Posted by Eric Angevine
The headline for this post might seem a little strange in light of the news that Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy just left for Texas A&M, but rest assured, that's part of the positive direction the OVC is taking these days.
Murray State has given BCS-level basketball a couple of head coaches of note recently. Mick Cronin, who just took Cincinnati to the Big Dance for the first time in his five-year tenure with the Bearcats, earned his shot at the big time by going 69-24 and making the NCAA tourney twice in just three years with the Racers. Mark Gottfried had a nearly identical record between 1995-98, when he was Murray State's leader. That earned him an eleven-year run at Alabama, and was no doubt considered when Gottfried was recently given an ACC job at North Carolina State.
In a conference like the OVC, even a revolving door of strong coaches is a good thing. Consider that the Nashville-based conference was ranked 22nd by kenpom.com at the end of last season. Keep in mind, also, that the OVC is resolutely buried in one-bid territory. Still, it has attracted national attention due to the upset-minded Racers and the four-year career of Kenneth Faried at Morehead State. In fact, the league that had zero NCAA tourney wins between 1994-2008 has notched a victory in each of the past three NCAA parties.
The league's profile is attractive enough to have lured Belmont - the bully of the similarly-sized Atlantic Sun conference - for the 2011-12 season. That brings Rick Byrd, who has been head coach of the Bruins for 25 years, into the same league with Dave Loos, who has given 21 years to the Austin Peay Governors. Assuming Murray State finds yet another tyro on the rise, the combination of long-term experience and youthful fire could give the league momentum going forward.
OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche recently gave her thoughts on the future of the conference:
Adding Belmont doesn't mean the OVC will become a two-bid conference in 2012, or any time soon, but it definitely adds to the overall prestige of the soon-to-be twelve-member group. Given that Murray State coaches have had so much success using the Racers as a stepping stone to the big time, and players like Faried and former Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson have turned into pro prospects in spite of the low profile of the league, the Ohio Valley may be on its way to bigger and better things over the next decade.