EVANSVILLE, Ind. – Coming off one of the most successful seasons by an Ohio Valley Conference team in league history, Belmont women's basketball has again been picked to finish first in the 2018-19 season, the conference unveiled Tuesday, led by Preseason OVC Player of the Year Darby Maggard.
The Bruins set a new bar a year ago with 31 wins (31-4 overall), the most ever by an OVC team, while sweeping its conference slate for a second consecutive season by going 18-0. Belmont won the OVC Tournament for a third straight year as well. The Bruins drew 20 first-place votes, all but four total firsts from the league's head coaches and sports information directors.
"It's humbling that the coaches have a respect for where our program is," began Belmont Head Coach Bart Brooks. "But at the end of the day we don't get extra points on the scoreboard when the games start because we were picked first in the preseason – unfortunately.
"It just means there's a big bullseye on everyone's calendar when they get to play us, but we should be excited about that."
UT Martin, whom the Bruins topped in a dramatic overtime clash for the OVC Tournament championship last March, finished second in the preseason voting and garnered three first-place votes. Jacksonville State, Morehead State and Southeast Missouri rounded out the top five, while No. 6 SIU Edwardsville drew the final first-place vote.
Behind Belmont and UT Martin, which finished 19-15 in 2017-18, little separated the Nos. 3 through 6 teams in the voting, further indication of the overall strength of the league, Brooks said.
"I expect this conference to be really, really challenging," he said. "I was impressed at how difficult this league is last year. When you're on the outside looking in, you don't realize how hard it is to play these teams week in and week out. We might have gone undefeated, but we did not have an easy game."
Along with the Maggard (Larwill, Ind.), the senior point guard, Belmont also placed senior guard Jenny Roy on the 10-member Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference Team. Only the Bruins, UT Martin and Tennessee State garnered multiple selections.
Maggard is a three-time First Team All-OVC selection and was last year voted a Co-Preseason Player of the Year. She again lived up to that hype by churning out per-game averages of 16.6 points and 5.2 assists, second and first among returning players, respectively. She made 117 3-pointers, 12th most in the nation, with a 41.2 3-point shooting percentage.
"Having played against her for three years now, I think everyone understand's how valuable Darby is to our team," Brooks said. "She's the point guard that makes the engine go. What she did last year in the OVC Tournament, making the plays that helped us ultimately get to play in the NCAA Tournament, that was a special three days for Darby and our program."
With the graduation of three seniors, Roy (Brentwood, Tenn.) will be tasked with taking an even larger role in the offense this season. She averaged 7.8 points per game in 2017-18 and added 4.4 assists, the fifth best mark in the league. Her 3.1 assist-to-turnover ration was second among OVC players only to Maggard (3.2).
A Second Team All-OVC pick last season, Roy led the OVC in both total rebounds (269) and offensive boards (106) as well. She averaged 8.2 rebounds per game. It's her defensive intangibles that make her so indispensable though, Brooks said.
"Jenny might be the most complete basketball player I've ever coached in terms of what she does in all facets of the game," he said. "She's a huge glue person for our team and we expect a big year from Jenny."
The Ohio Valley Conference Men's and Women's Basketball Championships will be held at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana for the second year this season. Games will be played March 6-9, 2019.
The Ford Center, which opened in 2011, is a 11,000-seat arena located in the core of Evansville's downtown district. The 290,000-square foot facility serves as home of the Evansville Thunderbolts of the Southern Professional Hockey League and hosts numerous other sporting events and concerts on an annual basis.
The Belmont women open their regular-season slate on Wednesday, Nov. 7 with a trip to North Carolina State of the ACC. The Bruins' home opener is slated for the following Monday, Nov. 12 when they host Tulsa at the Curb Event Center.
2018-19 OVC Women's Basketball Predicted Order of Finish
|1. Belmont (20)||240|
|2. UT Martin (3)||204|
|3. Jacksonville State||180|
|4. Morehead State||179|
|5. Southeast Missouri||154|
|6. SIUE (1)||149|
|7. Tennesse Tech||112|
|9. Austin Peay||86|
|10. Eastern Kentucky||62|
|11. Eastern Illinois||60|
|12. Murray State||58|
*Voters were not allowed to rank their their own team. First-place votes in parenthesis. 11 points awarded for a first-place vote, 10 for second, etc.
2018-19 Preseason All-Ohio Valley Conference Women's Basketball Team
PRESEASON PLAYER OF THE YEAR: Darby Maggard, Belmont
G Darby Maggard, sr., Belmont
F Tia Wooten, sr., Tennessee State
G Miranda Crockett, sr., Morehead State
G Tesia Thompson, so., Southeast Missouri
G Jenny Roy, sr., Belmont
F Chelsey Perry, so., UT Martin
G Grace Lennox, sr., Eastern Illinois
G Emanye Robertson, sr., UT Martin
F Mackenzie Coleman, so., Tennessee Tech
G Taylor Roberts, so., Tennessee State