BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – In a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors Belmont has been picked the preseason favorite for the 2015-16 season.
Belmont, the defending OVC Tournament Champions, picked up 21 of 24 first-place votes in being picked the preseason favorites as overall regular season champions. The Bruins were also tabbed the East Division favorites, picking up 22 of 24 first-place votes in that category, while defending regular season champion Murray State was picked the West Division favorites.
In the overall champion voting, in addition to Belmont picking up 21 first-place votes, other teams with first-place votes included UT Martin (2) and Murray State (1).
Since Belmont was picked as the overall champion, they were also an overwhelming favorite to take first place in its own division; the Bruins have finished first in the East in each of the first three years of divisional play. Belmont received 132 total points to top the East and were followed by Morehead State (1 first-place vote and 105 points), Eastern Kentucky (1 first-place vote and 88 points), Tennessee Tech (67), Jacksonville State (52) and Tennessee State (48).
Murray State picked up 15 of 24 first-place votes and 125 points in being picked the West Division favorite while UT Martin received the other nine first-place votes and 115 points in being tabbed second. The West was rounded out by Eastern Illinois (88), Southeast Missouri (72), Austin Peay (57) and SIUE (35).
In each of its first two seasons in the OVC Belmont claimed the regular season championship. A season ago they finished tied for first in the East Division and after a tiebreaker were the No. 3 seed in the OVC Tournament; the Bruins won three games in three days to claim the 2015 OVC Tournament title, which was its second in three years in the League. This year Belmont returns four starters and 11 total players from that team including OVC Preseason Player of the Year Craig Bradshaw. Bradshaw is the OVC’s leading returning scorer (18.3 points/game) and last season also ranked in the Top 10 in the OVC in steals (1.6/game), assists (3.1/game), 3-point percentage (42.3%) and 3-pointers made/game (2.7). Also back is preseason All-OVC selection Evan Bradds, who led all Division I players in field goal percentage (68.8%) a season ago, and junior guard Taylor Barnette who hit the game-winning 3-pointer at the end of the OVC Championship victory over nationally-ranked Murray State (which earned him Tournament MVP honors).
A year ago Murray State became just the fifth team in OVC history to complete an undefeated Conference season as they were a perfect 16-0. The Racers won 25 games in a row, breaking into the Top 25 polls in the process, before losing on a last second shot in the OVC Tournament championship game. The team missed out on an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament but won two games to advance to the quarterfinals of the National Invitation Tournament (NIT) before losing to Old Dominion on a desperation half court shot at the buzzer. The Racers lost four starters from that team including NBA Lottery Pick Cameron Payne who is now with the Oklahoma City Thunder. First-year head coach Matt McMahon (who was an assistant coach with the program for the last four years) does return senior forward and preseason All-OVC selection Jeffery Moss (11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.1 assists/game last season) and welcomes several key newcomers including Texas transfer Damarcus Croaker and junior college point guard Bryce Jones.
Although Murray State was picked the West Division favorite, the voters also took notice of a UT Martin team that far exceeded expectations a year ago under then first-year head coach Heath Schroyer. The Skyhawks entered the 2014-15 season picked last in the West Division but instead finished second, winning 21 overall games, netting a winning record for only the fourth time at the Division I level and advancing to the semifinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). This year Schroyer has a pair of preseason All-OVC players on his team in senior guard Alex Anderson (12.5 points/game and ranked third nationally in 3-point percentage at 48.0%) and senior forward Twymond Howard (13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds/game). That duo, both new to the team a season ago, helped the Skyhawks to the fourth-best win improvement nationally in their debut season.
Eastern Illinois was one of a record five OVC men’s basketball teams to participate in national postseason tournaments a season ago. The Panthers earned an invitation to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT) and topped Oakland on the road before losing at home to eventually champion Evansville (the team that also eliminated UT Martin from the event). The victory over Oakland was the first in a Division I national postseason tournament in program history. EIU has made steady improvement in each of Jay Spoonhour’s three years as head coach, going from six to seven to nine Conference victories a season ago. This year he returns three starters, two of who were named to the preseason All-OVC team in senior swingman Trae Anderson and sophomore point guard Cornell Johnston. Anderson led Eastern Illinois in scoring in his first season with the program, averaging 13.0 points/game while hitting 48.2 percent from the field. Johnston set a new OVC single-season record for 3-point percentage (51.9%) while establishing the EIU record for assists by a freshman (156).
