We are just 50 days away from real, meaningful basketball. Well, 50 days away from November basketball. Which is sometimes meaningful.
So I’ve compiled a list of the 50 biggest questions out there that will be answered this year in the Ohio Valley Conference
1. Was last year a fluke, or a sign of things to come?
Seeing Austin Peay anywhere but the top of the conference standings was just odd, but it was clear from the start of the season this wasn’t a typical Austin Peay squad. Tyshwan Edmonson faded, the Governors couldn’t score, and the Governors were in some danger of missing the OVC tournament. Is this a bounceback year for the Govs?
2. How helpful was that trip to Canada?
I both love and hate the idea of these preseason trips. I love them because of the advantage it gives teams, allowing them summer practices and games. I hate them…for the exact same reason. Why can the other 11 teams hold the same practices? COME ON!
3. Most importantly, will I ever get an answer to my “retirement” question to Dave Loos at the OVC tournament?
My guess is no…
4. Will Belmont be the class of the OVC, like they were the Atlantic Sun?
It’s hard to say “no” to this, even though recent history seems to show the OVC is a much better conference (at least at the top) than the Atlantic Sun was. But the road to the title likely runs through Murray (as it always seems to) and the Bruins only get one chance during the regular season.
5. Does Belmont make the OVC a (legitimate) 2-bid league?
I doubt it. It would be nice, but Belmont wasn’t making it to the big dance last year without winning the A-Sun tournament.
6. From Belmont’s point of view…was joining the OVC a mistake?
This has been floated out there from a few places. You go from a conference where you’re almost an automatic to make the NCAA tournament, to one where you’re anything but. And as mentioned above, the OVC isn’t likely going to be a legitimate 2-bid league, at least not year-in and year-out. So, why come? Simple: Nashville is in the heart of the OVC. Not so much the Atlantic Sun. But is that enough reason to make the switch? We’ll see.
7. Will I ask Rick Byrd about retirement at this year’s OVC tournament?
You never know…
8. Who is on the roster, again?
This is not a trick question. Between graduation, transfers, and seemingly good players getting kicked off there are a whole lot more new names on the roster than old ones. Normally, you give a new coach, like Jay Spoonhour, a few years to bring in their players. Spoonhour didn’t want to wait that long, apparently.
9. Will another hashtag revolution come out of Charleston?
I didn’t start #FireMikeMiller. I didn’t even completely agree that was the best course of action. But I RT’d it. And so did a lot of others.
10. Was Jay Spoonhour the right hire?
It’s way too soon to tell, but Spoonhour didn’t appear to get started on the right foot with the Hollowell situation. That being said, winning cures most ills, and if he can put the Panthers into the OVC conversation, this summer will become a distant memory.
11. Speaking of firing coaches…is the seat hot under Jeff Neubauer now?
Yes, I know I didn’t exactly make a lot of friends with this topic last year, but after EKU just squeaked their way into the OVC tournament, what is the feeling like in Richmond this season? As I said last year, I don’t think Neubauer should be fired. But should he, and will he are two very different questions.
12. Who is this year’s Jaron Jones?
Jones was one of the top stories in the OVC last year, and was completely overshadowed thanks in part to EKU’s record, and mostly due to this guy named Isaiah in Murray. After being a reservist the year before, Jones was the best weapon on the Colonels team as a senior. But, is there another Jones in the waiting?
13. Do EKU fans still think I hate them?
14. Will their exclusion from postseason play due to APR be demoralizing?
Jacksonville State was a team I was high on through much of the year. Despite a few issues, resulting in players being kicked off the team, JSU was as sound defensively as any team in the OVC, even the vaulted Racers defense. They were fairly young as well, and they were a team I thought could make a jump up this season. Now, I’m not sure what they’re going to do.
15. Is it fair to count their games in conference standings?
Yes, because thanks to divisional games, every team in their division plays them twice, and every team in the opposing division plays them once. It’s fair. Sure, there are some home/road issues for teams in the opposite division, but if you’re not counting the games for something, why even play them? The games should count for conference record, although it very much could throw a wrench into things.
16. What if the Gamecocks have an outstanding season?
It would be very sad that these kids can’t play in postseason play. But it’s virtually impossible to punish a school for their academics using the somewhat flawed APR without punishing the kids as well. It’s a sad fact of our society. The season still counts, it’s not like it’s taken out of the record books, but it’s still sad none the less.
