We couldn’t begin the season without Power Rankings, could we? Of course not!
Belmont may be the most overwhelming conference favorite since the 2013-14 Racers, although it’s worth pointing out that season didn’t exactly end “well” for them. That year, we learned how important a supporting cast really is, even for a team with a “superstar.” The Bruins are built differently, and didn’t lose anywhere near the level of talent that Murray State team did. The point guard position is a bit of a question mark. Reece Chamberlain accounted for almost 40% of the Bruins assists last season, and as good as Craig Bradshaw was, he just managed a 1.0 assist-to-turnover ratio, which is just okay for a guard. If there’s no one to set up Bradshaw and Taylor Barnette, the offense may be forced to make changes. Evan Bradds, not Bradshaw, may be the key to the Bruins success. Bradds gives the Bruins more balance on both ends, and his rebounding alone could make a big difference in close games. Defensively, the Bruins weren’t always the best — if it improves, the Bruins could simply run through the OVC.
Last year wasn’t just a flash in the pan. Head coach Heath Schroyer has a lot of talent on this roster, in a division with a lot of transition among teams throughout. Whether Alex Anderson can shoot 48% from three-point range again, or whether Myles Taylor can make it through the season without an injury could determine just how far this team can go. Taylor, along with Twymond Howard, may be the best frontcourt combination in the OVC. The Skyhawks aren’t the deepest team, and replacing Deville Smith at point guard is going to be a challenge. UT Martin didn’t score a ton of points last season, but their offense was efficient. If there’s a year for UT Martin to take back the West Division, this is the year.
I’m not sure I’ve ever seen a program with such a clear, consistent Achilles heel than Morehead State. For three years running now, the Eagles have finished at the back of the pack nationally in fouls committed, and have lost more than a few close games at the free-throw line. I think the impact of the new rules has been overstated, but having an increased emphasis on certain foul calls can’t exactly be welcoming to the Eagles. But, as is always the case, there’s a lot of talent on the Eagles roster. Brent Arrington is a great scorer inside, and I’m very interested to see if Corban Collins has a huge year now that Kareem Storey and Angelo Warner have graduated. Whether they have the guns to compete with Belmont in the East is yet to be seen. And hey, who knows. Maybe the new rules will just bring the rest of the nation to Morehead’s level on fouls.
The big question surrounding Eastern Illinois is this: how easily can they replace Chris Olivier. As head coach Jay Spoonhour recently put it, Olivier was the team’s panic button last year. Offense wasn’t working? Dump it inside, and let him do something with it. Cornell Johnston had a great freshman campaign, but he, along with senior Trae Anderson, be leading a team with nine newcomers, including six freshman. The OVC has a lot of youth this year, which is why having one or two good players could make the difference from contending for a bye to not even making the trip to Nashville. In some years, the Panthers three-point win in an exhibition would be noteworthy. This year? They didn’t lose, so many didn’t notice.
The Colonels may have a new coach, but EKU’s penchant for forcing turnovers won’t change, if their exhibition win is to be believed. But Dan Mchale has inherited a cupboard that’s just about empty. 72% of last year’s scoring, 67% of the rebounding is gone, and only two returning Colonels played significant minutes last year. They’ll be joined by South Florida transfer JaVontae Hawkins, who played limited minutes for the Bulls.The offense will likely look to 6’7 wing Ja’Mill Powell for a boost, and sophomore Paul Jackson will have a large role this year, and played well in last year’s OVC Tournament.
Let’s get one thing clear — no, I don’t think Murray State finishes 6th in the conference. But even that statement has more to do with the name on the front of the jersey, than the names on the back. Bottom line — you lost to a non-Division I team. I had to drop you. Sure, the exhibition loss against Freed-Hardeman is probably more fluke than prophecy, but we can’t simply ignore the only piece of evidence we currently have on this team. Even if Jeffrey Moss proves to be a true team leader on the floor, we’ve yet to see if guys like Bryce Jones, Gee McGhee, or Damarcus Croaker can be consistently strong against Division I competition. And we won’t see that Friday either. Murray opens the season at home against Harris-Stowe.
