Game number two of the Vols basketball schedule features the Racers from Murray State. Does that school’s name ring a bell? Well it should! Last year, the Racers produced the 2019 NBA Draft’s number 2 overall pick in Ja Morant, who is now playing point guard for the Memphis Grizzlies. Much like our Vols, the Racers are a new-look squad, so let’s take a quick preview of tonight’s game in TBA (9:00 p.m. on the SEC Network).
School: Murray State University
Location: Murray, Kentucky
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference
Coach: Matt McMahon (5th Season)
2018-2019 Record: 28-5 (16-2 OVC)
Notable Alumnus: Bud Foster- the former apparent “coach in waiting” at Virginia Tech, Bud Foster, a native of Somerset, Kentucky, got hiscoaching start as a graduate assistant at Murray State. In one of the stranger stories I can remember when it came to coaching “torch-passings”, Foster was passed up following legendary coach Frank Beamer’s retirement, and the head coaching spot went instead to Justin Fuente. Foster is still the defensive coordinator and associate head coach for the Hokies.
What are we up against?
The Racers are no strangers to success on the hardwood, especially during the last decade. Since the 2009-2010 season, they have claimed 6 regular season conference titles and in 4 of those years won the OVC tournament championship (2017-2018, and 2018-2019 most recently), as well. In that time span they have never advanced past the first weekend of the NCAA tournament, but have had a couple of high profile coaches (Billy Kennedy and Steve Prohm), as well as some NBA draft picks (Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne, and Ja Morant).
However, this is a new season for the Racers, and history doesn’t mean much once the ball is in the air. While many people have picked them to finish first or second in the OVC this season (with their only true conference competition being Belmont), we only have one game to truly judge the Racers by, and that is their season opener against Southern University. In that game, they ousted the Jaguars 69-49.
Two players to watch for are Sophomore Forward KJ Williams and Freshman Guard DaQauan Smith. In their opener, Smith played how you would expect a freshman playing his first regular season game to play (low shooting percentage, some turnovers, looking a little confused), but you can see the potential in him when he plays. KJ Williams, on the other hand, put together a good performance down low. In 23 minutes of action, Williams scored 15 points, pulled down 11 boards, all while shooting 75% from the field.
The Good Guys
Tennessee’s game against UNC Asheville (a 78-63 win for the Vols) gave me three big takeaways:
- Jordan Bowden and Lamonte Turner have to take better care of the rock. 9 turnovers from the players you are counting on to be Veteran leaders is unacceptable. Maybe moving them to opposite wings and letting Josiah-Jordan James run the show as a facilitator is our best move.
- We are so thin down low. I was impressed with Olivier Nkamhoua in his 15 minutes, and think he may prove to be a good 4-man for us. Fulky will Fulky at our 5. Other than that, it is slim pickings.
- Yves Pons and Davonte Gaines are going to play a vital role this year. Pons looks better as an all-around player, and Gaines is raw, but ate up with potential.
As for tonight’s game…
I am going to stick with my preseason prediction and say we win this game. I believe our guard play is far and away more TALENTED than the Racers’, but our mistakes must be cut down. The key matchup for me is going to be Murray States’ Williams up against whichever of our few big-men will be tasked with guarding him. With how thin we are, I feel confident in saying Williams will get his on the offensive end. His style of play, though, and size (6’10”/245 lbs.) may hinder his defensive game, as he will likely play aggressive against the smaller Vols frontcourt, and could very well end up in foul-trouble early.
Final Prediction/My Resume
So far on the season, I am batting 1.000 on my predictions! (1-0). I say we win tonight’s game in a close one- 64-56. I am interested in seeing how we contain Williams, and how Fulkerson plays on offense. Also look for the line-up to start to take a little more shape after this game for the Big Orange. I wouldn’t expect near as much playing time from those towards the end of the bench.
See ya when I see ya
Thanks for taking the time to read this article. Basketball season is just starting up, but I’ll be with y’all all along the way. Also, For minute to minute coverage of all sports on The Hill, be sure to check out MoreImportantIssues’ articles and podcasts on a variety of platforms, including Twitter (@More_Issues) and iTunes!
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