NCAA Basketball Tournament - Murray State v Marquette

Is Murray State an elite mid-major program, or just a good team?

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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.

POSTERIZED: Wyoming’s Josh Adams takes flight

Josh Adams
Associated Press
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Not only is Wyoming senior guard Josh Adams the lone returning starter from a team that won the Mountain West tournament last season, but he’s also one of college basketball’s best dunkers. And if anyone may have forgotten about his jumping ability, Adams put it on display Saturday during the Cowboys’ win over Montana State.

After splitting two Montana State players at the top of the key Adams attacked the basket, dunking with two hands over a late-arriving help-side defender. If you’re going to rotate over, have to do it quicker than that.

Video credit: Wyoming Athletics

Defensive progress will determine No. 4 Iowa State’s ceiling

Monte Morris
Associated Press
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Even with the coaching change from Fred Hoiberg to Steve Prohm, No. 4 Iowa State remains one of the nation’s best offensive teams. Given their skills on that end of the floor many teams find it tough to go score for score with the Cyclones, and that’s what happened to Illinois in Iowa State’s 84-73 win in the Emerald Coast Classic title game.

Georges Niang scored 23 points and grabbed eight rebounds, with Monté Morris adding 20, nine rebounds and six assists and Abdel Nader 18 points as the Cyclones moved to 5-0 on the season. The three-pointers weren’t falling in the second half, as Iowa State shot 0-f0r-12, but they shot 19-for-24 inside of the arc to pull away from a team that lost big man Mike Thorne Jr. late in the first half to a left knee injury.

Illinois’ loss of size in the paint opened things up offensively for Iowa State, and the Cyclones took advantage. But where this group grabbed control of the game was on the defensive end of the floor, and that will be the key for a team with Big 12 and national title aspirations.

Nader took on the responsibility of defending Illinois’ Malcolm Hill (20 points) in the second half and did a solid job of keeping the junior wing in check, with that serving as the spark to a 12-2 run that put the game away. There’s no denying that the Cyclones can put points on the board; most of the talent from last season is back and the productivity on that end of the floor hasn’t changed as a result. Niang’s one of the nation’s best forwards, and both Morris (who now ranks among the country’s best point guards) and Nader have taken significant strides in their respective games.

Iowa State will add Deonte Burton in December, giving them another option to call upon. Front court depth is a bit of a concern, as Iowa State can ill afford to lose a Niang or Jameel McKay, but there’s enough on the roster to compensate for that and force mismatches in other areas.

But the biggest question for this group is how effective they can become at stringing together stops. Illinois certainly had its moments in both halves Saturday night, but Iowa State also showed during the game’s decisive stretch that they can step up defensively. The key now is to do so consistently, and if that occurs the Cyclones can be a threat both within the Big 12 and nationally.