Isaiah Canaan has put Murray State on the map.
He’s an all-american, and generally speaking, when those kinds of talents role through college campuses in Kentucky, they are in Louisville and Lexington, not Murray.
The Racers have a strong program. They’ve won three straight conference titles — two of which came before Canaan was a famous face — and their win over Vanderbilt in the 2010 NCAA tournament came on a buzzer-beater by Danero Thomas in a season where Canaan was coming off of the bench.
The program has won before. Three of the last four coaches that have rolled through have gone on to bigger and better programs. Mark Gottfried has coached at Alabama and is now coaching NC State. Mick Cronin took over the Cincinnati program. Billy Kennedy is currently trying to make Texas A&M relevant in the SEC.
But the true mark of a successful mid-major program has nothing to do with great coaches and even less to do with landing an all-american every once in a while. To be coupled with the likes of Xavier and Butler and Gonzaga — to be the kind of program that’s considered a “high-major” despite their non-BCS conference locale — that team needs to remain nationally relevant after they lose their star players, not while they are the big men on campus.
And Murray State is doing that.
Canaan only developed into an all-american when the Racers lost two of their top three scorers and three starters heading into his junior year. That was the same time that Donte Poole, who had been a bit player four three seasons, developed into a guy that averaged 14.0 points.
Poole graduated after last season. So did Ivan Aska and Jewuan Long, meaning that Steve Prohm headed into this season without three of last year’s top four scorers. But this season, Ed Daniel has developed into so much more than simply being the guy with the awesome afro. He’s averaging 16.2 points and 10.9 boards, up from 6.8 points and 5.3 boards. Stacy Wilson is averaging 14.8 points, 4.6 boards and 3.5 assists as a senior after playing just over 10 minutes per game and averaging 4.3 points as a junior.
The best mid-major programs don’t rebuild. They don’t even reload. They simply have another kid in line, ready to step up and perform when it’s his turn.
If you really want a gauge of the kind of program that Murray State has, wait and see how they look when Canaan, Daniels and Wilson graduate after this season.
You can find Rob on twitter @RobDauster.