Posted on: December 13, 2011 4:14 pm
Edited on: December 13, 2011 4:40 pm
By Matt Norlander
If that isn't the biggest "no doy (remember "no doy"? I'm bringin' it back, unfortunately) headline I'll write this season, I'm afraid of what else I'll be sucked into.
I cant believe it's Dec. 13 and we're already entertaining the notion of a team getting through February unscathed. You haven't even begun to take care of your Christmas/Hanukkah/Festivus duties and we're already debating the merits of a college basketball team getting through its regular season and conference tournament without a loss, something that hasn't happened since Vegas in '91. That team had multiple future pros, is considered to be one of the best collections/compilations of talent/swagger in the history of the game -- and even the Rebs didn't go undefeated that year, defeated by Duke in the Final Four.
It's not going to happen, folks. The last team to do it before bracket play was St. Joe's in 2004 (note: that team remains a top-five Fun Team to Watch in my rankings), and it had two future NBA starters on its team who were first-round draft picks (Dalonte West and Jameer Nelson, of course). Murray State: approximately zero. The Racers aren't elite on offense or defense; they have just three players who are averaging more than one point per possession. Plus, they're making 79.9 percent of their free throws, which is so commendable because that kind of rate is so unusual. Each year, only one or two teams finish at a 79 percent clip or better.
And one more reason the trend lines will give in to gravity -- the 44.8 percent 3-point shooting, a clip that no team finishes at by season's end. Hitting at 43 percent is like winning eight straight bets on the roulette table or finding yourself with two dates on the same night. It almost has to happen by a confluence of blind luck. (Note: none of the depicted scenarios have ever happened to me. Let's swiftly move on.)
To reinforce the unlikelihood you're all too aware of, Alcorn State and Indiana State made it through their regular seasons undefeated, but that was in a time that doesn't really matter/exist/count: 1979. You know, before they had conference tournaments or Bill Raftery on television.
I guess I'm confused as to why this has become a talking point. Seriously, let's address this again: respected and intelligent people are with a straight face already talking about undefeated seasons six weeks into the college basketball season. Let's permanently ship this type of premature pontification to the NFL honks who get stirred up by the team a 7-0 campaign presents itself.
The sport's going along pretty well right now, even if we're coming off one of the ugliest fights in the sport's history (and I think there've been plenty worse fights, just well before so many games were on TV). We've got an unlikely No. 1 team, Kentucky, Carolina and Duke remain interesting, off-the-court sagas have dictated the news cycle, and there's even a new conference atop many a power rating. (Big Ten, it's great to have you completely back.)
I've certainly got the love for the undefeated Racers; they're currently nestled in at No. 8 in the Non-BCS Power Pyramid. We featured them on the blog Sunday night, too, after they took out a Memphis team that's now mired in problems yet again, and was clearly overvalued to start the season.
The key thing to note with Murray State right now: It's really 7-0, not 10-0. In the eyes of the tournament Selection Committee, that's especially true, since three of the team's 10 wins came against opponents who are not Division-I. It plays in a bad, bad league this year, so that's why some are speculating. But there's so much basketball to go. Ken Pomeroy puts the percentage at 6 out of 100 that the Racers cross the finish line prior to the NCAA tournament with a bagel in the L column. I'm putting it at .5. Undefeated seasons + conference tournament runs don't happen anymore, as much I wish otherwise.
(It's on my Uncontrollable Bucket List to see another hoops team go wire to wire without a loss.)
Too many variables -- BracketBusters is still on the way, team's playing hard for a brand-new coach, eight road games remain, Austin Peay is always such problem, yo -- are out there for Murray State to run down college basketball's "Holy Grail." This should and will be an NCAA tournament team. A dangerous one. A familiar dangerous one. But the undefeated talk is way too premature and ultimately a fool's errand to prognosticate.
How I'd love to be wrong, though.
Posted on: May 16, 2011 3:46 pm
Edited on: May 17, 2011 10:45 am
Posted by Eric Angevine
The headline for this post might seem a little strange in light of the news that Murray State head coach Billy Kennedy just left for Texas A&M, but rest assured, that's part of the positive direction the OVC is taking these days.
Murray State has given BCS-level basketball a couple of head coaches of note recently. Mick Cronin, who just took Cincinnati to the Big Dance for the first time in his five-year tenure with the Bearcats, earned his shot at the big time by going 69-24 and making the NCAA tourney twice in just three years with the Racers. Mark Gottfried had a nearly identical record between 1995-98, when he was Murray State's leader. That earned him an eleven-year run at Alabama, and was no doubt considered when Gottfried was recently given an ACC job at North Carolina State.
In a conference like the OVC, even a revolving door of strong coaches is a good thing. Consider that the Nashville-based conference was ranked 22nd by kenpom.com at the end of last season. Keep in mind, also, that the OVC is resolutely buried in one-bid territory. Still, it has attracted national attention due to the upset-minded Racers and the four-year career of Kenneth Faried at Morehead State. In fact, the league that had zero NCAA tourney wins between 1994-2008 has notched a victory in each of the past three NCAA parties.
