Back when head coach Donnie Tyndall played for Morehead State from 1990 to 1993, the Ohio Valley Conference was under constant rule by rival Murray State. Tyndall's Eagles quite never managed to win a league title in his three years as a player, but it's safe to say he's more than made up for it as a coach.
Over the weekend Tyndall was lucky enough to celebrate his second OVC Tournament victory in three seasons, a landmark achievement considering the school's previous championship run came back in 1984. On the back of senior big man and coveted NBA prospect Kenneth Faried, Morehead State finished 12-1 down the stretch and overwhelmed Tennessee Tech in the title game to snatch an automatic bid.
The Eagles present a few different problems for opponents, and thankfully we have some evidence of this after they nearly beat Florida and played tough vs. Ohio State (more on that later) back in November. After the Florida game, and a 20-point and 18-rebound performance by Faried, Billy Donovan didn't hold back on his praise for MSU's beast on the interior: "That's Dennis Rodman all over again. If I was an NBA general manager I'd be taking him with my pick. That's what a next-level guy looks like. He just totally destroyed our frontcourt."
Donovan's words are hardly surprising. Opposing coaches have been saying wonderful things about Faried for the better part of four seasons. And now comes the brightest spotlight in the biggest game of his career. A chance to 'wow' NBA scouts one final time and propel Morehead State into the mid-major stratosphere. His chance to shock the world starts right now.
A breakdown after the jump...
Location: Morehead, Kentucky
Record: 24-9 (13-5)
Leading scorers:(17.6 ppg); (16.0); (10.4)
What to know:
- Faried thoroughly outplayed superfrosh Jared Sullinger back in November. The Eagles also threw down about 34 minutes of legit basketball before letting things slip away in the end, so this is definitely a team that can hang with the big boys if the match-up is right. It's feasible for undersized teams like Notre Dame or BYU to be on upset watch if they happen to draw Faried and MSU in round one. He's that good.
- Three areas of concern are 1.) turnovers on offense, 2.) three-point susceptibility on defense, and 3.) awful free throw shooting. Senior guard Demonte Harper can light up the stat sheet if given the opportunity, but he's a 65.8% free throw shooter and turns the ball over 25% of the time. Faried and Sam Goodman, the two other remaining seniors, shoot 56.6% and 63.0% respectively from the line. It just can't be said enough: Late game situations are treacherous territory when you can't make freebies from the charity stripe.
- The Eagles are top ten nationally in both offensive rebounding % and defensive steal %. The former being mostly due to Faried's domination of the glass, but it's worth noting that this isn't a team that will willingly get lost in an up-tempo shooting spree. They like to slow the pace, get the ball inside, and get to the foul line. When the pace picks up they tend to lose track of shooters and wind up getting burned by the three-ball at the other end of the floor. Versatile opponents with a bevy of athletic wing shooters could be difficult for MSU to contain.
Projected seed: #15. It's hard to remember a seed this low being quite so potent heading into the tournament. The Eagles are overly intriguing for one simple reason: They have SIZE. Faried lists at 6'8", but he patrols the paint like a seven-footer, and there just aren't many big men in the country who can match him 1-on-1 for 40 minutes. Everything ultimately hinges on whether they draw an opponent with a stacked frontcourt or not. But, for the sake of history, we just hope Gus Johnson is on the call for Morehead's opening game.