Here are the five things I'm most interested in seeing from the Racers this season.
Basketball season -- I can't believe it's here. It feels like just yesterday I was subjected to Tom Annino's horrible driving on the way home from Louisville and the NCAA Tournament. Tonight, we start all over again -- minus Tom's driving.
It's season two of the Steve Prohm era at Murray State, and I thought I'd pass on the five things I'm most interested to see this year. Of course, by November 10th, this list could change dramatically. Here we go:
1. Where does Isaiah Canaan go from here?
Last year was the perfect storm for both the Racers and Canaan. On top of winning 31 games, Canaan saved some of his most memorable performances for national TV games. The well-deserved attention he got helped push him to All-American honors. I want to see how he can improve this year. Last season, Canaan averaged 19.0 PPG and shot 45.6% from 3-point range. Considering he was 4-20 from beyond the arc in his final three games, he was flirting with 50% for most of the year before a bit of a late slump.
He will score in bunches again this year, and I expect him to be an efficient scorer as well. Last year his 19.0 PPG came on just 12 shots a game. Especially with Zay Jackson out this year, he will be counted on to handle the ball maybe more than ever. Here's a quick look at his assist-to-turnover ratio the last three years:
Freshman: 56 Assists, 60 Turnovers (0.93 Assist-to-Turnover Ratio)
Sophomore: 76 Assists, 64 Turnovers (1.19 A/T Ratio)
Junior: 120 Assists, 89 Turnovers (1.35 A/T Ratio)
The ratio has improved each year as well as the total number of assists and turnovers. Canaan will be a point guard at the next level. If he's going to make "a leap" this year, I'd like to see if he can get that ratio up above 2-to-1. He is going to be a guy that draws a ton of attention from opponents, and being the unselfish player he is, he will find the open guy. I'd like to see his assists per game get closer to five a night, and the turnovers closer to two. I know that will be a challenge considering the amount he will be relied on to handle the ball -- but there were times last year he was simply sloppy with the ball. If he can cut out even one careless turnover a night, it would help tremendously.
2. How often will we see the Marquette-version of Ed Daniel this year?
The argument could be made Ed Daniel was one of the top-two players on the floor in Murray State's game with Marquette last year. While he had just six points, his 14 rebounds, including six on the offensive end, nearly helped the Racers pull off the win. He was THE dominant big man that night. Can he be dominant this year? The refs in the NCAA Tournament let him play physically, and he thrived in that environment. Ohio Valley Conference officials often call games, um, a bit tighter. Can he adapt and still be that inside force? 17 times last year, Daniel played less than 25 minutes a game -- many times because of foul issues. With so little experience on the front-lines early in the year, Daniel will have to play a lot -- and be productive. We've seen him do it at the highest level. The question now is can he do it for 30+ games?
3. What can we expect out of Brandon Garrett?
To me, this is the $1,000,000 question. With LaTreze Mushatt out for several months as he tries to bounce back from his Achilles injury, Garrett is the unquestioned starter opposite Daniel at the forward position. Last year, he showed glimpses of reaching the potential so many believe he has. Garrett played 17 big minutes at Morgan State last November scoring eight points and grabbing six rebounds. He never had eight points or six rebounds in any game the rest of the season. Garrett also fouled out of three games -- playing a COMBINED 35 minutes in those games. He doesn't need to be a double-double guy, but Garrett has to be able to stay on the floor for 20+ minutes a game -- something he only did twice last year. If he could average eight and six this year, Steve Prohm would take that in a second.
4. Who will handle the ball?
With no Zay Jackson, Isaiah Canaan is THE point guard. But who will help him when, invariably, teams will do everything they can to keep the ball out of his hands? Stacy Wilson and Dexter Fields are a pair of guys that can flat shoot the ball -- but they aren't really guys you trust at this point dribbling around for an extended period of time. It feels like this is the spot where freshman CJ Ford will need to step up -- even if he can only play 10 minutes a game. He'll need to be able to not only give Canaan a breather, but also play with him. But is he ready to assume that responsibility? If Ford isn't, the pressure on Canaan will multiply infinitely.
5. How will this team react to losing games?
There's just no way to imagine this team will go 31-2 again this year. Steve Prohm has never lost back-to-back games as a coach. It happens to every team at some point, but it's just been a long time since it has happened to this team. Goodness knows they've had a ton of adversity in the last few months between Mushatt's injury and Jackson's legal situation. Aside from Ivan Aska's broken hand, everything basically went right last year. What happens when things go wrong this year? I'm interested to see how both the players and the coaching staff handle things.
The time for chatter is over -- for now. Let's watch some basketball.
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