NASHVILLE, TN — The preseason polls are in, and Belmont and Murray State are still the frontrunners in the Ohio Valley Conference. Belmont is favored in the East Division and Murray State in the West, far outdistancing the opposition in the annual media poll.
Reigning Player of the Year Evan Bradds from Belmont returns for his senior year and to no one’s surprise was voted the Preseason Player of the Year Wednesday at OVC Media Day. Bradds has led the nation in field goal percentage for two straight seasons and averaged nearly a double-double last year (17.6 ppg, 9.2 rpg).
30-year head coach Rick Byrd says Bradds is a unique mix to talent, hard work, and good fortune.
“He’s got a feel for the game and a sense of where he is and where everybody else is on the floor,” Byrd said. “He has knack for scoring the basketball and a touch where the ball goes in. It’s a little bit of an accident. We recruited him as a ‘3-man’ and saw how good he was in the post and ended up moving him inside.”
Joining Bradds on the all-OVC team is another of the ‘Killer Bs,’ Taylor Barnette.
Meanwhile in the other division, second-year Murray State head coach Matt McMahon has some solid returners of his own, including all-OVC guard Bryce Jones, and highly touted transfer Jonathan Stark. The Racers are actually picked to win the weaker West Division by a wider margin than the Bruins in the East. Murray received 21 of 24 possible first-place votes.
McMahon is excited about his second season as the Racers’ head man and about a season that includes Stark, Jones, and senior Damarcus Croaker.
“I think that our being predicted to win the West is a credit to our tradition and history,” McMahon said. “I also think it is credit to Gee McGhee, Bryce Jones and Damarcus Croaker. People must have respected what they did last season and the potential of what they may be able to accomplish as seniors.”
The only other team with multiple people on the all-OVC team was Tennessee State (Wayne Martin and Tahjere McCall). The Tigers edged out Morehead State for second in the East Division poll and picked up six first-place votes, while Morehead and Eastern Kentucky each received one.
Tigers head coach Dana Ford is the youngest head coach in Division I basketball and is building his team around defense, rebounding, and taking care of the ball.
“Last year we were able to flip some of those tight games that normally went against us in the past and we turned them our direction,” Ford said. “We have to understand that the intensity will be there night in and night out. Now if someone beats us, it is a big game for them because we’re not in the bottom anymore.”
Morehead State head coach Sean Woods has some re-tooling to do with the transfer of leading scorer Corban Collins. Xavier Moon is a preseason all-conference player who averaged over 10 points per game last season.
Austin Peay won last year’s tournament title and pulled down two first-place votes in the West Division, finishing third behind Murray State and Eastern Illinois. The Governors are represented on the all-league team by high-scoring junior Josh Robinson. The St. Louis native averaged 16.5 points per game for veteran coach Dave Loos.
EIU has a St. Louis native of its own on the preseason team in point guard Cornell Johnston. The diminutive Johnston (5’7) ranked in the top 30 nationally in assists last season, and is a two-year starter for head coach Jay Spoonhour.
UT-Martin received the other first place vote in the poll and was slotted fourth, as Anthony Stewart takes over for the departed head coach Heath Schroyer.
Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll:
1. Belmont (16)
2. Tennessee State (6)
3. Morehead State (1)
4. Tennessee Tech
5. Eastern Kentucky (1)
6. Jacksonville State
1. Murray State (21)
2. Eastern Illinois
3. Austin Peay (2)
4. Tennessee-Martin (1)
5. Southern Illinois-Edwardsville
6. Southeast Missouri
Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference Team:
Taylor Barnette, senior, Belmont
Evan Bradds, senior, Belmont (Preseason Player of the Year)
Antonius Cleveland, senior, Southeast Missouri
Cornell Johnston, junior, Eastern Illinois
Bryce Jones, senior, Murray State
Aleksa Jugovic, junior, Tennessee Tech
Wayne Martin, senior, Tennessee State
Nick Mayo, sophomore, Eastern Kentucky
Tahjere McCall, senior, Tennessee State
Xavier Moon, senior, Morehead State
Josh Robinson, junior, Austin Peay