17. How much longer will JSU remain in the OVC?
This has to be one of the top 3 questions I’m asked, and my answer remains the same: as soon as JSU gets an invitation from a FBS conference, they’re gone. It’s just a waiting game at this point.
18. New head coach Sean Woods talks a big game. Can he back it up?
Without a doubt, Woods said everything an Eagles fan could want to hear when he took over the program. But making big statement in a press conference is much different than making them on the court, and the conference is as loaded as it’s been in decades. He’s got some talent returning, but how quickly can he get it put together.
19. Can Morehead find some scorers?
The Eagles were solid defensively a year ago. But they finished last in scoring offense in OVC, struggling to get past 60 points a game. Defense is important, it’s wins championships and all that…but you also have to score points. It was this team’s Achilles heel a year ago, and will have to improve if the Eagles are to return to the top tier of the OVC.
20. Is it even possible to meet expectations?
What even are the expectations after the Racers “once in a lifetime” season. Do it again? Make the Sweet 16 for the first time in school history? Go 39-0? Expectations around the Racers program are so high, a 28-4 season will be seen as disappointing by some.
21. Does head coach Steve Prohm return to Murray State for a third year?
It’s been mentioned by some that Prohm made a “million dollar mistake” in not choosing Mississippi State (which I disagree with) and he’s likely to get mentioned again this year for a lot of college basketball openings. Will he leave Murray after just two years? It’s possible.
22. Who are the starting 5 for the Racers first game?
Isaiah Cannan and Ed Daniel are locks. The rest of the starting 5? Um…Latreze Mushatt is out until January at the earliest. Does that mean Brandon Garrett is now a starter? From all accounts, Dexter Fields is likely a starter. And then there’s…
23. Will Zay Jackson play again for the Racers?
With his legal issues still outstanding, it’s hard to really know for sure. But the case against him appears fairly strong, although it should be noted that we haven’t heard Jackson’s side at all. If he is convicted or pleas out, will the Racers give him a second chance? If not, I can all but guarantee another Division I team will.
24. Does Isaiah Canaan take another step forward?
He was one of the best players in the nation, and made every “under the radar” player list that came out. He’s being called by some as one of the best point guards in college basketball. Is he able to take that next step forward, and help rise his NBA standing? Or should he have stayed in the draft last year as a possible first-rounder?
25. Do the Racers return to the top 25?
The schedule isn’t friendly early. But we didn’t think it was last year either. They’ll be close when the season starts, but if they don’t string together 8-10 wins to start the season, I’m not sure it will happen.
26. How long do the Racers continue selling out the CFSB Center
If they struggle in their tough non-conference slate, attendance may be back down close to pre-Top 25 levels by conference play. But they’ll still lead the conference in attendance, hands down.
27. With Leon Powell gone, can Tyler Stone be as effective?
Stone proved to be one of the best big men in the OVC last year, but how much of that was thanks to defenses honing in on Powell?
28. How much effect will the coaching shakeup have on the Redhaws?
I wonder is Dickie Nutt is feeling some pressure, although I see no reason why he would be. But most of his assistant coaches from last year are gone. Interesting move, will it pay off?
29. Is Kris Davis the best shooter in the country?
There’s reason to believe his name should be in the conversation. Seriously. He led the nation in 3-point shooting percentage a year ago as a freshman, hitting nearly 60% from behind the arc. He was 46% from the field, but only averaged 11 points a game. Did I mention he was a freshman?
30. Are they OVC tournament bound in their first eligible season?
If there were eligible last season, they would have been. For a school making it’s transition from Division II, they’re well ahead of schedule.
31. Do the Cougars have an interior scoring threat?
They didn’t last year. They personified the phrase, “live by the 3, die by the 3.” They have 2 solid forwards in Mark Yelovich and Jerome Jones, but both did much of their offensive damage outside the paint. Some of that has to do with the Cougars offensive gameplan, but to take the next step, SIUE must develop an inside presence.
32. Is Robert Covington the best player in the OVC?
Sounds silly to some (i.e. Racer fans), but Covington was getting a lot of attention this summer by NBA scouts, as much if not more than Canaan. The Tigers didn’t have the success of the Racers, and likely won’t this year as either, but Covington was huge in Tennessee State’s upset of the Racers last year. Can he separate himself from the pack in the OVC?
