Does Murray State deserve an NCAA tournament bid? Could a 1-seed lose its first game this year? Seth Davis answers these questions and more in his mailbag.
Note: Seth Davis will periodically answer questions posed to him over Twitter, Facebook and emails sent through SI.com. Be sure to check out his Hoop Thoughts column every Monday and to send questions during his Twenty for Tuesday Q&A on Twitter at @SethDavisHoops. Tweets have been edited for clarity. Trolls have not been included.
As we head into selection weekend, it seems that among the many bubble-related questions, one is lording over them all. So this is an appropriate place to begin the final Twitterbag of the season:
Should Murray State's entertainment level play into selection? This is TV entertainment after all. — Roundballrock22 (@roundballrock22)
It’s striking that people are taking up the Racers’ cause in greater numbers after they lost their conference tournament, as opposed to when they were in the midst of their 25-game win streak. As you all know, I took up their mantle quite early, voting them on my weekly AP ballot several weeks before they finally cracked the top 25. Thus, you might expect that I would be just as loudly championing their cause for an at-large bid.
Alas, I’m not. I still think this is a very good team, but the reality is that it will be hard for this team to overcome its résumé.
Yes, Murray State went undefeated in the Ohio Valley Conference and had that amazing win streak, but the Racers do not have a single win against a team ranked in the top 50 of the RPI. They only have two against the top 100. In fact, they played just one top-50 team, and that resulted in a 17-point loss at Xavier. The Racers lost to Valparaiso on a neutral court by 35 points; they lost to Belmont and Portland on neutral courts; and they lost at home in their season opener to Houston, which went on to finish next-to-last in the American Conference.
[daily_cut.college basketball]This, of course, has not stopped Racers coach Steve Prohm from pressing his case. He has been making the rounds and putting forth a persuasive argument that Murray should be rewarded for going undefeated in its league. When I spoke to him this week, he conceded that his team would probably not have run the table in a Power Five conference, yet he is also correct when he argues that most of the bubble teams from power conferences would probably not have gone perfect in the OVC, either. The evidence backs him up, given the results on many of the other bubble resumes. Indiana lost at home to Eastern Washington; Michigan State lost at home to Texas Southern; Purdue lost at home to Gardner-Webb and North Florida; Miami lost at home to Eastern Kentucky; Ole Miss lost at home to TCU and Charleston Southern. Would those guys really have emerged from the OVC schedule unscathed the way Murray did? I doubt it.
Murray State had some injury issues to start the season. Once the Racers were fully healthy a few weeks in, they were unbeatable. Prohm likens his team’s slow start to the Ohio State football team’s loss at home to Virginia Tech in Week 2. If memory serves, the Buckeyes were pretty good by the end of the season. “People think it’s so easy what we’ve done,” Prohm said. “How many of these other bubble teams could play our schedule and be perfect from Nov. 27 to March 7? We’ve had a lot of NBA scouts come through here and say, ‘I’ve seen so-and-so and so-and-so from one of these high-major league, and you guys are better.’ But they’re not on the committee.”
Murray is up against some daunting history. The OVC did not help itself this season. Murray State is the only team ranked in the top 100 of the RPI. Seven of the 12 teams are ranked 200 or below. Facing those numbers, the only way for a team like Murray State to earn an at-large bid is to put together a near-suicidal nonconference schedule. This is harder than you might think. Prohm has done a good job in the past of getting his team into some decent early season exempt tournaments, but he has not been able to convince ESPN to invite them into the upper-tier events. He needs to give the school 14 home games to meet its financial quota, so that only gives him one or two games to play with. Prohm agreed to a one-year deal to play a road game at Xavier this season without a return game. The Racers badly needed to cash in on that opportunity, but they didn’t.
It’s a tough spot to be in, but that’s not to say Prohm is having a bad week. In fact, when I spoke to him on Wednesday night, he was in a hospital with his wife, who was getting ready to deliver the couple’s first child. “I’m trying to work the phone, take care of 13 kids and bring a new kid into the world,” he said. “People are in town laughing and saying, ‘You’re balancing all this plus a new baby?’ I’m just trying to make sure I don’t get my wife mad at me.”