Rick Ray, who was the head coach at Mississippi State for the past three years, takes over as the head coach at Southeast Missouri State this season. Ray has seven players returning from last year’s team including preseason All-OVC selection Antonius Cleveland. The junior averaged 10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds and 1.8 assists/game in 30 contests a season ago. Also back is Isiah Jones, the lone senior on the Redhawks team for 2015-16; Jones averaged 9.8 points and 3.1 rebounds/game last season. The Redhawks have qualified for the OVC Tournament field in each of the past five years but have not advanced past the quarterfinals during that time period.
Austin Peay will look to get back into the OVC Tournament field for the first time since 2012 as head coach Dave Loos, the winningest coach in OVC history, begins his 30th season as a head coach and 26th season with the Governors. Loos is one of just six Division I active coaches to be at the same school for 25 or more seasons. APSU has three starters back from last year’s team including preseason All-OVC selection Chris Horton. The senior center enters his final year in Clarksville ranked No. 2 in OVC history in blocked shots (262). A season ago Horton averaged a double-double with 13.1 points and 11.1 rebounds/game, becoming the first Austin Peay player to average a double-double since the 1990-91 season. Also back is sophomore guard Josh Robinson who averaged 9.9 points/game and knocked down 44 3-pointers during his rookie campaign.
SIUE begins its first season under head coach Jon Harris, who returns to his hometown for his first head coaching job. Harris, who played collegiately at Marquette, has been an assistant coach at several schools including the last three stops with Cuonzo Martin at Missouri State, Tennessee and California. Harris has six players back from last year’s team although those six players combined for just two starts during the 2014-15 season. Among the returning players is sophomore guard C.J. Carr who played in 28 games a year ago and averaged 6.2 points and 2.2 assists/game.
Morehead State begins its fourth season under head coach Sean Woods who has led the Eagles to back-to-back 10-6 OVC marks and berths in the OVC Tournament semifinals. Woods has six returning players this season and welcomes nine newcomers to the squad. Among the returning players is senior guard Brent Arrington who was a preseason All-OVC selection. Arrington started all 34 MSU games a season ago and ranked third in the OVC in steals (1.91/game) while averaging 11.1 points and 3.9 rebounds per contest.
Eastern Kentucky, who tied for first in the OVC East last year and lost to eventual champion Belmont in the OVC Tournament semifinals, begins its first season under head coach Dan McHale. McHale inherits six returning players from last year’s team that advanced to the quarterfinals of the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). That marked the sixth national postseason tournament appearance for the program over the last 11 years, including three years in a row (a first in program history). Among the returning players is senior guard Ja’Mill Powell and junior guard Isaac McGlone. Powell started 22 games a season ago and averaged 8.2 points and 1.9 rebounds/game while McGlone was fifth in the OVC with 1.7 steals/game and 14th with 2.6 assists/game in 28 starts.
Tennessee Tech has eight players back as the program begins year number five under head coach Steve Payne. Among the returning players is senior guard Torrance Rowe who ranked third on the TTU team in scoring last year, averaging 11.4 points/game. Rowe knocked down a team-high 52 3-pointers in starting all but one game during the 2014-15 season. Also back is senior guard Josiah Moore (8.9 points, 4.9 rebounds/game) and sophomore guard Aleksa Jugovic (5.8 points, 2.0 assists/game).
Jacksonville State will play this season in the newly renovated Pete Mathews Coliseum which received its first major facelift since 1987. The venue, which opened in 1974, saw a multi-million dollar set of upgrades including a new playing surface and new seating among the amenities. Among the players head coach James Green has back this season include senior guard JaQuail Townser (7.9 points, 3.3 assists/game) and sophomore guard Malcolm Drumwright (6.0 points, 1.6 assists/game).
