Party like it’s 2011, Morehead State!
The Eagles are dancing for the first time in a decade after knocking off OVC favorite Belmont in the tournament title game (don’t tell Dickie V or else they’ll earn his ire).
Like that Kenneth Faried-led group, this Morehead State squad is strong on the boards (26th in the nation in rebounding margin) and in protecting the interior (13th in blocked shots per game). But is it capable of pulling off a first-round upset like that team?
The Season So Far
After starting the season 4-6 (2-6 vs DI teams), the Eagles have been one of the nation’s hottest teams. Entering the tournament Morehead State has won 19 of its last 20 games, the only loss coming at Belmont on February 13. It took out Eastern Kentucky in an entertaining Bluegrass State showdown in the semifinals of the OVC Tournament before blowing away the Bruins in the championship.
The Eagles are led by a trio of capable scorers in guards DeVon Cooper and Skyelar Potter and OVC Freshman of the Year Johni Broome, but perhaps the most interesting thing about their resume is the RPI’s infatuation with them. The Eagles rank just 121 in the NET, solid but not spectacular for a team of their caliber. But in the RPI, no longer a tournament barometer, they currently sit in 41st. Sans a truly bad Q4 loss to SIUE, they would have been in the periphery of the at-large conversation with a figure like that! That number must be taking into account their willingness to take on top competition on the road early in the season.
What Are the Chances of an Upset?
During their 4-6 start to the season, the Eagles played some tough games: at Ohio State, at Kentucky, at Clemson, and Richmond on a neutral court. All four were blowout losses. One could certainly argue that that was a completely different team back in November and December, but it’s still troubling.
The key to the Eagles knocking off 3 seed West Virginia will be Broome. The freshman looked nearly unstoppable on the block in the conference championship game. This more seasoned version could give West Virginia a lot of trouble down low. The Mountaineers lack of a rim protector has hurt them at times this season.
Head coach Preston Spradlin, a long-tenured figure in Kentucky basketball, has built a strong culture in Morehead. Make it past West Virginia and all of the sudden you’re stepping into an inevitable matchup with 11 seed Syracuse (we all know they’ll pull this off unfortunately) with a Sweet 16 berth on the line. Crazier things have happened.