The league's profile is attractive enough to have lured Belmont - the bully of the similarly-sized Atlantic Sun conference - for the 2011-12 season. That brings Rick Byrd, who has been head coach of the Bruins for 25 years, into the same league with Dave Loos, who has given 21 years to the Austin Peay Governors. Assuming Murray State finds yet another tyro on the rise, the combination of long-term experience and youthful fire could give the league momentum going forward.
OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche recently gave her thoughts on the future of the conference:
Adding Belmont doesn't mean the OVC will become a two-bid conference in 2012, or any time soon, but it definitely adds to the overall prestige of the soon-to-be twelve-member group. Given that Murray State coaches have had so much success using the Racers as a stepping stone to the big time, and players like Faried and former Tennessee-Martin guard Lester Hudson have turned into pro prospects in spite of the low profile of the league, the Ohio Valley may be on its way to bigger and better things over the next decade.
Posted on: March 5, 2011 10:39 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2011 11:57 pm
Fans of the OVC pointed to Saturday night’s tournament finale as a chance to finally settle the score between three-year rivals Morehead State and Murray State once and for all. But after an upset loss to Tennessee Tech on Friday, the Racers weren’t there to watch the Eagles get their second NCAA Tournament berth in three years. Led by the trio of Kenneth Faried, Demonte Harper and Terrance Hill, who scored all but 13 of Morehead State’s points, the Eagles withstood a furious late rally to beat Tennessee Tech 80-73 on Saturday night.
Morehead State is one of the more dangerous teams small conference teams in the field. Blessed with two extremely talented seniors in Faried and Harper, Morehead State has the exact makeup of a Cinderella capable of knocking off a top opponent. The Eagles played Florida to the wire earlier this season and gave a respectable performance on the road at No. 1 Ohio State. As a team, Morehead State has a collective size you do not often see at this level and is unlikely to face any team that has a significant athletic advantage over them.
Player to Watch: Kenneth Faried If there were an All-American list for top players outside of the BCS conferences, Faried would surely make the first team. During his outstanding senior season, Kenneth Faried became the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder, passing one Tim Duncan in the process. He attacks the glass with a ferociousness that recalls the best of Dennis Rodman during his Bad Boy Detroit Pistons days. Throughout his senior season, Faried added to his showcased repertoire by showcasing a new, more developed set of offensive skills. His averages of 17.4 points and 14.6 rebounds a game are downright beastly, regardless of the conference level. He could become a first round pick in June’s NBA draft, but first he will scare the daylights out of whatever No. 2 or 3 seed’s coach has to find a way to keep him off the glass.
Record: (24-9, 16-5)
Team Colors: Blue and Gold
We’re Thinking: 15th seed
Kenpom Ranking: 95
Best win: Kent State (21-10)
Worst loss: Eastern Illinois (9-20)
Most recent tournament history: 2009 (lost to Louisville in first round)
Posted on: March 5, 2011 3:04 pm
Edited on: March 5, 2011 3:05 pm
On Saturday night, the OVC will crown its tournament champion in Nashville. The expected rubber match between Murray State and Morehead State did not materialize, thanks to a gutsy upset of the Racers by Tennessee Tech on Friday night. But that means the conference championship will be a battle of the Eagles, as Morehead State and its future NBA power forward Kenneth Faried take on Tennessee Tech, looking to make its first trip to the NCAA Tournament in 50 years.
Morehead comes into the game as a heavy favorite, thanks in large part to the continued dominance of Faried. Just two weeks ago, the Dennis Rodman of the OVC passed Tim Duncan to set the all-time NCAA college basketball record for rebounds. Faried has been a beast on the boards for his entire career, but in the last two seasons he has added a complimentary package of skills that make him a force on both ends of the court. In Friday night’s semifinal victory over Austin Peay, Faried nearly messed around and got a triple double, going for 12 points, 21 rebounds and 8 blocks. He is the best player on the court, in the conference and could very well be a first round draft pick this June.
Tennessee Tech will try and continue the formula for success it has utilized all season. Mike Sutton’s team tries to beat you with a thousand small cuts, showcasing a balanced attack of five players, each of which can put the ball in the basket. Kevin Murphy is the most dangerous weapon, but as Murray State learned on Friday night, other players can step up in a given situation. The hero from the semifinal win was Zac Swansey, a player known throughout his career for nailing big shots in crucial moments. Three seasons ago, it was at Georgia, where he hit a crucial three against Kentucky to win the SEC Tournament and send the Bulldogs to a surprising trip to the NCAA Tournament. Friday night, his late three sent Tennessee Tech to the OVC final and now he has a chance to be one of the rare players to go to the Big Dance with two different teams.
In their previous two meetings, Morehead State handled Tennessee Tech easily, winning both matchups by double digits. They come into the game with OVC championship experience and the best player in the conference on their team. But its March and as Tennessee Tech showcased on Friday night in the semifinals, in a one-game scenario, anything can happen.
