Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Ohio Valley Conference Preview


The Ohio Valley didn’t turn out as expected last season. Preseason favorite Samford finished fifth; league champion Austin Peay was projected to finish seventh in the preseason poll. Even Tennessee State, picked to finish second, ended in seventh-place. The title race lacked excitement. Austin Peay got off to a 15-2 start to conference play, and locked up the regular-season championship with several games left. Despite that, Eastern Kentucky, who finished three games behind Austin Peay, won the conference tournament title in a one-point contest.

Favorite: Austin Peay has a chance to be one of the best “low-major” schools in the country this season. The Governors return all five starters from a team that won the league going away, and posted a 21-12 overall record. The best duo in the conference, forwards Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett, leads the way. Reed is the favorite to win the Player of the Year award, while Lockett is very athletic and a great rebounder. The perimeter has a variety of options, starting with wing Todd Babington, a very good shooter. Derek Wright runs the show from the point position, and Wes Channels and Kyle Duncan will fight for a spot on the wing. Ernest Fields provides depth.

Contenders: Eastern Kentucky, the defending tournament champions, has perhaps the best guard duo in the conference in Mike Rose and Adam Leonard. Both are all-conference candidates, with Rose being a very good all-around player and Leonard a light-out shooter. The Colonels do need to find a point guard, though. Darnell Dials and Jamaal Douglas are solid big men down low. Southeast Missouri State disappointed last season, going only 9-11 in league play, but four starters return, led by all-conference forward Brandon Foust. He can score in a variety of ways, and is a solid rebounder. Michael Rembert joins him in the frontcourt, while Calvin Williams and JaJuan Maxwell provide depth. David Johnson and Roderick Pearson both return as starters in the backcourt. Back-up shooting guard Marcus Rhodes will battle newcomers for minutes. Tennessee Tech might have the conference’s best inside-outside duo in guard Anthony Fisher and forward Amadi McKenzie. Fisher is arguably the best guard in the league, and can shoot the ball, while McKenzie is an efficient shooter who is tough to stop down low. Daniel Northern and RaShun Bryant see extended minutes down low. Next to Fisher in the backcourt will be Rashaud Nixon, Frank Davis, and Will Barnes.

Sleepers: Murray State, a perennial title contender, has the pieces to make another run at the crown this year. The Racers are led by the guard tandem of Bruce Carter and Tyler Holloway. Both players can score well, but need to be more consistent. Ray George, Danero Thomas and Kevin Thomas also return on the perimeter. Inside, Marvin Williams and Tony Easley lead the returnees. Eastern Illinois has a chance to really make a move up upward in the standings this year. Romain Martin is one of the conference’s best players, and will only get better. Mike Robinson is a solid point guard, and flanks Martin. Bobby Catchings is a good scorer on the wing. Jon’Tee Willhite and freshman Tyler Laser will push for time in the backcourt. Up front, Jake Byrne and Ousmane Cisse both return. Tennessee State’s season hinges on one person—Bruce Price. He tore his ACL back in the 2005-06 season, and then re-injured that knee last summer, forcing him to miss al of last season. If he is healthy, he is automatically one of the best guards in the league. Starting next to him is Ladarious Weaver, another very good scoring guard. Reiley Ervin returns at the point, while Andrae Belton was another double-figure scorer in the backcourt. Moraye Ivy provides depth. Up front, Jerrell Houston and Steven Evans will likely start. Samford was expected to finish near the top last year, but the Bulldogs ended up only fifth in the standings. Travis Peterson is their best returnee. He has a nice touch from both inside and outside the arc, and the 6-10 big man can also distribute. Curtis West and Joe Ross Merritt also return and will start. Newcomers Gaby Bermudez and Josh Bedwell will fight for starting jobs.

Rounding out the Pack: Morehead State
did not finish strong last year, and lose three starters. However, the perimeter has a decent amount of returning talent, led by Maze Stallworth and Nikola Stojakovic. Jamyron Steward and Cecil Brown will also push for starting jobs in the backcourt. Up front, newcomers Kenneth Faried and Lee Simons lead a long list of newcomers expected to make an impact. Jacksonville State did not qualify for the conference tournament last year, but will look to make a move. It is led by forward Dorien Brown, who was suspended for 11 games last year. Erik Adams and Amadou Mbodji also return up front. Will Ginn is one of the best point guards in the league, and DeAndre Bray might be the best distributor in the conference. J.T. Toles will see time. Tennessee-Martin finished last in the conference last year, and loses four starters from that team. The lone starter returning is all-conference candidate Gerald Robinson, who is one of the best forwards in the league. JC transfer Olajide Hay is likely to start next to him up front. A variety of newcomers will man the entire backcourt, led by Lester Hudson and Carlos Wright, both junior college transfers. George Pruitt is a solid returnee on the wing.

Prediction: As I said in the introduction, expect the Ohio Valley to have the same champion as last year. Austin Peay is loaded; they return all five starters from a team that won the regular-season title by three games and reached the conference tournament championship game before losing to Eastern Kentucky by one point. They won’t fall victim to the same fate this season. Drake Reed and Fernandez Lockett are just too good up front for any team in the league to handle. Look out for them as a possible huge upset candidate in March.

Player of the Year: Drake Reed, F, Austin Peay

All-Conference Team:
G- Anthony Fisher, Tennessee Tech
G- Mike Rose, Eastern Kentucky
F- Fernandez Lockett, Austin Peay
F- Drake Reed, Austin Peay
F- Amadi McKenzie, Tennessee Tech

Second Team:
G- Bruce Carter, Murray State
G- Bruce Price, Tennessee State
G- Romain Martin, Eastern Ilinois
G- Adam Leonard, Eastern Kentucky
F- Brandon Foust, Southeast Missouri State

Photo Credit: OVCSports.com

No comments:

Post a Comment