Tennessee Tech has struggled with the idea of balance over recent years. When the offense is good, the defense is awful. And when the defense is good, TTU can’t seem to throw it in the ocean. Last season, it was the defense’s turn to sour, especially down the stretch, where four of the Golden Eagles last five opponents hit 80 points. Losing Dwan Caldwell on the inside is going to change how the Eagles look this year, as they’ll turn to the backcourt of Torrance Rowe and Shirmane Thomas to make plays. They do get the services of 6’9 forward Ryan Martin inside, who was strong JUCO player but hasn’t played against Division I competition.
Ever since SIUE joined the conference, they’ve lacked any identity. They shot three-pointesr relatively well, but they weren’t shooting them with the frequency or accuracy of, say, Belmont. They’ve pulled out great wins at home, with no successes on the road. That should change under new head coach Jon Harris. Harris brings with him the identity of Cuonzo Martin, but will need time to build a roster. C.J. Carr was an underrated freshman, and one of few returnees with notable experience. If you judge Harris off of this year, you’re doing the program a pretty large injustice.
Any discussion of the Governors certainly has to begin with preseason all-OVC selection Chris Horton. The senior is coming off a year in which he ranked 8th nationally in rebounding (11.0 rpg) and averaged 13 points a contest. Horton’s shooting, however, was by far the worst of his three years with the Governors, dropping from nearly 60% the year before to just 45.8% shooting from the field a year ago. Last season, Horton had to carry the load on offense, whereas the year before he was helped significantly by the presence of Will Triggs and outside threat Travis Betran. If he has to shoulder a similar load this year, it’s hard to see his production rising. Who steps up? Assane Diop was a offensive disaster last year, as the 6’8 forward shot just 30% from the field. Khalil Davis hit just 35% from the floor a year ago, and was hardly a three-point threat, and while Josh Robinson has a lot of upside for a young player, but we’ve to see how he’ll handle having a larger role with the team. If he handles it well, it could provide some of the additional support Horton needs to get better looks on the inside.
Things have sure got off to a troubling start in Cape Girardeau. New head coach Rick Ray is already down three guys to suspension — Jamaal Calvin has three games left on his ban, while Trey Kellum and Ladarius Coleman will miss two games for a violation of “departmental policies,” which sounds like a two-dollar way of saying a violation of team rules. Without knowing exactly what happened, it’s hard to tell if Ray is just getting the Redhawks house in order, of if it’s a larger problem. If they get all their guys on the court, Calvin, Antonius Cleveland and Isiah Jones are great talents to build a team around. Ray is a defensive guy, and that’s something that’s been lacking in the Show Me Center in recent times.
Okay, JSU. Let’s get real. The offense against West Georgia couldn’t have been more awful in the opening 20 minutes. The shooting wasn’t good, but it’s the 13 turnovers that’s really an issue. December can’t get here soon enough for the Gamecocks. Once the first semester ends, JSU will get the services of Notre Dame and Missouri transfer Cam Biedscheid, but it’s worth noting that head coach James Green has downplayed Biedscheid’s impact quite a lot. Maybe it’s just gamesmanship? The Gamecocks lost their three leading scorers from a year ago, which means a lot will fall on senior JaQuail Townser‘s shoulders. Sophomore Malcom Drumwright was an impact player in the Gamecocks two exhibition games, but the competition gets much tougher starting Friday as the Gamecocks play a very good Central Michigan team.
Tennessee State is almost certainly going to win more than the five games they won each of the past two years: They play the easiest schedule in the OVC, and this season TSU actually has more than one player returning from the year before. In fact, they could realistically double that win total. So what’s holding TSU back? The offense. Charles Harris has to cut back on the turnovers in his sophomore year at the point, Marcus Roper needs to be a bit more judicious in three-point shooting, and the Tigers simply need more outside threats. The 6’9 center Christian Mekowulu showed some promise as a freshman, and a more consistent sophomore year could provide a lot of benefits. Head coach Dana Ford is just in year two of a longer rebuilding process. The team should be better. They still may be just a little short on firepower for a run this season.