Could Tennessee State’s M.J. Rhett be on the road to Oklahoma State, or Illinois? Jeff Goodman of ESPN is reporting the junior forward is transferring from Tennessee State, and is getting interest from high-major programs.
The transfer is no surprise, especially given that Rhett is graduating in the fall and can transfer without sitting out a year, as long as Rhett enters a post-graduate program that isn’t offered at TSU. But the list of schools that are reportedly interested, which include NCAA Tournament teams Villanova, Memphis, Tennessee and Wichita State, rather is. Rhett is coming off his most productive season for the 5-25 Tigers, but you’re getting a guy that’s a proven rebounder, but far from the complete package, and brings just one year eligibility.
Even more noteworthy were his numbers against high-major programs last year: 14 points, five rebounds in a loss to Tennessee, and six points and three rebounds to Auburn. Rhett had a big game against Wichita State in mid-November, posting a double-double. But averaging 10.9 points a game hardly screams high-major, especially given how often many programs like to look down at the Ohio Valley conference. Is his rebounding, 9.1 a game, fifth in the OVC last year, warrant high-major status?
It’s a curious case, and Rhett is far from the last OVC player to transfer out of his program this summer. But no one expected to leave may land more on their feet.
Murray State will host their second round CIT game tonight against Nebraska-Omaha; Belmont is preparing for their NIT quarterfinals matchup at Clemson on Tuesday, and Eastern Kentucky, the OVC’s representative to the NCAA Tournament’s season is…over. So which is the better position to be: one-and-done in the NCAA’s, or a deep run in another postseason tournament?
Let me be clear: a win in the NCAA tournament, a single win, trumps any other postseason run, from both a financial and school promotion point of view. Even with the past two seasons, the conference has won a game in four of the past six seasons, and that’s a noteworthy run. But this year, is Belmont or Murray State having a better postseason than Eastern Kentucky?
From a financial point-of-view, yes. Belmont hosted a second-round game, Murray State is doing the same. Even with the Racers paying to host, they’ll make a small profit off of tickets, merchandise, and concessions; the Bruins as well, without paying to host. It’s not a major windfall, but it’s likely a few thousand dollars at a minimum.
From a promotional point-of-view? Absolutely not. In six months, most people won’t remember Eastern Kentucky leading Kansas at the half. (In fact, one reporter couldn’t remember it two days later…) But they know it now, and will basketball pundits will likely remember it for a few weeks. But outside of the conference, no one knows who Murray State has played in the CIT thus far. (Missouri State) The NIT, where Belmont is, still has a bit of reputation left in it, but playing games opposite the NCAA tournament can’t exactly be a boon for ratings, and admit it, can you name the last three NIT champions?
(They’re Baylor, Stanford, and Wichita State, in case you were wondering)
There’s also the issue of experience, as Belmont and Murray State are simply getting to play more games. Does that have a big impact on next season? Probably not. But, barring injury, it can’t hurt.
The conspiracy theorists among us could have a field day with UT Martin’s NCAA tournament loss at the hands of North Carolina yesterday. Bad enough UT Martin was essentially playing a road game, the Skyhawks led by thirteen at the half, but the start of the second half was delayed nearly ten minutes by a malfunctioning horn that required the scoreboard to be lowered. During a very lengthy second-half Tar Heels run, UT Martin was called for a Flagrant I foul on a free-throw rebound, a play that wasn’t even called a foul live but was called on replay.
There’s actually more. With the Skyhawks down two with under 15 seconds to play, the Skyhawks called timeout, and that’s when the PA announcer told the crowd there was a man with a weapon on campus, an announcement that came from the university more than 15 minutes before. That announcement led to some confusion during UTM’s timeout, forcing head coach Kevin McMillan to call another timeout, because their first was spent trying to figure out what to do about the announcement about a campus lockdown.
In all actuality, the 26-3 North Carolina run in the second half is really what did in the Skyhawks, combined with rebounding issues and missed free-throws. But Chapel Hill sure wasn’t making things any easier.
The next question for UTM: Does McMillan stay? With the new men’s coach Heath Schroyer earning quite a pay boost compared to the previous head coach, McMillan is undoubtedly due a raise. But given the money athletic director Julio Friere is paying his new coach, plus the money due to former head coach Jason James after his firing, how much money is left for the man who has brought the women’s program to four straight NCAA Tournaments? And does he want to stay, now that he’s graduating the two all-time leading scorers in Ohio Valley Conference history? If he’s not getting great job offers, I’d be simply stunned.