Murray State Quietly Racing Toward a Special Season

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 6th, 2015

After his team’s most recent defeat – a 93-58 beatdown at the hands of Valparaiso – Murray State head coach Steve Prohm did not mince words: “We need to figure out what we need to do to get better. We are struggling – we’re playing terrible. Everybody knows that.” The 35-point drubbing was the Racers’ third-straight loss, an ugly punctuation to an unexpectedly poor start. “This is definitely not the same basketball team that finished the year,” Prohm said. Those statements were made on November 29 – well over two months ago – and it’s safe to say that his team has figured out how to get better. A lot better, in fact. Since losing to the Crusaders just after Thanksgiving, Murray State has reeled off 18 straight victories and put itself in position to become the first team in 11 years to go unbeaten in OVC play. With the conference’s most exceptional player pacing an highly efficient offense, the Racers seem poised to cement themselves in league history. If they can follow that success up with even more in March? Then it might be time to start mentioning Murray State in the same breath as some of the elite mid-major programs in college basketball.

Cam Payne and the Racers have their sites set on something special. (ovcball.net)

Cam Payne and the Racers have their sights set on something special. (ovcball.net)

Murray State’s accomplishments to this point have mostly hinged on its ability to score with ease, a strong suit that begins with point guard Cameron Payne – the clear-cut front-runner for OVC Player of the Year. His dynamic scoring prowess (19 PPG) – quick off the dribble, adept at drawing fouls, proficient from deep – combined with equally-great passing skills (5.9 APG) makes the sophomore an unmatched force in the league. Last season, Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neaubauer called Payne “Murray State’s next Isaiah Canaan.” But the sophomore is not alone. Joining Payne in the backcourt are three excellent shooters – T.J. Sapp, Jeffery Moss and Justin Seymour – each of whom shoots better than 40 percent from deep and scores between 8.5 and 11.0 points per night. Down low, the Racers are equipped with arguably the conference’s best big man, 6’8’’ Jarvis Williams (16.1 PPG, 8.6 RPG), whose ability to run the floor – not to mention his great rapport with Payne – make him the perfect five man for Prohm’s uptempo attack (16.6 seconds per offensive possession; fastest in the OVC). Throw in power forward Jonathan Fairell, the fourth-best offensive rebounder in college hoops, and the sum of the parts of Murray State is an offense that might surpass last season’s Belmont group as the most efficient in recent modern OVC history. As it stands, the Racers rank 28th nationally in offensive efficiency (112.4 AdjO), just behind last year’s Bruins (112.9), and with a soft schedule upcoming, Prohm’s group has a great chance to further improve on that number.

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O26 Weekly Awards: Boise State, Mikh McKinney, Jay Spoonhour & Appalachian State

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on January 21st, 2015

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition.

O26 Team of the Week

Boise State. When senior leader and preseason all-conference guard Anthony Drmic was ruled out for the season in late December, it looked as if the wheels might come off at Boise State. The Broncos, which were picked fourth in the preseason in the Mountain West, lost four straight games to begin the New Year – including its first three conference contests – and only once managed to score over a point per possession without their 6’6’’ wing. “The margin for error is really slim without Anthony,” head coach Leon Rice said before his team welcomed UNLV to town on Tuesday. With the talented Runnin’ Rebels on deck before a tricky road trip to The Pit on Saturday, it looked as if things might get worse for Rice’s club before they get better. Luckily, Derrick Marks and James Webb III had other plans.

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness-USA TODAY Sports)

Star guard Derrick Marks helped lead Boise State to a stellar week. (Brian Losness/USA TODAY Sports)

In a game broadcast remotely by ESPN, Marks gave Boise State offensive life against UNLV, scoring 28 points (on a whopping 26 attempts) and responding to any would-be Rebels’ runs with big shots of his own. After the visitors grabbed a late two-point lead, the senior calmly attacked the lane, stopped on a dime and hit a turnaround jumper with 13 seconds left to send the game into overtime. In the extra period, the Broncos – which had dropped their last three contests that were decided by six points or less – came up with enough winning plays, including a flurry of steals at around the two-minute mark, to eke out an 82-73 victory. “That monkey has been flipped off our backs and thrown to the ground, no question,” Rice said of his teams relieving victory. Webb, an athletic forward whose minutes have picked up dramatically in Drmic’s absence, added 12 points and 15 rebounds in the win, including a high-flying breakaway dunk in overtime. Read the rest of this entry »

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Belmont Basketball: Same As It Ever Was

Posted by Ray Curren on December 23rd, 2014

Three-game losing streaks don’t bother Rick Byrd much anymore. He’s now in his 29th season in charge of Belmont (the fourth-longest current tenure in Division I men’s basketball) and in a one-bid league like the Ohio Valley Conference (or the Atlantic Sun, previously), he knows that it’s all about the conference season. After all, his Bruins withstood a four-game losing streak at around the same time last year, but still managed to go 14-2 in conference play before being upset by Eastern Kentucky in the OVC Tournament semifinals (not to mention coming seconds away from the NIT Final Four in a loss at Clemson). Add to the fact that Byrd is fairly mild-mannered, especially by the standards of big-time college basketball coaches, and surely he took those defeats in stride. Or not.

