The bubble teams can rejoice. Creighton and Murray State were both able to win the conference tournaments, albeit in close fashion, thus giving them automatic bids to the NCAA Tournament.
The best part about that for the bubble teams is that those two squads were going to be locks anyway. If Illinois State were to win the Missouri Valley or Tennessee State win the Ohio Valley, it would have taken a bid away from a team like Miami or Texas.
Illinois State and Tennessee State sure made the bubble teams worry though. After upsetting No. 14 Wichita State the previous day, the Redbirds were in good position to knock off Creighton in the MVC championship. Nic Moore drove coast-to-coast for a layup with 6.5 seconds left to force overtime with the Bluejays. Creighton’s Antoine Young took over in the extra period, however, scoring eight of his 14 points in overtime to preserve the victory for the favorite.
As for Tennessee State, they had already defeated Murray once this year — the only loss of the year for the Racers. They almost did it again, up seven points with just over five minutes left. Murray was somehow able to come back and get the automatic bid. Jewaun Long drove the baseline to scored the winning layup with 4.4 seconds left to win it for Murray.
So what does this mean for the rest of the country? The MVC was going to get two bids regardless of the conference tournament, Wichita and Creighton. Likewise for the OVC, where Murray is a lock. This gives the bubble teams a much better chance at making the Big Dance.
Both Creighton and Murray State are threats to make a run in the tournament and possibly pull off an upset. They both feature stars (Isaiah Canaan for Murray and Doug McDermott for Creighton), they are both deadly from deep and they both rebound well — all of which are key in making a March run.
North Carolina-Ashville and Belmont were the top other squads that punched in their automatic bids over the weekend. Ashville will likely be a 15/16 seed, possibly playing one of the first round games. Belmont could possibly be a sleeper to make a run, having not lost since Jan. 21. In their season-opener they lost to Duke by just one point, 77-76. Depending on who they play, their opposition should be on alert next week.
On that note — next week — that feels good to say. This is going to be a fun week for all of us in Championship Week, but the real fun begins next week.
March madness is here! The OVC Tournament will get a leap on things on Leap Day (bad pun, I know) in Nashville, TN. Of course the favorite will be the 1 seed, Murray State, who as the 1 seed are in the semifinals as well as Tennessee State, the only team that defeated the Racers this season.
A team that could give Murray State a scare would be the last team that they faced, Tennessee Tech. Murray State was able to beat the Racers by five points Saturday, but the lead was one point with a minute to go in the game. The win gave the Racers their best season on record (28-1, 15-1), and finished undefeated on the road for the first time in school history. It’s safe to say that an automatic bid is a given for the Racers if they don’t win the OVC Championship, but I’m sure coach Prohm won’t let his team think that, and will be playing for a better seed come Selection Sunday.
A team to watch out for would be the 3 seed, Morehead State. The Eagles will play the winner of Austin Peay / Jacksonville State. The winner of that game will advance to face Tennessee State.
The First Round and Quarterfinals will be streamed online at OVCSports.TV. The Murray State Semifinal game will be live on ESPNU at 6pm on March 2nd while the other semi will be live on ESPN3 and aired tape delayed on ESPNU. The automatic qualifier for the OVC will be determined on March 3rd at 1pm on ESPN2.
From Saturday’s Murray State/St. Mary’s game, Isaiah Canaan alleys, Brandon Garrett oops. Boom goes the dynamite.
MURRAY, Ky — Murray State made a statement in their 65-51 victory over St. Mary’s on Saturday . Meanwhile, the Gaels missed out on a big chance to impress the NCAA Tournament bracket committee.
The Racers didn’t let go of their lead once, as Isaiah Canaan went off for 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from three. With the game still well within reach for the Gaels eight minutes into the second half, Canaan scored all eight points in an 8-2 run for the Racers, extending their lead to 16 points. He had two 3-pointers and layup in the stretch.
“He can shoot it so well,” St. Mary’s coach Randy Bennett said following the game. “He reminds me of (Weber State’s) Damian Lillard. His ability to shoot makes him exceptional.”
Canaan was the spark-plug, but it was Donte Poole who provided the big lift to begin the game. He scored all of his 11 points in the first half. Murray’s starting guards (Canaan, Poole and Jewuan Long) combined to shoot 16-of-24 in the game.
“When you play a team like Murray who is a very good team, they will expose you,” Bennett said. “Their guards are really good. Their bigs are better than you’d think. With those type of teams, if you don’t do anything right you’ll get exposed.”
St. Mary’s was forced to play without top defender and third-leading scorer Stephen Holt due to an injury he sustained in Wednesday’s loss against Loyola Marymount. To make matters worse, Matthew Dellavedova played nowhere near 100 percent after a recent ankle injury. Dellavedova still managed 17 points on 6-of-13 shooting, adding in six assists.
“He’s a stud — he essentially played on one leg,” Bennett said. “He’s an unbelievable competitor. I didn’t want him to play, but he wanted to play. But he was dragging his leg up there, he can’t accelerate. I hope he didn’t set himself back at all. We need him too much down the stretch.”
With Canaan and Poole nearly lights out shooting threes for the Racers, it wasn’t quite the same for the Gaels, who shot 2-of-14 from deep.
Murray got the big win they so desperately needed and proved they were worthy of not only an NCAA Tournament bid, but a top-15 ranking as well.
“Anyone who is 26-1 at this time is really good,” Bennett said. “There are good teams in their conference, and they have played on the road at some tough places.”
St. Mary’s will likely fall out of the top-25 in the rankings, after losing three-of-four games. The losing streak will also mean they will probably need to win the West Coast Conference Tournament next month to receive a bid in the NCAA Tournament. Bennett said the tough late-season schedule and the recent injuries should be put into perspective.
“You could have predicted we’d lose the (games at Gonzaga and Murray),” he said. “We got beat up a little. Losing will surface. We just have to get back to work and identify what the problems are and what we can control.”
Murray has two games left in the year, at Tennessee Tech and Tennsssee State, who handed the Racers their first loss of the year. St. Mary’s faces Portland and San Fransicso to close out the year.
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