CANMORE, Alta. — The 2017-18 season tips off on November 10th, which means the final month without college basketball is finally upon us.
Fans all across the country are gearing up for another exciting college basketball season, and with the recent scandal involving the FBI and several power conference programs across the NCAA, the level of anticipation is through the roof.
Conference preview pieces are starting to circulate from various media outlets, and conferences are hosting their annual media days and announcing their preseason polls and award winners. It’s always interesting to see how coaches and media rank teams in their respective conferences.
With the season right around the corner, we are starting to release our Preseason Player of the Year awards for each conference, along with three All-Conference teams. Picked at random, we will release two sets of awards each day.
The race for the Ohio Valley Conference title in 2017-18 will be one of the more exciting ones across the NCAA. Several big names from last season have moved on, while several teams have a legitimate chance to advance to the 2018 NCAA Tournament.
On the heels of their first-ever appearance in the Big Dance last season, momentum has to be behind the Jacksonville State Gamecocks as they look to make it two straight appearances. However, traditional power programs like the Murray State Racers and Belmont Bruins won’t back down easily from the top of the conference.
With a ton of talent in the conference, it’s anyone’s game at this point. Take a look at which talented player we’ve selected as our Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, plus who falls where on our All-OVC teams for the upcoming season!
2017-18 Player of the year: Jonathan Stark, Murray State Racers
The 2016-17 season may have been his first with the Murray State Racers, but Jonathan Stark emerged as one of the top scoring guards in the entire NCAA with his play. The native of Munford, TN put together eight straight double-digit point performances to open his career with the Racers, and he didn’t slow down over the entire season.
Stark averaged 22.6 points per game over his first eight games in a Murray State jersey, and he finished the season by averaging 21.9 points to go along with 5.2 assists and 3.9 rebounds per game. Add in the fact that he shot 42.8% from the field, 42.5% from three point range, and 83.0% from the free throw line, it’s easy to see why Stark is among the nation’s leading scorers.
The 6’0” guard scored 20 or more point on 19 occasions, highlighted by a 41-point performance against the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles in an overtime win for the Racers in the first round of the conference tournament. Stark’s ability to score from all areas of the floor is what sets him apart from other scoring guards in the country. He can hit shots from all over, and as the focal point of the Murray State offense, he will look to replicate those numbers as a senior in 2017-18.
2017-18 All-Ohio Valley Teams
Jonathan Stark is one of the top returning scorers in the NCAA in 2017-18, as he enters his senior campaign on the heels of a season that saw him average over 21 points per game as a junior. Stark will look to lead Murray State back to the post-season in his final year of eligibility in the NCAA.
The Jacksonville State Gamecocks earned the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title last season, advancing to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in school history. A big reason for their late-season success was the play of point guard Malcolm Drumwright, who averaged 15.8 points per game over the four games in the conference tournament. For the year, the native of Rancho Cucamonga, CA averaged 12.4 points and 3.9 assists per contest. Drumwright record a 1.57 assist-to-turnover ratio in 2016-17, dishing out 135 assists to 86 turnovers. All eyes will be on the Gamecocks in the conference to see how they build off last season’s success, and with Drumwright back to lead the way, don’t be surprised if Jacksonville State contends for the Ohio Valley Conference title.
Aleksa Jugovic may be the most underrated scoring guard in the conference, and a guy who doesn’t get the level of attention that he deserves. The 6’3” guard from Leskovac, Serbia has made positive strides over his first three season with the Tennessee Tech Golden Eagles, and he is effective from all areas of the floor. Jugovic averaged a team-high 15.2 points per game, while also leading the team in free throw shooting, hitting on 90.8% of his total attempts (108-of-119). In 2017-18, look for Jugovic to have himself another career year, and he will shed the label of ‘underrated’ and become a focal point in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Nick Mayo is a player that we’ve been high on ever since his freshman season with the Eastern Kentucky Colonels, and he will be a household name on the national level this season, without question. The 6’8” forward from Oakland, ME averaged a team-high 18.5 points and tied for the team-high with 6.5 rebounds per game last season. He has the size to withstand punishment from opposing forwards inside, but he also possesses a solid shooting stroke that allows him to hit jumpers from three point range (39.0% in ’16-17). Mayo is a close second in the race for Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year, and should be considered the front-runner in 2018-19.
The Ohio Valley Conference is full of veterans in 2017-18, and senior Terrell Miller, Jr. is one of the top forwards in the conference. The bulk of the attention around Murray State focuses on Stark, but Miller is a key piece of the puzzle for the Racers. Miller averaged 16.0 points and 8.2 rebounds in 2016-17, his first season with the program. Miller pulled down a total of 269 rebounds last season, which was good for the third-highest total in the conference. He is an impact player on both ends of the floor, and gives the Racers the top tandem in the conference alongside Stark.