The youngest head coach in Division I basketball, Dana Ford, returns for year number two with Tennessee State. A season ago he inherited a squad with just one returning player; this year he has five returning players including three who were starters in 2014-15. Those returning starters include senior forward Demontez Loman (4.8 points, 5.7 rebounds/game), sophomore forward Christian Mekowulu (8.0 points, 5.3 rebounds/game) and sophomore guard Darreon Reddick (7.7 points, 3.6 rebounds and 1.4 assists/game). Also back is senior guard Marcus Roper who was a super-sub last year in averaging 10.0 points/game off the bench.
The 2015-16 season kicks off with an exhibition contest on November 2 while the first regular season games will be played on Friday, Nov. 13. The 2016 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will be held March 2-5 at Municipal Auditorium in Nashville, Tennessee.
2015-16 Preseason OVC Men’s Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
Overall OVC Champion: Belmont (21 first-place vote)
Other Teams Receiving Overall First-Place Votes: UT Martin (2), Murray State (1).
1. Belmont (22 first-place votes) – 132 points
2. Morehead State (1) – 105
3. Eastern Kentucky – 88
4. Tennessee Tech – 67
5. Jacksonville State – 52
6. Tennessee State – 48
1. Murray State (15 first-place vote) – 125 points
2. UT Martin (9) – 115
3. Eastern Illinois – 88
4. Southeast Missouri – 72
5. Austin Peay – 57
6. SIUE – 35
2015-16 All-OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball Team
The 2015-16 OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball team is headlined by Belmont senior Craig Bradshaw who was named the OVC Preseason Player of the Year.
Bradshaw is the first Belmont player to be tabbed Preseason Player of the Year since the Bruins joined the league prior to the 2012-13 season.
Overall seven different schools were represented on the team with Belmont, Eastern Illinois and UT Martin having two selections apiece while Austin Peay, Morehead State, Murray State and Southeast Missouri each had one selection. The squad features three players who were either first or second-team selections last season and three players who were selected to the 2014-15 OVC All-Newcomer Team. The team is comprised of seven seniors, two juniors and a sophomore.
Bradshaw was a first-team All-OVC selection last season in leading the Bruins to a share of the East Division and he also claimed OVC All-Tournament honors after helping his team to its second OVC Tournament title in three years. Bradshaw averaged 18.3 points (3rd in the OVC), 1.6 steals (7th) and 3.1 assists/game (9th) while also hitting 42.3 percent from 3-point range (6th) and connecting on 2.7 3-pointers made/game (2nd).
In addition to Bradshaw the others who were named All-OVC selections last year were Belmont junior forward Evan Bradds (14.2 points, 7.2 rebounds/game, a Division I best 68.8 FG%) and Eastern Illinois senior swingman Trae Anderson (13.2 points, 4.9 rebounds/game). Anderson was also an All-Newcomer pick a year ago.
The Preseason All-OVC team is rounded out by UT Martin senior guard Alex Anderson (12.5 points, 2.4 rebounds/game, 94 made 3-pointers) and senior forward Twymond Howard (13.6 points, 6.6 rebounds/game), Morehead State senior guard Brent Arrington (11.1 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.3 assists, 1.9 steals/game), Southeast Missouri State junior guard Antonius Cleveland (10.8 points, 4.8 rebounds1.8 assists/game), Austin Peay senior center Chris Horton (13.1 points, 11.1 rebounds, 2.3 blocks/game), Eastern Illinois sophomore guard Cornell Johnston (9.1 points, 4.7 assists/game, 51.9% from 3-point range) and Murray State senior forward Jeffery Moss (11.2 points, 3.8 rebounds, 2.2 assists/game).
2015-16 Preseason All-OVC Men’s Basketball Team
Alex Anderson, UT Martin
Trae Anderson, Eastern Illinois
Brent Arrington, Morehead State
Craig Bradshaw, Belmont
Evan Bradds, Belmont
Antonius Cleveland, Southeast Missouri
Chris Horton, Austin Peay
Twymond Howard, UT Martin
Cornell Johnston, Eastern Illinois
Jeffery Moss, Murray State
Preseason Player of the Year: Craig Bradshaw, Belmont