2020-21 Ohio Valley Basketball Preview

LWOS continues its conference previews with the 2020-21 Ohio Valley Basketball Preview. The OVC has been a two-horse race between Belmont and Murray State for a while now. However, there is a third program that has been on the cusp of late. Austin Peay has been knocking on the door for a few seasons and seems primed to finally breakthrough. Still, the Governors have to prove that they can overcome the Bruins and Racers for good to break the grasp those programs have had. It should be a fun and competitive race in 2020-21.

2020-21 Ohio Valley Basketball Preview

12. Southeast Missouri State Redhawks

Key Returners: Chris Harris, D.Q. Nicholas

Key Losses: Alex Caldwell, Sage Tolbert, Skyler Hogan

Key Newcomers: Nolan Taylor (Cal Poly), Nana Akenten (Nebraska), Nate Johnson (JUCO)

Southeast Missouri State lost and gained from the transfer portal in the off-season. The backcourt has more depth than the frontcourt heading into the new season. In fact, the frontcourt has just one returning player period. A healthy Chris Harris is the starting point for the Redhawks, while Taylor and Akenten are expected to provide a boost as well. There is a chance that SEMO is improved, but success is defined by escaping the basement this season.

11. Tennessee-Martin Skyhawks

Key Returners: Parker Stewart, Miles Thomas

Key Losses: Quintin Dove, Derek Hawthorne, Craig Randall

Key Newcomers: La-Quiem Walker (JUCO), Jonte Coleman (JUCO), Cam Holden (JUCO)

Tennessee-Martin has a total of six incoming junior college transfers for the new season. The Skyhawks need every single one of them after all the losses due to graduation and the transfer portal. There are only three key returning players, though Stewart is a big one. He averaged 19.2 points, 4.6 rebounds, and 3.8 assists per game last season, and he should find his way onto the league’s first-team this season. However, the Skyhawks will spend a lot of 2020-21 trying to find a rotation that works.

10. Morehead State Eagles

Key Returners: Tyzhaun Claude, James Baker, Ta’Lon Cooper

Key Losses: Jordan Walker, Djimon Henson, Justin Thomas

Key Newcomers: Skyelar Potter (Wright State), Jaylen Sebree (Florida Atlantic), Marcus Garrett (JUCO)

Morehead State will be relying heavily on transfers, especially in the backcourt, for the upcoming season. The three losses mentioned combined for 31.2 points per game last year, close to half of the team’s total points per game production (69). The frontcourt will be the strength of this team, especially with Claude and Baker. Morehead State has enough to fight for a spot in the conference tournament, but not much beyond that.

9. SIU-Edwardsville Cougars

Key Returners: Cameron Williams, Mike Adewunmi, Shamar Wright

Key Losses: Zeke Moore, Tyresse Williford, Brandon Jackson

Key Newcomers: Sidney Wilson (Connecticut), Carlos Custis (JUCO), Courtney Carter (JUCO)

SIU-Edwardsville continues to search for any semblance of success since transitioning to Division I twelve seasons ago. The Cougars did have a bright spot in an upset win over Belmont last season. However, they have yet to have a winning season, and have only finished .500 in league play once. SIUE does have some key players back, and Wilson’s transfer should provide depth in the frontcourt. Competing for a berth in the OVC Tournament is the goal for this season.

8. Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles

Key Returners: Junior Clay, Keishawn Davidson, Amadou Sylla

Key Losses: Darius Allen, Hunter Vick

Key Newcomers: Shandon Goldman (Northern Iowa), Marcus Hopkins (JUCO), Markelo Sullivan (JUCO)

Tennessee Tech was a very young team last season. However, the experience for the youngsters should help this team take another step forward. Junior Clay is a star in the backcourt, averaging 13.4 points, 3.6 rebounds, 3.9 assists, and 1.8 steals per game. That was good enough to earn him second-team honors. The frontcourt should also see Sylla continue to develop, with a breakout season as a possibility this year. The Golden Eagles should be right in the mix for a conference tournament berth this season.

7. Jacksonville State Gamecocks

Key Returners: Kayne Henry

Key Losses: Jacara Cross, De’Torrion Ware, Derrick Cook

Key Newcomers: Brandon Huffman (North Carolina), Amanze Ngumezi (Georgia), Darian Adams (Troy)

Jacksonville State takes a lot of roster hits entering the new season, but they have some promising transfers incoming to help make up for it. Huffman and Ngumezi will look to establish themselves after coming from power conference programs. They join the Gamecocks’ main big man in Henry, who averaged 10.8 points and 6.9 rebounds per game in 2019-20. There is enough talent to remain competitive, but there is also nothing that stands about this squad. A finish in the middle of the league and a conference tournament berth are expected.

6. Tennessee State Tigers

Key Returners: Carlos Marshall Jr., Shakem Johnson, Mark Freeman

Key Losses: Wesley Harris, Michael Littlejohn, Jy’lan Washington

Key Newcomers: Josh Linder (Georgia State), Shakwon Barrett (JUCO), Yusuf Mohamed (JUCO)

Tennessee State surprised a bit last season by finishing in a tie for fifth place. That is good news for Tiger fans, as a bulk of the key contributors are back. None of them are arguably more important than Carlos Marshall, who averaged 11.8 points, 4.4 rebounds, and two assists per game last season. He anchors a frontcourt that also features Shakeem Johnson. The talent of the incoming transfers will give a boost as well. Tennessee State should finish in the top half of the league and can beat a top team or two along the way.

