Tennessee State (6-12)
  9. Tennessee-Martin (3-15)
  10. Southeast Missouri State (1-17)
  11. SIU-Edwardsville – ineligible for conference tournament

All-Conference Team (key stats from last season in parentheses)

  • G:  Isaiah Canaan, Murray State (10.4 PPG, 50% FG, 48% 3-pt)
  • G:  B.J. Jenkins, Murray State (10.6 PPG, 1.8 SPG)
  • F:  Anthony Campbell, Austin Peay (15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG)
  • F: Justin Stommes, Eastern Kentucky (14.2 PPG, 52% FG, 42% 3-pt)
  • C: Kenneth Faried, Morehead State (16.9 PPG, 13 RPG, 56% FG)

Isaiah Canaan appears on ESPN First Take after a half court shot from his knees against SEMO:

6th Man

  • Isacc Miles, Murray State (9.7 PPG, 47% FG)

Impact Newcomer

  • Zac Swansey, Tennessee Tech

What You Need to Know

This could be the first year in quite some time the OVC puts two teams in the NCAA Tournament. Though unlikely, it could happen if Murray State has the season everyone is expecting, and Morehead State can find a way to knock off the Racers in OVC Tournament play. Based on preseason hype including a #31 ranking by Lindy’s, Murray State could make a resume impressive enough for an at-large bid if it can knock some big-name teams and win the 76 Classic in Anaheim. The other MSU can make some noise also, as the Eagles possess a special player in Kenneth Faried. In basketball, that kind of player can make all the difference and Donnie Tyndall’s squad will get the chance to make waves early as they play three quality teams from last season’s NCAA Tournament in Ohio State, Florida and Northern Iowa. Morehead State will travel to Gainesville on November 11 to get a crack at Billy Donovan and the Gators before heading north to Columbus two days later. Northern Iowa is the final stop as the Eagles head west to Cedar Falls on the December 11. Also, SIU-Edwardsville continues to wait in the wings as it transition to full-fledged membership.

Kenneth Faried is ready to dethrone Murray State, but the Racers have other plans. (zimbio.com)

Predicted Champion

Murray State (NCAA Seed: #9): After a campaign in 2009-10 that will go down as one of the best in program history, the scary thing for OVC foes is that this year’s edition may be even better. Despite losing senior leaders Tony Easley and Danero Thomas to graduation, the Racers look to reload behind the strong play of a three-headed guard attack. Led by returning starters B.J. Jenkins and Isacc Miles, the deadly backcourt gets a little more frightening when last year’s sixth man, Isaiah Canaan, gets thrown in the mix. Canaan, who actually averaged the second-most points on the team last season at 10.4 PPG, should pick up right where he left off, shooting a ridiculous 50% from the field and 48% from behind the arc. After last season’s last-second buzzer-beater vanquished Vanderbilt, things are looking good for Billy Kennedy’s squad, as the Racers look to cash in plenty of wins at the newly renamed CFSB Center.

“The Shot” as it’s come to be known as at Murray State:

Top Contender

Morehead State Donnie Tyndall’s squad is the only other team in the league capable of challenging the Racers as reigning OVC Player of the Year and Defensive Player of the Year Kenneth Faried mans the center spot in the Eagles’ frontcourt. Faried is a man among boys in the conference, passing up the opportunity go pro (a probable second round pick) for another shot at postseason glory. If Morehead is to unseat the boys from the other side of the state of Kentucky, Faried will have to play a bigger role, as his sidekick Maze Stallworth has used up his eligibility. As they showed last year though, they’re up to the task and should pose a significant hurdle for Murray.

Top 5 RPI Boosters

  • Nov. 12 – Tennessee Tech at North Carolina State – The Tigers hit the ground running with a date with the Wolfpack to start the season.
  • Nov. 21 – Morehead State at Florida – Kenneth Faried is head-and-shoulders above the rest of the OVC, but how does he stack up against a top-flight program like Billy Donovan’s?
  • Nov. 23 – Morehead State at Ohio State – Things don’t get any easier for the Eagles, with a trip to Columbus to face Jared Sullinger and the Buckeyes just two days after their game in Gainesville.
  • Dec. 13 – Jacksonville State at Oregon – JSU takes on new coach Dana Altman’s squad as Altman looks to revitalize the Ducks after two straight NIT bids led to administration parting ways with Ernie Kent.
  • Dec. 29 – Tennessee-Martin at Tennessee – An intrastate battle for the Skyhawks two days removed from playing Ohio State in Columbus. After finishing last in the conference a season ago, one has to wonder if Jason James is a little in over his head in his scheduling methods, but he’ll get his shot against a reeling Bruce Pearl and blue-chip freshman Tobias Harris.

Key Conference Games

  • Dec. 4 – Murray State at Morehead State, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 8 – Austin Peay at Murray State, 7:30 p.m.
  • Jan. 29 – Austin Peay at Morehead State, 7:15 p.m.
  • Feb. 10 – Eastern Illinois at Morehead State, 7:45 p.m.
  • Feb. 24 – Morehead State at Murray State, 7:30 p.m.

NCAA Tournament History

The OVC is 22-61 (.265) all-time in NCAA Tournament play. Despite first-round victories the last two seasons (Murray State over Vanderbilt in 2010 and Morehead State in 2009’s play-in game), the Ohio Valley has had a rough go of it in the last two decades, with zero victories from 1990-2008. Fun Fact: former member Western Kentucky won the now-defunct third place game in 1971 with a win over perennial powerhouse Kansas after the Hilltopers were ousted by Villanova in the semifinals.

Final Thoughts

All in all, it should be a fun year to be an OVC fan. Though the league lacks the strength from top to bottom as in years past, the teams at the top should provide some fireworks when they square off, including one of the last games of the regular season, a showdown between Murray State and Morehead State which could turn out to determine the conference champion.  Typically a one-bid league, this year could pose some problems for the selection committee, as both of the top two OVC teams could put together an impressive enough non-conference resume to warrant selection. Should Murray win, a deep run shouldn’t be out of the question after a narrow loss to eventual NCAA runner-up Butler begs the question of “what if?” My prediction: Get ready to see the Racers make a return appearance to March Madness, but don’t be surprised to see them proceed one round deeper than last March into the Sweet Sixteen.

Brian Goodman (966 Posts)

Brian Goodman a Big 12 microsite writer. You can follow him on Twitter @BSGoodman.

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