Belmont hasn’t played a game in its new conference but already the Bruins are a favorite.
The Ohio Valley Conference released its preseason poll on Tuesday, and Belmont was picked to finish first in the newly formed East Division. Defending regular-season and tournament champion Murray State was projected to claim the West Division title.
Belmont, which reached the NCAA Tournament five of the last seven years while in the Atlantic Sun Conference, received 21 of 24 first-place votes. The other three went to Tennessee State, which was tabbed to finish second in the East Division.
Rounding out the division, Tennessee Tech was picked third, Morehead State fourth and Eastern Kentucky fifth. Jacksonville State was not ranked as the Gamecocks are ineligible for the OVC Tournament and NCAA Tournament due to an NCAA APR penalty.
In the West, Murray State, which started last year 23-0 before losing to TSU, received 22 first-place votes. Two went to Southeast Missouri State, which is picked to finish second. Austin Peay was tabbed third, Southern Illinois-Edwardsville fourth, Eastern Illinois fifth and Tennessee-Martin sixth.
Murray State guard Isaiah Canaan, the defending OVC Player of the Year, was also tabbed as preseason favorite to win the award again. Belmont guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson were also named to the preseason All-OVC Team along with Tennessee State forward Robert Covington and guard Patrick Miller.
A look at other preseason polls:
• SEC women: Vanderbilt was picked to finish third in the Southeastern Conference.
The Commodores, who went 23-10 and reached the second round of the NCAA Tournament last year, received two first-place votes and were projected to finish behind projected champ Kentucky and Georgia. Tennessee was tabbed fourth.
Junior shooting guard Christina Foggie, who led the league in scoring last year, was tabbed to the preseason All-SEC first team. She received four votes for SEC Player of the Year, second to only Kentucky’s A’dia Mathies. Tennessee guard Meighan Simmons was named to the second team.
• Sun Belt women: Coming off a perfect 16-0 record in league play, Middle Tennessee State was picked to capture the East Division title.
The Blue Raiders went 26-7 last year and reached the NCAA Tournament. They received 10 of 11 first-place votes and had three players placed on the All-Sun Belt preseason team: seniors Icelyn Elie and Kortni Jones and junior forward Ebony Rowe.
• OVC women: Belmont was picked to finish third in the OVC’s East Division.
The Bruins received three first-place votes after finishing 12-18 overall but third in the Atlantic Sun Conference last year with an 11-7 mark in league play. Tennessee State was projected to finish fifth in the East under new head coach Larry Joe Inman. The Tigers went 9-20 and finished tied for eighth in the league last year.