1/8 Bidwell's Blog: Racers continue to find new ways to impress

Murray State Basketball

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Now that the smoke has settled on Murray State's 87-75 win over Austin Peay, here are some quick thoughts as we start a new week:

-Last night was my first trip to the Dunn Center in Clarksville for a game.  What a fantastic atmosphere for a college basketball game, especially between these two teams.  It was beyond loud from beginning to end and made for an incredibly fun two hours.  My only real surprise of the night was how many empty seats were in the arena despite it being sold-out.  As one Austin Peay person told me, "maybe our season-ticket holders figured we didn't have a chance and just didn't bother to show up."  Yikes.

-Where do you begin with Isaiah Canaan?  Last night was a thesaurus-game for him, because I quickly ran out of adjectives to describe what I was seeing.  With a national television audience watching, he showed the world why he should be the unanimous OVC player of the year.  As insane as his 27 first half-points were, you could make an argument his second-half was nearly as impressive.  Peay was running as many as three guys at him at points making it nearly impossible for him to get shots up.  So he didn't.  He took advantage of the attention by getting other guys involved in the offense.  Not bad when a guy can score 35 points AND lead the team in assists as well.

-This is the portion of the program where I owe Ed Daniel an apology.  Before the season started, I said to numerous people that you'd be able to count on one hand how many times he'd play at least 25 minutes a game this year.  History has shown he would pick up enough silly fouls in the course of the game that it would just be a struggle for him to stay on the floor.  Last night, Daniel played 33 minutes -- the seventh-time this year he's played at least 25 minutes.  His growth this season as a basketball player -- and not just his hair -- has been amazing.  With Ivan Aska out with the broken hand, we all wondered how Daniel would be able to pick up the slack.  In the last two games against EKU and Peay, Daniel has averaged 31.5 minutes, 17.5 points, 8 rebounds and made 12-of-16 free throws.  Wow.  So with that, Ed -- yeah, um, my bad.

-Stacy Wilson played only 8 minutes last night, missing his only two shots and turning it over twice.  After a pair of great games against EIU and EKU, the game almost seemed too big for Wilson as he looked very uncomfortable.  It'll be interesting to see what he was able to learn from last night as he moves forward.

-Brandon Garrett didn't score last night in 16 minutes, although he did have three rebounds.  My lasting impression of him was watching him walk off the floor ahead of his teammates last night.  All of the Racers were smiling and soaking up the crowd's cheers as they walked off the floor.  By looking at Garrett's face and body language, if I didn't know better, I'd have thought the Racers lost the game.  I'm hoping there's something more to the story and I wasn't just seeing someone who was more concerned about himself than the team.  That's been the one thing that has been so amazing about this year -- no matter who scores and how much, everybody seems happy for everybody else.  I hope this was a one-time aberration and not a crack in the armor.

-With Missouri's loss yesterday, the Racers are now one of three unbeatens left in America. At this point, I'd just about bet a toe the Racers are the last one standing.

-Did you know Murray and Clarksville are 66 miles apart?  If you watched the ESPNU broadcast last night, you now that very, very, very well.  The unfortunate part about the OVC is these announcers they bring have seemingly never heard of the conference or the teams playing before they get to the game.  It seems ESPN's producers give them two or three talking points, and they just go back to them over and over and over again.  It happened last week two when Peay played at Morehead State.  Austin Peay has great tradition.  Murray State has great tradition.  The schools are 66 miles apart.  We get it.  How about going back to the game -- please???

-When the undefeated talk started prematurely after the Memphis win, I suggested we take the season in five-game blocks.  That way we can look ahead somewhat, but not get too far ahead of ourselves.  I didn't get around to this theory prior to last night's game, but after the 15-0 start, here's a look at their current 5-game stretch:

(Rankings are from Sagarin.com, while Win-Loss records are against D1 opponents only)

at #231 Austin Peay: (2-13 Overall, 0-3 OVC) -- WIN
vs. #273 Jacksonville State: (4-11 Overall, 1-4 OVC)
vs. #180 Tennessee Tech: (9-6 Overall, 3-1 OVC)
at #233 Morehead State: (5-9 Overall, 2-2 OVC)
at #304 SIU-Edwardsville: (3-8 Overall, 3-1 OVC)

And for the record, Murray State is #17 this morning in the Sagarin Ratings.  I'm sorry, I just don't see any hurdles there.  Tech has the opportunity to be a tough game, but I just don't believe the Racers lose at home this year.  Especially with the crowds continuing to grow every night. 

-The other thing to watch this week is the potential return of Ivan Aska.  After he broke the bone in his hand, it was described as a four-week injury, as in it would take four weeks for it to fully heal. The thought internally was once the swelling was out of it, the trainers could then start working on finding a way for him to play with some sort of protection on the hand.  The concern is that if he comes back early, and somehow that bone breaks again, the four-week window starts over.  There was no way he was playing last week and there is no need for him to play Thursday against Jax State.  Tennessee Tech is a game that was sort of penciled in as a possible return date for him.  BUT -- if the decision is made to sit him through this week again, the schedule is soft enough for the rest of the month, he could sit the entire four weeks and be fully healthy when he returns.  The Racers are playing for February and beyond. They don't want to jeopardize the stretch-run to rush him back for a January game.  BUT #2 -- you may have noticed this team is undefeated.  They'll never admit it, but I know everybody in that program wants to do everything they can to run the table.  It's something that has to be balanced when trying to get Aska back on the floor.  It'll be interesting to see how this plays out.

- ESPNU will be at Murray State this week on Wednesday and Thursday shooting an all-access special that will air next week on the network.  It's just more national attention for the program that will only increase as long as this winning streak continues.

That's all for now.  Polls will be out tomorrow.  With so many teams losing in the Top 25 this week, I would be surprised if the Racers end up around #15.  We'll find out soon enough.

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