About six hours later, Prohm texted me a picture of the new arrival: Cass Williamson Prohm, born at 10:48 p.m., measuring 20 ½ inches and weighing 7 pounds, 11 ounces. No doubt Prohm feels grateful for this new arrival, but he also knows what Cass wants for his birthday. I’d be incredibly happy to see him get it, but I’d also be incredibly surprised.
Which bubble team is most likely to do the most damage in the tourney? — Tuck Stapor @StaporT14
Tuck knows I’m a sucker for questions that provoke lists. Here are my top five:Kyle Collinsworth
2. Murray State. I am hoping against hope that my man crush Cam Payne and the Paynettes get a chance to show what they can do.
4. Indiana. If the Hoosiers are making threes, they can beat anyone. If they’re not making threes, they can lose to anyone.
Is this the year a 1-seed loses in the first round? — Brett Huston (@hustonfive)
This is something I would never predict in any given year, but I will say what I have said before: It is only a matter of time. It’s just about the only thing in sports that hasn’t happened. Yet.
We’ve been knocking on the door for a while now. Seven No. 2 seeds have lost to No. 15 seeds. One of those 15-seeds, Florida Gulf Coast, made the Sweet 16 two years ago. There have also been 15 games between a 16 and a 1 that were decided by fewer than 10 points. In 1989, two No. 16 seeds came within a single point of winning—Princeton (which lost to Georgetown), and East Tennessee State (which lost to East Tennessee State). In 1990, Murray State took Michigan State to overtime before losing in overtime, 75-71.
So no, I’m not ready to say this will be the year, but I do believe that year is coming. And I’ll feel real, real sorry for the coach who loses that game. That’s the kind of thing a fella never lives down.
How will the Badgers fare once Traevon Jackson comes back? — Cody Ortner (@Ortner17)Rutgers
First of all, it’s always difficult for a player to maintain his conditioning while he’s hurt, but it’s especially tough when that player has a lower body injury. So Jackson will not only be out of rhythm, he’ll be out of shape. Also, his replacement, sophomore Bronson Koenig, has been outstanding in Jackson’s stead. Even though Koenig went through a bit of a dry spell down the stretch of the regular season, he is a better overall offensive player than Jackson, and he is more of a natural point guard. He plays more under control, although Jackson is a better athlete, a better leader and a better clutch shooter. I would expect Jackson to come off the bench and improve gradually from week to week if Wisconsin stays alive. The Badgers have only lost one game since he went out, so whatever Jackson can give them should be considered gravy. Still, this is Koenig’s team right now. That’s how it will stay.
Why hasn't Ben Howland gotten another gig? — Craig Neves (@They_Call_Me_7)
It has only been two years since Howland was let go by UCLA (after winning a conference title, no less). He immediately said he wanted to get back into to coaching, but he insisted he would not just take any job. He wanted to go to a place where he could compete for a national championship. A few schools showed interest in him (Wake Forest being one of them), and he tried real hard to get the Marquette job, but he struck out. He spent this season doing broadcast work for Fox Sports 1, the Pac-12 Network and NBC Sports Network.
After seeing Craig’s question on Twitter, I reached out to Howland to take his temperature. He returned my message shortly after he was through calling Atlantic 10 tournament games on NBCSN. Sometimes, when a coach gets a taste of television, it makes him less inclined to jump back into the arena, but Howland’s experience has had the opposite effect. “Doing all this TV has been a phenomenal experience, but it has really, really made me anxious about getting back into coaching. I can’t wait,” he said. “The excitement of the kids, the camaraderie, the coaches. The one thing I really got out of all this is what a blessing it is to be a coach. There’s only about 300 of them in the whole United States. It’s a special, special thing.”
Howland told me he has not lowered his standards based on his inability to land a gig a year ago, but he sounded confident that he would soon have a job. He also told me he has a newfound respect for those of us who work in the media. “I was just totally clueless about what goes into what these guys do on TV. It’s incredible what goes into putting on a studio show or covering a game,” he said. “I’m going to be the greatest guy ever to the media in my next job.”
We’re gonna hold you to that, Ben.