2012-13 RTC Conference Primers: Ohio Valley ConferencePosted by Brian Goodman on October 23rd, 2012
David Changas is the RTC correspondent for the OVC. You can follow him on Twitter @dchangas.
- Can Murray State Repeat Its Success? Last year, the Racers took the college basketball world by storm by being the nation’s last remaining undefeated team after starting 23-0. They lose several key contributors, but another run to a second-round NCAA Tournament win is realistic, and coach Steve Prohm proved he can coach in his first season at the helm. Should Murray State win the league’s automatic bid, it likely will not come with a lofty five-seed as it did last year, but any team with potential All-American Isaiah Canaan leading it in March will be dangerous.
- Belmont Arrives: In an effort to raise its overall profile, Belmont left the Atlantic Sun and certainly will add cachet to a league coming off its best year in recent memory. The Bruins have been a dominant force in the A-Sun for the past dozen years, earning the conference’s automatic bid in five of the last seven. Their addition to an already formidable league raises its profile that much more, and though Murray State is the league favorite, Belmont will draw attention to the OVC in this and years to come.
- Who is Robert Covington? With all of the hoopla surrounding Canaan and Murray State, plus the arrival of Belmont, the player who isn’t the subject of enough discussion is Tennessee State big man Robert Covington. The 6’9″ senior finished third in the league in scoring and second in rebounding last year, and is projected by some to be a second-round pick in the 2013 NBA Draft. He scores, rebounds, and shoots the three proficiently, and has an NBA physique. A player of the year caliber season should be expected from Covington, and the presence of NBA scouts will be commonplace at Tiger games.
Predicted Order of Finish
- Belmont (13-3)
- Tennessee State (11-5)
- Jacksonville State (10-6)
- Tennessee Tech (7-9)
- Eastern Kentucky (5-11)
- Morehead State (4-12)
- Murray State (13-3)
- Southeast Missouri State (11-5)
- SIU-Edwardsville (9-7)
- Austin Peay (7-9)
- UT-Martin (3-13)
- Eastern Illinois (3-13)
Preseason All-Conference First-Team (last season’s stats included)
- G Isaiah Canaan (Murray State) – 19.0 PPG, 3.6 APG – Canaan is a bona fide All-America candidate, and has already been named to several preseason squads. Expect him to live up to the hype.
- F Robert Covington (Tennessee State) – 17.8 PPG, 7.9 RPG – Covington does more than get it done in the paint. He shot 44.8% from three-point range, making nearly two threes per game last season.
- G Kerron Johnson (Belmont) – 13.8 PPG, 5.2 APG – The Bruins’ point guard is a classic floor general, and will have to be even more productive this year as Belmont will become more perimeter-oriented after losing talented big men Scott Saunders and Mick Hedgepeth to graduation.
- G Jud Dillard, Tennessee Tech – 17.3 PPG, 8.5 RPG – Though only 6’5″, the Golden Eagles wing led the OVC in rebounding. With Kevin Murphy now gone to the NBA, the Tennessee Tech senior should blossom even more in Steve Payne’s system.
- F Tyler Stone (Southwest Missouri State) – 14.7 PPG, 7.3 RPG – Stone was the league’s top newcomer a year ago, and if Dickie Nutt’s squad is going to challenge for the league’s automatic bid, the 6’8″ junior from Memphis will have to be even better.
Sixth Man: Ian Clark (Belmont) – 12.7 PPG, 2.4 APG– In Johnson and Clark, the Bruins may have the league’s best overall backcourt. Clark was all-Atlantic Sun in 2012, and will make Belmont’s transition to the OVC smooth.
Impact Newcomer: Dexter Fields (Murray State) – The Racers must replace three starters, and getting Fields, a UAB transfer who was a solid contributor as a sophomore two years ago, helps. He is expected to start, and given the attention Canaan will draw, should have opportunities for plenty of open looks.
- Murray State (NCAA Seed: #12) – With Belmont and Tennessee State, among others, poised to challenge for the league’s automatic berth, getting to the NCAA Tournament will be a lot tougher for the Racers than it was last year. Had they not won the OVC Tournament, they undoubtedly would have gotten an at-large bid, but that is likely not to be the case this year. Ed Daniel, a senior forward who is a “glue guy” of sorts, will have to be more prolific offensively. He averaged only 6.8 points per game last year, but his intangible contributions were significant. With Donte Poole and Ivan Aska gone to graduation, and guard Zay Jackson suspended indefinitely, Daniel will have to score more. The extent to which he and frontcourt mate Brandon Garrett are able to provide a strong frontcourt for the Racers will go a long way in determining whether they win their third straight OVC title.
