It’s the start of Championship Fortnight, so let’s gear up for the next 13 days of games by breaking down each of the Other 26’s conference tournaments as they get under way.
Ohio Valley Tournament
Dates: March 4-7
Site: Nashville Memorial Auditorium (Nashville, TN)
What to expect: What do Kentucky and Murray State have in common other than inhabiting the Bluegrass State? The answer is that they own the nation’s two longest active winning streaks. The Racers reeled off 24 straight victories to end the season and breezed through their Ohio Valley schedule – a run of dominance that should continue in Nashville. Still, Eastern Kentucky took them to overtime in January and Belmont gets the benefit of playing in its own backyard, so nothing is guaranteed. Even the #8 seed, Southeast Missouri State, came close to beating the champs a few weeks ago. Both the Racers and Colonels receive byes to semifinals, so look for Jeff Neubauer’s club – last season’s NCAA Tournament representative – to emerge if Murray State falters. Third-seeded Belmont could also be a factor because, well, it’s Belmont.
Favorite: Murray State. The Racers are equipped with the conference’s best backcourt player (Cameron Payne) and frontcourt player (Jarvis Williams); their offense ranks 36th nationally in adjusted efficiency; and they have not lost since way back on November 29. They are the team to beat.
Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.
O26 Team of the Week
A.J. English and the MAAC-leading Gaels showed grit last week. (Andrew Theodorakis / New York Post)
Iona. The Gaels battled a pair of tough MAAC contenders on the road this past weekend and beat them both, despite playing some (at times) less-than-pretty basketball. On Friday, against cross-town foe Manhattan – a rivalry game Steve Masiello once compared to Kentucky vs. Louisville – Iona overcame 21 turnovers, withstood several second-half runs and edged the Jaspers by three for its first victory in Draddy Gymnasium since 2012. “I heard a lot about this game, and there is nothing like a Manhattan crowd,” freshman guard Schadrac Casimir, who hit several big shots in the second half, said afterward. He finished with 22 points on 7-of-11 shooting, but it was junior A.J. English who drilled a clutch triple with 32 seconds left to seal the deal. Less than 48 hours later, the Gaels showed arguably more grit at Quinnipiac in not just erasing a seven-point second half deficit but overcoming their worst shooting performance (31.5%) since Tim Cluess took over the program in 2011. A team usually known for its fast-paced and free-flowing offense – the 28th-most efficient in America – put together its best defensive showing of the season to beat the Bobcats by three despite scoring just 0.86 points per possession. “We know that our shots aren’t going to fall every game and we have to find other ways to win,” Iona forward David Laury (18 points, nine rebounds) said. The Gaels have now won eight straight contests and sit two full games up on second-place Rider in the MAAC standings, their gritty weekend inching them one step closer to a second straight conference crown.
Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (2-0: vs. Wyoming, vs. Colorado State); Chattanooga (2-0: at Wofford, vs. Samford); UC Santa Barbara (2-0: vs. Long Beach State, at Cal State Northridge); Central Michigan (2-0: at Ohio, at Buffalo); Rice (2-0: vs. Middle Tennessee State, vs. UAB); Valparaiso (2-0: vs. Green Bay…at UW-Milwaukee)
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.
Isaiah Canaan Is The Early Favorite For OVC Player Of The Year And Has A Shot At Even Higher Accolades. (Getty Images)
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.
Catlin Bogard is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can also find his musings online at OVC Ball or on Twitter @OVCBall.
The Week That Was
Rough Week For Big Men: Two of the top big men in the conference have already missed games this year due to injury. SEMO’s LeonPowell injured the same knee that caused him to miss an entire season two years ago in the Redhawks’ final exhibition game. Powell did not play in their opener against Missouri, but did return against Harris Stowe, shooting a perfect 8-8 from the field. Austin Peay’s John Fraley is out of the hospital after suffering a concussion in the Governors opening game against Middle Tennessee. Fraley was sorely missed on the Governors’ trip to California, and could miss a couple of weeks according to the Leaf-Chronicle.
It Hasn’t Even Been Close: The Ohio Valley Conference isn’t off to the best of starts, with only ten wins in its first 29 outings. But what’s surprising is how many haven’t even been close. Of the conference’s 19 losses, 14 have been by double digits. The exceptions? Tennessee Martin’s nine-point loss to Ohio, Austin Peay’s nine-point loss to Middle Tennessee, Eastern Illinois’ seven-point loss to Indiana State, Tennessee State‘s three-point loss to Western Kentucky, and Southeast Missouri State‘s one-point loss to Bradley.
