BRENTWOOD, Tenn. – In a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head men’s basketball coaches and communication directors, Belmont has been picked the preseason favorite for the 2018-19 season. It marks the fourth-straight year the Bruins have been tabbed preseason favorites.
Belmont, who has won four of the past six OVC regular season championships, picked up eight first-place votes, to edge last year’s regular season and tournament champions Murray State by six points (227 to 221). The Racers led the way with nine first-place votes while Jacksonville State, the 2017 OVC Tournament champions, picked up the other seven first-place votes and 211 total points in being picked third. Austin Peay was picked fourth (188) and followed by Tennessee Tech (135), Eastern Kentucky (118), Eastern Illinois (116), Tennessee State (101), Southeast Missouri (82), Morehead State (78), UT Martin (77) and SIUE (30).
A year ago Belmont compiled a 15-3 league record and advanced to the championship game of the OVC Tournament before falling to Murray State. This season Rick Byrd, who enters his 33rd year at Belmont (he is one of just five Division I head coaches to be with the same program for 30 or more years), has six letterwinners returning including a pair of starters in Dylan Windler and Kevin McClain. Windler, the Preseason OVC Player of the Year, is one of the top all-around players in the league and a season ago averaged 17.3 points (fourth in the OVC) and 9.3 rebounds/game (tops in the OVC) while shooting 55.9 percent from the field (third in the OVC) and 42.6 percent from 3-point range (fourth in the OVC). Windler was one of three players nationally to record a 30-point, 20-rebound game during the season (the first OVC player to achieve that feat since 2016), when he had 36 points and 20 rebounds in a win over Morehead State. Last year marked the first as a starter for McClain, who responded by averaging 12.6 points, 3.8 rebounds and 2.1 assists/game while knocking down 57 3-pointers. The Bruins have won four of the past six OVC regular season crowns but in search of its first tournament title since 2015.
A year ago Murray State was 26-6 overall and 16-2 in OVC play as it captured its 25th OVC regular season and 16th OVC Tournament championships. The Racers earned a 12 seed in the NCAA Tournament where they came up short against West Virginia. This season fourth-year head coach Matt McMahon, who became the eighth-straight Murray State coach to reach the NCAA Tournament, welcomes back three starters from that team, including sophomore guard Ja Morant. Morant was one of the top freshmen in the nation a year ago, averaging 12.7 points, 6.5 rebounds and 6.3 assists (15th nationally) per game. He recorded just the 17th triple-double in OVC history when he had 11 points, 10 rebounds and 14 assists in a victory over Eastern Illinois and was named to the OVC All-Tournament team after averaging 13 points, four rebounds and 6.5 assists/game during the Racers run. Morant was named a Preseason All-OVC selection along with senior guard Shaq Buchanan. In his debut season with MSU, Buchanan averaged 9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds and 1.6 steals/game.
In two years under Ray Harper, Jacksonville State has reached the 20-win plateau twice, including a school Division I record 23 victories a season ago. After winning the OVC Tournament Championship in 2017, the Gamecocks advanced to the semifinals a year ago and later advanced to play in the College Basketball Invitational (CBI), just the second Division I national postseason tournament for the program. This year the Gamecocks return a pair of Preseason All-OVC selections in senior forwards Christian Cunningham and Jason Burnell. JSU also has Tennessee transfer Detrick Mostella on the roster; Mostella averaged 10.5 points/game for the Volunteers during the 2016-17 season.
In his debut season, Matt Figger was named OVC Coach of the Year after taking an Austin Peay team picked 11th out of 12 teams in the preseason poll to a 12-6 Conference record and third-place OVC finish (its top regular season finish since 2011). The team improved dramatically on defense, ranking 12th nationally in forced turnovers (16.15/game) and 50th in turnover margin (+2.1/game), and limiting opponents to just 71.9 points/game (after the team allowed 83.8 points/game the season prior). The Govs return Terry Taylor, last year’s OVC Freshman of the Year who averaged 15.6 points and 8.6 rebounds/game while hitting 54.1 percent from the field. Also returning is sophomore guard Dayton Gumm (10.3 points/game), senior guard Zach Glotta (8.1 points, 2.3 assists/game) and senior Chris Porter-Bunton (7.9 points, 4.4 rebounds/game).
