(This was written pre-Jacksonville State)
It’s almost halfway through the men’s college basketball regular season (sadness, I know) and college teams around America have had about 15 games to prove themselves. Or not.
The Murray State men’s basketball team (7-8, 2-3 Ohio Valley Conference) is currently in need of a dose of confidence and a helping or two of victories. But the Racers are doing some things right midway through the season.
The Racers could make a run to the OVC Tournament championship game, but things might be a little hairy until then.
Take a look at my midseason report card:
Since the Racers have lost six of their last eight games, clearly they aren’t scoring enough points. They’re getting enough shots but those shots just aren’t going in. Chalk it up to inexperience (three of the starting five are newbies, and five of the available 10 are new) and playing eight of the last 10 away from home.
The Racers are the best defensive team in the league, holding teams to just 42.7 percent shooting. However, when the Racers shut the top scorers down, someone off the bench always goes off for a career night.
Post production: B
The Racers have more post production depth than in the past, but starters Jeffery McClain and Ivan Aska are still undersized compared to their counterparts in the post. They’re also young. The Racers’ post players however, provide the most excitement and energy than anyone else on the team. Georges Fotso’s minutes off the bench against Austin Peay were some of the best in terms of defensive effort. His assignment, former Player of the Year Drake Reed, may have only gotten one pass in Fotso’s eight minutes on the court.
Point guard: A-
Kevin Thomas has the ability to be a go-to guy (think 21 points against UT Martin), but is so far inconsistent. His 1.7 turnover-to-assist ratio isn’t shabby, and he pushes the ball and sees players on the court just like a senior point guard should.
Shooting guards: B-
No one is making shots, but depth and talent overall are very good for being so young. Sophomore transfer Isacc Miles is oftentimes the only one keeping the Racers in games (his role as back up point guard I believe prevents breakout scoring). Preseason all-OVC pick Danero Thomas is fickle. He’s capable of lighting up for 20+ points, but we’ve only seen that once this season.
With two players injured (Tony Easley and Jewuan Long) and one player down already from departure, the Racers’ bench is likely the deepest of any other OVC school. No player on the team averages more than 28 minutes a game.
Coach Billy Kennedy and staff have brought in fabulous talent and navigate a tight ship with character kids. But while it can be hard to sort through a talented bench, the Racers may operate on too many line ups, preventing players from finding an offensive rhythm before they are taken out of a game. Kennedy’s quiet court demeanor serves him as both a gift and curse right now while the Racers struggle.
When three of your few elder statesmen play off the bench and your lone starting senior isn’t vocal, leadership is going to lack. Sometimes I think the Racers are too nice on the court and to each other.
The bodies of the Racers are built to run, not to battle. When they’re forced to battle, they get out-toughed. But McClain, Aska, and Miles give the Racers muscle and it’s staggering to think Aska, a freshman, is playing as well as he is with the OVC’s veterans.
To me, last year’s seniors not only took a lot of scoring with them when they left, they took all the braggadocio. This is a temperate team when things go wrong and when things go right. If the Racers find good leadership soon, they might find some swagger, too.
Fans: B -
Racer fans show up in good number, they just don’t do much once they arrive. The last two home games, I’ve listened to hearty cheering in only the last minutes of the games, fans negatively yelling at their own players and criticism of the officials. That’s a great atmosphere to come home to. When your team’s struggling, fans, that’s the time you’ve got to be the loudest.