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October 15, 2009

League previews: OVC, Atlantic Sun, Patriot

Today, we continue our conference countdown. We're working backward, from our No. 31 league to the top league in the nation.

We provide a quick overview of the league, our projected order of finish and the preseason first- and second-team all-league picks.

We've started with the low-major leagues, and are unveiling three per day. We'll do two mid-majors per day, then each of the top 10 leagues will get a day to itself.


Morehead State faded down the stretch last season to finish fourth in the league, yet won the conference tournament. The Eagles then won the NCAA tournament play-in game for the league's first NCAA victory since 1989.

This season, the Eagles return four starters and head into the season as one of the leading contenders to win the league. Since they have the best player - C Kenneth Faried - we're giving them the title nod.

Predicted order of finish
1. Morehead State
2. Murray State
3. Eastern Illinois
4. Austin Peay
5. Jacksonville State
6. Eastern Kentucky
7. UT Martin
8. Tennessee Tech
9. Tennessee State
10. Southeast Missouri

Preseason Picks
First team
C/F Kenneth Faried, 6-8, Jr., Morehead State
F Ivan Aska, 6-7, Soph., Murray State
F Danero Thomas, 6-4, Sr., Murray State
G Wes Channels, 6-3, Sr., Austin Peay
G Romain Martin, 6-3, Sr., Eastern Illinois
Second team
F Kevin Murphy, 6-6, Soph., Tennessee Tech
F Josh Taylor, 6-7, Sr., Eastern Kentucky
G Isacc Miles, 6-2, Jr., Murray State
G Marquis Weddle, 6-1, Jr., UT Martin
G Maze Stallworth, 6-4, Sr., Morehead State

Player of the Year
C/F Kenneth Faried, 6-8, Sr., Morehead State
Newcomer of the Year
G Jay-R Strowbridge, 5-11, Sr., Jacksonville State

Regular-season winner last season: UT Martin
Tournament winner last season: State (lost in first round of NCAA tourney to Louisville as a No. 16 seed after beating Alabama State in the play-in game)
2010 conference tournament: March 2, 5-6. Campus sites in first round, then Nashville, Tenn.


East Tennessee State ended Belmont's three-year run as league tournament champion last season, but it's doubtful either team makes it to the NCAA tournament this season; each was hit by huge graduation losses.

That opens the door for teams such as Jacksonville, which won the league's regular-season title last season, and Mercer, which has the best 1-2 punch in the league. Also, don't count out Lipscomb.

While Belmont and ETSU are long shots to win the league, each has the potential to finish in the top three in the standings.

Predicted order of finish
1. Jacksonville
2. Mercer
3. Lipscomb
4. Belmont
5. Campbell
6. East Tennessee
7. Florida Gulf Coast
8. USC Upstate
9. North Florida
10. Kennesaw State
11. Stetson

Preseason All-League Team
First team
C Adnan Hodzic, 6-9, Jr., Lipscomb
F Daniel Emerson, 6-8, Sr., Mercer
F Mike Smith, 6-6, East Tennessee
G James Florence, 6-1, Sr., Mercer
G Ben Smith, 5-10, Sr., Jacksonville
Second team
F Lehmon Colbert, 6-6, Sr., Jacksonville
F Jonathan Rodriguez, 6-5, Sr., Campbell
F/C Scott Saunders, 6-10, Soph., Belmont
G Reed Baker, 6-1, Jr., Florida Gulf Coast
G A.J. Smith, 6-0, Sr., Stetson

Player of the Year
G James Florence, 6-1, Sr., Mercer
Newcomer of the Year
F Scott Saunders, 6-10, Soph., Belmont

Regular-season winner last season: Jacksonville
Tournament winner last season: East Tennessee State (lost in first round of NCAA tourney to Pittsburgh as a No. 16 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 3-6, Mercer University Center, Macon, Ga.


It was a very Patriotic moment - the American Eagles, playing in Philadelphia, with the nation watching - as Jeff Jones' team nearly pulled off a gigantic NCAA tournament first-round upset of No. 3 seed Villanova. The Wildcats ultimately went on a late run and prevailed despite 55 points from Jones' trio of senior stars.

Now, with those three gone, American might be the only team in the Patriot League destined to take a significant step backward in 2009-10. Jones' impending rebuild - and the presence of impact returnees for the other seven teams - should make for a wide-open conference race.

Lehigh and Holy Cross - with new coach Sean Kearney, who had been an assistant at Notre Dame - are the best bets to tangle at the top. High-octane Navy and hot-shooting guard Chris Harris can be good, though, and Army's defense is just as impressive as Navy's offense.

Colgate is on the way up as well, although the young Raiders might be a season away from truly contending. Once-proud Bucknell has enough young talent to emerge from its unfamiliar spot in the conference basement.

Predicted order of finish
1. Lehigh
2. Holy Cross
3. Navy
4. Army
5. Colgate
6. Bucknell
7. American
8. Lafayette

Preseason All-League Team
First team
C Andrew Keister, 6-9, Jr., Holy Cross
F Patrick Behan, 6-8, Sr., Bucknell
F Zahir Carrington, 6-7, Sr., Lehigh
G Marquis Hall, 5-11, Sr., Lehigh
G Chris Harris, 6-2, Sr., Navy
Second team
C Mark Veazey, 6-11, Jr., Navy
F Yaw Gyawu, 6-5, Soph., Colgate
F Ryan Willen, 6-8, Soph., Lafayette
G R.J. Evans, 6-3, Soph., Holy Cross
G Cleveland Richard, 6-3, Sr., Army

Player of the Year
G Chris Harris, 6-2, Sr., Navy
Newcomer of the Year
F Jeff Holton, 6-7, Fr., American

Regular-season winner last season: American
Tournament winner last season: (lost in first round of NCAA tourney to Villanova as a No. 14 seed)
2010 conference tournament: March 3, 7 and 12. "Better" seed hosts every game

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