Tennessee Tech head coach Steve Payne, who enters his eighth year as head coach (and served as an assistant coach for nine seasons prior to that), has a group of 11 newcomers and just one returning starter this year. The Golden Eagles’ returning starter is senior forward Courtney Alexander II who averaged 6.8 points and 7.9 rebounds/game while hitting 46.2 percent from the field in 33 contests. TTU’s roster is also bolstered by grad transfers Johnnie Vassar (Northwestern) and Malik Martin (USF).
First-year Eastern Kentucky head coach A.W. Hamilton is one of two new coaches in the OVC this season. Hamilton inherited a roster that has nine returning players, including three-time first-team All-OVC selectionNick Mayo. One of the most versatile players nationally, the 6’9” Mayo ranked second in the OVC in 3-point percentage (44.6%), third in scoring (18.0 points/game), fourth in blocked shots (1.5/game), fifth in free throw percentage (83.9%), eighth in field goal percentage (52.6%) and 10th in rebounding (6.7/game). He enters his final season just 250 points away from the EKU career scoring record.
Eastern Illinois will welcome back fifth-year senior Terrell Lewis, who missed most of last season with an injury and received a medical redshirt. Prior to his injury, Lewis became just the ninth player in OVC history to join the 1,000-point, 500-assist club. Lewis enters his final season with 501 career assists, 198 away from the OVC all-time record. He will be joined in the backcourt by sophomore Mack Smith, who was named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team a year ago. Smith averaged 12.4 points/game while connecting on 54 3-pointers and set the EIU freshman record for points in a game (31 against Tennessee Tech). Head coach Jay Spoonhourenters his seventh year with the Panthers in 2018-19.
Tennessee State coach Brian “Penny” Collins is the other new addition to the OVC coaching ranks this season. Collins spent last year as an assistant coach at Illinois State, and also had stints at East Tennessee, Cumberland and Columbia State. At Columbia State he led the program to back-to-back NJCAA National Tournament appearance. Collins, a Nashville native who played collegiately at Belmont, was on the Tennessee State staff as a graduate assistant for Cy Alexander in 2007-08 and as the program’s Director of Operations a year later. Collins has a squad that includes six returning players from a year ago, including starter Armani Chaney. Chaney started 29 games a season ago and averaged 7.8 points, 3.7 assists and 3.1 rebounds/game. The Tigers welcome nine newcomers this season, including four players who redshirted a season ago.
Southeast Missouri fourth-year head coach Rick Ray has a roster that includes a pair of returning starters and four seniors that will look to get the Redhawks back into the OVC Tournament field this year. SophomoreLedarrius Brewer was second on the Redhawks team in scoring last year, averaging 14.5 points (second among OVC freshmen) and 3.8 rebounds/game while knocking down a team-best 71 3-pointers. He is joined in the backcourt by now junior Jonathan Dalton, who was third in the OVC and 47th nationally in assists/game (5.4).
Preston Spradlin began his rebuilding process at Morehead State a year ago, as the Eagles finished the year with a 4-14 OVC record, although they did win their last two games of the season. This season the Eagles have several key returning players, including senior forward Lamontray Harris who is a Preseason All-OVC selection. Harris has improved his averages each season, finishing last season totaling 11.0 points and 6.0 rebounds/game while hitting a team-best 86.6 percent at the free throw line. Also back is senior guard A.J. Hicks who ranked third in the OVC and 68th nationally in steals (1.76/gam), including a 2017-18 NCAA single-game best nine against UT Martin last year. Junior Jordan Walker, who led the team in scoring at 12.2 points/game, also returns after starting all 29 team games in 2017-18.
