Bubble teams give big sigh of relief after weekend games

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.

Murray's Jewaun Long hit the game-winner for the Racers in the OVC Championship, giving the bubble-teams a scare along the way.

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.


OVC Tournament Preview

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.

Isaiah Canaan hopes that the Racers can celebrate all the way to New Orleans (Google Images)

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.

OVC Bracket


Canaan lobs to Garrett, crowd proceeds to go HAM

From Saturday’s Murray State/St. Mary’s game, Isaiah Canaan alleys, Brandon Garrett oops. Boom goes the dynamite.


What to watch this week

With Conference Tournament games just over a week away here is a look at some of the games that you should keep an eye on this week.

Monday: Connecticut @ Villanova (7pm ESPN) – ESPN’s Big Monday has a double-header worth watching. UConn and Nova both are in need of a confidence boost before they head to Madison Square Garden for the Big East Tournament. If you want a second game tonight, Baylor is at Texas at 9pm on ESPN

Tuesday: Kansas St at Missouri (7pm ESPN2) – The Big 12 leader host 5th place Wildcats. This games kicks off a tough week for both teams.

Wednesday: So many games to pick this week but a few to keep an eye on include West Virginia @ Notre Dame (7pm ESPN2), USF at Syracuse (7pm Big East Net.), Oklahoma State @ Oklahoma (8pm Big 12 Net.).

Thursday: Duke @ Florida State (7pm ESPN) – Two of the three teams at the top of the ACC meet in Durham. Murray State @ Tennessee State (8pm ESPNU), the top two in the OVC will battle it out, the Racers are coming off the win over St. Mary’s. Louisville @ Cincinnati (9pm ESPN) the long time conference rivals meet at Fifth Third Arena, both teams are currently at 9-5 in conference play.

 Friday:Baseball is back; go watch your college program play our national past-time. If you really want to watch some hoops Butler @ Valparaiso (7pm ESPNU) and Marquette @ West Virginia (9pm ESPN) should settle that craving.

This may be the last of the Border Wars (Google Images)

Saturday: Go on and clear your schedule it’s the last full Saturday of regular season basketball. The day starts with Vanderbilt @ Kentucky (Noon CBS), Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 Big 12 Net.), North Carolina @ Virginia (4pm ESPN), Creighton @ Indiana State (4pm ESPN2), and what could be the final meeting of Missouri @ Kansas (4pm CBS).

Sunday: It’s the Daytona 500 why do you want to watch basketball? Cincinnati @ USF (Noon Big East Net), Indiana @ Minnesota (1pm ESPN), Pittsburgh @ Louisville (2pm CBS), Florida State @ Miami (FL) (6pm ESPNU), Oregon @ Oregon State (7:30pm FSN).

If you can not find a game that peaks your interest this week then you might not be a college basketball fan.


One player makes a ton of difference, just ask Randy Bennett

Holt's knee injury kept out a key cog in the Gaels lineup. Especially one that would've gone a long way to stopping Isaiah Canaan.

MURRAY, Ky. — There’s plenty one could devour when looking at no. 16 Murray State’s 65-51 victory over no. 21 St. Mary’s. I mean, a lot. And afterward, the coaches, they agreed.

But one thing that Gaels coach Randy Bennett did talk about had nothing to do with the game. Well, one name, rather. That was guard Stephen Holt, who sat out with a knee injury suffered in their home loss to Loyola Marymount on Wednesday.

Normally, that wouldn’t be an excuse in a game like this. And if you ask Bennett, it still wasn’t. But the West Coast Conference’s leader in steals not being on the court to guard arguably the Ohio Valley Conference’s soon-to-be Player of the Year, Isaiah Canaan, hurt. Bad. Just look at Canaan’s stat line: 23 points on 9-of-13 shooting, 5-of-8 from 3-point range and only three turnovers.

“It was a big factor,” Bennett said. “You could argue he’s our best player for what he does defensively. We are in a tough spot without him. We didn’t have a lot of quickness out there and were pretty much on our heels.”

It doesn’t help that Holt was St. Mary’s third-leading scorer at 10.4 points per game, on 50-percent shooting on the season (87-for-174). Those numbers could’ve helped in a game that the Gaels couldn’t get a shot to drop from beyond the arch (2-of-14), much less overall (20-of-53, 37.7-percent).

Instead, St. Mary’s was forced to suffer through a 1-for-10 shooting night from guard Jorden Page — who finished with three points — and an overall 12-for-37 shooting night from the healthy starters.

