Not often does an Ohio Valley Conference team have a first-round NBA Draft pick.
Morehead State might, though, in Kenneth Faried.
He is the big reason the Eagles — 24-11 overall and 15-3 in the OVC last season — are rated the top contender to dethrone champion Murray State.
Faried, a 6-foot-8 senior, considered turning pro after last season, when he was OVC Player and Defensive Player of the Year. He averaged 16.9 points, led the nation with 456 rebounds (13.0 a game), led the OVC with 67 blocks and led his team with 56 steals, all while shooting 56.4 percent from the floor.
Since then, he's added 10 pounds, now at 232, and has improved his bench press to 325 pounds. He's also showing results from a surgery to repair a blocked nasal passage.
"He's playing through fatigue a little bit better," Coach Donnie Tyndall said. "I think if Kenneth just continues to be a great rebounder with the incredible motor that he has, he's going to have a chance to be a first-round pick. There's no guarantees. He knows that. We all understand that. He'll have a great senior season — I truly believe that."
The Eagles open play Friday at home against Asbury.
Faried — whose pre-season accolades include being billed by Rivals.com as "best mid-major" player, by SI.com (Sports Illustrated) as second-best defender and by Athlon as 10th-best post player — has been Morehead's best player for several seasons.
However, he's had team leaders alongside him at power forward. Two years ago, Morehead was Leon Buchanan's team. Last season, Maze Stallworth ran the show.
Now, Faried is expected to lead a team that often will use four guards.
Tyndall compared the look to one used a few years ago by Villanova and said he thinks it "will make our press even more effective."
"The strength of our team, other than Kenneth Faried, will be the fact that playing a smaller lineup, we'll be able to space the floor, drive the ball to the rim and make plays off the dribble from four different positions," Tyndall said. "In the past, Leon was a true power forward, and Maze Stallworth played power forward and was so good with the way he shot the basketball and stretched the defense but wasn't great off the dribble."
Now, Morehead will put four on the floor who can dribble and create shots. Tyndall expects "an attacking, aggressive bunch of guys." In the half-court, of course, Faried will be the focus.
Expected to start are pre-season All-OVC pick Demonte Harper (6-4 sr., 11.9 ppg), 6-4 junior Ty Proffitt (2.8 ppg), 6-2 senior Sam Goodman (3.8 ppg) and 6-1 junior Terrance Hill (7.9 ppg). Harper started last season, and the other three combined for 14 starts. Harper, who has played point guard on occasion, has the role full-time now.
"As a senior, he has a sense of urgency about him," Tyndall said. "He understands that this is his last go-round, and he's been much more assertive and much more aggressive in our practices. ... He's a great penetrator. He'll score in bunches. And he's also done a nice job of making his teammates better by getting into the defense in the lane area and making plays for others."
The rest of the roster is made up of transfers and freshmen. The latter include five directly from high school and one redshirt.
The first "big" off the bench will be 6-7 junior Romaric Lasme, from Gabon in West Africa by way of Laramie County Community College. Drew Kelly, a 6-7 sophomore transfer from Miami (Ohio), will be eligible in the second semester.
Guards include Lamont Austin, a 6-0 junior transfer from Howard, and Reggie Williams, a 6-2 freshman from Virginia Beach, Va.
Morehead's schedule includes trips to Florida and Ohio State this month. Murray visits Dec. 4.
"There's absolutely, positively no doubt that Murray deserves to be picked No. 1," Tyndall said. "They return eight of their top 10 players (and four pre-season All-OVC picks) from a team that a lot of people thought was the best team to ever be assembled in the OVC. ... Our deal is, we've got to continue to get better each and every day and build for those three days in March. And hopefully, if we can make enough progress, then we'll give ourselves an opportunity to play for a regular-season championship over the course of the year and certainly an OVC Tournament championship at the end of the year."