The Flip Side: Not everything is bleak in the OVC. The Racers are off to a 3-0 start, after a big win on the road against the favorites to win the MEAC, Morgan State. Tennessee Tech held a late second half lead against Miami before things fell apart in the closing minutes. And while there haven’t been a lot of wins, there haven’t been any embarrassing upsets for the conference either.
Just A Week Into The Season, Steve Prohm's Racers Are The Only Remaining Undefeated Team In The OVC. (Ricky Martin/Ledger & Times)
Catlin Bogard of OVC Ball is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @OVCBall.
Readers Take I
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 DeBauchetold 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.
It was a busy night Thursday, and that meant thirteen more eliminations from the national title race. You can start to see a few holes in the below Circle of March, as Jacksonville, High Point, St. Francis (NY), St. Francis (PA), Mt. St. Mary’s, Wagner, UT-Martin, Illinois State, VMI, UMBC, Southeast Missouri State, Lipscomb and Drake are now all looking forward to next season. With last night’s losses, there are now 289 teams still alive for the 2011 national championship.
Coming next: Huge Friday night of eliminations, with 21 games knocking out one team or another.
Greg Waddell is the RTC correspondent or the Ohio Valley Conference. [ed note: this post was written prior to the weekend games of Nov. 26-28]
A Look Back
Kenneth Faried proved why he’s the Number 1 player in the OVC and probably an NBA lottery pick over a two-game Morehead State road trip. Facing off against two Top 10 teams in Florida and Ohio State, Faried put on a clinic as the 6’8 forward notched 20 points and pulled down 18 rebounds against the Gators and recorded 15 points and 12 rebounds against the Buckeyes on 5-7 shooting from the field. Faried is the real deal and OVC fans should enjoy him while he’s here.
Murray State has stumbled out of the gates, struggling to find an identity while trying to mesh a talented backcourt with an inexperienced frontcourt. The lack of production in the post has put a burden on the Racer guards thus far as teams have been able to pressure the perimeter and force Murray State to shoot the three. If the Racers hope to have success this season, Ivan Aska and Jeffrey McClain must step up their game in the post and high flying wing Ed Daniel must begin to assert himself in the scorebooks. All in all the Racers have the talent to repeat their success of a season ago but continue to be their own worst enemy. The game against Morehead State will get a whole lot juicier if Billy Kennedy can’t find a way to right the ship before December 4.
Murray State (3-1): Things haven’t gone quite as Billy Kennedy expected this early in the season but that’s okay with the Racers’ head man as his team heads west for the 76 Classic. Yet, they were able to notch a 55-52 win against Stanford in a semi-road environment. Still reigning as the class of the conference, things are looking up in Murray, Kentucky, as guard play has been the backbone of the team again this season. One cause for concern, though, is the lack of inside presence the Racers have shown thus far. The inability of the big men to establish themselves has hampered the backcourt slightly. There’s too much talent waiting in the wings though to dent their momentum too much though as sophomore sensation Isaiah Canaan leads the charge for the team this season, notching 11.7 points per game while senior Isacc Miles has been on the mend with a bum knee.
Morehead State (2-3): The boys in blue put on a show for OVC fans in their last two games provided a chance for Morehead golden boy Kenneth Faried to put on a show against perennial powers Ohio State and Florida is back to back contests. The Eagles has a little more success against the No. 10 Gators, pushing Billy Donovan’s squad to the wire before falling 61-55 as Faried notched 20 points and 18 boards. Faried found a fan in Donovan who gushed about the forward’s potential. “That’s Dennis Rodman all over again,” Donovan said. “If I was an NBA general manager I’d be taking him with my pick. That’s what a next-level guy looks like.” Faried is averaging 17.2 points per game on the season and adding 12.8 boards per game.
Austin Peay (2-3): Although their record is not quite as good as No. 4 Eastern Kentucky, the Govs have played a tougher schedule to this point, knocking off quality opponents in St. Louis and Chattanooga and narrowly falling to Lipscomb and Southern Illinois. The only glaring blight comes from a 87-65 beatdown at the hands of Purdue, but the Boilermakers are the No. 8 team in the country so that can’t be held too much against Austin Peay. Transfer Tyshawn Edmonson from St. Johns has been a bright spot, averaging 17. 4 points and 4.2 rebounds per game for his hometown team while John Terry and Anthony Campbell average 12.8 and 12 points, respectively.
