EVANSVILLE, Ind. - - Belmont University men's basketball has been picked as the overall Ohio Valley Conference champion, as the league office unveiled its 2018-19 Men's Basketball Predicted Order of Finish at OVC Basketball Media Day Tuesday.
On the heels of 12 postseason invitations in the last 13 years and having won 16 conference championships since 2006 – third-most nationally over that span behind only Kansas and Gonzaga – Belmont has earned a reputation as one of the most respected programs in the country.
Despite losing 2018 All-OVC performers Amanze Egekeze and Austin Luke to graduation – and head coach Rick Byrd welcoming nine freshmen on the 2018-19 roster, his most in the Belmont NCAA Division I era – Belmont narrowly outdistanced Murray State and Jacksonville State in a virtual dead-heat for the league's top three positions.
Belmont received eight of 24 first-place votes in the preseason poll. Murray State and Jacksonville State split the remaining 16 first-place votes to stand second and third, respectively. Austin Peay, Tennessee Tech and Eastern Kentucky rounded out the top half of the predicted standings.
"Preseason polls serve a purpose to create conversation and promote the upcoming college basketball season. I just don't know how much stock to put in them," Byrd said. "There are so many variables and unknowns. Every season takes on a life of its own. We appreciate being well-thought-of by other OVC schools. But I think our returning players understand the challenge before us this season, and that any measure of preseason recognition stems from past accomplishment."
"I really like our group this year and hope we can grow together as the season goes on," Byrd added.
Windler returns as one of the accomplished two-way players in college basketball. The 6-8 swingman was the only player in America last season to average 17.0 points, 9.0 rebounds, and 2.5 assists per game, and shoot 40 percent from 3-point distance. The Indianapolis native ranked among OVC leaders in nine statistical categories, including first in rebounding and fourth in scoring. Among his 15 double-doubles in 2017-18 was a 36 point-20 rebound performance vs. Morehead State (2/17/18) – one of only three 30-20 games in college basketball a year ago. A 2018 Mid-Major All-American and First Team All-OVC honoree, Windler is on several preseason award watch lists, including the Senior CLASS Award and NABC Give Back Team.
In May, Windler and McClain were part of a Belmont group that took a mission trip to Nakuru, Kenya, partnering with Streets of Hope children's ministry.
Like Windler, McClain is a dynamic and impactful player on both ends of the floor. The 6-3 guard posted 23 double figure scoring games last season, including a career-high 27 points vs. Houston Baptist (11/18/17) en route to 2K Classic Subregional Most Valuable Player honors. The Jennings, Florida native averaged 13.5 points and 4.2 rebounds per game in OVC play last season on a nearly two-to-one assist-to-turnover ratio. McClain shined with 17 points vs. Murray State in the 2018 OVC Championship game. One of the most experienced players in the league, McClain enters the season with 95 game appearances.
The 2019 OVC Basketball Championship is set for March 6-9 at the Ford Center in Evansville, Indiana.
For a 16th straight season, the live play-by-play of Voice of the Bruins Kevin Ingram can be heard on the Bruin Sports Network and ESPN+.
Byrd enters the 2018-19 season ranked fifth among all active (15th all-time) NCAA Division I head coaches in career victories with 778.
Belmont season tickets – which include the entire men's and women's basketball home schedule – are on sale now at belmontbruins.com/tickets. Belmont fans can call or TEXT 615.460.BALL (2255).
Belmont University men's basketball has earned postseason invitations 12 of the last 13 seasons, including seven automatic berths to the NCAA Tournament. The Bruins have won 16 conference championships since 2006 - third-most nationally over that span (Gonzaga, Kansas). Belmont is one of only six NCAA Division I programs outside the Power 5 to post Top 100 RPIs eight consecutive seasons (BYU, Gonzaga, Saint Mary's (CA), San Diego State, Wichita State). Belmont is one of only nine NCAA Division I programs to win 19 or more games 13 consecutive seasons (BYU, Duke, Gonzaga, Kansas, Louisville, Michigan State, North Carolina, San Diego State). Belmont University men's basketball boasts an NCAA-leading 16 CoSIDA Academic All-America selections since 2001 and is one of only three NCAA Division I programs to make the NCAA Academic Progress Rate (APR) Honor Roll every year of existence.