Murray State Basketball: 10 Reasons the Racers Are NCAA Tournament Pretenders
A team's record is not always indicative of how good a team actually is.
The Murray State Racers cruised through the regular season, posting a 30-1 overall record. The Racers have a solid squad led by point guard Isaiah Canaan, a dynamite player who is 24th in the nation in scoring.
The Racers have more weaknesses than their one loss would show though.
Murray State uses a three-guard offense that highlights their great athletic ability as well as their capability to shoot the three. Against weaker teams though, which was constant throughout their schedule, it hides some of their glaring weaknesses.
Here are the top ten reasons why Murray State is not as good as their record says and won’t make a title run.
10. Transition Game
This isn’t a serious problem for Murray State, but one that I have noticed while watching tape on this team; the Racers just aren’t as dynamic as one would expect running the floor.
When looking at the Pomeroy College Basketball Ratings, you will notice that Murray State is a ways down the list at 45. When looking at their adjusted offense and adjusted tempo – 66th and 171st respectively – one can understand why they are rated very averagely.
Murray State is abundant in athletic ability. They boast a smaller line-up - which will be talked about plenty later – and one would expect this team to try and get up the court quicker to not allow opposing teams to get their big men set.
The Racers pace themselves though. They want to run their offense, which is why I believe they don’t try to outrun teams to the other end. Their offense – which features lots of on-ball screens on the perimeter and double screens away from the ball to open up others – has been efficient thus far. Teams with length on the perimeter will have a good chance to stop their offense.
Murray State could force the issue on many teams and test how athletic, well-conditioned, and how deep opposing teams, but don’t seem to want to do that. It could make the Racers a much more dangerous team, but is an element they are missing.
Murray State gives up a lot of fouls, 18.3 per game to be exact.
They pressure opposing teams a lot once they cross half-court. While this can be effective, it can also lead to fouls if they are overly aggressive.
The other main reason the Racers foul so much is simply their lack of size. It’s hard for them to compete against bigger players and when that happens, you will pick-up your share of fouls.
This is a big problem for any team that is tournament bound. Once March rolls around, you can’t give out free points.
It’s already hard enough to play against some of the best teams in the country; it becomes even harder when they are allowed to shoot a lot of free throws.
8. Assists to Turnovers
For a team that uses three guards, it’s shocking how bad their assist to turnover ratio is.
Murray State ranks 187th in the nation in assists to turnover ratio at 0.93. That is a horrendous mark for a squad that is supposed to be reliant on efficient offense.
While star Isaiah Canaan averages 3.7 assists per game, he also averages 2.7 turnovers per game. It also is not helpful that two other starters, Donte Poole and Ed Daniel, have committed more turnovers than assists.
If Murray State does not take better care of the ball in the tournament, they could be exposed big-time.
7. No Size, No Rebounding
It’s quite easy to see when sitting down to watch this team that they are always going to be at a height disadvantage.
The average height of Murray State’s starters is six feet and three and six-tenths inches tall, and that’s going just off the schools listed heights which every school is known for inflating a little bit.
The three forwards that get the most playing time for the Racers top out at six feet and seven inches. To put that into context, Harrison Barnes plays the three for the North Carolina Tar Heels and goes six feet and eight inches.
Murray State simply has no size to speak of. They struggle to box out and get typically get beat on the boards. They are currently 124th in the nation in rebounding margin.
Give them some credit though. In their four games against RPI Top 100 schools, Murray State was only outrebounded by Memphis.
However, a team with a dominant inside presence could have their way with the Racers.
Ever since the UNLV Runnin’ Rebels stomped on Duke in the 1990 National Championship, no team from a non-power six conference has won the national championship.
Even worse is that Murray State comes from the Ohio Valley Conference, a one-bid league which is ranked 22nd in the Jeff Sagarin ratings. When you take the Racers out of the equation, the conference was 1-35 against the Sagarin Top 50, the lone win being against Murray State by Tennessee State.
Those facts are pretty overwhelming and hard to ignore, and also tie into the next slide.
The Murray State Racers played nobody from a power six school this season.
The toughest challenges Murray State faced were two schools from Conference-USA, one from the Atlantic-10, and one from the West Coast Conference.
Southern Mississippi, Dayton, Memphis, and Saint Mary’s are all solid teams, but the Racers never once challenged themselves in a real litmus test.
While wins over those four schools are certainly solid, Murray State has not been tested by a true tournament schedule or a national champion contender.
Every champion since 1998 has been either a one, two or three seed.
There really is no reason to over think this one because it’s quite simple; the teams with the higher seeds have an easier road to the championship and are, theoretically, amongst the top 12 teams in the country.
As it looks right now, with a poor strength of schedule and average ratings in the Pomeroy, Sagarin, and RPI, they are more likely going to be seeded between a five and seven seed.
Joe Lunardi’s current projection has Murray State as a six-seed, playing Mississippi State in the first round. If Murray State has to face a school from the power six in the 2nd Round with the type of size and length the Bulldogs have, the Racers could be in for a ‘one and done.’
3. Struggle Defending Penetration
As hard as it may be to believe, it is not the lack of size in the lane that is the biggest weakness of the Murray State Racers when watching them on tape; it’s their inability to stop penetration.
While this does partially tie into their lack of size as well, it’s primarily their lack of length that causes this to be such a huge weakness.
Teams constantly cut towards the hoop and attack against Murray State. The Racers guards inability to cut down opposing players from slashing towards the hoop, and then Murray State lacking an eraser type of player in the paint makes this the Racers biggest weakness on the court.
Unfortunately for Murray State, there is no remedy for this. They simply lack the length on the perimeter and size inside to ever limit opposing teams from slashing through the lane. It’s something that smart teams will see on tape and take full advantage of.
2. Young Head Coach
Each of the last ten NCAA Champions have had a head coach with at least five NCAA tournament appearances. Sadly for Murray State, they don’t come anywhere near fitting this criterion.
Steve Prohm is in his first season as head coach of the Murray State Racers. How Prohm got to this point is a great story that shows his dedication to the sport. However, it probably is not enough for the Racers to make a tournament run.
When Murray State has to match-up with more experienced coaches in the tournament, they could be in for a rude awakening. Being able to develop a game plan and make halftime adjustments in tournament time is something one does not just know; it comes with years of experience.
Brad Stevens won in his first NCAA Tournament game as a rookie, but lost in the 2nd Round. Maybe Prohm and the Racers can at least get that far, but the odds are against them due to Prohm’s lack of experience in control of a program.
1. Tournament Inexperience
This could be the dagger to the heart of the Murray State Racers.
Each of the last ten NCAA Champions went to the dance the previous season. Also, in match-ups between teams where one team made the tournament the previous season and the other did not the team that was in the previous tournament won over 70 percent of the time.
After 31-5 record in the 2009-2010 season, Murray State missed the tournament last season. When they did make the 2010 NCAA Tournament, the current stars of their team played some, but only one, forward Ivan Aska, started.
Isaiah Canaan played only 18 minutes versus Vanderbilt with eight points. Canaan then played 28 minutes against Butler and picked up 14 points.
Donte Poole played only 19 total minutes and logged 5 points. Jewuan Long only played in their first game and for only six minutes.
Ed Daniel played 15 minutes with 5 points and 6 rebounds versus Vanderbilt. Against Butler, Daniel played 9 minutes against Butler, scoring 4 points.
While Canaan did have two solid games and is capable of scoring against anyone, the lack of tournament experience on this team is troublesome.
The Murray State Racers have many weaknesses. Unfortunately, ‘The Racer Nation’ will soon see that the Racers are NCAA Tournament pretenders and won’t last long into March.