Indians, with all starters back and new blood, tabbed for 4th

Wednesday, October 29, 2003

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- There was really no mystery at the top of the Ohio Valley Conference preseason men's basketball poll.

Austin Peay, with all five starters returning, is the overwhelming favorite to repeat as league champion, determined through voting by the conference's head coaches and sports information directors at Tuesday's OVC media day.

The Governors actually return their top eight players from last year's squad that went 23-8 overall, 13-3 in the OVC and captured the conference's postseason tournament. They received 18 first-place votes.

"I think they have to be the favorite," said Morehead State coach Kyle Macy, whose team tied with the Governors for the regular-season title.

Austin Peay coach Dave Loos acknowledges that his squad should be strong -- but he also knows that being the preseason favorite doesn't mean a whole lot. After all, the Govs were picked fifth last year.

"We had an exciting year last year and we enjoyed it, but last year's over," Loos said. "I've been in this league a long time. I've been picked first and didn't win it and I've been picked fifth and won it.

"A lot of things can happen, a lot of teams can win it, but I like our team."

Austin Peay senior forward Adrian Henning and senior center Josh Lewis made the five-member all-OVC preseason first team.

Morehead State, 20-9 overall and 13-3 in the OVC last year, was picked second with three first-place votes. The Eagles return three starters, including do-it-all senior guard/forward Ricky Minard, the league's preseason player of the year, along with high-scoring senior guard Chez Marks.

"We feel like we can score points, but we're trying to play better defense," Macy said.

Murray State (17-12, 9-7), which tied for fourth place last year, was picked third and nabbed the final first-place vote. The Racers return three starters, including first team preseason senior guard/forward Cuthbert Victor, and have a new coach in Mick Cronin.

"Our seniors will determine what kind of season we have," said Cronin, a Louisville assistant under Rick Pitino last year.

Southeast Missouri State University (11-19, 5-11) tied for seventh last year, but with all five starters returning -- along with the addition of five key newcomers -- hopes are high for an Indians revival and they were picked fourth. Junior guard Derek Winans and senior center Brandon Griffin both made the preseason second team.

"You're usually picked about where you finished the year before, so I'm a little surprised we were picked fourth," Southeast coach Gary Garner said. "But I'm happy that the other coaches in the OVC project us as one of the top four teams.

"I think we can challenge for one of the top spots and a first round home game in the postseason tournament. I'm excited about the season. We have too many unknowns that I think are pretty good, but they haven't done it yet."

Austin Peay has been picked to win the league in virtually every preseason publication, with Morehead State and Murray State -- not necessarily in that order -- filling the next two spots. Garner doesn't argue with that.

"Those should be the top three teams," Garner said. "Austin Peay has to be the favorite. They won it last year and they've got all that experience.

"Morehead State has the two great players in Minard and Marks, and Murray State is very, very talented, maybe the most talented team in the league. And I really think you have to watch out for Tennessee-Martin. They could be a real sleeper. They're very talented."

Tennessee-Martin (14-14, 7-9), which finished sixth last season, was picked in that spot, just behind Tennessee Tech (20-12, 11-5), which placed third a year ago after winning the previous two regular-season titles.

Tech returns just one starter -- senior guard Cameron Crisp, a preseason first-teamer -- while Martin returns two starters but welcomes in some heralded recruits.

"We're the only team that has less than two starters back, so we have a challenge," Tech coach Mike Sutton said.

Said Martin coach Bret Campbell, "I'm very excited. I think this may be the best group we've had."

The OVC's two new programs, Samford (13-15, 9-7 Atlantic Sun) and Jacksonville State (20-10, 10-6 Atlantic Sun), were picked seventh and 10th. Samford returns four starters and Jacksonville State has just two starters back.

Eastern Kentucky (11-19, 5-11), which tied for seventh last year, is picked eighth and welcomes back three starters. Eastern Illinois (14-15, 9-7) tied for fourth last season but is picked ninth after losing scoring sensation Henry Domercant and two other regulars.

Tennessee State (2-25, 0-16), which plummeted to the basement last year amid turmoil both on and off the court, is picked last as new coach Cy Alexander welcomes back three starters.

"Being picked last, we have no where to go but up," said Alexander, who led South Carolina State to five NCAA appearances in 16 years as head coach. "I think you'll see improvement in every level of Tennessee State's basketball program."

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