Rick Byrd and Belmont will likely be right in the tourney mix come March. (Getty)

Rick Byrd and Belmont will likely be right in the Tourney mix come March. (Getty)

“If you’re competitive, it’s never easy at all to lose,” Byrd said over the weekend. In fact, he actually picked up a rare technical (he says they’re not quite as rare as you might think) in December 11’s Wright State loss, which was the team’s second straight defeat at home. After a sluggish first half on Saturday at Fairfield, Belmont looked more like Belmont in the second half, picking the Stags — which were already 2-0 in the MAAC — apart for 44 second-half points (and 1.33 points per possession) in a 73-61 victory. The Bruins will travel to Butler’s Hinkle Fieldhouse next week for their final non-conference tilt. Although losing is no fun, Byrd did see some positives for his young squad in the losing streak, which played all three games without leading scorer Craig Bradshaw, who returned from an injury against Fairfield. “It does help you understand that you can still be a good basketball team in the end,” Byrd said. “We got beat by two good teams, Evansville and Wright State, Wright State without our starting wing [Taylor Barnette], too. And we played good enough to win that game. Last year, we got beat by South Dakota State by double figures, went to Denver and got beat by 28. This has been a little better performance. VCU was too much for us, but it does help to say, ‘Look, we lost to Denver last year by 28 and we won the league’. But it’s still no fun to lose.”

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O26 Weekly Awards: Northern Iowa, Craig Bradshaw, Pat Duquette & Eastern Washington

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on December 1st, 2014

Throughout the season, the Other 26 microsite will run down our weekly superlatives, including team, player, coach and whatever else strikes our fancy in that week’s edition. 

O26 Team of the Week

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa began the week in Cancun and ended it with a home victory over Richmond. (unipanthers.com)

Northern Iowa. With all of the marquee tournaments and showdowns taking place over the holiday weekend, it’s understandable if Northern Iowa’s trip to Mexico for the ‘Cancun Challenge’ was lost in the shuffle to some extent, especially considering the fellow competition: Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Miami (OH). If you did miss it, here’s a quick synopsis: after hammering Virginia Tech by 19 points, the Panthers held Northwestern to a paltry 0.76 points per possession and pounded the Wildcats by 21 to claim the championship. But although a tournament title is certainly a nice preseason prize, it’s not even the hardware that made Northern Iowa’s week so impressive. No, the reason Ben Jacobson’s club is our Team of the Week is because after delivering those back-to-back drubbings against high-major (if subpar) opponents, thousands of miles away from Cedar Falls, the Panthers flew back to the United States and kept the train rolling against an even better Richmond team. All signs pointed to a post-Thanksgiving, post-showcase letdown, especially against a tough, well-rounded Spiders unit ranked 54th in KenPom and boasting one of the Atlantic 10’s best guards in Kendall Anthony. But instead of coming out emotionally lethargic or physically fatigued or preoccupied with thoughts of warm resort towns, Northern Iowa took control of the game – just as it had in Cancun – and completely outclassed Richmond from start-to-finish, never once relinquishing the lead and defeating the Spiders, 55-50. In all, the Panthers maintained a lead for roughly 110 of 120 minutes this week against Virginia Tech, Northwestern and Richmond combined, a trio of dominant victories that has both propelled Jacobson’s unit to an impressive 7-0 start and further improved its at-large prospects.

Honorable Mentions: Gonzaga (2-0: N-Georgia, N-St. John’s); Green Bay (3-0: N-East Carolina, N-Evansville, N-Florida Gulf Coast); Colorado State (3-0: N-Missouri State, N-Pacific, N-UC Santa Barbara); Valparaiso (3-0: N-Drake, N-Murray State, N-Portland).

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Top of the O26 Class: C-USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC

Posted by Adam Stillman on November 3rd, 2014

Leading up to the season, this microsite will preview the best of the Other 26 conferences, region by region. In this installment, we examine the leagues that have a traditional footprint in the Southern region of the U.S: Conference USA, OVC, Southland, Sun Belt and SWAC. Previous installments include conferences from the Northeast region, Midwest region and Mid-Atlantic/Southeastern region.