Eastern Kentucky (3-3): Despite sporting a .500 record, the Colonels could have fallen further in the power rankings as they have yet to play anyone worth mentioning. They do however have some depth to brag about as four players average more than 10 points a game with Preseason All –OVC player Justin Stommes just behind at nine a contest. Had Stommes been available in all the team’s games (he did not play in the first three) EKU could be 5-1. Spencer Perrin averages 11.3 points per game with Willie Cruz closely behind at 10. 8
Tennessee Tech (0-2): The Golden Eagles could have ranked higher with their two losses coming against potential tournament teams in NC State and East Tennessee State, but with no wins it’s hard to know how good Tennessee Tech can be at this point. Alfred Jones leads the way with 10.5 points and five boards per game with Kevin Murphy chipping in 10 and 6.5. UGA transfer Zac Swansey has been a pleasant surprise, averaging 9.5 points and 5.5 assists per game, including a 13 point performance against the Wolfpack in the season opener.
Eastern Illinois (1-3): The Panthers pose the same problem as most of their OVC contemporaries as little competitive basketball has been played to this point. With three bad losses, it’s hard to rank Eastern Illinois any higher but the talent to go deep in the conference still remains. Tyler Laser is the bright spot for EIU again tossing in 13 points per game while Jeremy Granger adds 12.6 points and 3.6 assists per game.
Jacksonville State (1-3): Same story, different team. Plagued by a lack of star power, the Gamecocks continue to toil at the bottom of the OVC standings with little hope of climbing out of the cellar as little help looms on the horizon. One bright spot has been Nick Murphy whose 18 points and seven boards a game pace JSU. The Gamecock’s lone win of the year comes against West Alabama. Enough said.
UT-Martin (2-3): A surprising start to the season has helped the Skyhawks as they rank in the top half of the league at this point in wins, but a lack of talent keeps them muddled in the cellar of the conference. Reuben Clayton has been a big time player for Martin this season, averaging 19.8 points and nearly seven rebounds a game. Mike Liabo is adding 12.2 points and 3.2 boards a game for team whose biggest claims to fame come in losses against LSU and No. 15 Memphis.
Tennessee State (1-4): Notching only one win this season, against small Fisk University at that, the Tigers have little to celebrate at this point. The bright spot for TSU comes in the form of a trio of talented scorers in Kenny Moore, Patrick Miller, and Robert Covington. Moore is averaging 14.8 points a game while Miller and Covington check in right behind him at 13.4 and 12.8 respectively. The Tigers can lay claim to a loss to a quality teams in Mississippi State (75-65) but a slaughter at the hands of St. Louis (78-50) shows inconsistency in the early going.
Southeast Missouri State (0-4): You know things are bad when all you have to brag about are losses but the Redhawks did play SEC foe Arkansas tough when they pushed John Pelphrey’s squad to the wire in a 66-56 thriller. Leon Powell and Nick Niemczyk are the only bright spots for SEMO – Powell checks in averaging 16 points and 8 rebounds while Niemczyk has posted 13.8 points per game.
SIU-Edwardsville (1-3): The bad got worse for the Cougars when the team’s leading scorer from last season, Mark Yelovich, went down in the team’s opening game, and will miss the rest of the season. The team has rebounded somewhat though as two players in Corey Wickware and Nikola Bundalo are averaging 14. 8 and 14.4 points a game, respectively.
A Look Ahead
Holiday tournaments are underway and the OVC teams are getting their fair share, with participants in the 76 Classic, Chicago Invitational and Global Sports Roundball Classic. The biggest chances for some national attention come against the Big Ten. Friday, SIU-Edwardsville will face struggling Iowa, and on Sunday, Tennessee Tech squares off against Michigan State. The OVC gets to conference play in a hurry — Morehead State and UT-Martin meet in Morehead on December 2.
Isaiah Canaan appears on ESPN First Take after a half court shot from his knees against SEMO:
Isacc Miles, Murray State (9.7 PPG, 47% FG)
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)
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.
Greg Waddell is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference
Around the OVC
He’s Baaack…: Kenneth Faried has decided to return. An Associated Press All-American honorable mention last season, the 6’8 power forward is back in Morehead after garnering NABC All-District honors and sweeping the Ohio Valley Conference awards, earning Player of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, and First Team All-Conference. His 16.9 points and 13.0 boards per game captured the attention of NBA scouts as he turned down what might have been a second-round pick to return to school. Clocking in at No. 25 on Chad Ford of ESPN’s Big Board, he is viewed as a mid to late first rounder by the worldwide leader.