33. Are the Tigers a one-hit wonder?
During my season previews before last season, I picked TSU 2nd, and called them my dark horse. Boy, do I love it when I’m right. And here’s the thing, there’s no reason they can’t be even better this year. The majority of the team is back, including Covington, Patrick Miller, and M.J. Rhett, and while everyone seems to be focused on Murray State and Belmont, don’t count out the Tigers.
34. Was Travis Williams the right hire?
Yes. I’m convinced of that, and he hasn’t even coached a game.
35. How good is Jud Dillard?
Kevin Murphy got much of the praise last year, and rightfully so, but Jud Dillard was one of the top scorers in the OVC, averaging over 17 points a game thanks to 51% shooting from the field. But even with Dillard’s and Murphy’s success, the Golden Eagles struggled, falling short of most people’s expectations. This year, it’s Dillard’s team, and their success will ride a lot on his shoulders.
36. Is Jeremiah Samarrippas the next Zac Swansey?
If you haven’t noticed, I’ve been pretty high on the SMU transfer so far. He’s quick, and could be a great set-up man for Dillard.
37. How much of last season falls on the coaches shoulders?
As I’ve mentioned, last season was a disappointment. No other way to put it. Many expected more out of Steve Payne‘s first season as coach, giving how long he had been with the program as an assistant. If this year’s team struggles, the coach could start feeling the pressure, although he is far from being on the hot seat.
38. Is this a do or die year for head coach Jason James?
He has 2 seasons left on his contract, and small schools like UT Martin rarely will want to pay a coach to not coach, but after a winless conference campaign last year, James seat is about as hot as they get in the OVC. He’s made a lot of changes, now we have to see if they play off.
39. How effective will Terrance Smith be?
He missed all of last season after collapsing during a practice before the season, and received a medical redshirt for the year. He’s expected to be back this fall, but will he be back at 100% after missing an entire year?
40. Does Myles Taylor avoid a sophmore slump?
The Freshman of the Year in the OVC, does Taylor improve in this second season, not just in scoring, but in rebounds, an area he struggled with despite UTM’s horrific shooting from the field last season.
41. Will I go on another Mike Liabo soapbox this season?
Probably not. Because for one, I think the team will be better. And secondly, I don’t see Liabo coming in off the bench. Again.
Ohio Valley Conference
42. Was adding Belmont the right decision for the conference?
Absolutely. I know that the conference has a football vs basketball identity problem right now, but this is a great addition from the conference’s point of view. A great program, without being forced to expand the borders of the conference.
43. Is the OVC a basketball conference now?
No, and that’s mostly because of the Big East. They thought they could be a “basketball conference,” and there’s just not the money in it. Right now, basketball is bringing in the money for the OVC, but if they go through another drought like they did before Morehead State’s win 4-years ago, that will dry up quickly.
44. Will the divisions create a standings controversy?
Only winning the division matters when it comes to qualifying / seeding for the OVC tournament, so for the most part, this is a non issue. If the divisions prove to be unbalanced, this could be an issue as far as scheduling is concerned (playing two games against your own division) but this is something large conferences have been dealing with for years.
45. Is the new OVC tournament format working?
I wonder. Attendance has been great, but so much of that has to do with the Racers last season, and it didn’t hurt that their finals opponent was the school in Nashville. The 1-seed is winning, which is what the OVC wants to see (because they provide the best chance to win in the NCAA tournament) but the format itself is definitely getting mixed reviews, at best.
46. Should the OVC be looking for another school to join?
Yes, because there will be changes in the future. I understand the conference doesn’t want to expand past 12…because things like scheduling get messy, but with Jacksonville State looking for a way out, and TSU getting offers from the SWAC, they should be prepared in case on or both leave in the near future.
47. Will the OVC remember the no-charge arc in the paint at this year’s OVC tournament?
I hope so…
48. OVC Digital Network: Best thing ever, or best thing ever?
Best thing ever.
49. Is the OVC a “mid-major” conference?
No. Not yet. One win in the NCAA tournament each of the past 4 years is nice, but in my mind to be considered “mid-major” you need Sweet 16 teams, and you need to be a legitimate 2-bid conference. Right now, the OVC has neither.
The Big Question
50. How often will I have Internet when covering games this year?
It never fails…or rather, it almost always fails.