BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – In a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors Eastern Kentucky University has been picked to place third in the OVC Eastern division for the 2014-15 season. Murray State was picked to win the OVC overall title.
Eastern Kentucky captured the OVC Tournament Championship in 2014 and gave No. 2 seed Kansas all it wanted before falling in the Second Round of the NCAA Tournament. The team returns eight players from that squad including 2013-14 OVC Defensive Player of the Year Corey Walden. Walden was also named a Defensive All-American by CollegeInsider.com after finishing the year with 76 steals (2.2/game) and also adding 13.8 points and 4.1 rebounds/game. He also earned OVC Tournament MVP honors in helping his team to three wins in as many days in Nashville; he scored 29 points in the team’s title victory over Belmont. Also returning is senior forward Eric Stutz who shot 65.1 percent from the field while averaging 8.6 points and 4.6 rebounds/game; he scored 15 points against Kansas in the NCAA Tournament. The team got off to an early start this season with a preseason trip to Australia in August.
Murray State, who has won a league-best 23 OVC regular season championships, picked up 15 of 24 first-place votes in being picked the overall regular season champion. The Racers were also tabbed the West Division favorites, picking up 22 of 24 first-place votes in that category, while two-time defending regular season champion Belmont was picked the East Division favorites.
In the overall champion voting, in addition to Murray State picking up 15 first-place votes other teams with first-place votes included Belmont (7), Eastern Kentucky (1) and Morehead State (1).
Since Murray State was picked as the overall champion, they were also an overwhelming favorite to take first place in its own division; the Racers have finished first in the West in each of the first two years of divisional play. MSU received 132 total points to top the West and were followed by Southeast Missouri (who picked up the other 2 first-place votes and 109 points), SIUE (77), Austin Peay (70), Eastern Illinois (64) and UT Martin (40).
Belmont picked up 16 of the 24 first-place votes and 125 points in being picked the East Division favorite while Morehead State (103) and Eastern Kentucky (102) each picked up four first-place votes. The East was rounded out by Tennessee Tech (71), Jacksonville State (52) and Tennessee State (40).
After playing a challenging non-conference schedule last season Murray State compiled a 13-3 record in Conference play to finish second overall behind Belmont. The Racers suffered a loss in the OVC Tournament semifinals to eventual champion Eastern Kentucky and accepted a bid to the CollegeInsider.com Postseason Tournament (CIT). After a first round road win at Missouri State, MSU came home to defeat Nebraska-Omaha, Towson, Pacific and Yale in succession to win the CIT Championship. This season MSU returns four starters from that squad including Preseason OVC Player of the Year Cameron Payne and Preseason All-OVC selections Jarvis Williams and T.J Sapp. Payne earned OVC Freshman of the Year honors last season after ranking fourth in the OVC in assists (5.4/game), fifth in steals (1.7/game) and seventh in scoring (16.8 points/game); he was also named MVP of the CIT in helping the Racers to the title. Williams had a 64.8 field goal percentage during the season, which ranked first in the NCAA while also producing a league-best 14 double-doubles to go along with his 14.9 points and 9.9 rebounds/game average. In his first year with MSU after transferring from Clemson, Sapp averaged 13.3 points/game and knocked down 45 3-pointers. The Racers are looking to continue its streak of 27 consecutive winning seasons, a mark that ranks tied for fourth nationally.
After falling in the OVC Tournament Championship game last season, Belmont earned a bid to the National Invitational Tournament (NIT) and became the first OVC team to advance to the NIT Quarterfinals since 2002; the Bruins gave Clemson all it could handle in that matchup before falling by five points. The team did graduate OVC Player of the Year J.J. Mann but returns eight players from last season’s 26-10 squad including two players who were named to the Preseason All-OVC Team in guards Craig Bradshaw and Reece Chamberlain. Bradshaw had a breakout season as a sophomore, going from a 2.2 points/game average his rookie season to averaging 15.7 points/game with increased playing time in 2013-14. Bradshaw also averaged 3.5 rebounds and 3.2 assists/game while knocking down nearly 40 percent of his 3-point attempts. Chamberlain ranked third in the OVC in averaging 5.5 assists/game while also scoring 10.9 points/contest. Entering this year the Bruins are one of just six Division I teams to win 26 or more games in each of the past four seasons.
Morehead State continues to make strides under third-year head coach Sean Woods who has improved the team’s overall and Conference records in each of his first two seasons with the Eagles. Last year the team was 20-14 overall and 10-6 in Conference contests in earning a bid to the College Basketball Invitational (CBI). This year MSU returns nine players including four starters. That group is led by Preseason All-OVC selection Angelo Warner who finished last season ranked sixth in the OVC in scoring (17.5 points/game), third in steals (2.0/game) and fourth in minutes played (34.8/game). The senior Warner became a member of the school’s 1,000-Point Club last season. He will share the backcourt with senior Kareem Storey who ranked fifth in the OVC in assists (5.1/game) last season.
2014-15 Preseason OVC Men’s Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
Overall OVC Champion: Murray State (15 first-place vote)
Other Teams Receiving Overall First-Place Votes: Belmont (7), Eastern Kentucky (1), Morehead State (1)
1. Belmont (16 first-place votes) – 125 points
2. Morehead State (4) – 103
3. Eastern Kentucky (4) – 102
4. Tennessee Tech – 71
5. Jacksonville State – 52
6. Tennessee State – 40
1. Murray State (22 first-place vote) – 132 points
2. Southeast Missouri (2) – 109
3. SIUE – 77
4. Austin Peay – 70
5. Eastern Illinois – 64
6. UT Martin 40