NASHVILLE — The Tennessee-Martin men’s basketball team will be chasing a playoff spot from the back of the pack according to predictions by Ohio Valley Conference head men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors. The UT Martin Skyhawks were picked to finish last in the annual preseason OVC poll.
Austin Peay was picked as the 2007-08 preseason favorite in the 11-team league. The Governors compiled a 16-4 record and claimed its seventh OVC regular season championship a season ago. Austin Peay junior forward Drake Reed, last year’s OVC Player of the Year, was also tabbed to repeat his award from a year ago in being named the 2007-08 OVC Preseason Player of the Year.
Austin Peay (199 points) garnered 19 of the 22 possible first-place votes with Tennessee Tech (2) and Eastern Kentucky (1) claiming the other first-place nods. Eastern Kentucky finished second (166) in the polling, followed by Tennessee Tech in third (160) and Murray State in fourth (149). That trio of teams tied for second in the conference last season with identical 13-7 records. Southeast Missouri was picked fifth (131), followed by Tennessee State in sixth (101) and Samford in seventh (85). All three of those squads finished in the top eight of the standings last year and made the OVC Tournament. Eastern Illinois was tabbed eighth (75), followed by Jacksonville State (61), Morehead State (50) and UT Martin (33).
Austin Peay, led by Dave Loos (who was last year’s OVC Coach of the Year), returns all five starters and 10 total players from its 2007 regular season championship squad. APSU lost in the OVC Tournament Championship game but was selected to play in the NIT where they lost to No. 1 seed Air Force in the first round. The Govs will attempt to become the first team to repeat as OVC champions since they accomplished the feat in 2003-04. The squad is led by Preseason Player of the Year Drake Reed. Last season Reed became the first sophomore to win Player of the Year honors since Murray State’s Ron “Popeye” Jones did in 1990. Reed averaged 15.8 points and 6.0 points per game while hitting 51.9 percent from the field, all of which ranked in the top eight in the final conference statistical leaders. The team also returns senior Fernandez Lockett, a second-team All-OVC selection last season who led the league in rebounding (7.9 per game).
Eastern Kentucky returns eight players and three starters from last season’s OVC Tournament Championship squad. The Colo-nels were second in the regular season and squared off with No. 1 seed North Carolina in the NCAA Tournament. Head coach Jeff Neubauer will turn to a pair of preseason All-OVC selections in junior guard Mike Rose and sophomore guard Adam Leonard to lead his team. Rose averaged 15.1 points per game last season with 88 3-pointers and 52 steals. No player in the OVC hit more trifectas than Leonard (104), as he earned OVC Co-Freshman of the Year honors.
Tennessee Tech reached the semifinals of the OVC Tournament a year ago and this season Mike Sutton’s team has nine players returning including a first-team All-OVC selection from last season, Anthony Fisher. Fisher finished second in balloting for OVC Preseason Player of the Year this season and is coming off a season where he averaged 17.2 points (third in the conference) and 4.3 assists per game while hitting 62 3-pointers. The team returns preseason All-OVC selection senior forward Amadi McKenzie. McKenzie averaged 13.9 points and 7.8 rebounds (second in the OVC) last season.
Second-year head coach Billy Kennedy will have Murray State primed to claim its OVC-record 21st championship this season. The Racers, who won the OVC regular season and tournament championship in 2005-06, have three starters and nine total letterwinners back. That includes preseason All-OVC selection Bruce Carter at guard, as well as senior guard Ray George and junior guard Tyler Holloway. Carter was both a second-team All-OVC and OVC All-Newcomer pick a season ago after leading the team in scoring (12.1 ppg) and ranking second in rebounding (5.4 rpg).
After a sixth-place league finish a year ago, the Redhawks are entering year No. 2 under head coach Scott Edgar. Edgar has four starters back including preseason All-OVC selection Brandon Foust. The forward led SEMO in scoring a year ago (12.0) in his first season after transferring from Oklahoma. He will be joined by senior center Michael Rembert, who was 10th in the OVC in rebounding (5.8 rpg). Senior guard David Johnson and sophomore guard Roderick Pearson are the other two starters who return.
Tennessee State head coach Cy Alexander has a loaded backcourt in 2007-08. The Tigers return shooter Ladarious Weaver (93 3-pointers) and point guard Reiley Ervin (4.1 apg) as well as Andrae Belton (11.1 ppg) at the guard position. Up front big man Jerrell Houston The best news the team received was the return of redshirt junior guard Bruce Price, who has battled injuries the last two seasons. Price was the OVC Freshman of the Year in 2004 after averaging 17.6 points and 4.0 assists per game.
Samford has seven players (three starters) back from a team that was 16-16 (12-8 OVC) last year. Despite losing the OVC’s leading scorer, Randall Gulina (18.1 ppg), and the program’s all-time assist leader, Jerry Smith, the Bulldogs do have preseason All-OVC selection Travis Peterson back in the fold. Peterson, a 6-10 do-it-all center, averaged 11.3 points, 5.0 rebounds, 2.4 assists and 1.1 blocks per game. The senior connected on 46.8 percent of his field goal attempts and knocked down 52 triples. He will play alongside senior guards Curtis West (6.0 ppg, 2.5 rpg) and Joe Ross Merritt (8.8 ppg).
Head coach Mike Miller had the youngest team in the league last season and this year Eastern Illinois still has youth (three freshmen, five sophomores) but has an upper class that now features five seniors. The Panthers returns all 11 letterwinners from last season. EIU is led by sophomore guard Romain Martin, who earned OVC Co-Freshman of the Year honors last season after leading the team in scoring (14.8 ppg). Junior guard Mike Robinson, who was the Freshman of the Year two seasons ago, is also back, as is sophomore center Ousmane Cisse, senior center Jake Byrne and senior guard Bobby Catchings, all of who were starters last season.
Jacksonville State has a solid nucleus of four starters and seven players back from last year’s team that narrowly missed out on an OVC Tournament berth. The Gamecocks backcourt features two of the top point guards in the conference in senior Will Ginn (122 assists) and junior DeAndre Bray (156 assists, first in OVC).
Morehead State head coach Donnie Tyndall saw his team make dramatic improvements in his first season as head coach, as the Eagles tripled its win total (4 to 12 wins) and finished seventh in the final OVC standings. The team did lose six players and will be extremely young this year. MSU’s roster will sport seven freshmen and two sophomores. Morehead State does have senior point guard Nikola Stojakovic (4.2 apg) and sophomore guard Maze Stallworth (7.2 ppg) returning.
UT Martin will have nearly an entirely new roster this season, as only three players return from last year’s squad. One of those players, however, is senior swingman Gerald Robinson who led the team in scoring (12.9 ppg) and rebounding (6.1 rpg). Robinson upped his game at the end of last season, when he averaged 21 points per contest over the season’s final five games. Joining Robinson this season will be 11 newcomers, including six freshmen and five junior college transfers. Bret Campbell enters his ninth season as head coach and is the second longest tenured coach in the OVC.
Weakley County Press Oct. 11, 2007