RTC Conference Primers: #23 – Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by cbogard on October 12th, 2011

Catlin Bogard of OVC Ball is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @OVCBall.

Readers Take I


Top Storylines

  • Here Come the Cougars:  Although SIU Edwardsville is in its final year of transition to Division I, the Cougars will play a full Ohio Valley Conference slate. SIUE will be eligible to win the OVC regular season title, but cannot enter the conference tournament until they have completed their transition in 2012-13. The Cougars are unlikely, however, to make a major impact this season after going 0-9 against OVC teams a year ago.
  • Out of Balance: As a result of the Cougars entrance to the conference, the now 11-team league will play an uneven schedule of 16 games, much shorter than the 20 and 22-game schedules seen since the last OVC expansion. But the current structure won’t stay in place for long. After it was announced that Belmont will join the conference next season, OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche told the voice of the Racers, Neal Bradley, that “it appears that it would make sense to have divisions, most notably for our men’s and women’s basketball teams.” But the OVC might not remain a 12-team league long enough to matter. Jacksonville State is exploring a move to a FBS conference according to a release from the school, and the Huntsville Times reports that Tennessee State has been invited to join the SWAC.
  • What Was Old is New Again: Two teams on opposite ends of last year’s final standings have one thing in common: inexperience. Both Morehead State and Jacksonville State will feature teams with more new faces than old this year. Last season’s last place Gamecocks have seven transfers and four new players, with Stephen Hall being the only Gamecock with more than one year of experience. Meanwhile, MSU has eight new faces, including six freshmen joining the defending OVC Tournament champions.
  • New Sideline Patrolmen: Two of the top teams last year, Murray State and Tennessee Tech, will feature new coaches this season. Steve Payne replaces Mike Sutton, who retired after eight seasons with the Golden Eagles. Steve Prohm will take over the Racers after Billy Kennedy left to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M.

Predicted Order of Finish

  1. Tennessee Tech (13-3)
  2. Murray State (12-4)
  3. Tennessee State (12-4)
  4. Austin Peay (12-4)
  5. Tennessee Martin (9-7)
  6. Morehead State (8-8)
  7. Southeast Missouri State (7-9)
  8. Eastern Illinois (5-11)
  9. Jacksonville State (4-12)
  10. Eastern Kentucky (4-12)
  11. SIU Edwardsville (2-14)

All-Conference Picks

  • G: Tyshwan Edmondson, Austin Peay (17.1 PPG, 4.5 RPG, 1.8 SPG): The top returning scorer in the conference from a year ago, Edmondson is a dynamic guard and an excellent shooter, highlighted by two separate 33-point performances last season.

With Kenneth Faried Off To The League, Austin Peay's Tyshwan Edmondson (right) May Be The OVC's Top Pro Prospect In 2011-12. (Brent Drinkut/Journal & Courier).

  • G: Isiah Canaan, Murray State (11.7 PPG, 3.3 APG): As just a sophomore last season, Canaan emerged as the top scorer out of a talented backcourt for last season’s OVC regular season champions. This year, with two of those guards having graduated, the Racers will lean on Canaan for leadership.
  • F: Robert Covington, Tennessee State (13.3 PPG, 7.5 RPG, 1.5 SPG): Covington may be 6’9″, but he’s got great shooting range, hitting 46% from deep last season. He’s surprisingly quick for a big man, a skill he used to finish third in rebounding in the conference as a sophomore.
  • F: Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech (17.0 PPG, 4.5 RPG): Murphy was a great scoring threat last season, and could easily lead the conference in scoring this year.
  • C: Leon Powell, Southeast Missouri State (14.1 PPG, 7.7 RPG, 1.6 BPG): SEMO didn’t have a lot of support to keep defenders from doubling Powell last season, but that didn’t stop him from shooting 63% from the field.

Sixth Man: Zac Swansey, Tennessee Tech (9.7 PPG, 6.4 APG, 2.1 SPG): Swansey defined clutch last year in the OVC, hitting multiple game-winning shots for the Golden Eagles.  Swansey also led the OVC in assists, dishing out 49 more than any other player.

Impact Newcomer: Nino Johnson, Southeast Missouri State: Johnson was a rated as a three-star recruit by Rivals, and the 17th-best high school power forward  in the nation by ESPN. He averaged just under ten points and seven rebounds per game at Memphis’ Melrose High School, a perennial power in Tennessee.