Third-year UT Martin coach Anthony Stewart returns four letterwinners from last season’s squad, including leading returning scorer and rebounder Fatodd Lewis (12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds/game), who was named to the Preseason All-OVC Team. Also returning is senior Delfincko Bogan who led the OVC with a 1.9 steals/game average a season ago while adding 11.2 points/game, and senior Jailen Gill who had an OVC-best 66.2 field goal percentage in Conference play. UTM also welcomes a pair of transfers who will see action after sitting out last year. They include Kevin Little (13.6 points/game over two seasons at Maine) and Preston Parks (17.4 points/game in 36 career games at The Citadel).
SIUE earned a spot in the OVC Tournament field a year ago and this season returns four starters for fourth-year head coach Jon Harris. Among the returning players is senior Daniel Kinchen who averaged 11.4 points/game, knocked down a team-high 61 3-pointers and led the OVC and ranked 10th nationally in free throw percentage (90.4%). Junior Christian Ellis enters his third season with the program and led the Cougars with 101 assists (3.4/game) while averaging 8.9 points and 4.5 rebounds/game.
The 2018-19 season kicks off with an exhibition contest on October 25 while the first regular season games will be played on Tuesday, November 6. The 2019 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will be held March 6-9 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indian
2018-19 OVC Men’s Basketball Preseason Poll
1. Belmont (8 first-place votes) – 227 points
2. Murray State (9) – 221
3. Jacksonville State (7) – 211
4. Austin Peay – 188
5. Tennessee Tech – 135
6. Eastern Kentucky – 118
7. Eastern Illinois – 116
8. Tennessee State – 101
9. Southeast Missouri – 82
10. Morehead State – 78
11. UT Martin – 77
12. SIUE – 30
2018-19 All-OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball Team
The 2018-19 OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball Team is headlined by Belmont senior Dylan Windler who was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year.
Windler, a first-team All-OVC selection last year, is the third Belmont player to be named Preseason Player of the Year since the Bruins joined the League in 2012-13, joining Craig Bradshaw (2015-16) and Evan Bradds (2016-17).
Overall, nine different schools were represented on the team with Belmont, Jacksonville State and Murray State leading the way with two selections apiece. Austin Peay, Eastern Illinois, Eastern Kentucky, Morehead State, Southeast Missouri and UT Martin had one pick apiece. The squad featured four players who were first-team All-OVC selections a year ago and was comprised of nine seniors and three sophomores.
A year ago Windler ranked 20th nationally in double-doubles (15), 32nd in rebounding (9.3/game) and 38th in field goal percentage (55.7%). He led the OVC in rebounding, was third in field goal percentage (55.9%) and fourth in scoring (17.3 points/game) and 3-point percentage (42.6%).
Other returning All-OVC selections from a season ago included Eastern Kentucky forward Nick Mayo (18.0 points, 6.7 rebounds/game), Murray State sophomore guard Ja Morant (12.7 points, 6.3 assists, 6.5 rebounds/game) and Austin Peay sophomore G/F Terry Taylor (15.6 points, 8.6 rebounds/game).
The Preseason All-OVC team is rounded out by Jacksonville State’s Jason Burnell (11.2 points, 6.0 rebounds/game) and Christian Cunningham (7.7 points, 7.1 rebounds/game), Southeast Missouri’s Ledarrius Brewer (14.5 points/game, 71 3-pointers), Murray State’s Shaq Buchanan (9.1 points, 3.9 rebounds/game), Morehead State’s Lamontray Harris (11.0 points, 6.3 rebounds/game), UT Martin’s Fatood Lewis (12.4 points, 7.3 rebounds/game), Eastern Illinois’ Terrell Lewis (105 points. 4.7 assists/game) and Belmont’s Kevin McClain (12.6 points, 3.8 rebounds/game).
2018-19 Preseason All-OVC Men’s Basketball Team
Shaq Buchanan, Murray State
Ledarrius Brewer, Southeast Missouri
Jason Burnell, Jacksonville State
Christian Cunningham, Jacksonville State
Lamontray Harris, Morehead State
Fatood Lewis, UT Martin
Terrell Lewis, Eastern Illinois
Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky
Kevin McClain, Belmont
Ja Morant, Murray State
Terry Taylor, Austin Peay
Dylan Windler, Belmont
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Dylan Windler, Belmont