Murray State picked to win OVC

NASHVILLE - In a vote of Ohio Valley Conference head men’s basketball coaches and sports information directors, Murray State was picked as the 2008-09 preseason favorite in the 10-team league. The Racers, who received 11 of 20 first-place votes, finished second in the OVC last season (13-7) and return nine players and four starters from the team. It marks the 12th time in the last 20 years that Murray State has been picked the preseason favorite and the first time since the 2005-06 season.

Murray State totaled 149 points and was closely followed by UT Martin who received six first-place votes (142 points). It marks the highest preseason ranking the Skyhawks have received since joining the OVC in 1992. Previously UTM had been picked no higher than sixth in the preseason predictions (four different times). The Skyhawks return senior guard Lester Hudson, the Preseason Player of the Year, after an All-American season in which he finished fifth nationally in scoring (25.7 points/game).

Defending champion Austin Peay received two first-place votes and was tabbed third (129 points) while Morehead State received one first-place vote and was picked fourth (118), its highest preseason selection since 2003-04. Tennessee State was picked fifth (108), followed by Tennessee Tech (77), Eastern Kentucky (59), Southeast Missouri State (57), Eastern Illinois (35) and Jacksonville State (26).

No team in OVC history has been predicted to finish first in the preseason more than Murray State, and the Racers have often proven the prognosticators correct, winning the OVC regular season championship 20 times. Head coach Billy Kennedy’s squad will be looking to win its first title since the 2006 season. Kennedy, who is in year No. 3 with the program, returns four starters from last year’s team that was 18-13 overall, 13-7 in the OVC (2nd) and advanced to the OVC Tournament Semifinals. Among the returning players is junior forward Danero Thomas who averaged 12.3 points and 4.9 rebounds a contest last season. Also back is senior point guard Kevin Thomas (4.5 assists/game) and senior sharp shooter Tyler Holloway (10.6 points, 55 made 3-pointers).

Last season UT Martin was picked last in the preseason poll but Bret Campbell’s Skyhawks did not listen to those predictions and instead produced one of the best seasons in school history, winning 17 games overall, finishing fourth in the OVC (11-9) and making the semifinals of the OVC Tournament for the first time in school history. A large part of that success can be attributed to Hudson, who made a major impact in his debut with the Skyhawks. He ranked in the Top 10 nationally in points per game (25.7, 4th), steals (2.8, 4th) and 3-pointers made per game (3.8, 10th) on his way to OVC Player of the Year honors. Hudson also knocked down 124 3-pointers, which set the OVC single-season record, and recorded the first quadruple-double in NCAA Division I men’s history. But Hudson did not do it alone, as he also had help from OVC Freshman of the Year Marquis Weddle, as the two combined to form one of the top scoring backcourts in the country. Weddle averaged 17.1 points a contest and hit 99 3-pointers in his first season with UTM. Overall the Skyhawks return four starters and eight letterwinners.

Austin Peay, the regular season and tournament champion from 2007-08, was picked to finish third. The Governors have been one of the most consistent Conference teams since 2000, appearing in six OVC Tournament championship games and combining to produce a 99-41 OVC record during those years. The last two seasons APSU has a combined 32-8 record in Conference play. This season Dave Loos’ squad returns two starters and five letterwinners from the 24-11 squad that lost to Texas in the first round of the NCAA Tournament. Leading the way is first-team All-OVC selection and the 2006-07 OVC Player of the Year, Drake Reed. Reed led the team in scoring (14.4 points) last season while also pulling down 5.6 rebounds a game and hitting 45.7 percent from the field. Also back is forward Kyle Duncan who hit 55.1 percent (43-of-78) from 3-point range a year ago. Although the team did lose both of its backcourt starters and its power forward, back is guard Wes Channels who averaged 10.9 points and 2.0 assists per game off the bench last season.

Morehead State has a group of eight letterwinners back in 2008-09 as well as bringing in several high-profile players who should help the Eagles right away. Last season Morehead State was picked 10th in the league but finished third (12-8) and advanced to the OVC Tournament for the second straight season under head coach Donnie Tyndall. Among those returning players is preseason All-OVC selection Leon Buchanan who led the team with 13.2 points per game and added 6.1 rebounds a contest in his first year with the program. Another preseason All-OVC pick is sophomore center Kenneth Faried who led the team (and ranked third in the OVC) with 8.0 rebounds a contest while also blocking 24 shots.

