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2014-15 Ohio Valley Conference Preview: East Division

A lot of the firepower is gone from a year ago in the OVC's East Division. Who will step up and take the crown this year in a conference full of traditional powers?

Jayne Kamin-Oncea-USA TODAY Spor

1. Belmont Bruins
Last Year:
26-10 (14-2), 1st East, NIT Quarterfinals
Departures: J.J. Mann (18.3 ppg), Drew Windler (10.4 ppg), Blake Jenkins (8.1 ppg), Chad Lang (TR, 2.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Craig Bradshaw (15.7 ppg), Reece Chamberlain (10.1 ppg)

Belmont is set for a little bit of a rebuild with the departure of all-everything J.J. Mann but I'm not willing to bet against the Bruins as long as Rick Byrd is in Nashville. While the loss of Mann is huge the Bruins return arguably the best backcourt in the OVC with Craig Bradshaw and Reece Chamberlain.  Both can score and Chamberlain was one of the best point guards in the league a year ago averaging 5.5 assists per game. The backcourt will also get a bit of a boost from Virginia transfer and sharpshooter Taylor Barnette who redshirted last season. Barnette should be a perfect perimeter threat for Belmont's system.

The unknowns for the Bruins begin in the frontcourt and Byrd is looking for someone to step up. Nick Smith got his feet wet a year ago and the 6'9 forward will be called upon more this season. Also redshirt freshman Tyler Hadden joins the fray as a 6'10, 225 lbs forward, along with freshmen Mack Mercer and Amanze Egekeze. Look for some small lineups from Byrd unless one of these youngsters can step up.

2. Morehead State Eagles
Last Year:
20-14 (10-6), 3rd East, CBI 1st Rd
Departures: Bakari Turner (10.4 ppg), Drew Kelly (9.8 ppg), Chad Posthumus (9.6 ppg), Aaryngston Bibens (TR), Greg Dotson (TR, 4.9 ppg), DeAndre Leatherwood (TR, 1.9 ppg)
Key Returners: Angelo Warner (17.6 ppg), Brent Arrington (11.8 ppg)

Sean Woods has a little experiment going at Morehead State and it'll be interesting to see how it works out. At first glance it may look like the Eagles lost a lot from a year ago but four Division I transfers could bolster MSU's lineup. The backcourt should be the strength for Woods' squad with returning firepower from Angelo Warner, Kareem Storey, and Brent Arrington.  Joining them will be LSU transfer Corban Collins, Dominican National Team star Miguel Dicent, and former Liberty sharpshooter Chad Donley.

Billy Reader will lead the frontline for the Eagles this year and will be joined by another LSU transfer Jalen Courtney, IUPUI transfer Lyonell Gaines, and JUCO addition Anthony Elechi. Look for Karam Mashour to be a threat for the Eagles on the wing along with freshman Marquel Willis.

3. Eastern Kentucky Colonials
Last Year:
24-10 (11-5), 2nd East, OVC Tournament Champs, NCAA Tournament
Departures: Glenn Cosey (18.7 ppg), Marcus Lewis (9.8 ppg), Tarius Johnson (9.7 ppg), Orlando Williams (9.5 ppg), Jeff Johnson (1.9 ppg), Monte Burney (TR), Will Gary (TR)
Key Returners: Corey Walden (13.8 ppg), Eric Stutz (8.6 ppg)

Jeff Neubauer was seemingly the head coach for Marshall for about 10 minutes this past spring after the bizarre on again, off again coaching search for the Herd, but Neubauer is back in Richmond and ready to build on last year's OVC title. The bad news is for EKU fans is that nearly everyone is gone from a year ago, but the Colonels do have two solid building blocks in Corey Walden and Eric Stutz. Walden should become the premier scoring threat in the backcourt for the Colonels, while Stutz is about as steady as it gets in the frontcourt. Look for Stutz to become a 10 points, 8 rebound type of player this season. The rest of the squad is a bit of mystery at this point and it ill be interesting to see who steps up. One thing is for sure, they will be well coached.

4. Jacksonville State Gamecocks
Last Year:
10-21 (4-12), t-6th East
Departures: Brian Williams (11.2 ppg), Nick Cook (5.4 ppg), Rico Sanders (3.6 ppg), Giovanni Smith (2.1 ppg), Mike Louder (TR, 2.6 ppg)
Key Returners: Darion Rackley (13.1 ppg), D.J. Felder (8.3 ppg), Avery Moore (8.1 ppg)

Nearly everyone is back for the Jacksonville State Gamecocks, a squad that will primarily use three guard sets in 2014-15.  Leading the way in those sets will be returning leading scorer Darion Rackley, new point guard JaQuail Townser, and returnee Avery Moore. Townser's ability to take over the point guard position may be the key to a succesful season for the Gamecocks, he averaged over 14 points and 5 assists at Southwestern Illinois a year ago. Former Detroit Titan Gabriel Dos Santos is also expected to bring some firepower to the backcourt. D.J. Felder and Jamal Hunter return in the frontcourt and form a serviceable and dependable combo for James Green.

5. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles
Last Year:
17-16 (9-7), 4th East
Departures: Dennis Ogbe (10.6 ppg), Jeremiah Samarrippas (10.5 ppg), Matt Marseille (3.1 ppg), Ty Allen (TR, 7.8 ppg), LaDon Carter (TR, 6.8 ppg), Ammanuel Diressa (2.4 ppg)
Key Returners: Dwan Caldwell (10.7 ppg), Josiah Moore (7.8 ppg)

Tennessee Tech was on a bit of an upswing after a 9-7 finish in the OVC last season but losing a couple of transfers and seniors could hurt the Golden Eagles a bit this year. The frontcourt will be the strength in Cookeville this year lead by returning big man Dwan Caldwell who averaged over 10 points and 5 rebounds a year ago. Josiah Moore will be by his side at the small forward position and the former Nebraska Cornhusker will have to give the Golden Eagles a boost. The backcourt is a bit of mystery for Tennessee Tech as some newcomers and returners will try to fill the void left by Jeremiah Samarrippas.

6. Tennessee State Tigers
Last Year:
5-25 (4-12), t-6th East
Departures: Patrick Miller (23.7 ppg), Jacquan Nobles (4.6 ppg), Michael Green (3.7 ppg), Chaed Willian (2.9 ppg), Kennedy Eubanks (TR, 7.6 ppg), Jordan Gaither (TR, 2.9 ppg), Jamonte Graham (TR, 4.5 ppg), Ugo Mmonu (TR, 2.2 ppg), Jaleel Queary (TR, 4.3 ppg), Jaylen Reid (TR), M.J. Rhett (TR, 10.9 ppg), Gerald Williams (TR, 3.7 ppg)
Key Returners: Jay Harris (7.4 ppg)

Dana Ford basically has a blank slate and a blank roster his first year at Tennessee State. Jay Harris is the only player back from last year's roster and Ford had to go to work on the recruiting trail. Ford now has a team with six freshmen and four JUCO additions. The Tigers are a complete unknown right now and it's hard to comment on how good or bad they might be without knowing what their players and rotation will look like. Ford will get a bit of a boost next year with the addition of Niagara transfer Tahjere McCall and Montana transfer Keron DeShields.