College Basketball Mid-Major Report: Breaking Down Murray State, South Dakota State & Wofford
Photo by Michael Allio/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images. Pictured: Matt McMahon (Murray State)
With 76 days left until Selection Sunday, we have a pretty good idea of which teams will make the NCAA Tournament — or at least be in contention.
But what about those one-bid leagues?
As we head into conference play, which squads are good enough to get an automatic bid, and which ones are the pretenders?
Let’s take a look at three mid-major teams that currently sit atop their conference and let’s judge if they’ll be there when it’s all said and done.
|Current Overall Record||10-2|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||N/A|
The Racers came into this season projected to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference behind Belmont and Morehead State. Currently sitting atop the conference before league play begins, the Racers are still being underrated in my opinion.
Murray State is currently second in odds to win the OVC at +140, but when you look at how it has fared against strong teams compared to the favorite in Belmont, there is a clear difference.
Murray State also has two of the best players in the conference in Tevin Brown and KJ Williams. Brown leads the OVC in points per game — currently averaging 19.2 — while also leading in 3-pointers made. Williams is fifth in the league in both points scored and rebounding.
Matt McMahon’s team also leads the OVC in scoring offense (83.7 points per game), field goal percentage (50.3%) and rebounding margin (+7.5).
While the Racers have had a solid defense — limiting opponents to just 65.6 points per game — there is one issue that could cost them games. Murray State is eighth out of 10 teams in the league in free throw shooting, making just 65.2% of the shots it takes from the charity stripe.
The Racers have some impressive wins this season — including one against Memphis on the road. Also, wins against James Madison, Bellarmine and Chattanooga are nothing to overlook.
The Racers can be a dangerous team in the Ohio Valley if they improve their free throw shooting.
|Current Overall Record||11-4|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||13-seed|
The South Dakota State Jackrabbits are one of the most overlooked teams in college basketball. They are third-best nationally in 3-point shooting and 18th-best in adjusted offensive efficiency. The Jackrabbits are the last team anyone wants to see in the first round come March.
With wins against Nevada and Washington State, South Dakota State looks like the best squad and likely favorite to come out of the Summit. All the Jackrabbits have to do is get past last year’s tournament Cinderella, Oral Roberts.
However, they have already beaten Oral Roberts once this season, inking a 82-76 victory over the Golden Eagles.
South Dakota State is led by three players who all average more than 10 points in Noah Freidel (18 PPG), Douglas Wilson (14.7 PPG) and Baylor Scheierman (13.5 PPG).
The Jackrabbits have also been one of the fastest teams in the country, ranking 23rd in adjusted tempo, per KenPom.
Defense, however, has been an issue for South Dakota State, as it allows opponents to score 78.6 points per game on average. The defense will need to make serious improvements if the Jackrabbits want to get past Oral Roberts.
|Current Overall Record||8-4|
|Current ESPN Bracketology Seed||N/A|
Wofford was projected to finish fifth in the Southern Conference. With conference play set to begin on Wednesday, will the Terriers be able to maintain their first-place position through the end of the season?
I think it will be easier said than done for the Terriers.
They have yet to beat a team inside the KenPom top-100, and the Southern Conference is anything but a walk in the park. Teams like Chattanooga, Furman, East Tennessee State and UNC Greensboro have all challenged themselves against high-caliber opponents.
Wofford is one of the best free throw shooting teams in the country, and it has been efficient inside the arc, hitting 2-point shots at a rate of 54.9%. But the Terriers rely heavily on the 3, with 36.6% of their points coming from outside the arc.
They’ve also been less than impressive on defense, specifically against shots from deep, as opponents are averaging 38.3%.
I don’t think Wofford will have the same success in conference play, and I would lean toward Chattanooga coming out on top.