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Know Your Non-Conference Opponent: Murray St

Murray State was the national darling back in 2012. Do they have the talent to make that kind of run again?

Cameron Payne carries a lot of the load for the Racers.
Cameron Payne carries a lot of the load for the Racers.
Jim Brown-USA TODAY Sports

Just after Stephen F. Austin - last year's red-hot mid-major darling - leaves town, the Murray State Racers who played that role in 2012 come rolling in. That year, the Racers were the last undefeated team in the nation, riding high-quality guard play and a soft schedule to national prominence before predictably falling in the second round of the NCAA tournament. While it remains to be seen whether or not Stephen F. Austin can carry that momentum into the ensuing season, Murray State has already answered that question with a resounding "no" and are looking to find their way back to the NCAA tournament after a two-season absence.

Steve Prohm is in his fourth year in charge at Murray State, having previously been an assistant on Billy Kennedy's staff for five seasons. After going 31-2 with Kennedy's players in his first year as the head coach, Prohm has seen his team's losses grow to 10 and then 11 in the next two seasons. Prohm did take the team to the CIT championship last year, which isn't nothing.

Prohm's office has been extremely effective in getting his teams good shots, ranking no worse than 42nd in the country in EFG%. They've also hovered around the top 100 in offensive rebounding percentage. Curiously, their three-point attempt percentage has fluctuated fairly broadly in Prohm's reign with little change in the ultimate offensive output of the team. Assists and turnovers have hampered the offense's efforts, with both categories being worse than 200th in the nation for the past three seasons.

Defense... hasn't been good. They were 15th in the nation in defensive efficiency in 2012 before falling to 180th and 173rd in the next two seasons. It's not hard to see why: they have gotten progressively worse at forcing turnovers. They don't block shots or defend the offensive glass very well and have allowed an average EFG%. When that's what your half-court defense looks like, you need to do a good job forcing turnovers, which they haven't.

Exactly one player who averaged double-digit minutes is leaving, namely 6'2" guard Dexter Fields. Fields put up 9.6/3.1/1.5 on .431/.420/.708 shooting and led the team in made three-point baskets with 76. Despite an ORtg of 114.5 and an EFG% of 56.9%, Fields only had a usage rate of 14%. The team will miss his long-range prowess, but Murray State is bringing back pretty much every other player who made a contribution last year.

The player that has the Murray State message boards buzzing is rising sophomore Cameron Payne, who put up 16.8/3.6/5.4 on .404/.341/.774 last year, leading the team in scoring, assists, steals as a true freshman. He also buried 72 threes and was third on the team in blocks. His assist rate of 34% was 26th in the nation; he's clearly the most important player on the team. Right behind him in that regard is 6'8" rising senior forward Jarvis Williams and his line of 14.9/9.9/0.6 on .648/.000/.659. His rebounding percentages on both ends were borderline dominant, and his block% of 5.2% was 199th in the country.

Rising senior TJ Sapp is a 6'3" guard who came off the bench to get buckets, putting up 13.3/3.8/1.7 in just 26.9 minutes per game thanks to a .414/.402/.796 shooting line. He was also second on the team in both steal% and drawing fouls; he might have gotten more minutes if he didn't average 4 fouls per 40 minutes. The last of the four returning players who averaged at least 13 points per game is 6'4" wing Jeffrey Moss, a rising junior who put up 13.2/3.4/2.1 on .436/.379/.800 shooting. Moss didn't contribute much else beyond not turning the ball over and avoiding fouls, but there is value in being able to score efficiently and leading the team in minutes played.

Only two other returning players even averaged double-digit minutes. Rising senior Jonathan Fairell is a 6'7", 265-pound bruiser who average 6.8 and 6.8 and dominated the offensive glass to the tune of an OReb% of 14.6% in his 22 minutes per game. Tyler Rambo is a 6'5" rising junior wing who is - somewhat remarkably - the only of these returning players with an ORtg of under 100 last season.

Incoming players:
Wayne Langston is a JuCo transfer from McLellan in Texas. A 6'7" power forward, he was a First Team All-American and MVP of the North Texas Junior College Athletic Conference, putting up 10 and 7.5 per game. He shot 60% from the floor and can really go get it on the glass at both ends. Kedrick Flomo is a 6'1" guard who averaged 30 PPG as a senior at Forsyth High in Winston-Salem. Flomo ran the show in high school and is a capable floor leader as well as being able to find his own shot.

The final incoming player is 6'2" guard JayQuan McCloud. McCloud is a late riser among recruiting gurus, but his three-point shooting will play immediately. He also has good handle and his ability to create shots for himself and others is coming along, but his defensive ability is reportedly already college level on and off the ball.

One of the youngest teams in the nation last year, Murray State put together a respectable but unspectacular regular season before winning the CIT (for whatever that is worth). With almost their entire core coming back and a potentially immediately viable JuCo player coming in, the Racers have the pieces in place to make a run at an NCAA tournament bid. Their experience playing together at the college level should present an interesting challenge for Xavier, but you would expect the Muskies to have a decent early-season idea of what they're doing by the time this game rolls around. The talent gap should be such that Xavier runs away with this one.