The top assist man in the country returns for his senior season with the Belmont Bruins in 2017-18, and point guard Austin Luke has his sights set on one last trip to the NCAA Tournament. Last season, Luke averaged 7.1 assists per game, trailing just Lonzo Ball (7.7) for the nation’s top mark. He also chipped in with 8.0 points and shot 39.7% from the floor. Luke recorded double-digit assists in six games last season, and recorded at least three assists in every game he appeared in. Luke opened the 2017 calendar year with three straight double-digit assist performances.
Antonius Cleveland is gone for the Southeast Missouri State Redhawks, but sophomore guard Denzel Mahoney is back and ready to step into a leadership role with the program. On the heels of a strong debut season that saw Mahoney average 14.9 points per game and shoot 44.8% from the field, the 6’4” guard will fill the role vacated by Cleveland quite nicely. He closed the season with 11 straight double-digit point performances, averaging 20.1 points per game over that stretch. Mahoney has shown that he’s capable of leading the team on offense, and while he will be matched up with his opponent’s top guards, he has the skill set to succeed.
In his first season with the UT-Martin Skyhawks after transferring from the Rhode Island Rams, guard Matthew Butler became a star in the Ohio Valley Conference. In a much larger role than his time with the Rams, Butler averaged nearly 36 minutes of playing time per night. He finished the season as the Skyhawks’ second-leading scorer, averaging 13.7 points to go along with his 3.7 assists per game. With leading scorer Jacolby Mobley now graduated, Butler becomes the go-to guy on the offensive end. On the heels of a season in which he recorded double-digit points in 28 games, including a pair of 30+ point performances, the offense for UT-Martin is in good hands with Butler leading the way.
While Belmont will be without star forward Evan Bradds in the front court this season, they return 6’8” senior Amanze Egekeze, and he’s ready to step into a starring role with the Bruins. He averaged a career-best 11.3 points and 5.5 rebounds per game, while shooting 48.7% from the floor and 84.3% from the free throw line. Egekeze has made steady progress over his first three seasons with the Bruins, and all signs point to a big senior season. He was consistent on the offensive end as a junior, putting together 19 games with double-digit points, including six over his last seven games to close out the 2016-17 season on a bit of a high.
Norbertas Giga had himself a strong junior campaign in 2016-17, his first at Jacksonville State. But, it wasn’t until the 2017 NCAA Tournament that more people caught notice of the 7’0” big man from Lithuania. Against the Louisville Cardinals in the Round of 64, Giga went for a game-high 30 points and nine rebounds in the Gamecocks’ 78-63 loss. He averaged 11.0 points and 8.1 rebounds per contest over the course of the entire season, and had seven double-doubles to his name. This season, as a senior, Giga will be a big factor on both ends, and unfortunately for the Gamecocks, he won’t be able to sneak up on anyone and catch opponents by surprise.
The Eastern Illinois Panthers are a team that could turn some heads in the Ohio Valley Conference this season, and they boast a senior back court duo of Montell Goodwin and Terrell Lewis. In his first season with the Panthers, Goodwin averaged 14.3 points and 3.1 assists per game, and is the top returning scorer for Eastern Illinois after the graduation of Demetrius McReynolds. Goodwin and company will look to improve on their fifth-place finish in the talent-packed OVC-West Division in 2017-18.
Asante Gist is the second-half of one of the top guard-forward tandems in the conference, joining Mayo in the starting lineup for Eastern Kentucky. Gist had himself a fantastic freshman season, averaging 15.9 points per contest, which was the second-highest mark on the team. His 3.8 assists per game were also a team-high. If Gist puts up another strong season in 2017-18, a spot on the Third Team All-OVC will look awfully foolish. With the talent that Gist possesses, don’t be surprised if there’s an Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Year award in his future with the Colonels.
The 2016-17 season was a rough one for the SIU-Edwardsville Cougars, as they finished with just six wins on the season. However, they return some intriguing pieces in 2017-18, led by senior forward Jalen Henry. As a junior last season, Henry made strong progress on both ends of the floor, finishing third on the team in scoring (12.5 ppg) and second in rebounding (5.6 rpg). Henry will be a focal point of the offense this season, and will look to help the Cougars make some forward progress of their own.
He may have played under 19 minutes per game last season on average, but junior forward Lamontray Harris showed a ton of promise for the next two seasons with the Morehead State Eagles. The native of Louisville, KY averaged 9.4 points and 5.2 rebounds per contest, while shooting 45.1% from the floor. Harris struggled on the offensive end down the stretch, scoring in double-figures just three times over his final 11 games. However, a pair of 20+ point games over a four game stretch in December showcased the damage he is capable of doing on offense.
Up front for Eastern Illinois, 6’9” forward Muusa Dama emerged as a consistent double-double threat in 2016-17. He averaged 9.1 points, 9.6 rebounds, and 2.2 blocks per game over the course of his first season with the Panthers. Dama recorded double-digit rebounds on 12 occasions, and he recorded a double-double in five of them. Over his final eight games of the season, Dama averaged 10.5 rebounds per contest, recording at least seven boards in each game during the closing stretch. He will look to carry that momentum into his senior season in 2017-18.
– T. Bennett