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OVC basketball media day is just over a week away, which will be our first chance to talk with the league’s 12 coaches about their outlook for the season. Until then, we’re looking at the storylines from the past summer. Here’s 7 things I learned since March.

 

1. The transfer rule is broken

We’ve known this, but 12 teams losing 27 players to transfer this summer alone is insane. Not all transfers are equal: some are legitimate; others are less ‘transfers’ and more “you don’t have to go home, but you can’t stay here;” and the post-graduate transfer rule cost Eastern Illinois one of their best players. But the reason matters less when the average team in the conference lost more than two players, each, to transfer — and not one single team didn’t lose a single player.

It’s been bad for awhile.

It’s getting worse.

It’s hard to know where to pin “blame.” Sometimes it’s coaches. Sometimes it’s players. Sometimes it’s circumstances. Because of that, it’s hard to know how to fix it.

Want to make school require four-year scholarships? What happens if a player stops trying?

Want to make the punishment on players harsher for transferring? You punish those students who truly need to do so. A fix is complicated. But you can’t begin to fix the problem until you acknowledge it. The NCAA has yet to do so. So this will likely only get worse in the years to come.

Which means expect your team to lose 2-3 guys next summer as well.

 

2. The coaching carousel can’t end soon enough for Murray State in the future

No one can blame Steve Prohm for leaving for Iowa State. It’s not just the money, but Prohm is inheriting a team that has a legitimate chance to win a Big 12 title, and maybe even NCAA title, in his first year.

The irony is how much it mirrored the circumstances that led to Prohm taking the job in the first place. Billy Kennedy took the job at Texas A&M on May 15th, 2011, one of the last coaching hires that season. The Iowa State job was open into June this summer, before the program landed on the Murray State coach. Neither job expected to have an opening: the A&M job opened up only after Gary Williams retired at Maryland, while the Iowa State job opened after Fred Hoiberg jumped to the NBA after the Chicago Bulls fired their coach in May.

In a way, it’s a good problem to have, that your coaches are making the jump to good programs in a high-major conference. But, in a way, Murray State is having to rely on the next coach being on the current staff, as there weren’t many options in either case.

 

2A. …except, McMahon wouldn’t still be around. Would have Prohm?

Imagine being Matt McMahon for a moment. Having just left for Louisiana Tech two weeks ago, a head coaching job you would love comes open. But here’s a question:

If Prohm doesn’t leave for Iowa State, how long is he still in Murray?

Sure, Iowa State wasn’t Prohm first flirtation. Many expected Prohm to land the head coaching job at Alabama just weeks before heading to Ames. But Alabama was also Prohm alma mater. Would Prohm still be in Murray two years from now. Three years from now? And by then, would Matt McMahon be in a position to come back to Murray?

And how about Prohm himself. If Billy Kennedy didn’t get the Texas A&M job, he would have been in Murray for at least another season, maybe more. Would Prohm, by all measure one of the great coaches in Murray State history, still have been available?

It’s a lot of “if’s,” and while those late coaching changes have stung, Murray State’s managed to make out pretty well. And there a lot of people very high on McMahon, as he takes over the Racers helm.

 

3. The fouls are coming back. Thanks, Rick Byrd

There are quite a lot of changes coming to college basketball this season thanks to the NCAA rules committee, which is headed by the long-time Belmont head coach. By there’s one that’s sure to be the most controversial. To quote the NCAA press release on the matter, this is a point of emphasis this season:

Perimeter defense, particularly on the dribbler and strictly enforcing the directives put in the book before the 2013-14 season.

Two years ago, this rule is all we heard about for two months. Fouls were up, free-throws were up, and scoring was up. Fans, coaches, and players, though, were not happy. The rule changes are still on the books. They were never removed, there was never an official “we’re backing away from this” statement. But it didn’t stick. Officials didn’t enforce it, and the before the season was out, we were back to more-or-less the style of basketball we were accustomed to.

I don’t expect this time around, fans are going to be any happier about it.

 

3A. It will make the game better…if the officials can take the heat

Here’s the reason it’s coming back around: once players adjust, it will make the game better, and it will increase scoring. How long will that take? Last time, I thought a couple of months.

This time? It might be more like a couple of years.

