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The Other Top 25 Preseason Rankings: No. 12 Austin Peay Governors

ASPU is trying to emerge as the newest OVC power

NCAA Basketball: Austin Peay at Virginia
Reigning OVC Player of the Year Terry Taylor leads Austin Peay.
Amber Searls-USA TODAY Sports

2019-20 Record: 21-12 (14-4 OVC)

Key Returning Players: Terry Taylor (21.8 PPG, 11.0 RPG), Jordyn Adams (17.4 PPG), Reggie Gee (9.3 PPG), Carlos Paez (6.5 PPG, 3.5 APG)

Key Losses: Eli Abaev (7.9 PPG, 7.7 RPG), Antwuan Butler (6.4 PPG, 3.3 APG)

Key Newcomers: Mike Peake (Georgia Transfer), D.J. Peavy (Collin College Transfer), Corbin Merritt (Oklahoma Transfer), Devon McCain (Silsbee, TX, Redshirt Freshman)

There may be a new tenant in the Ohio Valley Conference penthouse. Belmont and Murray State have been its permanent residents, but Austin Peay may be moving in.

Austin Peay coach Matt Figger has been building his team for this pinnacle season. The Governors boast the Ohio Valley’s reigning Player of the Year (Terry Taylor) and its Freshman of the Year (Jordyn Adams). Figger also has three high-level recruits and a host of talented newcomers.

Taylor bested Ja Morant as the OVC’s 2018 Freshman of the Year and is a three-time All-Conference player. Adams, last year’s top rookie, joined him on the OVC’s first team. Taylor is one of those program-changing players, ranking in the top five on APSU’s career scoring and rebounding list.

He is a double-double machine.

After investigating the NBA draft, Taylor and Adams opted to return for this pivotal season. To move into the OVC penthouse, the Governors will have to steal a road win during one of their head-to-head games with Belmont and Murray State. All four of APSU’s league losses last year were on the road. The third-place Governors lost by two points at fourth-place Tennessee State and in overtime at fifth-place Eastern Illinois. APSU won both home games, but dropped both road contests with Belmont and Murray State.

3 things to watch

Less reliance on their stars

Taylor and Adams each played over 33 minutes per game and around 39 minutes per contest during their five games with Belmont and Murray. Figger would like to lighten the load on his star players. Transfers Mike Peake (Georgia), D.J. Peavy (formerly at Mercer) and Corbin Merrit (Oklahoma) should help. Reginald Gee’s return from injury is key. During APSU’s first five games, Gee was averaging 11 points while connecting on 47% of his long-range shots.

Adams scored just 13 and 10 points during the Governors’ league tournament games. A host of perimeter threats like Gee, Peavy, and freshmen Tai’Reon Joseph and Devon McCain should allow Taylor and Adams become even more effective during crunch time of crucial games.

Better defense against their rivals

Austin Peay’s defense needs some work. It finished seventh out of 12 in the OVC’s scoring defense numbers (71.5 ppg) and 10th in defensive field goal percentage (.468). They were even worse against Murray State and Belmont (.475).

The deeper roster and the growth of sophomore starters Adams and Paez should help the Governors play better defense.

Replacing Abaev’s interior play

Peake (6’8) and Merritt’s (6’9) additions are crucial to this year’s team. Gone is last year’s second -eading rebounder Eli Abaev. The 6’8 Abaev transferred to Florida Gulf Coast and took his eight rebounds per game with him.

During the five games with the OVC’s top teams, Abaev averaged 10 points and nine rebounds per contest. He was hugely responsible for interior defense and rebounding. Peake and Merritt should more than make up for that loss, but they must prove it on the court. Merritt is coming back from a stress fracture.

Peake appeared in 24 games as a freshman at Georgia and averaged two points and two rebounds for the Bulldogs.

X-Factor

Devon McCain

Flying under the radar is 6’3 redshirt freshman Devon McCain. He and Adams were high school teammates at Silsbee High School (Texas). It was McCain that was the more highly rated of the two players — McCain was the Class 4A Player of the Year and was ranked as the state’s 30th-best player, while Adams was ranked 36th.

During his senior season, McCain averaged 21 points, 10 rebounds and seven assists as Silsbee won its second straight state title.

If McCain, who missed last season with an injury, can similarly replicate Adams’ freshman season, the Governors could be unstoppable on offense.

OVC coaches picked Figger’s team as the preseason favorite and this could be the season Austin Peay proves they belong in the league’s penthouse.