Predicted Champion

Tennessee Tech (NCAA Seed #15): The combination of Kevin Murphy and Zac Swansey is the best 1-2 combo in the league, and they’re surrounded by a talented group of players including Zach Bailey and Jud Dillard. Head coach Steve Payne might be in his first season as the head coach, but Payne was a longtime assistant under Mike Sutton and coached the team during a prolonged absence in 2005 while Sutton battled Guillain-Barré syndrome. The Golden Eagles are a team that likes to run, but have struggled in games where they couldn’t force tempo. With defensively-minded Murray State and Austin Peay in a position to compete for the conference crown, the Golden Eagles could have trouble separating themselves from the pack.

Top Contenders

  • Murray State: Last season was a disappointment for the Racers; they returned a lot of talent from an NCAA Tournament squad that upset 4-seed Vanderbilt, but struggled often to get off to good starts in games. There’s a lot of transition in Murray this year, from players to coaches to philosophy; New head coach Steve Prohm has said he wants to run more than his predecessor Billy Kennedy, who was more comfortable playing games with scoring in the 60s. The two-time defending OVC regular season champions are still an extremely talented, junior-led team, but might need one year to get back to championship form.
  • Austin Peay: Last year’s Governors looked like anything but a Dave Loos-led defense, but put up enough scoring to finish in a tie for second in the league. The big question this year:  how well does Anthony Campbell play after returning from an ACL injury? Josh Frailey played well in his absence last year, but wasn’t a strong enough defensive threat to keep teams from driving against the Governors. If those two both establish themselves as scoring threats, it could open things up for Tyshwan Edmondson even more.
  • Tennessee State: In mid-major conferences like the OVC, experienced teams are always dangerous, and no team is more experienced than the Tigers. Every player from last year’s 10-8 team is back, joined by three junior college transfers that started at Division I schools. Along with Robert Covington, the Tigers also feature last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year, Patrick Miller. But this team could be a victim of the uneven schedules, being forced to play all the conferences top contenders twice.

Readers Take II


Here Today, Gone Tomorrow?

Murray State Head Coach Steve Prohm Helped Resurrect the Racers. Will A High-Major Program Come Calling? (Tab Brockman/Examiner.com)

  • Tyshwan Edmondson: The OVC doesn’t have many players that can create their own shot consistently, but Edmondson has done so in his career at Austin Peay. He’s a tough player who loves to drive the lane with a dynamic first step. The junior isn’t much of a draft prospect, but he’s one to watch as long as he keeps the points coming.
  • Kevin Murphy: I doubt any player this season will rise to the level Kenneth Faried did last year, but the Golden Eagles forward is a great playmaker and a solid rebounder.
  • Donnie Tyndall: He helped Morehead State rise from the ashes, and has proven to be a great recruiter. With another outstanding campaign, it’s likely athletic directors from power conference schools will be calling for him to come coach their teams in the near future.

Spotlight on…SIU Edwardsville

It’s likely many people don’t know much about the newest members of the Ohio Valley Conference. The Cougars are finishing their transition from NCAA Division II, and were a previous member of the Great Lakes Valley Conference. Head coach Lennox Forrester is in his fifth year with the program, posting a 40-75 record over that time, much of which was while making the Division I transition. Four starters are returning for the Cougars, but the one that’s not is 2010-11 leading scorer Cornelius Chatt, who has been ruled academically ineligible.  Before you think the Cougars are dead on arrival in the OVC, Edwardsville was 6-8 at home last year, and actually ranked above two OVC teams at the end of the season in the RPI.

NCAA Tournament History

After a long drought, the NCAA Tournament has been kind to the OVC over the past three years. Morehead State has won games in two of the past three years, highlighted by an upset over Louisville in last season’s tournament before falling to Richmond in the second round. The year before, Murray State upset Vanderbilt on a last-second shot, before missing a last-second shot themselves in a loss to eventual tournament runner-up Butler.

Final Thoughts

It’s easy to look down on the OVC this season with the most dynamic players in years, Kenneth Faried, eventually playing in the NBA when that lockout mess is resolved. But remember, Morehead State didn’t even win the conference’s regular season last year, Murray State did. The OVC is always a competitive conference, and that looks to continue this year.

cbogard (3 Posts)

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