Saturday’s game was the 119th meeting between Murray State and Austin Peay. To find a time where the final score was more lopsided, you have to go back. Way back. Back to the fourth game these two teams ever played.
Right now, the divide between these two rivals may be as big as it’s ever been. That’s not solely representative of this game, or even this season; These two programs have been drifting apart for several years. Austin Peay’s loss on Saturday guaranteed the Governors will miss the OVC Tournament for the third straight year.
Another way to look at it — it will be the Governors third straight year in the bottom third of the Ohio Valley Conference.
While Murray State’s run might not get the national attention their fans and head coach would like, they’re wrapping up what may be the best four-year stretch in the Racers storied history. It has, if nothing else, seen the two longest winning streaks not just in school history, but the two longest for any Ohio Valley Conference team. The only knock: there’s only been one trip to the NCAA Tournament in the last three years.
The odds are heavily in favor of that changing in two weeks.
When you look at the Racers stretch run, this game, against their longtime and heated rival, is easily the least impactful of their final four. Their OVC regular season championship clinching win at Southeast Missouri last week expelled the demons of last year, the Racers look to tie the record 23-game winning streak Thursday against Eastern Illinois; and on Saturday, they look to set their own history, win number 24 straight, and become just the fifth team ever to run the table in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Almost any other year, this game, against the Governors, is the game circled on fans’ calendars, and the one that brings out just a little extra from the players.
This game was a blip on the Racers radar.
…if it even showed up at all.
Not once in post-game interviews did anyone, players, coaches, or the media, talk about the rivalry. There were few “flush the Peay” chants from the crowd, no signs, not even any booing the Governors when they were introduced.
The vitriol that these teams have produced over the years…was completely absent from the 5,952 fans inside the CFSB Center on an icy Saturday afternoon.
That’s not to say the rivalry is dead. A good Austin Peay team, I’m certain, changes things greatly. But how far away is Austin Peay from being that team again? Are they one player away? Two?
What made this rivalry so good, for so long, is that when they met, both teams were playing for the same thing: Both teams were playing for titles. In so many ways, these teams shouldn’t even be rivals; UT Martin is closer. SEMO the same distance away, SIU not much farther.
When the Racers beat the Redhawks last Saturday, I said that rivalries aren’t really born anymore — they’re already set in stone. The flip-side of that, is, they don’t really die, either. This rivalry isn’t in any danger, yet, of becoming just another conference game.
Even if one fan base just isn’t all that interested at the moment.
Scenarios update: We’ve made it to the final week, and there’s still a lot that can happen, especially with some teams still needing to play three games. We’re not going to go through every possible scenario here, but here are the big ones:
- The battle for the double-bye out of the East is pretty simple: If Eastern Kentucky wins out, they’re your East Division champs, thanks to tiebreakers. If EKU loses one (or more) of the three and Belmont wins their remaining game, at home against Tennessee State, they’re your division champs.
- Morehead State cannot win the division, because they lose every possible tiebreaker.
- vs Belmont: loses. 1-1 head to head, so it goes to records by seed. That’s even until we get to UT Martin. Belmont won, Morehead lost.
- vs EKU: loses. Morehead was swept.
- Three way between Belmont, EKU: Morehead loses. EKU would by 3-1 against both, Belmont 2-2, Morehead 1-3.
- Morehead State cannot win the division, because they lose every possible tiebreaker.
- UT Martin is battling for a single-bye, and while their loss against SIUE last week hurt a bit, but they’re still in the drivers seat for the fourth seed. If they want the three seed (and avoiding Murray State until the conference finals) things are a bit tricky. They lose tiebreakers to both EKU and Belmont, so they need one of the two to lose this week to get a three seed. The bigger problem: they play Murray State Saturday. If they get a sixth loss, they need EKU to lose twice. EKU’s final three are all at home, against Austin Peay, TTU, and JSU. (Unless EIU gets involved. More on that below)
- Eastern Illinois is in a better position against the East, but not against UT Martin. They beat both Belmont and EKU during their 6-0 start, and hold tiebreakers against both. But, much like UT Martin, EIU has the Racers still on their schedule. If EIU wins out, and either EKU or Belmont loses, the Panthers could get a bye…unless the Skyhawks are involved. EIU got swept by the UTM, so would lose any tie involving the Skyhawks. So, in reality they need UTM to lose out as well, which means losing Thursday at Tennessee State.
