The game wasn’t even over in Cape Girardeau last night before I saw the tweets start flying. “I’ve never seen a coach do less with more,” one fan typed. “Par for the course,” another quipped after the game.
There’s no doubt that last night was not what Redhawks fans hoped for. After taking Belmont to the wire in Nashville, and a solid win over Tennessee State, Southeast Missouri hosted a 5-11 Morehead State that’s been struggling mightily on the offensive side of basketball, and down three players, including their leading scorer and another starter, out to injury.
Not only did the Eagles win, they led for 32 minutes, and got the victory despite hitting 26-66 (39.4%) from the floor. Morehead State did that by pulling down 20 offensive rebounds (42.5% OREB%, which is a great percentage) and forcing 21 turnovers, (without pressing) as the Redhawks stumbled at the charity stripe, hitting 10-24 (41.7%) from the free-throw line. Making matters worse, SEMO’s leading scorer Jarekious Bradley was thrown out after two technical fouls, part of a team meltdown over the last 10 minutes.
So what did Southeast Missouri head coach Dickey Nutt say after the loss?
“Talk about taking a step back,” according to the Southeast Missourian. “That’s exactly what we did tonight.”
Despite Morehead’s stumbles in non-conference play, it’s worth remembering that much of the media pegged the Eagles to win the East division, and Sean Woods‘ club has dealt with more than their fair share of injuries this year. Losing to Morehead, in and of itself, isn’t necessarily cause for alarm.
How they lost? That is a bit of a different story.
There are buzzwords from coaches that always catch my attention. To be honest, I’ve never gotten a lot out of coaches’ post game press conferences; they tend to say the same, or very similar things, game after game. But when a coach calls out his teams’ leadership or talks about their intensity, I tend to take notice.
…because it’s the sharpest, if not only, criticism most coaches will wield.
“The leadership tonight was non-existent,” Nutt said, before taking full responsibility.
“It’s just a lack of intensity, lack of urgency, lack of concentration,” Nutt added, “just being at the highest level, too cool for school, whatever you want to call it,” before, again, taking full responsibility.
Even the best teams have off nights. Morehead State is going to outrebound a lot of teams, they force a lot of turnovers: neither of these are surprising. But basketball isn’t just about talent; Sometimes, the most talented team loses. I’m not certain if Southeast Missouri was or wasn’t the most talented team on the floor last night.
They weren’t the most motivated, that much is sure.
That’s a slippery slope in the West this year. Murray State looks as dominant as ever. SIUE and Eastern Illinois are surging. Second place is far from guaranteed for the team from Cape Girardeau.
…but there’s a second issue here. Why are the Redhawks expectations so high? Last year, they were picked to win the OVC West, this year, picked to finish second. But according to the numbers, SEMO should have lost last night. The Redhawks best win in non-conference play? According to KenPom, it was the win on a last second buzzer-beater against Southern Illinois, a team ranked 257th in his rankings.
Morehead State? They’re ranked 214th.
Southeast Missouri, despite their record, has spent much of the year ranked in or near the 300’s in the RPI. They haven’t gotten consistent play from virtually anyone all season. Their free-throw shooting has been atrocious from the word go, they’re hitting 28.4% from three-point range while allowing opponents to shoot 39.1% from deep.
Yet, we, the collective followers of the Ohio Valley Conference, have gotten it in our head that this team is supposed to be a great team. Yes, Jarekious Bradley is a great shooter. Nino Johnson is a strong presence in the paint.
…but we just seem to ignore the rest.
It’s the same, although on the opposite end of the spectrum, as what we do with Eastern Illinois. None of their three conference wins were upsets. Zero. They were favored to win all three games, and yet, collectively, we’re shocked that they did what they were supposed to.
I’m not certain SEMO really took a step back last night — because I’m not sure when they took a step forward. An objective observer looking at what the Redhawks have done this year, and who they’ve beat, wouldn’t agree with the general feeling across the OVC that this team is expected to compete for a conference title.
Sure, fans want, and on some level expect them to do so. But there can only be one champion.
…and no objective metric suggested in any way that champion would be Southeast Missouri when conference play began a week ago.
I understand that’s a harsh (perhaps overly so…) statement. But to go back to the first tweet I mentioned earlier: “I’ve never seen a coach do less with more,” Part of me wonders if it’s not the opposite. Over the past two-plus years, Nutt has been saddled with unfair expectations about the level of his team. (Last year, he tried to warn us — early and often — that his team wasn’t ready to win the West.) He, like most coaches, has been expected to live up not to how good his team is, but how good fans believe it should be.
If SEMO can finish in second place in the OVC West for a third straight year, I wouldn’t deem it a failure. In fact, it might be the most impressive second-place finish of the three.
You can make points about long-term recruiting if you want. But let’s not forget, this program wasn’t in the basement when Nutt took it over, it was six-feet under ground. To go from where it was to being and staying consistently competitive in a relatively short period of time isn’t something just any coach could do.
I understand the want to now make the jump to the next level, but few if any conferences in the nation have such a great disparity between the have’s and have not’s.
Last night was a bad, no good, terrible game. But SEMO might just be alright, once we all take a step back and see where this team really should be.
10 in a row: I couldn’t have imagined entering December that this Racers team could win 10 games in a row, especially given the schedule. Murray State was dominant again in Cookeville last night, and again the Golden Eagles frontcourt looked outmatched. But the Racers only look like they’re getting stronger. Justin Seymour had one of his best games of the bench for Murray, adding depth, an area of concern a month ago. They continue to knock down three’s, they had 13 offensive rebounds off 37 misses. Cameron Payne probably shouldn’t take 24 shots, but he had five assists and no turnovers on the night. (Murray only had five turnovers for the game, one in the first half) This team looks like they could not just win the conference, but steamroll it.
We’ll have more on the Racers recent sucess in the coming days.
Danger Zone: In a very related note, Tennessee Tech is in a spot of trouble. This isn’t solely about being 0-3, but I’m struggling to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Their frontcourt, which looked amazing in the month of December, hasn’t been strong in January. They were 8-18 from three (Hallelujah!) against the Racers, but hit just 37% from the field on the game, as the offense continues to sputter. And you can’t win when you commit 15 turnovers. The next three are pretty key: hosting Austin Peay, hosting UT Martin, and at SEMO. Not only do you need wins, you need tiebreakers, and you only get one shot at the West.
*clank* *clank* *clank*: Oh, UT Martin. The Skyhawks missed the front-end of three one-and-one fouls down the stretch, as EKU pulled away late to steal a win on the road. Eastern Kentucky struggled to hit three’s, only forced 11 UTM turnovers, but came away with the win. The Skyhawks also struggled from deep, hitting just 5-21 (23.8%) from deep.
Due to time constraints, didn’t have time today to get more into the UTM – EKU game or the JSU – Austin Peay game. We’ll have a post tomorrow with more from those contests.