The Rich Get Richer…and So Do The Poor: Recruiting is a funny thing, and sometimes, crazy things happen. Take this season’s OVC recruiting haul, for example. The top two ranked players entering the conference according to ESPN.com, Shawn Jackson and Jeverik Nelson, went opposite routes with one choosing the conference’s best team (Jackson to Murray State) and the other the worst (Nelson to Tennessee-Martin). Martin, which limped to a 4-25 record and finished last in conference play (excluding SIU-Edwardsville, who is technically not a member of the conference yet), benefited the most from recruiting as they added three highly-touted players.
Kenneth Faried's return to Morehead State spells trouble for the rest of the OVC in 2010-11. (Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
Murray State: After winning the OVC regular season title, conference tourney, upsetting Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament, and falling just short of knocking off national runner-up Butler, the 2009-10 Murray State team was one to remember. The scary thing is the 2010-11 edition may be better. Despite losing senior stalwarts Tony Easley and Danero Thomas, there is help on the way. Easley, the Racers’ emotional leader from last season, looks to be the biggest hole to fill but head coach Billy Kennedy managed to work his magic yet again, luring 6’9 big man Shawn Jackson from Florida. Jackson, arguably the best freshman in the conference, should start immediately and looks to be a force in the paint from his first day on campus while Chris Griffin, the other freshman recruit, will look to back up the three, potentially sophomore high-flier Ed Daniel. With the two-headed scoring attack of guards Isacc Miles and B.J. Jenkins returning, OVC Tournament MVP Isaiah Canaan may be relegated to sixth man again. What a good problem for Kennedy to have as the Racers look to be the class of the Ohio Valley once again.
Morehead State: The other MSU had a decent season as well. Okay that might be a bit of an understatement. Led by Kenneth Faried, who won almost every award the OVC has to offer, the Eagles soared to a second place finish in league play and captured an NIT berth that led to a beatdown of Colorado State and a narrow loss to Boston University in overtime. Projected as a second-round pick in the NBA draft, it seemed that Faried was all set to try his luck in the league, until he decided to come back. Although Morehead State does say goodbye to second leading scorer Maze Stallworth, (12.6 PPG) they welcome back three of their top four scorers and look like a promising pick come tournament time. The only team standing in their way is Murray but after dashing the Racers’ hopes of an undefeated conference run, they’ve shown they can hang with Billy Kennedy’s squad. The OVC is a two-team league, and if Morehead can take out their rivals to the west, March Madness may find more than two MSUs dancing.
Austin Peay – After last season’s unexpected finish, a loss at the hands of Tennessee Tech in the first round of the OVC Tournament, the Govs will look to pick up the pieces and build on their 17-15 2009-10 campaign. The only problem is they’ll be forced do so without two main components. Guard Wes Channels, whose 16.9 PPG led the team, has graduated, and 6’8 forward Duran Robertson fell victim to a career-ending knee injury in a preseason pickup game. Robertson’s injury will affect the Govs’ frontline depth where Austin Peay returns 6’9 junior center John Fraley (9.2 PPG, 7.6 RPG) and 6’7 second-team all-Ohio Valley Conference forward Anthony Campbell (15.5 PPG, 5.3 RPG), The Govs do add Tyshawn Edmonson, a transfer from St. John’s via Midland (Texas) College, who will look to push for playing time. Edmonson played high school ball at nearby University Heights Academy. Read the rest of this entry »
Here at Rush the Court we like to think of ourselves as one of the more intellectual college hoops sites out there, but on occasion we like to follow the advice of Chris Rock who once told the audience at the VMAs to “Take off your thinking caps and lower your standards,” when he introduced Kid Rock. Well today is one of those occasions. I was going through my RSS Reader when the title of an article caught my eye: “Longtime Arkansas State coach Dickey Nutt hired at Southeast Missouri St“.
I’ll let that name sink in for a while. Are you done laughing yet? Ok, now we can continue Dickey, who is the brother of current Mississippi and former Arkansas football coach Houston Nutt, falls into a long line of oddly named people who have spent time in the state of Arkansas. The state produced perhaps the most infamous Internet headline ever when ESPN titled a column “Coach Nutt replaces Johnson with Dick against the ‘Cocks,” which was later edited to the tamer version that you see now. And of course there is this famous photo:
Aside from all the jokes about his name, we have to wonder how desperate Nutt was for a job. He is going from coaching a respectable program (189-186 in 13 seasons although he resigned last season after going 9-17) to one that is coming off a 3-27 season and faces potential NCAA sanctions. Apparently the Southeast Missouri State program can’t even cheat right. You would figure that cheating should at least get you to .500 playing against Ohio Valley Conference competition, but the Redhawks went winless in conference play.