This entry is going to be rather number-intensive, so if numbers frighten you -- I apologize in advance. After watching Murray State play for half a season, I've gotten the sense Isaiah Canaan has carried a bigger-than-expected load for this Racer team. That's what my old tag-team partner Tom Annino would call "great analysis." Toward the end of the Eastern Kentucky game, after Canaan made a 3-pointer, our camera zoomed in on him to find a kid that appeared to be exhausted. That's not a look I've seen a lot out of Canaan over the years. I wanted to dig through some numbers to see if I could quantify how much burden Canaan is carrying or if my eyes were making the whole thing up.
Minutes: Canaan is playing a ton this year. His 34.5 minutes per game are a career-high -- up from 33.7 a year ago. The fact he's "only" averaging 34.5 this year is a bit deceiving. Since the Evansville game his minutes have been: 38, 38, 39, 39, 39, 16, 39, 40 and 37. That 16-minute night was against UT Martin when Canaan was really laboring with his arch-issue and Steve Prohm was able to sit him down in an easy win. You also have to look at the fact all minutes aren't created equally. He's having to handle the ball almost exclusively; he's having to lead the team in scoring while being the opponent's number-one priority to stop; and he's having to play the type of defense Prohm wants to see. With that said, the kid is an All-American -- he was going to play a bundle of minutes this year, no matter what. I just don't think anybody envisioned him being so close to 40 every single night.
Close Games: The reason he's having to play so many minutes is the Racers simply haven't been able to blow many teams out this year. They opened the year with easy wins over Brescia and Auburn. Since then:
72-67 win over St. John's
81-74 loss to Colorado
79-72 win over Old Dominion
88-79 win over Lipscomb
76-54 win over Bethel
82-70 win over Evansville
75-70 win over Western Kentucky
61-54 win over Arkansas State
77-68 loss to Dayton
66-64 loss to Valparaiso
73-62 win over UT Martin
74-66 win over SE Missouri State
77-65 loss to EKU
71-68 win over Austin Peay
That's 14 games where ten of them were decided by nine points or less -- and the Evansville and EKU games were still games he had to play extended minutes.
3-point shooting: Canaan shot 45.6% from beyond the arc last year -- this year he's down to 41.3%. The one stat I found that certainly contradicts the "he's playing too much theory": Canaan is shooting 37.5% from 3 in the first half -- 45.2% in the second half. When you need him to make shots the most, he does it -- something we've seen time and time again throughout his career.
Creating his own shot -- a lot: If you've watched this team play at all this year, you've seen Canaan do a lot of dribbling on the offensive end before he finds his shot. Last year, Prohm was able to move Canaan to the 2-guard at times with Zay Jackson and Donte Poole on the floor and let those guys, along with Jewuan Long, find Canaan running off screens to help get him open. That just isn't an option this year. Canaan is THE ball-handler. With no Jackson and CJ Ford unable to contribute regularly, Canaan is having to create his own shot more often that not. I think these numbers back that up:
2011-12: Canaan made 187 field goals -- he was assisted on 69 of those baskets: 36.8%
2012-13: Canaan has made 114 field goals -- he has been assisted on 29 of those baskets: 25.4%
So nearly three out of four baskets Canaan scores this year, he's having to create on his own. Is that a big deal? I'm not totally sure -- but I do think it illustrates Canaan is having to do more than ever before.
What does this mean: It means the Racers miss having another viable point guard option -- somebody that can run the offense and let Canaan "rest" while he's on the floor. It means they need some other guys to score consistently. Stacy Wilson and Dexter Fields were phenomenal through the first month of the year, but they've fallen off since. It means it would be extremely helpful for this team to get some easy wins in the coming weeks where Prohm can afford to play Canaan 30-33 minutes instead of his now-typical 37-39 minutes. The kid wants to play and do everything he can to help this team win. While all parties involved insist he's holding up OK, you have to wonder if Canaan will be to carry this same burden consistently for the next two months.
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