Belmont and Murray State have met just five times in the history of both programs, with the Racers holding a 4-1 lead in the series and a 3-0 record in games played at the CFSB Center.
But even with that history it’s Belmont, the “new kid on the block” in the Ohio Valley Conference, that enters Thursday night’s game atop the conference standings with a 10-0 league record (Murray State leads the West Division with a 7-2 mark). And two big reasons for Belmont’s success are guards Ian Clark and Kerron Johnson.
Clark and Johnson currently average 32.6 points per game, with Clark accounting for 18.9 points per game while shooting 57.5% from the field and 51.4% from beyond the arc. Johnson runs the show for the Bruins, averaging 4.7 assists in addition to his 13.7 points per contest. These two will pose quite the challenge for Murray State’s Isaiah Canaan, widely regarded as one of the best point guards in the nation.
Canaan’s averaging 21.0 points and 4.0 assists per game while Ed Daniel (14.1 ppg, 10.9 rpg) leads the way inside, and how efficient the Racers are offensively will go a long way in deciding the outcome of this showdown.
Belmont may not go ten players deep as last year’s NCAA tournament team did but they’re still productive when it comes to forcing turnovers. On the season opponents have turned the ball over an average of 17.6 times per game, handing the ball back over to Belmont on nearly 26% of their possessions. Murray State averages 12.2 assists and 14.0 turnovers per game, and an assist-to-turnover ratio any worse than this won’t get the job done against Belmont.
One thing that works in Murray State’s favor is their success at home, where they’ve gone 32-5 over the last three seasons (7-2 in 2012-13). But don’t expect Belmont to be intimidated as they’ve taken trips to Stanford, VCU and Kansas this season.
Essentially what could be the first of two meetings between these two programs this season (the second would have to come in the OVC tournament) will boil down to turnovers. If Murray State takes care of the basketball they’re more than capable of handing Belmont its first OVC defeat.
Raphielle also writes for the NBE Basketball Report and can be followed on Twitter at @raphiellej.
With an 11-member setup the Sun Belt Conference has played a 20-game conference schedule the last couple of years, which may be seen as a positive when it comes to determining the regular season champion (home-and-home between every team). But for a conference that spans from North Carolina (Appalachian State) to Texas (UT-Arlington, Texas State) travel was far from easy in that setup.
And with Coastal Carolina joining next season, it was clear that the league needed to do something with its scheduling.
Thursday the Sun Belt members approved an 18-game conference schedule, which will begin with the 2016-17 season when the league consists of 12 members. Included in the agreement is the assignment of travel partners (similar to setups in the Pac-12 and Ivy League), and teams playing no more than three consecutive conference games on the road.
Schools will also be guaranteed at least five weekend home games during conference play, and there will be no more weekends in which teams play conference games both home and away (thus cutting down on travel). Obviously with the addition of Coastal Carolina the Sun Belt needed to make some changes in their scheduling, and this week the conference made the moves they needed to make.
Prior to a one-year stint as the head coach coach at Bowling Green that came to an end in early April as a result of an incident at a Bowling Green restaurant, Chris Jans was a member of Gregg Marshall’s coaching staff at Wichita State from 2007-14. During those seven seasons Jans was a key figure as the Shockers made the progression to a respected national power.
Jans is back in Wichita, with Paul Suellentrop of the Wichita Eagle reporting Thursday that he’s serving as a consultant to the program. Jans’ consulting agreement runs for 45 days, which the school can renew, and he’ll be paid $10,000 for the work. While Jans isn’t allowed to do any coaching, he can watch practices and provide Marshall and the coaching staff with his observations.
“He will be able to consult with the coaching staff, only on what he observes in practice,” said Darron Boatright, WSU deputy athletics director. “By NCAA rule, a consultant is not allowed to have communication with student-athletes … not about basketball-related activities or performance.”
While Jans (who according to the story has served in a similar role for another school) can’t do any coaching in this role, his return does give Marshall another trusted voice to call upon when needed. Wichita State bid farewell to an assistant coach this spring with Steve Forbes being hired as the head coach at East Tennessee State, with his position being filled by former Sunrise Christian Academy coach Kyle Lindsted.