- Belmont (NIT) – Rick Byrd‘s squad is strong on the perimeter, with Clark and Johnson leading the way, but the interior is a major question mark. Replacing Saunders and Hedgepeth is a tall order, and Byrd will look to Brandon Baker and Trevor Noack to do just that. Byrd always finds a way to get his team to compete for championships, and this team will do that with a strong perimeter. Belmont will shoot and make a lot of threes, and by the time March rolls around, a run to the Big Dance is not out of the question. The other coaches in the league will quickly learn – if they don’t know it already – that Byrd’s teams will always be tough to beat.
- Tennessee State – Losing John Cooper to Miami (OH) was a big blow to the program, which Cooper brought back from the brink in only three years. Still, there is optimism, as new coach Travis Williams was an integral part of the Tigers’ rise, serving on Cooper’s staff for all three seasons. With the league’s second-best player in Covington, and veteran guard Patrick Miller, Tennessee State should be able to compete with Belmont in the East Division, and challenge Murray State for the OVC title. It’s what the Tigers have on the floor besides this duo that may prevent them from a postseason run.
- Jacksonville State – Even though JSU is ineligible for the OVC Tournament this year, the Gamecocks return nearly everyone from a team that went .500 in conference play and will certainly cause problems for teams during the regular season race. James Green’s team is a hard-nosed defensive team, and Jacksonville State is led by Brian Williams (13.2 PPG in 2011-12) as the team’s leading returning scorer. Whether the Gamecocks can score enough will determine how legitimate a contender they are for the regular season league crown.
Reader’s Take II
- Belmont – It is hard to overstate the importance of this move, both for the league and for the Bruins. The OVC now has a second marquee name after getting a great deal of attention for Murray State’s run last year. It’s hard to imagine that the Bruins will not be a regular challenger for the league championship for years to come. Belmont’s arrival overshadows the arrival of any individual player or coach, and the league’s RPI is sure to improve because the Bruins are a member.
- Travis Williams – John Cooper was a rising star who almost got Tennessee State the league’s automatic bid before a narrow loss to Murray State in the league championship last season. Miami (OH) smartly hired him, and Tigers AD Teresa Phillips, whose recent hires in both football and basketball have been outstanding, gave Williams a shot. He has a tall order to take the next step and win the league championship, but he steps into a good situation and will get a chance to prove his worth quickly.
- Sean Woods – After leading Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA Tournament, Woods takes over at Morehead State for Donnie Tyndall, who departed for Southern Mississippi. Woods, a member of Rick Pitino’s “Unforgettables” at Kentucky, is back close to home and should eventually be able to continue the success Tyndall, one of the league’s best coaches, had with the Eagles. This is likely to be a down year for the program that knocked off Louisville in the 2011 NCAA Tournament, but Woods’s name recognition and success at MVSU should help in recruiting, and Morehead State should be back in the mix for the OVC championship in short order.
Spotlight on … the OVC Tournament
Beginning in 2011, the league decided to move away from the cavernous Bridgestone Arena in downtown Nashville to the nearby Municipal Auditorium. This change has been well-received, and the atmosphere at the Auditorium has been electric, as opposed to the staid environment at Bridgestone. At the same time this move was made, the league decided to expand the neutral-site aspect of the event and eliminate on-campus early-round games, all while rewarding the highest seeds with byes (the top two seeds receive byes into the semifinals, while the third and fourth seeds receive byes into the quarterfinals). Only the top eight make the tournament, and the format emphasizes the importance of the regular season, while also minimizing the risk of an undeserving team stealing the automatic bid. We all love upsets during Championship Week, but in a league that is going to very rarely get multiple bids, the OVC model is the fairest. It allows teams that have achieved for four months a better opportunity to earn the bid than those teams that happen to get hot at the right time. With Belmont now in the fold, the 2013 OVC Tournament should be the best yet. Hopefully, more leagues will follow the OVC’s lead in this regard.
The OVC will have more television exposure this year than it ever has in the past, and for good reason. The league has done a good job of raising its profile, and the NCAA Tournament success it has had in the last two years is a big reason why. With the attention Murray State brought the league with its start last year, and the smart move to pry Belmont away from the Atlantic Sun, the OVC has pushed itself toward more relevant mid-major status. And with stars like Canaan and Covington, and a coach like Byrd, the quality of play has never been better, nor has the league ever been more fun to watch.