In the nationally proclaimed ‘Year of the Defense,’ Murray State is currently on pace to have their best offensive year in the past decade.
Yes, better than 31-2, which doesn’t actually rank as high on this list as you might remember. (They were defensive juggernauts) Better than the year the Racers beat Vanderbilt, and even though it’s technically 11 years ago, better than Mick Cronin‘s first year, a 28-6 campaign.
…it’s also better than last year’s, which, at the time, was the best offensive team of the past decade.
Now, Cronin’s team scored more points, Isaiah Canaan‘s team hit more three’s, and Billy Kennedy‘s team shot the ball better inside. But no team was more efficient, or got more points out of each possession, than the Murray State team currently on the floor. And it’s not even really that close.
To demonstrate the Racers’ offensive prowess, we put together this handy chart, with the Racers rank this year among Murray State teams dating back to the 2001-2002:
|Statistic||Value||Team Rank (Since 2001-02)|
|Three-point shooting %||39.4%||2nd|
|Two-point shooting %||53.3%||3rd|
|Offensive Rebounding %||34.4%||7th|
I included the last two on the list, despite not being among the best Racers’ teams, for this reason: Murray State is in the top-100 nationally in both categories this season. Unlike past teams, which did one or two things well, this year’s Racer club does it all. Deep shooting, inside game, distributing the basketball, protecting the basketball, rebounding; there is but one weakness, and that’s free-throw shooting.
So, in short, to beat Murray, send them to the free-throw line on every possession. It’s the only hope you have.
While the offense is clicking on all cylinders, I didn’t have to go back far to find a better offensive team that didn’t make the NCAA Tournament. Last year’s Belmont team was more efficient statistically than this year’s Murray State team, (1.129 OPPP) and succumbed to Eastern Kentucky in Nashville much in the same way Murray did.
More often than not, the Racers have relied on that offense during this 11-game winning streak. Don’t forget, this team gave up 81 to Western Kentucky, 79 to Evansville, 77 to Illinois State — just happened to outscore all three.
Conference play has been a bit of a different story: no conference opponent so far has broken 70, but even that needs a bit of context: Jacksonville State and Morehead State rank in the bottom 100 nationally in offensive efficiency, and they let a Tennessee Tech team hitting 30% from three-point range this year to hit 8-18, (44.4%) although they did lock down the Golden Eagles on the inside.
Belmont travels to Murray this Thursday, fresh off a historically awful three-point shooting performance against Eastern Illinois. They’re going to be angry, and as teams often do, they’re going to give the Racers their best shot.
The question remains, now 10 games removed from their fateful trip to Nashville: do the Racers have another gear? While their offense is clicking, recent history shows us that might not be enough on it’s own.
What’s the next step the Racers take, to get back to a NCAA Tournament for the first time since 31-2.
KenPom isn’t Eastern Illinois’ friend: I threw this number out on twitter yesterday, but it’s worth revisiting: Despite their 4-0 start, KenPom gives the Panthers just a 13% chance to win at Eastern Kentucky. In fact, EIU is an underdog in four of their next five games according to the site. Without a doubt, this is the hardest part of the Panthers’ schedule. If I’m Jay Spoonhour, I’m happy if I can take either of these two games this weekend, setting up a West Division showdown in your own gym with Murray State next week.
Must-win Thursday: Tennessee State has gotten dangerously close in each of their last two games to winning their first conference game under head coach Dana Ford, and now the travel to Austin Peay, a team that equally desperate for a win. TSU’s defense gave the Tigers a shot in Edwardsville despite a 27.5% shooting night. The Governors haven’t broken 60-points in conference play, but return home for the first time. It’s early, for sure, but the loser of this game is going to have a hard time finding the seven wins needed to make the OVC Tournament.
On the road again: UT Martin just wrapped up a four-game home stand, and head back on the road this week to face Tennessee Tech in another one of those early battles with March implications. (TTU seems to have a lot of these…) It’s the only meeting between these teams, meaning it’s worth more like a game and a half — the winner also will hold a head-to-head tiebreaker over the loser, if it comes to that. UT Martin isn’t going to be scared of heading to Cookeville: The Skyhawks are nearly as good on the road this year (5-4) as they are at home. (4-2)
…just, don’t forget to pack the defense: The Skyhawks are ranked last in conference play in defensive efficiency, forced turnover percentage, two-point percentage defense, blocks, and steals. Sure, it’s just a two-game sampling for UT Martin, but their defense in non-conference play (Last in the league in defensive efficiency) doesn’t exactly give them the benefit of the doubt.