That’s a problem for one major reason. Contrary to what you’ve heard, officials are people too. Sure, they’re not the most popular people for two-hour stretches, but part of the reason this rule failed last time was because many officials stopped enforcing it. Admist constant verbal abuse of fans, coaches, and the occasional player, many referees backed off these calls.

Here’s what the rule is supposed to do: free up the ball handler to make plays. That means guards making more drives, making more passes, getting more layups and open looks, and increasing scoring. It’s not meant to increase free-throws — but it will, especially until players understand this is how the game will be called, and play differently.

It does make defending harder. But with scoring in college basketball at near-record lows, fans are leaving the game, and either finding a different sport, or going to the NBA, where there is no lack of scoring. Nobody wants to see a 37-36 basketball game ever again. This rule can help make that happen.

 

3B. The 30-second shot clock is not only needed, but will be a lot of fun

Part of what makes the NBA so entertaining is how it’s such an up-and-down game. No matter how bad your team is, they can only hold onto the ball for so long. Changing the NCAA’s shot clock brings us closer to that.

I also think it’s going to make games sloppier, and a more unpredictable.

Scoring was higher in the post-season tournaments that used the 30-second shot clock last season compared to the NCAA tournament. There were more possessions, (shock!) which means more shots, more points, rebounds, steals, just more everything. Ken Pomeroy says the impact was more neutral — but those numbers were also from postseason teams, teams in a better position, with better players, to adjust to a shorter clock. When those same rules are applied teams that…aren’t as good, the effect could magnified.

…and maybe, just maybe, it will speed the death of the Princeton offense. (We’ll never forget you, Samford.)

 

3C. Other changes, for the curious

A quick rundown of other rule changes this season:

  • Expect more fouls calls inside — as officials will be paying close attention to the physicality in the post. Again, once (if) players adjust, this should open up the offense.
  • Expect more moving screen calls. Another point-of-emphasis.
  • For what seems like the tenth time in as many years, the block/charge call is another point of emphasis.
  • …and, because there aren’t enough rules about fouls, there could be more off-ball fouls in general, as officials focus on the “freedom of movement” for players without the ball.
  • The restricted-area arc becomes bigger, moving out from three-feet under the basket to four.
  • All timeouts within 30 seconds of a media timeout become the media timeout. (Under 16:30, 12:30, etc.)
  • One fewer timeout for coaches.
    • Also, coaches cannot call live ball timeouts. Those must be called by players.
  • No more using a player’s fifth foul as an extra timeout. Substitutions must be made quicker.
  • Only allowing 10 seconds total to move the ball past hal fcourt. (The way I understand it, no more using timeouts to make that 19)
  • “Flopping” could draw a flagrant foul
  • More reviews! All shot-clock violations are now reviewable. (Was previously only in final minutes)
  • Class B technical fouls (hanging on the rim, for example) is only worth one free-throw.
  • You can now safely dunk during pre-game.

Whew!

 

4. SIUE is setting their own bar high.

The Cougars aren’t just new to the OVC, they’re new to Division I. Which made the firing of head coach Lennox Forrester somewhat interesting. Forrester led the Cougars to back-to-back OVC Tournaments, had no off-the-court issues, and was the first coach fired last season. Three teams that didn’t make the OVC Tournament retained their coaches.

There’s no reason to expect a team making the transition from Division II to actively compete in a Division I conference, especially one that’s regularly seeing teams compete well on a national stage.

I’ve long said SIUE has a lot going for it on the court; it’s a non-football school located 30 minutes from a major city, with more television coverage than any OVC program thanks to it’s separate deal with Fox Sports Midwest, and it’s a school with nicer facilities. With the right people in the administration, and leading the program, SIUE could become a Murray State or Belmont-like program if it stays in the Ohio Valley Conference.

They clearly believe so too. If they didn’t, Forrester would be back. Coaches with worse resumes have been retained by many a program in the past.

 

5. Why is the OVC struggling in March? It’s the defense.

Let’s pick up where we left off last season:

But there’s a difference between that Murray State team, or the Morehead State teams before them, and the best in the league now:

Those teams played defense.

I wrote that in my State of the OVC 2015. The Murray State and Morehead State teams I referred to were the last OVC teams to win games in the NCAA Tournament, and I used statistics to compare how great those teams were on defensive end compared to more recent champions, who didn’t fare as well in the NCAA Tournament. That comparison didn’t end well for the more modern teams. In fact, of every conference tournament champion since 2009, the 2014 EKU team and last year’s Belmont team ranked last, and second-to-last, respectively, defensively.