Tennessee State returns three starters from last year’s team that finished 10-10 (fifth) in the OVC but made a run to the OVC Tournament Championship game after wins over No. 4 seed Morehead State and No. 2 seed Murray State. The Tigers will turn to a pair of preseason All-OVC selections this season in hopes of returning to the championship contest this year. Among those is sophomore guard Gerald Robinson, Jr., who was the runner-up for the Freshman of the Year award last season. Robinson averaged 15.2 points a contest last season while hitting 46.4 percent from the field and garnering nearly two steals a contest. Also back is senior forward Jerrell Houston who averaged 11.6 points and 6.1 rebounds per game in his first full season with TSU in 2007-08.

Tennessee Tech was tabbed sixth this preseason after finishing in a tie for fifth (10-10) a season ago. The Golden Eagles return two starters and five letterwinners from last year’s team. The focal point of Coach Mike Sutton’s team is senior center Daniel Northern who led the OVC in both rebounding (9.3/game) and blocked shots (2.81/game) and ranked 15th (12.8 points/game) in scoring. Also back is junior guard Frank Davis who averaged 9.0 points a contest and hit a team-best 67 trifectas last season.

A season removed from the 2007 OVC Tournament Championship, Eastern Kentucky will look to regain some of that magic with senior guard Mike Rose. Rose, a preseason All-OVC selection, is one of the league’s top all-around performers as he averaged 15.3 points, 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per contest last season for a Colonel squad that was short-handed. This season EKU has added six newcomers to play alongside Rose and to increase the team’s depth. Also back from last year’s team is sophomore Justin Stommes, who averaged 6.6 points a game in 24 starts a season ago.

No team started last season better than Southeast Missouri State who won its first six conference games before its top player Brandon Foust suffered a season-ending injury. After that the Redhawks would only win one of its final 14 Conference games (a triple-overtime thriller over champion Austin Peay) and missed out on the OVC Tournament. The team will look for senior swingman Jaycen Herring to be a leader this season after Herring led the team with a 13.1 points per game average a season ago. Also back is big man Calvin Williams who blocked 32 shots in 31 games in his Redhawks debut last season.

Eastern Illinois hopes to endure a healthier season this year after being plagued with injuries a season ago. Only two players were healthy the entire year in 2007-08 and the rest of the club combined to miss 55 total games. One of those who had nagging injuries all year was Romain Martin, who was the OVC Co-Freshman of the Year in 2006-07 after leading the Panthers in scoring. Martin was limited to 17 games last season and averaged 13.6 points per game in those contests but did not play for most of the Conference season. Martin will play alongside the only returning full-time starter from last season, center Ousmane Cisse. Cisse hit 52.5 percent of his field goal attempts last season while averaging 5.8 points and 5.8 rebounds per contest.

Jacksonville State begins its first season under new head coach James Green, who is fresh off taking Mississippi Valley State to the NCAA Tournament a season ago. Green inherits a team that has five players returning from last year’s team. Among those players is senior point guard DeAndre Bray, whose 6.4 assists per game ranked second in the OVC and 11th nationally last season; his 2.98 assist-to-turnover ratio ranked fourth nationally as well. One of the players he will be sharing the ball with is sophomore Nick Murphy who started 19 games a season ago and led the team with an 13.0 points per game average. Also back is junior big man Amadou Mbodji who blocked 57 shots and pulled down 5.8 rebounds per game last season. Green has filled out the roster with 10 newcomers.

The OVC season kicks off with an exhibition game involving Southeast Missouri on Nov. 1. The regular season begins on Nov. 14 with six OVC schools in action. The first Conference games will take place on Dec. 4. The 2009 Ohio Valley Conference Tournament will be held March 3, 6-7. The first round (March 3 will be held at campus sites (the top four seeds will host games) and the semifinals and finals will be held at the Sommet Center in Nashville. The semifinals will be carried live on ESPNU with the championship game being broadcast to a national audience on ESPN2.