TOP UNITS

Conference USA

  • Louisiana Tech –2013-14 record: 29-8 (13-3) – Two straight seasons Louisiana Tech has won its conference (C-USA in 2014; WAC in 2013), and two straight seasons the Bulldogs have been upset in the conference tournament and missed out on the NCAA Tournament. Is the third time a charm? Louisiana Tech is undoubtedly the favorite to take the C-USA crown, but can it come through when the games matter most? After flirting with some other opportunities, head coach Michael White is back, as are guards Alex Hamilton (14.5 PPG), Raheem Appleby (11.2 PPG) and Kenneth “Speedy” Smith (7.8 PPG, 7.7 APG). The big question mark is in the frontcourt. If the Bulldogs can get some decent play there, they might be able to finally break through.
Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C Bristow)

Louisiana Tech is the favorite in Conference USA. (David C. Bristow/AP)

  • UTEP –2013-14 record: 23-11 (12-4) – If there’s a team to challenge Louisiana Tech for the league title, it’s most likely UTEP. After a strong start with a win against Tennessee and a four-point loss to Kansas last season, the Miners stumbled down the stretch and were unable to win the league tournament on their home floor. There’s reason for optimism heading into 2014-15, though. Head coach Tim Floyd brings back a talented frontcourt duo of Julian Washburn (13.1 PPG) and Vincent Hunter (12.3 PPG), and talented recruit Omega Harris should help fill the void in the backcourt. Read the rest of this entry »
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NIT Quarterfinal Preview: How Three O26 Schools Can Reach Madison Square Garden

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 25th, 2014

With Southern Miss, Louisiana Tech and Belmont all playing in the NIT Quarterfinals tonight and tomorrow, let’s examine what it will take for each O26 hopeful to reach the Big Apple next week.

Southern Miss

Southern Miss will give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. (RYAN MOORE — AP)

Southern Miss will give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. (RYAN MOORE — AP)

  • Opponent: Minnesota
  • TV: 9:00 PM ET, ESPN, Tuesday (Minneapolis, MN)
  • How they got here:  The Golden Eagles hosted Toledo in the First Round, handling the Rockets 66-59, before knocking off Missouri on the road by eight. In the two victories, they outrebounded their opponents by nine boards on the offensive glass.
  • Why they win: Southern Miss did not win 29 games this season by mistake. This team is deep, physical, experienced and should give Minnesota all it can handle in The Barn tonight. The Golden Eagles force opposing offenses into a ton of mishaps – they boast the ninth best turnover rate in the country – by trapping and extending their zone pressure in the half-court to give ball-handlers all kinds of trouble. The Gophers are wholly average when it comes to taking care of the rock, ranking 151st in the country in offensive turnover rate. They might struggle against Donnie Tyndall’s unique, aggressive zone look. Likewise, Southern Miss is an excellent offensive rebounding club (despite its undersized frontcourt) that should be able to garner second chance offensive opportunities against their good-but-not-great defensive rebounding foe. Standing just 6’5”, athletic guard-forward Michael Craig is excellent on the boards.
  • Why they lose: For as many turnovers as they force, Tyndall’s club is just as bad when it comes to coughing up the ball. It was near the bottom of Conference USA in turnover percentage this year, which could spell trouble against the Gophers: Like his father, Minnesota coach Richard Pitino applies pressure and gets after teams defensively. Four of Southern Miss’ six losses this season were to opponents ranked in the top-50 in defensive turnover rate, including Louisville, which smacked the Golden Eagles by 31 back in November. Additionally, this is a true road game – never easy – against a squad that has proven capable of getting hot from behind the arc (shooting 11-of-19 from deep vs. Iowa in February). That very well might happen against USM’s zone look.
  • Why you should watch: This game has some serious intrigue. Aside from the game itself – which should be a tight one – former Golden Gopher Chip Armelin is now a Golden Eagle after transferring to Southern Miss following the 2012 season. Meanwhile, Minnesota point guard Deandre Mathieu began his career playing for Tyndall at Morehead State, before transferring to Hattiesburg after the head coach left.

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The RTC Other 26 Superlatives

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on March 14th, 2014

From the quiet of November to the clamor of March, several O26 performers and performances stood out from the pack in the regular season. Let’s pass out some awards to the most deserving among them.

