Ohio Valley Conference Preview

Last season Murray State had a lottery pick, went 16-0 in the regular season….and missed out on the NCAA tournament thanks to an epic conference title game loss to Belmont. It was another example of the cruel nature of single bid leagues. Even more than North Carolina Central, who also ran through its league undefeated, the Racers had a legitimate shot in the NCAA tournament. Murray State had a lottery pick who was also the best player in the league, and had three senior starters on top of that. That team had a pretty good chance to at least make the sweet 16, but because they did not get the opportunity to play the same types of teams in the nonconference as other mid majors, they missed out on the tournament altogether.

With Cameron Payne off to the NBA, three starters lost to graduation, and head coach Steve Prohm leaving to take the Iowa State job, Murray State’s chances of repeating as regular season champs are slim. The Racers added some JuCo talent who can come in and compete right away before a large class of high school talent comes in next season, so the future is still bright. Still, Murray State looks to be in for a bit of a rebuilding period.

Belmont has been to seven NCAA tournaments in the last 10 years under head coach Rick Byrd. Although the highest seed it has gotten is an 11 and the Bruins have not won an NCAA tournament game in that period, it remains remarkable that they can get to the tournament repeatedly with the type of talent they attract. Under Byrd, Belmont has finished with a top 10 effective field goal percentage an astounding six times, and finished outside the top 50 just once. Between he and Davidson’s Bob McKillop, the best offensive coaches in the country might be representing teams that most fans don’t get to watch.

Eastern Kentucky had the unfortunate luck of matching up with Belmont in the first round of last year’s conference tournament despite being the league’s NCAA tournament representative from the year before. The Colonels, led by coach Jeff Neubauer, went to their first NCAA tournament since 2007 in 2014, where they lost to Kansas in the first round. Last season they were one of the better shooting teams in America, led by senior Eric Stutz, who finished ninth in the entire nation in true shooting percentage. With Stutz and Corey Walden, who finished 11th in true shooting percentage, gone to graduation, the Colonels look like they’ll drift back towards the middle of the pack this season.

Belmont looks like the league favorites with nearly everyone returning, but after the Bruins it is really anyone’s game. And, as we saw last season with Murray State, running through the regular season in this league guarantees nothing. The conference tournament champion probably will not get better than a 15 seed in the tournament, but the unpredictable nature of the league should lead to a fun and exciting conference tournament.

Predicted order of finish


1. Belmont

2. Morehead State

3. Eastern Kentucky

4. Tennessee Tech

5. Jacksonvile State

6. Tennessee State


1. Eastern Illinois

2. Tennessee Martin

3. Murray State

4. Southeast Missouri State

5. Austin Peay

6. SIU Edwardsville

All League Team

Craig Bradshaw, Belmont

Evan Bradds, Belmont

Trae Anderson, Eastern Illinois

Brent Arringon, Morehead State

Twymond Howard, Tennessee Martin