Now that we have examined the bottom of the Ohio Valley Conference, it is time to turn our attention to the top of the heap. Here are the top four teams in the OVC.
Last year: 17-17 (10-6), 3rd OVC West
Departures: Angelo Warner (13.3 ppg), Karam Mashour (10.9 ppg, 5.9 ppg)
Key returners: Corban Collins (8.8 ppg), Brent Arrington (11.1 ppg 3.9 rpg)
Preseason All-OVC performer Brent Arrington is back to lead the Eagles' frontcourt. Coach Sean Woods will take a group of Corban Collins, Arrington, and some newbies and will run with them, likely pushing the ball up and down the court a bit more than in past years. Sophomore Miguel Dicent will be important, as will Collins, in that respect.
This isn't likely to be the year that the Eagles make their run towards the top, as they return only a few players with much experience and welcome six junior college transfers.The Eagles did battle Murray State to the edge before falling just short in the OVC tournament semifinal a year ago. This team, even after losing some top players, is poised for success. It's not too long until they're packed to the brim in Ellis T. Johnson Arena.
3. Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks
Last year: 21-13 (10-6), 2nd OVC West
Departures: Deville Smith (13.8 ppg, 4.5 apg), Marshun Newell (13.1 ppg 6.9 rpg)
Key Returners: Twymond Howard (13.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg), Myles Taylor (redshirt senior, played in seven games a year ago and scored 11.1 ppg), Alex Anderson (12.5 ppg)
Tennessee-Martin has a lot of room to grow, meaning some guys without much experience are going to be thrown into a situation where they will be expected to produce right away. After losing two guys who averaged double digits in the scoring column a year ago, guys like Twymond Howard, Alex Anderson and a healthy fifth-year senior in Myles Taylor will have the chance to put this Skyhawks squad on their backs and carry them forward.
Coach Heath Schroyer's team is well-respected among the coaches within the conference, well enough so that it was picked to finish second in the OVC West. This, just two years after the team won just eight games.
Last year: 29-6 (16-0),1st in OVC West
Departures: Cameron Payne (20.2 ppg, 6.0 apg, 3.7 rpg), Jarvis Williams (15.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg), TJ Sapp (12.4 ppg)
Key Returners: Justin Seymour (7.1 ppg), Jeffrey Moss (11.2 ppg)
Prohm is gone; McMahon is the man. Also gone are some of the more productive and impressive Murray State in recent memory. Into new roles step the likes of talented guards Jeffrey Moss and Justin Seymour. Moss in particularly has the potential to blossom into one of the top players in the OVC this season. He was counted on heavily last year and not just as a scorer. He sucked up minutes more than anyone on the team (33.1 minutes per game). The frontcourt looks barren, but there's no reason to deny the possibility of someone emerging for the consistent Racers program.
Coming into this season, the Racers have the nation's ninth-longest home winning streak (16 games) and could very well carry that late into the season, even in what some expect to be a down year in Murray, Kentucky. But when it comes to the top team in the conference, Murray State and its 24 OVC regular season titles will have to do quite a bit to overtake...
Last year: 22-11 (11-5), T/1st OVC East
Departures: Reece Chamberlain (8.4 ppg, 5.4 rpg, 6.0 apg)
Key Returners: Craig Bradshaw (18.3 ppg) Taylor Barnette (10.6 ppg) Evan Bradds (10.9 ppg, 7.2 rpg)
Returning the preseason conference player of the year (Craig Bradshaw), one of the nation's leading shooters in terms of field goal percentage in Evan Bradds (who shot 69 percent from the field and yes, we realize where his shot tendencies are), and a sharpshooter in Taylor Barnette should be a recipe for glorious success. Though the Bruins lose their glue man in Reece Chamberlain, they return an uncanny amount of talent for mid-major team coming off an NCAA tournament appearance.
Mr. Sweater Vest himself Rick Byrd is back for his 35th year as a head coach and 30th as a Bruin. The Bruins have gone 39-9 in the team's time in the OVC, and are tied for the longest home-winning streak in the nation (30 games). They have won at least 19 games every year for the last 10 years, and have no reason to expect that to change in the 2015-2016 season. With early season games against the likes of Marquette, Arizona State, BYU, and Valparaiso, the Bruins will be battle-tested and prepared to romp through the OVC.