Entering head coach Dan McHale’s third season at Eastern Kentucky University, the Colonels seem poised to get back in contention for an Ohio Valley Conference men’s basketball championship.
Getting all the way to the top is another matter, at least according to the preseason coaches’ poll.
Eastern Kentucky was picked to finish fourth in the OVC this season in voting conducted by the league’s coaches and sports information directors announced Tuesday.
Colonels 5-foot-11 sophomore guard Asante Gist and 6-9 junior forward Nick Mayo were voted to the preseason All-OVC team. Plus, the Colonels expect a boost this season from 6-8 former Lafayette High School star Jackson Davis, who transferred from Butler and is eligible to return to the court after sitting out last season.
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In McHale’s first two seasons at EKU, the Colonels finished 15-16 and then 12-19. Even though Eastern looks positioned for a breakout, the league has gotten no easier.
For the third year in a row, the coaches voted Belmont to win the league. The Bruins have captured four of the past five OVC regular-season championships. Belmont received 18 of the 24 possible first-place votes.
Jacksonville State and Murray State, voted to finish second and third, respectively, each collected three first-place votes. Morehead State, entering Preston Spradlin’s first full season as head coach and fielding a youthful roster, was picked to finish ninth in the 12-team OVC.
Murray State senior guard Jonathan Stark was voted OVC Preseason Player of the Year. Last season, Stark led the OVC and ranked 13th nationally in scoring at 21.9 points per game. He connected on 42.5 percent of his three-point attempts.
The OVC’s women’s basketball coaches and sports information directors also gave Belmont the preseason nod, directing 22 of the possible 24 first-place votes to the Bruins.
Morehead State was voted to finish in fourth place, Murray State in a tie for eighth and Eastern Kentucky 10th.
OVC coaches’ polls
1. Belmont (18 first-place votes) — 235 points
2. Jacksonville State (3) — 213
3. Murray State (3) — 212
4. Eastern Kentucky — 139
5. Tennessee Tech — 137
6. Eastern Illinois — 135
7. Tennessee State — 125
8. Tennessee-Martin — 114
9. Morehead State — 89
10. Southeast Missouri — 82
11. Austin Peay — 63
12. SIU-Edwardsville — 40
1. Belmont (22 first-place votes) — 242 points
2. SIU-Edwardsville — 199
3. Tennessee-Martin (2) — 198
4. Morehead State — 192
5. Tennessee Tech — 133
6. Austin Peay — 120
7. Jacksonville State — 111
8. Murray State — 101
8. Southeast Missouri — 101
10. Eastern Kentucky — 83
11. Eastern Illinois - 64
12. Tennessee State – 38
Matthew Butler, Tennessee-Martin
Malcolm Drumwright, Jacksonville State
Amanze Egekeze, Belmont
Norbertas Giga, Jacksonville State
Asante Gist, Eastern Kentucky
Aleksa Jugovic, Tennessee Tech
Austin Luke, Belmont
Denzel Mahoney, Southeast Missouri
Nick Mayo, Eastern Kentucky
Terrell Miller, Murray State
Jonathan Stark, Murray State
Preseason OVC Player of the Year: Jonathan Stark, Murray State
Ke’Shunan James, Murray State
Darby Maggard, Belmont
Kylee Smith, Belmont
Grace Lennox, Eastern Illinois
Yaktavia Hickson, Tennessee Tech
Sally McCabe, Belmont
Donshel Beck, SIU-Edwardsville
Miranda Crockett, Morehead State
Ashton Feldhaus, Tennessee-Martin
Kendall Spray, Tennessee-Martin
Myah Taylor, Tennessee-Martin
Preseason OVC Co-Players of the Year: Darby Maggard, Belmont; Sally McCabe, Belmont