Murray State favored again to win Ohio Valley

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NASHVILLE, TENN. (AP) - It’s no surprise that Murray State, the team that upset No. 4 seed Vanderbilt in the NCAA tournament and almost shocked Butler, is the overwhelming favorite to win the Ohio Valley Conference again this season.

Murray State has eight players returning from its league record 31-win season, and the Racers received 18 of 20 first-place votes by OVC coaches and sports information directors in preseason predictions released Monday at the league’s annual media day.

“For them to go and beat Vanderbilt in the first round and then be one possession away from beating Butler, it says a lot about our conference and how far it’s come,” Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer said. “It also says that the other teams in the league, we truly are chasing Murray at this point.”

Morehead State, the only OVC team to defeat the Racers last season, was the consensus No. 2 and got the only two first-place votes that didn’t go to Murray State.

The Racers also placed four on the preseason All-OVC team, most of any school under the 10-player format with senior guards B.J. Jenkins and Isacc Miles, junior forward Ivan Aska and sophomore guard Isaiah Canaan.

Jenkins had an OVC-best 1.8 steals per game and topped six Racers who averaged around 10 points a game. Miles led Murray in assists, Aska had the third-best league shooting percentage, and Canaan was only the second freshman named OVC tourney MVP.

“We’re excited that we have eight returners in our program who’ve had success, and the success we had last year is big,” coach Billy Kennedy said. “Our guard play was tremendous for us last year, and the five guards we have returning will be the strength of our team.”

Murray did lose center Tony Easley (95 blocked shots) and Danero Thomas, who hit the buzzer-beater against Vanderbilt in opening round of the NCAA tournament.

Morehead State has the preseason player of the year in senior forward-center Kenneth Faried, who withdrew from the NBA Draft to return for his final season. Faried ranked second nationally in rebounding (13 per game) and double-doubles (25) and was last season’s OVC Player of the Year and two-time league defensive player.

The Eagles, who won a postseason game in the inaugural College Basketball Invitational, returns three other starters in senior guard Demonte Harper (11.9 points per game) and junior 3-point shooters Terrance Hill and Ty Proffitt.

“We return the best player in the league, which in my opinion always gives you an opportunity to contend for an OVC championships, but our depth and experience isn’t near what Murray State’s is,” said fifth-year Morehead coach Donnie Tyndall.

Eastern Illinois has seven players back from a team that took Murray to the wire in the OVC semifinals, including three starters _ Tyler Laser, a senior guard; junior guard Jeremy Granger and sophomore forward James Hollowell.

“This is the first time since I’ve been here that we could put five guys out there to potentially start a season that all either started or played big minutes a year ago,” Eastern Illinois coach Mike Miller said.

Austin Peay lost leading scorer Wesley Channels to graduation, but junior Anthony Campbell heads up four returning starters. The Governors add 6-7 junior college transfer Melvin Baker and 6-6 freshman forward Will Triggs from Campbell’s high school.

“We have to be better defensively,” Austin Peay coach Dave Loos said. “That’s the thing that impressed me about Murray last year. That’s the best defensive team I’ve seen in this league I think in my 21 years.”

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