- So here’s where things get really complicated. What if there’s a three or four-way tie involving some combination of EKU, Belmont, EIU, and UT Martin? First off — it depends on where the tie is. A tie at six losses means EIU and UT Martin beat Murray, which, to be frank, is unlikely, but good for EIU and UTM. A tie at seven losses means EKU lost twice (and this scenario can’t involve Belmont) Let’s ignore the six-loss scenario, because to be honest, I just don’t see it happening. At least, not for both EIU and UTM. At seven losses, UTM would win a three-way tie, being 2-1 against EKU / EIU. EKU would be ranked second (4th overall) going 1-1. EIU third (5th overall) going 1-2.
- And what about Morehead State or SIUE? Morehead State is in terrible position for almost every tiebreaker imaginable, as evidenced partially above. In addition, they lost to both UTM and EIU. So…they basically need to clear teams by a full game. SIUE split with UT Martin and Eastern Illinois, but lost to Morehead and Eastern Kentucky, which loses them most tiebreakers involving either of those four teams.
- Jacksonville State is still hanging on by a thread to being an OVC Tournament team, but the scenario here is simple: win out, and hope SEMO loses out. It’s the only path.
Steve Prohm is unhappy: …and it has nothing to do with his team. Last week, the Bob Cousy award finalists were announced. That award is given to the top point guard in the nation. One player not on that list? Murray State’s Cameron Payne. Now, to be honest, I usually don’t get all that worked up over award lists like this, and how often they over look mid-majors. (Which is very.) But I am in full agreement with Prohm — there are not 17 point guards in the nation better than Payne. There aren’t. Payne is 5th in the nation — fifth — in offensive efficiency. Ken Pom ranks him 8th in the nation in assist rate, he’s 19th in assists per game, ahead of a few players on this list, 18th in scoring, again, ahead of players on the list. I can keep going. He’s tied for 32nd in steals, 9th in total made field goals this season.
It’s not just one area or two that Payne is good in. It’s across the board — all the things you want from a point guard, Payne is doing well this year. He’s helped lead Murray State to 22-straight wins!
Now I’m not going to attack guys on this list, and try to pick and choose which one or ones should be taken off for Payne. And, I understand that if you put this list of point guards in the OVC, they’d probably be pretty good here also. But Payne should be on that list. He should. I think before all is said and done at Murray, he will be.
I just think it should have started this year, not next.
More praise for the West: When you have a team on a quest to break the conference’s all time win streak record, you have to follow them. But in doing so, we haven’t done a good enough job singing the praises of three teams in the West this season, so I want to take some time to do so now.
Eastern Illinois — although they’ve slipped since their great start, is going to finish league play at or above .500 this year, which was their initial goal they set for themselves. They’ve got a great young guard in the backcourt in Cornell Johnston, who’s could help keep EIU in the mix for the next few years. I don’t know how much longer head coach Jay Spoonhour stays in Charleston, (offers have to be coming his way this summer) but he’s done a great job turning that program around in a relatively short time frame.
UT Martin might not get a bye in the tournament, but to go from where they’ve been to where they are in a single year is simply phenomenal. Heath Schroyer was absolutely the right pick for that program, and while he might not be in Martin for long, he’s made quite a splash in just a single year.
…and finally, SIUE is really making strides in the West. They’ll finish .500 or better in the conference as well, and have protected home court about as well as anyone. I’ve been saying it for a few years: the Cougars really should be in a position to eventually become an OVC power, and while that transition has been slower than Cougars’ fans would have liked, they’re taking steps to being a real threat.
The East? Well, it’s not been the best of seasons. But if you’re completely counting out Belmont or EKU for next week’s tournament, I’d highly suggest you reconsider.
More beneficial? A three-game week (EKU) or a one-game week (Belmont): So, due to last week’s snow, there’s an interesting dynamic entering the final week of the regular season. The Colonels are one team playing three-games this week, whereas the Bruins only have one. With the OVC Tournament a week away, does one get a boost over the other? On one hand, the Bruins should be more rested. On the other, if EKU sweeps the week, they’ve got a lot of momentum heading into Nashville. Personally, I’d think coaches would take the rest at this point of the year, but it’s just something worth noting as EKU sets to tip tonight.
Of course — since one team won’t be playing until Friday, we probably won’t get a clear answer.
Two games: That’s Southeast Missouri’s longest winning streak of the season. Four times this year, they’ve won back-to-back games. They’ve never won three straight. They will be the only OVC Tournament team this year not to have a three-game winning streak at any point. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen that before from a team that will make the trip to Nashville.