5. Eastern Illinois Panthers

Key Returners: Josiah Wallace, Mack Smith, George Dixon

Key Losses: JaQualis Matlock, Shareef Smith

Key Newcomers: Sammy Friday (Siena), Junior Farquhar (JUCO)

Eastern Illinois may be the oldest team in the league for 2020-21. That kind of experience is hard to come by in Division I these days, and that will do this team some good. The Panthers finished tied for fifth a season ago while getting some big wins over conference giants along the way. Wallace is the star for this group, averaging 15.6 points, 4.4 rebounds, and 2.3 assists on his way to first-team honors in 2019-20. Eastern Illinois has the talent and depth to wreak havoc on the status quo. Don’t sleep on the Panthers.

4. Eastern Kentucky Colonels

Key Returners: Jomaru Brown, Tre King, Michael Moreno

Key Losses: Ty Taylor II

Key Newcomers: Brandon Knapper (West Virginia), Cooper Robb (Charlotte), Cheikh Faye (JUCO)

Eastern Kentucky found themselves sitting in this same position a season ago. The Colonels were just outside of the top three, though there was a small gap between them and the top tier. Jomaru Brown had a breakout sophomore campaign a season ago, averaging 18.4 points, 3.9 rebounds, 2.7 assists, and 1.9 steals per game. He is just one of a few talented guards that can carry the team, while the frontcourt has its own solid core, especially King and Moreno. Eastern Kentucky still may be just off the pace for a league title again this season, but they will certainly get their chance to have a say.

3. Belmont Bruins

Key Returners: Nick Muszynski, Grayson Murphy

Key Losses: Adam Kunkel, Tyler Scanlon

Key Newcomers: Michael Shanks, Even Brauns

A third-place projection seems out of place for Belmont. However, that does not mean they are not a threat for the league title. They have earned that kind of respect with the consistency they have shown since they joined the OVC. The Bruins may have been the title favorites before Adam Kunkel made a surprise move and transferred out. Still, Muszynski and Murphy are more than enough to keep Belmont on pace. There will be a bit more of a reliance on younger talent than originally thought, but they are up for the challenge. Belmont will be right there at the end.

2. Murray State Racers

Key Returners: Tevin Brown, K.J. Williams, DaQuan Smith

Key Losses: Jaiveon Eaves

Key Newcomers: Justice Hill (JUCO)

Murray State is the other program in this league that has a history of staying competitive, and that will not change this season. Tevin Brown continues the history of outstanding guards that come through the program. However, he does not have to do it all with K.J. Williams providing his own thunder in the paint. The Racers have enough returning experience to be dangerous both in and out of the league while also having good young talent that will keep them going in the future as well. Murray State will be a force once again this season.

1. Austin Peay Governors

Key Returners: Terry Taylor, Jordyn Adams, Carlos Paez

Key Losses: Eli Abaev, Antwuan Butler

Key Newcomers: Corbin Merritt (Oklahoma), Michael Peake (Georgia), Merdy Mongozi (JUCO)

Austin Peay put the league on notice last season. The Governors made a strong run for a league title before fading right at the end. Still, they earned wins over Belmont and Murray State and showed they have what it takes to compete with the big boys. This team has a deadly duo in Terry Taylor and Jordyn Adams. Taylor was last year’s player of the year while Adams was the freshman of the year. A few of the supporting pieces around them are gone, but the incoming transfers should fill in those holes. This is the season Austin Peay breaks down the wall and captures the league title. However, they are capable of doing more than that, so power-conference teams beware.

2020-21 Ohio Valley Basketball Preview Award Projections

Player of the Year: Terry Taylor, Austin Peay

Taylor tested the NBA waters but decided to come back for his final season with the Governors. He averaged 21.8 points, 11 rebounds, 1.3 steals, and 1.3 blocks per game on his way to winning this award last season. A guard that averages double-figure rebounds is a rarity in today’s game, but that is exactly what Taylor did in 2019-20. He is a dominant force and should have his way in most games again during his senior season.

Defensive Player of the Year: Grayson Murphy, Belmont

Murphy is looking to be a repeat award-winner as well after being named the league’s top defensive player last season. That was in large part due to his ability to pick the pocket of opponents, averaging 2.6 steals per game. Murphy will lock down opposing guards and can kickstart easy transition buckets by stealing the rock and passing it off to a streaking teammate.

Freshman of the Year: Even Brauns, Belmont

Brauns took home just about every high school honor you could imagine in the state of Iowa. He capped that off by being nominated to play in the McDonald’s All-American game. He earned that nomination after averaging 15.6 points and 7.3 rebounds per game as a senior at Iowa City West High School. Brauns will have to wait his turn behind Muszynski, who is a stud of a big man in his own right. However, he should get valuable minutes spelling him and should take advantage of that opportunity.

Coach of the Year: Matt Figger, Austin Peay

Figger enters his fourth season as the head man for Austin Peay and has yet to win any less than 19 games. That streak will not end this season, as 20 wins seems like the floor for the Governors this season. The job he has done here and the talent he has brought in has put the program in this situation, which is why he should take home this award for 2020-21.

All-Conference First-Team Projection: Terry Taylor (Austin Peay), Jordyn Adams (Austin Peay), Grayson Murphy (Belmont), Josiah Wallace (Eastern Illinois), Jomaru Brown (Eastern Kentucky), Tevin Brown (Murray State), Parker Stewart (Tennessee-Martin), Junior Clay (Tennessee Tech), Nick Muszynski (Belmont), K.J. Williams (Murray State)

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