This year, I did what has long been unthinkable. Instead of de facto placing Murray State atop the preseason poll, I chose instead to put the Skyhawks. I had good intentions. UTM had the more experienced team. They have, weirdly, the more seasoned coach. And they could still prove me right.
It’s not off to the best of starts.
Oh sure, the Skyhawks have just one loss, and we’re still six weeks from conference play. But in four days, they’ve already reminded me of one thing:
They’re not Murray. They’re not even close.
That sounds like a ridiculous statement on face. Murray State has 15 OVC Tournament championships overall, to UTM none. Since 1990, Murray State has won 15 regular season titles, to UT Martin’s one. No one’s trying to compare resumes here. But with all the hype surrounding the program in Heath Schroyer‘s second year. With media guys like me saying UTM could topple the Racers dynasty in the West, UT Martin put …
They put 1,108 people in the stands for their home opener. At least we know UTM isn’t inflating their attendance statistics.
College basketball has a wide problem of low enthusiasm surrounding the opening weeks, and really months of the season. They’re up against college football, the NFL, the start of the NBA season. People are planning their Thanksgiving feasts, and sketching out their Black Friday shopping plans. I think there’s a few birthdays keeping people away from games as well. This isn’t a UT Martin problem. In fact, let’s be honest, Murray didn’t exactly knock it out of the park with their 2,691 against Harris Stowe.
But just a few games into the basketball season, the distinction between the two programs as a whole is clear: Murray State protected their home court, in a good win against a solid Middle Tennessee team.
UT Martin didn’t, against a not very good MAAC team.
It just two games, and the season could play out completely differently. UT Martin has, on paper, the talent to compete in this conference this year, with the likes of Murray, with Belmont, and whoever else rises to the challenge. And the program has support. I’ve seen it first hand. I remember the Lester Hudson years, I remember how many Skyhawks fans showed up last year when they were the last team standing in the way of a perfect regular season OVC campaign for Murray.
College basketball has a wide problem of low enthusiasm surrounding the opening weeks
Home court advantage is real. SIUE knows it well. And so does Murray State, and every school in Division I.
But the reason it’s real — is because the environment created at home, by the fans.
For a program to rise to the level of the Racers, it takes years. Decades even. But it has to start somewhere, and it has a chance to start here and now. For the first time since UT Martin took that regular season title, the Skyhawks enter the season as a part of the conversation in the OVC. Not to make the tournament, not to play spoiler.
…but to win.
But the thing that separates teams like the Racers and Bruins from the Skyhawks of the league can, right now, be boiled down to one line:
Protect your home court.
Protect it from the Bethune-Cookman’s. Protect it from the Arkansas State’s or the IPFW’s of the college basketball world. Home court is sacred in this game. It’s where you show your fans what you’re made of.
UT Martin failed it’s first test. The good news?
You have 12 more tests remaining.