O26 Team of the Year

Wichita State's run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken)

Wichita State’s run to perfection was historic. (Peter Aiken/USA TODAY Sports)

Wichita State (31-0, 18-0). When the Shockers rolled through their non-conference schedule and entered league play 13-0, people began to talk. Could this team be better than the Final Four squad from a year ago? Then, as they hammered their Missouri Valley challengers game after game, week after week, month after month, an even more profound question began to emerge: Does this team have a legitimate chance to go undefeated? National media attention descended on Wichita, the pressure mounted (or was supposed to) and every time Gregg Marshall’s group took the floor, something historic – but still unlikely – was on the line. Yet it was only when they completed the impossible, finished 31-0 and promptly dominated Arch Madness that an even weightier thought took hold. Will Wichita State go down as one of the best teams of all-time? The mere asking of the question is indication alone that these Shockers are truly special. Only team to win 30-plus games in the regular season without suffering a loss. Most ever wins entering the NCAA Tournament. First team since UNLV in 1990-1991 to enter the Dance undefeated. Regardless of whether or not they wind up in North Texas in a few weeks, those records are enduring, this team’s legacy will be enduring.

Honorable Mentions: San Diego State (27-3, 17-2), Saint Louis (26-5, 13-3), Stephen F. Austin (29-2, 18-0), VCU (24-7, 12-4), Green Bay (24-5, 14-2)
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Bracket Prep: Eastern Kentucky

Posted by Bennet Hayes on March 9th, 2014

bracketprep2(2)

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket next week. The second team to gain entry into the 2014 NCAA Tournament is Eastern Kentucky, the Ohio Valley Conference Champion. Here’s what you need to know about the most recent bid winner, and if you’d like to peruse all of the previously minted conference champs, click here.

Eastern Kentucky

Get Your Dancing Shoes On Glenn Cosey And Company -- Eastern Kentucky Is NCAA Tournament Bound.

Get Your Dancing Shoes On Glenn Cosey And Company — Eastern Kentucky Is NCAA Tournament Bound.

  • OVC Champion (24-9, 14-5)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #113/#132/#150
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +3.4
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #15

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Many folks may have penciled March mainstay Belmont into the NCAA Tournament field when they saw Saturday’s OVC title match-up between the Bruins and Eastern Kentucky on the docket, but it’s their stylistic comrades that will represent the conference in the Big Dance. Much like Belmont, Eastern Kentucky boasts an efficient offense that, 24 times out of 33 games this year, was able to overcome the Colonels’ extensive defensive shortcomings. The contrast in EKU efficiency between ends of the floor is best captured by their eFG% and eFG% against – only three teams have been better nationally in the former category, but just nine D-1 teams have fared worse in the latter. Read the rest of this entry »
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Jeff Neubauer Perseveres, Leads Eastern Kentucky Back to Big Dance

Posted by David Changas on March 9th, 2014

In 2007, while in his second year as head coach at Eastern Kentucky, Jeff Neubauer led the Colonels to the NCAA Tournament, getting there with a group that he largely inherited from his predecessor. That team was a #16 seed and lost to a Tyler Hansbrough-led North Carolina squad in the first round. In the seasons that followed, Neubauer has had teams that have been competitive in the Ohio Valley Conference, but none of which has been able to get back to the Big Dance. That changed on Saturday, when Eastern Kentucky took down defending champion Belmont, 79-73, to win the OVC Tournament championship in Nashville. It was a surprising result to many, mostly because Belmont, which had won the regular season title, seems to never fall short of the NCAA Tournament. But to those who have watched the league closely over the past couple of years since Belmont’s arrival, it was no surprise at all that Neubauer was able to get this senior-laden team back the place every coach in a one-bid league aspires to.

Corey Walden, the OVC Tourney MVP, Cuts the Nets (AP)

Corey Walden, the OVC Tourney MVP, Cuts the Nets (AP)

For Neubauer, despite the many years of being not quite good enough, there was never a doubt that he would eventually make it back. “The thing I’ve had in my mind is that it is inevitable that we will end up back in the NCAA Tournament. I think, as a coach, you have to have that mentality that it’s going to happen,” he said after the win. “It’s something we all should really appreciate.” Given the wealth of experience that this team had, missing the NCAAs would have been a lost opportunity. The Colonels are led by guards Glenn Cosey and Corey Walden, who combined for 52 points in the win, and who give Eastern Kentucky as athletic a backcourt as exists in the OVC. With a total of six seniors, this was clearly Neubauer’s best opportunity to get back to the Big Dance. Last year, in a league with an even better Belmont squad and an extremely talented Murray State team, winning the league’s automatic bid was a tall order and was one the Colonels narrowly fell short of in a semifinals loss to the Racers. It was that game that proved to Neubauer that his team could win it. “Our experience being here last year in the semifinal, if you would ask these players, really helped us understand what this OVC Tournament was all about.”

