With a couple middling teams in the OVC jockeying for position, some stand a better chance than others in surging towards the top. Others could very well find themselves floundering near the bottom...
8. Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Cougars
Last year: 12-16 (8-8) 4th OVC West
Departures: Kris Davis (14.3 ppg) Rozell Nunn (13.9 ppg) Last season's five starters.
Key returners: C.J. Carr (6.2 ppg) Jake Newton (4.5 ppg)
Talk about a loss of skill. Without the enthusiasm brought by new head coach Jon Harris, it might be worth banishing the Cougars to the bottom depths of the OVC this season. After losing its five starters from 2014-2015, SIUE looks to start anew with coach Harris, who is situated in the first head coaching position of his career. The Cougs have secured OVC tournament births in each of the last two seasons and at least has a base to grow of under a new regime. Interestingly enough, Harris' connections to SIUE are deeper than this short tenure. His nephews, freshman Jordan Harris and Sophomore Tre Harris.
The Cougars showed promise in defeating UT-Martin and EIU near the end of the 2014-2015 regular season but then fell to the Panthers in the conference tournament, ending any chance of a postseason birth. The Cougs are yet another OVC team that struggled on the road (going 1-12 a year ago) and look to change that under Harris' reign. Whether diminutive guard C.J. Carr or forward Jake Newton (or a cadre of big men) step up is something to be seen for the folks who frequent the Vadalabene Center.
7. Southeast Missouri State RedHawks
Last year: 13-17 (7-9) 5th West
Departures: Jarekious Bradley (16.4 ppg, 5.5 rpg) Nino Johnson (10.4 ppg, 7.0 rpg).
Key returners: Antonious Cleveland (10.8 ppg, 4.8 ppg) Isiah Jones (9.8 ppg, 1.9 apg)
Gone is stud guard Jarekious Bradley. In steps new coach Rick Ray, a man with an impressive pedigree and big-time coaching chops. Ray, having coached under the likes of Matt Painter and Brad Brownell, finished off a stint at Mississippi State before being fired at the end of last season. Using his pedigree and a cast of guys who started but weren't necessarily primary scoring options, Ray and crew look to make a move up the OVC ladder.
Large guards Antonious Cleveland (junior and a preseason All-OVC player) and Isiah Jones (senior) will look to use their size to accommodate several incoming transfer big men to spring the 'Hawks forward in the valley. With just one senior on the roster, perhaps this team is just one year away from having the experience needed to take a big step.
Last year: 18-15 (9-7) 3rd OVC West
Departures: Chris Olivier (TR 13.9 ppg, 5.3 rpg) Reggie Smith (8.2 ppg), LeTrell Viser ((TR 6.2 ppg), Dylan Chatman (6.2 ppg)
Key Returners: Cornell Johnston (13.9 ppg, 4.7 apg) (Trae Anderson 13.2 ppg, 4.9 rpg)
It won't be an easy road for Eastern Illinois basketball this year. Maybe it's being too harsh on a team that had a winning record in conference play, but the Panthers won't be the same EIU squad in terms of personnel. The Panthers lose Jake Verhagen, LeTrell Viser and Chris Olivier as transfers and additionally guards Reggie Smith and Dylan Chatman to graduation. The lone big guy who contributed in a major way (Olivier) is gone to Oklahoma State, placing a particularly daunting void in the paint for a team whose most-experienced returning frontcourt player (Luke Piotrowski) averaged 3.6 points per game in 12.8 minutes per game.
Look for someone like Justin Earls to have to step up for fourth-year coach Jay Spoonhour. Not to forget the returning studs for the Panthers, back are the reigning OVC Freshman of The Year Cornell Johnston and the versatile guard/forward Trae Anderson, who has the size and mobility to traverse the perimeter and still bruise around. This isn't encouraging for a program that was 327th in the country in rebounds per game (30.3) a year ago (yowza), and 295th in points per content (62.3).
Last year: 21-12 (11-5) T/1st East
Departures: Corey Walden (18.6 ppg, 3.1 spg), Eric Stutz (15.7 ppg, 5.7 rpg) Timmy Knipp (10.5 ppg)
Key Returners: Isaac McGlone (5.5 ppg, 2.6 apg) Ja'Mill Powell (8.2 ppg)
Consistency is an easy word to associate with the EKU Colonels in recent years. Having finished in the top three of the OVC and with at least 20 wins each of the last three seasons, Jeff Neubauer's Colonels were a model of success. Well Neubauer is no longer in charge. Insert yet another new coach in the OVC, Dan McHale, who has coached under the likes of Rick Pitino, Richard Pitino, Kevin Willard, and as a student manager under Tubby Smith at Kentucky.
EKU loses mainstays in the lineup like Corey Walden (the conference's defensive player of the year each of the last two years and second leading scorer), an Eric Stutz, the teams leading rebounder and second leading scorer on the team. Back are guard Isaac McGlone and thin forward Ja'Mill Powell to try and keep up the success of the program.
Despite its losses, this team still does have an upside. A program like this doesn't fall of the face of the earth in one year due to losses. Remember, this is the team that embarrassed Miami in what was a 72-44 SHELLACKING last season.