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Conference Catchup: OVC should be good race with Murray State, Belmont

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With Isaiah Canaan back, Steve Prohm's Racers should stay in the national conversation. (US Presswire)  
With Isaiah Canaan back, Steve Prohm's Racers should stay in the national conversation. (US Presswire)  

The Ohio Valley Conference got an unusual amount of attention last season thanks to Murray State's flirtation with perfection and the emergence of Isaiah Canaan as a CBSSports.com First Team All-American. We knew the Racers and we knew them well. And while it's doubtful they'll take another undefeated record into February this season, it's likely they'll remain nationally relevant and make a run at another OVC title. Unless Belmont stops them. Yes, the Bruins are now in the OVC, which means this league is better. But can it place two schools in the NCAA tournament? That'll be the challenge as a new season (and new era) approaches.

Offseason headlines

1. Prohm and Canaan stay at Murray: Steve Prohm could be somewhere different making a lot more money, and Isaiah Canaan could, too. But the Murray State coach shied away from other job opportunities while his point guard decided against early entry into the NBA Draft. Consequently, the Racers are the smart pick to win the OVC for the fourth consecutive season.

2. Tyndall out, Woods in at Morehead State: Not everybody stayed in the OVC, though. Morehead State's Donnie Tyndall took the Southern Miss job that Larry Eustachy vacated, then Sean Woods left Mississippi Valley State to replace Tyndall. Meanwhile, Kenneth Faried remains in the NBA. Was he a great pick for the Nuggets or what?

3. Nobody currently in the league has beaten Prohm: The Murray State coach went 15-1 in the OVC in his first season in charge with the lone loss coming to Tennessee State's John Cooper, who is now Miami-Ohio's John Cooper. That means the only OVC coach who beat Prohm last season is now out of the league.

4. Here comes Belmont: Conference realignment stories typically focus on what's happening with the ACC, Big East, Big 12 and other power leagues. But things shifted at the lower levels, too. And now Belmont is in the OVC (Did you realize that?). It's a great addition because it brings another reputable basketball program into the league. If anybody pushes Murray State, it'll likely be Rick Byrd's Bruins.

Big question that remains

Will Murray State get VCU to visit its campus?

VCU's Shaka Smart and Murray State's Steve Prohm both told me recently that they've discussed a home-and-home series that would start in Murray this season. But scheduling at this level is very much like putting together a puzzle, and whether the pieces will fit remains undetermined. (For what it's worth, I hope the pieces do fit. It would provide a nice matchup between quality coaches and programs.)

NBA Draft report

Could've gone and did: None

Could've gone but stayed: Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)

Transfers

Coming: Grant Florentinos (Tulane to SIU-Edwardsville), Josiah Moore (from Nebraska to Tennessee Tech), Donivine Stewart (Bradley to SIU-Edwardsville)

Going: Will Bailey (Morehead State), Jaylen Bland (Murray State), Jeff Drew (Morehead State), Dionte Ferguson (Morehead State), Taylor Filipek (Eastern Kentucky), Martez Harris (Tennessee-Martin), Alfonzo McKinnie (Eastern Illinois), Joey Miller (Eastern Illinois to Illinois-Chicago), Jabs Newby (Eastern Kentucky), Harley Nussman (Murray State), Chris Richardson (Tennessee-Martin), Jon Sexton (Tennessee Tech),

Team commentary in 140 characters or less

With Kerron Johnson, newcomer Belmont should push Murray State. (US Presswire)  
With Kerron Johnson, newcomer Belmont should push Murray State. (US Presswire)  
Austin Peay: APSU coach Dave Loos remains the only Division I head coach who doubles as his school's athletic director (unless you count John Calipari).

Belmont: If Isaiah Canaan is the OVC's best point guard, then Belmont's Kerron Johnson is second. He averaged 14 points and five assists last season.

Eastern Illinois: Jay Spoonhour took over at Eastern Illinois in April. He signed four prospects late to help start the rebuilding project ahead of him.

Eastern Kentucky: The Colonels lost their top two scorers and two more players (Jabs Newby and Taylor Filipek) who played in a combined 59 games last season.

Jacksonville State: Jacksonville State returns two double-digit scorers (Brian Williams and Tarvin Gaines) from a team that finished 8-8 in the OVC last season.

Morehead State: Sean Woods wants to make Morehead State the "Gonzaga of the South." First step is building something like the McCarthey Athletic Center.

Murray State: The Racers lost a lot. But they still have their coach and their point guard. So they should make the NCAA tournament again (and advance).

Southeast Missouri State: Tyler Stone's move from Missouri to SEMO has worked well. He averaged 15 points and seven rebounds in his first OVC season last season.

SIU-Edwardsville: Coach Lennox Forrester got a three-year contract extension. He won a school-record eight games against DI opponents last season.

Tennessee-Martin: The Skyhawks finished 0-16 in the OVC last season. If there's another Lester Hudson around campus, he must show himself and get a uniform.

Tennessee State: John Cooper exited for Miami-Ohio. But he left behind a roster good enough to compete near the top of the OVC. Robert Covington is the star.

Tennessee Tech: TTU will miss Kevin Murphy and the 50 he dropped on SIUE. But don't be shocked if Jud Dillard leads the OVC in points and rebounding.

Early guess at the top five in the league

1. Murray State
2. Belmont
3. Tennessee State
4. Southeast Missouri State
5. Jacksonville State

Early guess at the all-conference team

G: Isaiah Canaan (Murray State)
G: Kerron Johnson (Belmont)
G: Jud Dillard (Tennessee Tech)
F: Tyler Stone (Southeast Missouri State)
F: Robert Covington (Tennessee State)

Final thought

I'll never blame a man for capitalizing off a magnificent season and taking a job that makes him a millionaire. But, that said, it's kinda nice that Steve Prohm rejected overtures from larger schools in bigger conferences to remain at Murray State. It's the latest example from this sport that suggests not all men are chasing a quick buck, and that more and more are placing a value on quality of life and comfort. That doesn't mean Prohm will retire at Murray State, of course. But his decision to stay put allowed him to spend another year with his star point guard and enjoy the success they created together, and those two things alone are probably worth something no amount of money can purchase.


Gary Parrish is a senior college basketball columnist for CBSSports.com and frequent contributor to the CBS Sports Network. The Mississippi native also hosts the highest-rated sports talk radio show -- The Gary Parrish Show -- in the history of Memphis. He lives in that area with his wife, two children and a dog.
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