In his post-game press conference, Bennett used Holt’s name too many times for a player who didn’t factor in to the contest. He understands his player’s value. One other thing Bennett knows? That Holt probably won’t play in the Gaels’ next game against Portland on Thursday.

This is definitely not the St. Mary’s team that had folks drooling just last month. Point guard Matthew Dellavadova limped his way to a team-high 17 points, 0-for-4 from three. Racers forward Ed Daniel, all 6-7 of him (eight), out-rebounded St. Mary’s starting front line of Clint Steindl, Rob Jones (10.4 board per game) and Kyle Rowley by himself (seven). They’ve lost three of their last four games and along with the L’s have also lost any hope of an at-large berth, meaning they’ll have to survive possible dates with Gonzaga and BYU in next month’s WCC Tournament to punch a ticket to the Big Dance for the fourth time under Bennett.

“It’s not easy to figure out what the problem is,” Bennett said.

This isn’t the same team we’re used too. And while Stephen Holt may not be the whole solution, tonight, in a game that the Gaels had to win to keep up their at-large hopes, his absence spoke volumes about how far this team has slid in a short amount of time.

-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES/FOXSPORTS.COM


Murray guards lift Racers to win over Gaels

Murray State's Zay Jackson drives to the lane against St. Mary's Rob Jones in their game Saturday night in Murray, Ky.

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.

-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES/ESPNPENSACOLA.COM


Murray State-St. Mary’s game a must-win on both sides

Murray State's Isaiah Canaan will need to have a big game to get the Racers the win over St. Mary's

Just because they each had a couple hiccups within the last week doesn’t mean tomorrow’s Murray State-St. Mary’s game won’t be the biggest game of BracketBuster Saturday. In fact, the game might be bigger now.

The Racers lost last week on their home court to Tennessee State, 76-68, to end their shot at a perfect record. Meanwhile, the Gaels dropped two games last week in double figures — one against their rival Gonzaga and another to Loyola Marymount. Suddenly, this is a must-win game for both teams.

After the St. Mary’s game, Murray’s last two games of the year are against Tennessee State on the road, the fourth place team in the Ohio Valley, and a rematch AT Tennessee State. A loss to one of those teams could all of a sudden put the Racers on the bubble and in a position where they would have to win the OVC Tournament to advance to the NCAA Tournament.

But a win against St. Mary’s would be huge for the Racers, and it would finally give them a marquee win and something to show the bracket committee besides a bunch of wins against lowly competition. The campus will be abuzz as well, with Dick Vitale (and myself for that matter) in attendance. Add in the fact that it’s Senior Night, and the Racers have a lot to play for.

But so do the Gaels. You can’t drop two out of three games by double-digits in the West Coast Conference and have people not at least be a little concerned. This will be their last big chance before their conference tournament. A win against the Racers, and St. Mary’s should be in.

I expect a good, high scoring-game tomorrow night in Murray. The Racers will need to get out to a good start in this one — they have had a tendency to be forced to come back in ball games. If they let the Gaels get out to an 8-10 point lead, they will have a tougher time coming back than they would against a team in the OVC.

It’s not often you have a “win-and-you’re in” game in non-conference play, but that is certainly the case in this one. It’s also not often these two squads, especially Murray, get national exposure — so they will need to make the most of it.

All week I’ve wanted to pick St. Mary’s to win, but this is the Racers’ biggest regular-reason game in years, and it will be played in front of a loud, sold-out home crowd. Racers win this tight affair 74-69.

And stay glued here tomorrow, as me and David Harten will be at the CFSB Center to provide extensive coverage of this big game.


So Murray State, what happens now?

Isaiah Canaan had 31 in the Racers first loss on Thursday night.

-So, it happened. Murray State lost for the first time. That sound you’re hearing is all the media passes getting cancelled — not that we are, we’ll be there.

But really, this was a shot at (at least) regular season perfection that while it had a chance, didn’t mean too much in the grand scheme of things. Teams get hot, we’ve seen that in the past two NCAA tournaments, but how often does a team stay hot? Rarely often. Not all season. That’s why it’s been 36 years since a team ran the table. The talent overall in Division I college basketball is too good, the grind too grueling.

They’re 23-1 now after a 72-68 loss to Tennessee State, that’s just the facts.

The Racers gave it an honest go, and for all intents and purposes, they’ll still end up in the Dance come March, by virtue of winning the Ohio Valley Conference tournament or an at-large bid.

But the big question is: what do we all do now? Murray State has lost. As a result, their no. 7 ranking will be a thing of the past, and for that fact, probably any ranking above no. 15 with a loss to a 16-10 Tennessee State team.