Posted by MATT JONES
Posted on: March 4, 2011 10:42 pm
Edited on: March 4, 2011 11:09 pm
With one three-point bomb from Tennessee Tech's Zac Swansey with 23 seconds left, Murray State became the first No. 1 seed to fall in Championship week. After leading most of the game, the Golden Eagles saw their lead slip away in the final eight minutes, falling behind by two. But just as it looked as if Tennessee Tech's dream to make its first NCAA Tournament since 1963 would end, Jud Dillard made back to back scoring plays to retake control of the game. Showcasing a grit and determination to match that of their coach Mike Sutton, the Golden Eagles fought off the Racers in the closing minutes to win and move on to the OVC tournament final in Nashville.
If the Eagles win the OVC Tournament on Saturday night, the story of Mike Sutton will be well-documented in the week leading up to the NCAA Tournament. As detailed in this New York Times story last year, Sutton has overcome numerous difficulties stemming from a rare neurological condition, in order to coach his Tennessee Tech team. Sutton coaches most games as he did Friday night, on a stool, leaning against a cane and shouting instructions to his team. Against Murray State, those instructions helped the team hold the Racers' three-headed scoring monster of Isaiah Canaan, BJ Jenkins and Isacc Miles to just 22 combined points and steal the road victory. The Eagles were led by Kevin Murphy with 19 points and Dillard, whose 11 rebounds to go along with 14 points were the difference during a tough second half.
Murray State becomes the first top seed to lose in a conference tournament and its inability to get to the finals of the OVC Tournament is a huge surprise. After upsetting Vanderbilt in the first round of the NCAA Tournament last season, some thought in the preseason that Murray State could be a contender for an at-large NCAA berth. But an inability to capitalize on non-conference opportunities and four losses in the OVC mean that the Racers are headed only for a disappointing trip to the NIT. A rematch with rival Morehead State in the conference tournament final was assumed but a 3-18 shooting performance from three-point land shattered that and all other pre-tournament predictions.
For Tennessee Tech, next comes a trip to the finals and a chance to end its 50 year NCAA Tournament drought. There will be a lot of feel-good stories in March, but if Tennessee Tech and Mike Sutton can win on Saturday night, there may be none greater than the one brewing Saturday night in Nashville.
Posted by MATT JONES
Posted on: March 1, 2011 4:25 pm
Edited on: March 1, 2011 7:51 pm
The OVC has a tradition of producing memorable conference tournaments, buzzer beating finishes and champions that can make noise in the Big Dance. However over the last three years, the conference narrative has been the consistent battle between two schools in Kentucky for overall supremacy. Morehead State and Murray State have played each other eight times in the past three years, and the series is split 4-4. In 2009, Morehead State won the conference tournament and represented the OVC in March Madness, while in 2010, Murray State returned the favor. Now both teams are set for the ultimate rubber match and overall supremacy on a rivalry that has been one of the best in league history.
Murray State (23-7, 14-4) comes into the tournament as a slight favorite, having won the regular season title with a three game home winning streak. Last season, the Racers not only made the NCAA Tournament, but shocked Vanderbilt in the opening round. This team has a similar makeup to that one, led by senior guards Isaac Miles and BJ Jenkins. The balanced attack features three players who average in double figures, the senior guards and sophomore Isaiah Canaan, and a host of players that have the ability to contribute. The Racers are a team that can beat you a number of different ways and every player is a scoring threat.
Morehead State (22-9, 13-5) on the other hand is a team with a clear leader. Kenneth Faried is now the NCAA’s all-time leading rebounder, an accomplishment that was woefully underreported nationally. He is a beast on the boards and this season has shown more of a shooting touch as well. He is a matchup problem for Murray State and virtually every team in the OVC. The Eagles also get solid production from Demonte Harper, a senior guard who has steadily improved each season.
Austin Peay (19-12, 13-5) and Tennessee Tech (18-11, 12-6) are both plenty capable of knocking one of the two teams off, but the tournament formats hurts their chances of winning the overall title. With both Murray and Morehead receiving byes to the semifinals, it is difficult to see either team beating both rested teams back to back.
Top Three Players:
Conference RPI: 26
KenPom.com Rating: 23
Sagarin Rating: 27
NCAA TOURNAMENT LOCKS: None
NCAA TOURNAMENT BUBBLE TEAMS: None
Last time in NCAA Tournament:
Murray State: 2010 (lost to Butler in 2nd Round)
Morehead State: 2009 (lost to Louisville in first round)
Austin Peay: 2008 (lost to Texas in first round)
Tennessee Tech: 1963 (lost to Loyola in first round)
Tennessee State: 1994 (lost to Kentucky in first round)
Eastern Kentucky: 2007 (lost to North Carolina in first round)
Tennessee-Martin: Never played in NCAA Tournament
Southeast Missouri State: 2004 (lost to LSU in first round)
Eastern Illinois: 2001 (lost to Arizona in first round)
Jacksonville State: Never played in the NCAA Tournament
Posted by MATT JONES