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Bracket Big Board: Solving the Murray St. puzzle

Brad Evans
Roto Arcade

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Steve Prohm has unblemished Murray St. on the fast-track to a top seed (AP)

The Bracket Big Board takes into consideration past returns, current performance and expected future gains in determining who should be included among the field of 68 (31 automatic and 37 at-large bids). Essentially, the Bracket Big Board is a cheat sheet designed for amateur bracketologists if they were filling out a Tourney Pick 'Em '12 entry today. The Triple-B, the second-most accurate bracket predictor among macro-sites over the past four years, is updated every Monday until the dance card is unveiled March 11.

Regardless of sport, the pursuit of perfection is almost always an impossible endeavor. Every pass must be crisp. Every loose ball tracked down. Every coaching decision spot on. One misstep during a game's most critical juncture could be the difference between a great season and an unforgettable one. Ask random fans to name clubs that came close to immortality and most would struggle to list one. However, ask which ones achieved true greatness and inevitably the '72 Dolphins, '76 Hoosiers and, most recently, the Lady Huskies squads of '02, '09 and '10, are rattled off.

This year, a dwarfish school in southwest Kentucky, probably best known for being the Alma mater of Ernest P. Worrell, may soon join the ranks of the everlasting.

At 21-0, Murray State, arguably the most dominant small conference club in the country, is winding a historic path. Rookie head coach Steve Prohm has done a masterful job building on what current Texas A&M head honcho Billy Kennedy started.

The Racers, loaded with experienced upperclassmen and a number of versatile, slashing athletes, are offensive thoroughbreds capable of stringing together multiple wins against traditional powerhouses. Active on the offensive glass, aggressive to the cup and incredibly deadly from three (42.2 3PT%), the overseers of the OVC are an exciting team to watch.

That is, for the handful that have seen them.

Future office pool prognosticators need to get familiar.

Balanced across the board, the Racers boast a solid inside/outside presence. Paint patrollers Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel, together netting 20.2 points and 11.0 rebounds per game, are formidable under the basket. Meanwhile, guards Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole, who have shot a combined 47.3 percent from the field and averaged 33.4 points per game, might be the best backcourt duo around. Their scoring acumen definitely stands out, but it's the tandem's composure under pressure that will make the mid-major giant an extremely difficult out come tourney time.

Knowing exactly what seed Murray St. will receive roughly six weeks from now remains this season's greatest mystery. Conventional basketball analysts and bracketologists are all over the map on what the Selection Committee will ultimately decide. According to the Bracket Matrix, the Racers' highest predicted seed is a No. 3. The lowest: No. 12. That's a slight difference in opinion.

Strong supporters believe the Little Guy should receive the same treatment St. Joe's did in 2004, a laughable comparison. Recall that year, the Hawks went undefeated in the regular season only to lose their first game in the Atlantic 10 tournament to Xavier. Still, at 27-1, they were awarded a No. 1, largely based on their 69th ranked strength of schedule and 13 RPI top-100 wins.

The Racers may enter this season's dance with a gaudier record, but the Ohio Valley is considerably weaker (Conference RPI 25) than what the A-10 was eight years ago (RPI 8). No chance, even at 32-0, do they attract or deserve a top-three seed.

Overall, Murray St.'s situation is unprecedented. Thumbing through the NCAA annals, the closest comparison are the 1998 Princeton Tigers. That year, Bill Carmody's bunch went 25-1 in a fairly punchless Ivy, were ranked eighth nationally heading into Selection Sunday and earned a No. 5 seed, a similar fate the Racers may soon realize. Juxtapose Einstein U's resume in '98 over Murray St.'s this year and the parallels are uncanny (See right).

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The Princeton precedent could have the Racers looking at a No. 4

Bottom line: If Murray St. continues to rack the Ws, the Committee could be forced into a tough spot. With only one RPI Top-50 opponent left on its schedule, an unknown BracketBuster matchup in February (Please basketball gods let it be Creighton or St. Mary's. UPDATE: The gods have spoken. Murray will indeed host St. Mary's. Awesome.), it likely won't have nearly as many quality wins as a midlevel high-major program (e.g. Illinois). But the potential goose egg in the L column will be impossible to ignore. Still, its hideous SOS and relatively low number of marquee victories likely places its seed ceiling in the 4-5 range.

It's been an extraordinary year for Prohm's squad. They could become only the third team since 1980 to go untouched in regular season play. However, their quest to earn national respectability begins in March, perfect or not.

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Without further ado, here are the movers and shakers on the 2012 debut of the Triple-B:


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*For games played through Sunday, January 29
*RPI data provided by Rivals
*T50 = Record versus RPI top-50
*BL = Bad losses (dropped games to opponents with a 100+ RPI)

On the Bubble: Massachusetts (16-5), Arkansas (15-6), La Salle (16-6), Oklahoma (13-7), Washington (14-7), Oregon (15-6), Stanford (15-6), South Florida (13-9), Wyoming (17-4)

Dropped Out: None

Conference Breakdown: American East (1), ACC (5), Atlantic Sun (1), Atlantic 10 (4), Big 12 (5), Big East (9), Big Sky (1), Big South (1), Big Ten (8), Big West (1), Colonial (1), Conference USA (2), Horizon (1), Ivy (1), Metro (1), Mid-American (1), Mid-Eastern (1), Missouri Valley (2), Mountain West (4), Northeast (1), Ohio Valley (1), Pac-12 (1), Patriot (1), SEC (5), Southern (1), Southland (1), SWAC (1), Summit (1), Sun Belt (1), West Coast (3), WAC (1)

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