Certain coaches didn’t, really, take that statement all that well.

The relationship between good defense and winning in March isn’t one to take lightly. Since 2002, the OVC has sent a team ranked in the top-100 in the nation defensively to the NCAA Tournament six times. Three have advanced to the round of 32.

Of the other eight? Zero have advanced past the round of 64.

If you narrow it to a top-50 defense, it’s happened three times, and all three were Murray State teams. Two won. The other? 2006, when Mick Cronin’s Racers tied the game against North Carolina with 1:18 to go, before falling by four.

You want the OVC to win in March? Root for the team with the best defense to get out of the OVC Tournament.

 

5A. Expect the OVC to get “better” defensively. 

Can numbers lie? Of course they can. The problem is — there’s no way I can see to twist those numbers to come to any other conclusion. Except maybe one. The reason the OVC was so bad defensively, is because…

The OVC was so good offensively.

Cameron Payne. Corey Walden. Jarekious Bradley. It makes sense, right? Trae Anderson, Deville Smith, just Belmont. It’s all so clear. It wasn’t the OVC wasn’t good defensively. It’s that the offense was just so far ahead.

The upper-end of the league was heavily biased towards offense, especially Murray State and Belmont. Eastern Kentucky was stronger defensively, as were Morehead State and Eastern Illinois, although neither of those offenses especially impressed.

To think that Murray State will be that good offensively this season is foolish. Belmont has a good shot, but EKU, UT Martin, and even EIU have lost a lot of offensive talent. Will they be replaced? It’s hard to know. But I’d wager that, with the Bruins an exception, the best defenses are likely to rise to the top in March.

 

6. You can take Rick Ray out of the SEC, but you can’t take the SEC out of Rick Ray

Southeast Missouri’s new coach isn’t exactly enamoring himself to fans with his decision to close practices. Now, let’s be honest, this mostly affects the “superfan,” an overall minority of fans, and if SEMO starts winning under new head coach Rick Ray, I don’t think anyone’s going to care that much.

According to the Southeast Missourian, Ray is instilling a motion offense for the Redhawks, a change from the offense run under Dickie Nutt. That’s not a bad reason to close practices, because I’m sure someone, somewhere is looking.

I’m not sure how many coaches close their practices. (For what it’s worth, Belmont and Murray State both have open practices) But nothing quite screams “I’m from a big conference,” than this.

 

7. TSU is scheduling like a 5-win team

You can tell a lot from a team’s schedule. For one, you can usually tell when a coach thinks he has an NCAA tournament team, when he schedules tough, and you usually tell when a coach feels he’s on the hot seat, when the schedule suddenly gets easier.

TSU having the “easiest” non-conference schedule in the OVC isn’t exactly a change — it was the same the year before. But it does send off one major warning siren in my head:

I don’t think Dana Ford thinks his program is exactly turning the corner.

When we talked about transfers earlier, TSU led the league with five guys leaving the Nashville program. This was a young-team last year, with just one returner, and a dozen new guys, half freshman. It went about exactly how you’d expect a team with a dozen new guys to perform — not well.

It even ended with TSU finishing a game with four players.

There’s a lot that goes into schedules. There are rivalries (and TSU has more than their fair share due to their history) that don’t always produce great matchups, some of the games are determined well in advance, and you have to find dates that work with both teams.

 

7a. …but they might win 10 or more because of it.

Here’s the thing, though. If this team is better, even just a little-bit better, TSU could “surge.” They play four teams in the bottom 30 of the RPI, most of their non-conference opponents fall in the bottom 100, especially when you add in the expected four or more OVC teams likely to lie in that same section of the RPI.

A good Tennessee State team? Going .500 with this schedule is far from out out of the question.

And maybe, TSU just needs a little bit of confidence.


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OVC Ball
Predicting the OVC race…in mid-December

2016-17 Basketball Standings

OVCOverall

EAST

Belmont8-014-4
Morehead State6-310-12
Tennessee Tech5-39-14
Jacksonville State5-413-11
Tennessee State4-413-8
Eastern Kentucky2-69-14

WEST

UT Martin5-315-8
Murray State5-311-11
SEMO5-310-13
Austin Peay3-57-15
Eastern Illinois1-79-12
SIUE0-85-17
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