There is a growing consensus that Murray State – which won 25 straight games this year, went 16-0 in the Ohio Valley Conference and just last week was ranked in both the AP Poll and the USA Today Coaches Poll – might not qualify for the NCAA Tournament.
All because Belmont guard Taylor Barnette hit a contested, off-balanced three-pointer to beat Murray State, 88-87, in the OVC Championship on Saturday.
What do the Racers say to people who feel they’re not worthy of an at-large bid?
“I just think you got to do your research,” Murray State head coach Steve Prohm said on CBS Sports Radio’s Tiki and Tierney. “I think you got to watch the games and you got to talk to people who have seen us play. I mean, we’ve got a future NBA point guard on our basketball team. You got the best of the best watching us play, and they watch everybody in the country. And not only did they say that championship game was a high, high-level game, but they say if you win 25 straight games in any level and you’re not an NCAA Tournament team, that’s unbelievable. And the next thing they say is, if you just sit down and watch your team, if you’re not one of the 36 at-large teams, then something is wrong with the process.’”
Murray State started the year 2-4, a stretch that included a 27-point loss at Xavier and a 35-point loss against Valparaiso on a neutral floor. Brandon Tierney wondered if the Racers could have scheduled more games against quality competition, especially on the road.
“That’s the one frustrating argument that I hear,” Prohm said. “I had somebody ask me, why don’t you play more road games? I said, do you realize we had the second-most road wins in the country? But if you look at how we scheduled since 2010 – we won 31 games in 2010 and almost went to the Sweet 16. (In) 2012, we won 31 games, (were) top 10 in the county, won 31 games (and) had a 23-game-winning streak. Now this year we have a 25-game winning streak – the eighth-longest streak in the country.”
As Prohm noted, the Racers have done well during his tenure when facing quality out-of-conference competition. In 2012-13, for instance, Murray State beat Auburn and St. John’s in the Charleston Classic before losing to Colorado in the championship game.
“That’s our best opportunity to get on a neutral floor,” Prohm said. “When we’ve done that, we’ve won games. We can’t get in (that showcase) now. They won’t put us in there for whatever reason. You can’t over-schedule yourself to where you’re playing all road games. The problem with (metrics like) the RPI is you get credit for losing games. You should get credit for winning games. That’s the issue with the RPI. Why should you get credit if you’re a middle-of-the-pack BCS team just because you lost to a decent team? Why should your RPI go up? To me, that’s mind-boggling.”
Nevertheless, CBS Sports college basketball analyst Jerry Palm appeared on Tiki and Tierney on Monday and said Murray State has no chance of making the tournament. He said the Racers didn’t play anybody, didn’t beat anybody and won’t get more than 30 seconds of discussion time from the selection committee.
“I respect Jerry Palm because of what he does, but to be honest, I’ve never even looked at Jerry Palm’s stuff throughout my whole career,” Prohm responded. “Jerry Palm doesn’t make decisions. Jerry Palm hasn’t watched us play. Jerry Palm isn’t evaluating talent. I’m worried about the guys evaluating talent – (who) know teams, know the game, know basketball (and) understand what it takes night-in, night-out to win 25 games. He makes the comment we (didn’t) beat anybody? We won at Evansville. Northern Iowa, top 10 team in the country, couldn’t win there. We beat Illinois State. They just beat Wichita – top 10 team in the country.
“Ask Jerry Palm if the BCS-level teams 4 through 8 can go from November 30th to March 7 with our schedule and win games,” Prohm continued. “I don’t know what his answer will be, but if you ask the people that know basketball, I know what their answer will be – and it’ll be no. He has no clue on how good the top half of our league is. None. None. At all.”
Still, with so many teams from which to choose, metrics like RPI can be useful – if not necessary – to determine which resumes are most deserving, right?
“It’s not a numbers game,” Prohm said. “If it was a numbers game, Urban Meyer and Ohio State wouldn’t have won a national championship this year. Watch us play. See us play. Understand why our schedule is like it is, and understand why we were 2-4 in November – the injuries, the academic issue, the freshmen off the bench.
“It’s disappointing,” Prohm continued. “Guys like Jerry Palm . . . (don’t) have any influence to make comments like that. This isn’t a numbers game. It’s a basketball game.”