How do you replace Ja Morant?
That is the question facing Murray State head coach Matt McMahon this season.
Last season, Morant led the Racers to a 28-5 record and an appearance in the second round of the NCAA Tournament, becoming the first player in NCAA history to average 20 points and 10 assists per game. Morant was then selected second overall by the Memphis Grizzlies in the NBA Draft, leaving a superstar-sized hole in the Murray State roster.
Fast forward a few months, and the Racers now look to embark on a new season and keep the momentum going in a program that has won back-to-back championships in the Ohio Valley Conference, all while replacing their former star point guard. It’s a tough task, but one that McMahon and the Racers appear to be up to.
Any time a team loses a star player, the first question to be asked is which player will step up and make the most of the opportunity. For the Racers, the answers begin with guard Tevin Brown.
Similar to Morant last season, Brown looks primed to have a breakout sophomore year. As a freshman, Brown started all 33 games for the Racers, and was third on the team in scoring at 11.8 points per game. He showed an ability to take over games offensively, scoring 31 points against UT Martin while tying a school record with nine made three-pointers. He also showed he could compete against tough competition, posting a double-double against Auburn with 19 points and 10 rebounds.
In all, Brown had 18 games of double-digit scoring last season, eclipsing the 20-point mark on three occasions. As the top returning scorer, he will be asked to do even more this season as the team’s primary offensive threat.
The good news for Brown is Murray State still boasts a strong supporting cast, led by forward Darnell Cowart. Cowart led the team in rebounding (6.5 rebound per game) and started the final 13 games for the Racers last season. He was named to the OVC All-Newcomer Team, and, other than Brown, is the only returning player to average over 10 points per game in 2018-19 (10.3 ppg).
Joining Brown and Cowert in the rotation will likely be returning starter KJ Williams, as well as redshirt senior Anthony Smith. Smith was the Racers’ top rebounder through the first five games of last season before an injury cut his season short. He was granted a medical redshirt in July and will return for a fifth season
Brown, Cowart, Williams and Smith form a nice core, but if the Racers are to compete with the likes of Belmont in the OVC and win a third-straight conference championship, more players must step up and contribute this season. McMahon and his staff signed a solid recruiting class headlined by junior college transfer Jason Holliday and a group of promising freshmen, but it remains to be seen how well the incoming group meshes with returning bench players Devin Gilmore, Jaiveon Eaves and Brion Whitley. If McMahon is able to find a rotation that will provide depth, the Racers have a strong chance to make it to a third straight NCAA Tournament.
You can’t just replace Morant. However, Murray State has enough talent on its roster to remain competitive. There are some questions, but the core is there for a strong team. It will be up to McMahon and his staff to figure out what pieces work well together in order for the team to continue to win at a high level.