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Conference Tournament Primer: Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Adam Stillman on March 5th, 2014

It’s day three of Championship Fortnight and with three more conferences tipping off today, what better way to get you through the next two weeks of games than to break down each of the Other 26′s conference tournaments. Today, the Big South, NEC and OVC get started.

Dates: March 5-8
Site: Nashville Municipal Auditorium

2014 ovc bracket

What to expect: A battle royale between top-seeded Belmont and second-seeded Murray State. Belmont earned the OVC’s automatic bid in the Bruins’ inaugural season in the league last year, while Murray State took those honors the year before. They look to be on a title-game collision course, and either could be a threat to advance in the Big Dance.

Favorite: Belmont. Move over Murray State, Belmont is the new king of the Ohio Valley. The Bruins won the regular season title for the second straight season, thanks to a 14-2 league mark. Murray State finished at 13-3, and remember, Belmont won AT North Carolina in mid-November.

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O26 Game of the Week: Indiana State Looks to Ruin Perfection

Posted by Tommy Lemoine on February 5th, 2014

Each week the O26 microsite will run down the biggest upcoming game of the week as well as a handful of others to keep an eye on. 

Wichita State (23-0) at Indiana State (14-5) – 8:05 PM ET, Wednesday. This is probably the greatest remaining hurdle on Wichita State’s quest for an undefeated regular season. Now 23-0, the Shockers have just eight games left on their schedule, only three of which come against squads with a .500 or better record, and just one versus a team ranked within the KenPom top-100. That team is Indiana State, and that game is tonight at the Hulman Center.

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Jake Odum and the Sycamores should give Wichita State a fight this time around. (Fernando Salazar/ The Wichita Eagle)

Greg Lansing’s group should be dialed in after regaining some much-need momentum over the weekend at Northern Iowa, using a big second half rally to end the Panthers’ 11-game home winning streak and return to the win column. The Sycamores suffered a dreadful 19-point drubbing at Southern Illinois just three days earlier to all but end their at-large hopes, a sobering reality that perhaps bled into Saturday’s contest early. It took an angry locker room message from the head coach before the team finally woke up, ripping off 12 straight points in the first four minutes of the second half, tying the game before the first media timeout and maintaining firm control until the final whistle. It was an impressive comeback, the kind of focused, resilient effort they will need for a full 40 minutes in order to beat Wichita State.

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Weekend Storylines: Exams Over, But Tests on the Court Just Beginning

Posted by Bennet Hayes on December 28th, 2013

Here’s to hoping that this week brought you plenty of holiday cheer, because it surely did not supply you (or anyone else!) with much quality college basketball. Entertaining Diamond Head Classic final aside, this week was as slow as the college basketball season gets. Don’t despair, however, because Santa has delivered a Saturday chalk-full of college hoops. Two big-time rivalry games occupy the prime real estate on this weekend’s marquee, but there’s plenty of substance, albeit understated, sprinkled throughout Saturday’s docket of action. Here’s a quick primer on the big games in Syracuse and Lexington, plus a few other worthwhile narratives to monitor on this busy Saturday.

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

For The First Time In Over Three Decades, Syracuse And Villanova Will Meet As Non-Conference Opponents

A Couple Of Old Big East Friends

In the world of college basketball, eleven months is far from an eternity, but my, oh my; how things have changed since the last time Villanova and Syracuse locked horns! What was a Big East conference game last January will be an ACC versus (new) Big East affair today (2PM EST, CBS), and with both teams set to embark on their maiden voyages in the new leagues next week, the Carrier Dome will serve as the clinic for anyone needing one final dose of Big East nostalgia. Subplots abound in this game, but I’ll be especially interested to see how Villanova attacks the Syracuse zone. The Wildcats haven’t been a bad offensive team to this point in the season, but the Cats’ statistical breakdown on the offensive end puzzles. Villanova is 18th best in the country in two-point field goal percentage (55.1%), also shoots the ball pretty well from the stripe (72.2%), but struggles from beyond the arc (204th nationally in 3P% at 32.7%). With those splits, you’d expect Jay Wright’s team to focus their efforts inside the three-point line. So far, however, they’ve done the exact opposite – the Wildcats are 7th in the country when it comes to percentage of field goal attempts from three-point range (45.7%). Will the chucking continue against an Orange zone that begs opponents to settle for deep shots (43.1% of Syracuse opponent’s field goal attempts are threes), or can the Wildcats throw aside this bit of statistical dissonance and find a way to get quality interior looks against the zone? Remains to be seen, but expect 30,000+ to get a first-hand view of the answer.

Battle For The Bluegrass 

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