Order of Finish Points
1. Murray State (11 first-place votes) 149
2. UT Martin (6) 142
3. Austin Peay (2) 129
4. Morehead State 118
5. Tennessee State 108
6. Tennessee Tech 77
7. Eastern Kentucky 59
8. Southeast Missouri State 57
9. Eastern Illinois 35
10. Jacksonville State 26

 2008-09 All-OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball Team

The 2008-09 All-OVC Preseason Men’s Basketball team is headlined by UT Martin senior guard Lester Hudson, the 2007-08 OVC Player of the Year. Hudson was tabbed a nearly unanimous Preseason Player of the Year after earning the award at the end of last season. Overall seven different schools were represented on the team with Morehead State, Tennessee State and UT Martin each placing two individuals on the team. The team included six seniors, a junior and three sophomores while featuring three repeat selections from last year’s All-OVC squads.

Hudson finished last year ranked in the Top 10 nationally in each points per game (25.7 - 4th), steals (2.8 - 4th) and 3-pointers made per game (3.8 - 10th). He also became the first Division I men’s basketball player to record a quadruple-double in a game. Hudson was joined by two other players who were selections on the 2007-08 All-OVC team - Austin Peay forward Drake Reed (the 2006-07 OVC Player of the Year and last year’s preseason Player of the Year) and Eastern Kentucky guard Mike Rose. Reed averaged 14.4 points and 5.6 rebounds per game last season while leading APSU to the OVC regular season and tournament championships. Rose led EKU with 15.3 points per game while also adding 4.4 rebounds, 2.2 assists and 1.8 steals per game.

All five individuals who were named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team last season made this year’s preseason team. That includes Hudson, his UT Martin teammate Marquis Weddle (17.1 ppg, 99 made 3-pointers), Morehead State’s Leon Buchanan (13.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 53.5 FG%) and Kenneth Faried (10.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 51.6 FG%) and Tennessee State’s Gerald Robinson (15.2 ppg, 60 made 3-pointers).

Rounding out the Preseason All-OVC team was Tennessee State’s Jerrell Houston (11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg), Tennessee Tech’s Daniel Northern (12.8 ppg, OVC-best 9.3 rebounds per game and OVC-best 2.8 blocks per game) and Murray State’s Danero Thomas (12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg).

Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Lester Hudson, UT Martin

%Leon Buchanan, Morehead State F 6’5 210 Sr. Albany, Ga. 13.2 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 53.5 FG%, 82.4 FT%
%Kenneth Faried, Morehead State C 6’8 215 So. Newark, N.J. 10.5 ppg, 8.0 rpg, 1.2 spg, 51.6 FG%
Jerrell Houston, Tennessee State F 6’8 220 Sr. Memphis, Tenn. 11.6 ppg, 6.1 rpg, 1.5 spg, 48.8 FG%
*Lester Hudson, UT Martin G 6’2 190 Sr. Memphis, Tenn. 25.7 ppg, 7.8 rpg, 4.5 apg, 2.9 spg
Daniel Northern, Tennessee Tech C 6’9 210 Sr. Warner-Robins, Ga. 12.8 ppg, 9.3 rpg, 2.8 bpg, 48.2 FG%
%Gerald Robinson, Jr., Tennessee State G 6’0 165 So. Nashville, Tenn. 15.2 ppg, 2.7 rpg, 1.7 apg, 46.4 FG%
*Mike Rose, Eastern Kentucky G 6’4 195 Sr. Naperville, Ill. 15.3 ppg, 4.4 rpg, 2.2 apg, 1.8 spg
*Drake Reed, Austin Peay F 6’5 236 Sr. Clarksville, Tenn. 14.4 ppg, 5.6 rpg, 2.0 apg, 45.7 FG%
Danero Thomas, Murray State F 6’4 190 Jr. New Orleans, La. 12.3 ppg, 4.9 rpg, 1.5 spg, 44.9 FG%
%Marquis Weddle, UT Martin G 6’1 185 So. Union City, Tenn. 17.1 ppg, 2.8 rpg, 1.8 apg, 99 3-pointers

* - 1st team All-OVC team in 2007-08 # - 2nd team All-OVC team in 2007-08 % - OVC All-Newcomer team in 2007-08