Steve Prohm is a good coach, there’s no way this team stumbles anymore before March. But the one thing that unfortunately will get lost is that various outlets and talking heads won’t consider the Racers as good as they used to. When that’s just not the case.

This was by all means a bad game for Murray, their first of the season. Isaiah Canaan scored 31 points, only one other player, Dante Poole, scored double-figures, right at 10. They allowed the Tigers to shoot 48.1% percent overall and 45.5% from three-point range. TSU shoots 36.1% from three on the season.

Such as life as a mid-major. The Racers will be fine. I still think they could make a deep March run. But please, stick with the Racers. They still demand your attention.

-PHOTO: GOOGLE IMAGES


Mid-Major Report (2-8)

Here is a quick look at some headlines from those conferences that you may not follow.

 

Southern:

Georgia Southern has gone from one league win last season, to nine SoCon wins at this point this season.

Chattanooga Senior Ricky Taylor is 8th on the Division I scoring list, he needs just two points to move to 6th

The Citadel is struggling to find a lineup that works for them; they have had eight different starting lineups with Mike Groselle being the only player in all of the lineups.

 

MAC:

Kevin Murphy only needed 19 more points to outscore SIU Edwardsville by himself. (OVCSports)

Akron has started 8-1 in the Conference and is ties for their 3rd best start ever; the Zips have won 12 of the last 13 in MAC play.

Buffalo ranks 3rd in the country in rebounding (41.6 rebounds per game) and are on a six game winning streak.

 

OVC:
Murray State is still the lone undefeated team in the nation (23-0), and the only team undefeated in true road games (10-0), Cleveland State has the most road wins with 11.

The Racers have the programs highest rankings ever (7 in Coaches Poll, 9 in AP), they are the first OVC

team to be in the Top 10 since the 1970-71 Western Kentucky Hilltoppers. The 23 wins is the longest streak ever for any OVC school.

In the win of SIUE, Tennessee Tech’s Kevin Murphy scored a school record 50 points. He was the first 50 point scorer in the OVC since 1991-92.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 


Can Murray State Go Undefeated?

By now we all know the 1975-76 Indiana Hoosiers were the last to run the table (32-0).

Is there any surprise that the last undefeated team this season in Division I is from Kentucky and they wear the color blue? Not Kentucky Wildcat blue, Murray State Racer blue. The Racers have the best start to a season ever by an OVC team, as well as their 25th straight winning season (tied with UConn only trailing Syracuse, Kansas and Arizona) Now the question, will this be the season that we have the next team that runs the table?

On paper Murray State has a great shot, especially since leading rebounder Ivan Aska has returned to the lineup after breaking his hand December 30th. Let’s look at the rest of the Conference schedule.

Murray State has won 18 straight at the CFSB Center. (Murray State University)

Four road games – the team with the highest PRI of the four would be Tennessee Tech (RealtimeRPI of 180). When they played earlier this year the Racers won by 8. For the home games, the toughest test based on RPI appears to be Austin Peay (Racers won by 12 last time out).

That leaves us with one game to look at, the match-up that every basketball fan wanted for ESPN BracketBusters. St. Mary’s at Murray State. The Gaels will fly to Kentucky with a RPI Rank of 18, SOS of 115; their two losses, at Denver and vs Baylor (in Las Vegas). Both teams play on Wednesday of that weekend, so no extra time to prepare for either team, Murray State will be returning from Southeast Missouri (who they defeated February 2 at home despite trailing at the half), St. Mary’s will be flying in from a home game. There is no doubt that this will be the most talked about and most watched game, probably the best match-up in BracketBusters history.

 It appears very likely that the Racers will cruise through the remainder of their conference schedule. Assuming that the Racers win the OVC Tournament (why wouldn’t they, they beat everyone in the regular season), they will secure the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.

Now let’s talk seeding. RPI of 34 (and falling), SOS 236 (ouch, thanks OVC!), quality wins: Southern Miss (RPI 9) Dayton (73) at Memphis (25). Current ESPN Bracketology has the Racers as a 6 seed, playing St. Louis in Columbus. CBS is projecting the Racers as a 3 seed in Nashville against Iowa State.

How has a 6 seed done in the tournament you ask. If they obtain a 6 seed, they have a better chance than as a 7 seed (never advanced to the Final Four). 3 teams have made it to the Final Four as a 6, same for the 8 seed (the 1985 Villanova team won the championship as an 8 seed, the lowest seed to ever cut down the nets). Since 1985, the 3 seed has taken home the trophy three times.

Can they run the table, yes they can, any thing can happen. Will they? That is something we will have to wait and find out, and it should be fun to watch.


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