Last season was a good one for the Murray State Racers. A late-season loss to Tennessee Tech was their only blemish prior to the NCAA Tournament (in which they procured a 14-seed but could not take down Marquette).
The team is now 46-6 is Ohio Valley Conference play during the Isaiah Canaan era - must be nice to consider 23 wins a down year.
This year, much like the last few, the Racers have to replace a couple of valuable starters (Donte Poole, Ivan Aska), but still return their best player (Canaan) and one of the more talented teams in the conference.
Canaan's 6.6 HOOPWAR last season was third in the conference behind Doug McDermott and Jackie Carmichael, and he has shown a steady progression from "freshman full of potential" to "floor general."
His teammate Ed Daniel, while not at the same level, has shown similar progress. If he can continue his production now that he will be a primary scoring option (and become anything better than awful at the free-throw line) he provides another solid option for the Racers that has the potential to be a serious threat every night.
He will also remain a strong defensive presence with his 11.43 DEF100 mark last year, important because the Racers lost two of their best at that end of the floor in Poole and Aska.
Sure a boost from returnees like LaTreze Mushatt, Brandon Garrett and Stacy Wilson will be of help, but the big question for the moment is Zay Jackson.
The latest news is that prosecutors are trying to work out a plea bargain with Jackson ahead of his scheduled arraignment Friday (this of course after his Walmart road-rage incident), and they are intending to include some amount of jail time in that deal, making Jackson a huge question mark going forward.
Bottom line: The Racers will still be a good team, but perhaps losing Jackson as an option and gaining Belmont as competition will be enough to unseat them from the top slot in the conference?
I'm not 100 percent sure, but I'm sure enough to think they'll snag that auto-bid. They are, after all, 13-5 in games decided by fewer than 5 points the past three seasons, so they of all teams know how to get the job done in the end.