Mere hours before taking his wife to the hospital to induce labor, Murray State head basketball coach Steve Prohm dropped by CBS Sports Radio on Thursday to discuss the state of the Racers, as well as their odds of getting some love on Selection Sunday.
“My kids are great,” Prohm said on The Doug Gottlieb Show, referring to his players – as opposed to his future son, Cass. “I think we’re all back to reality, to where we’re starting workouts this afternoon and we got to get back to work. We’ll find out Sunday what we’re going to do.”
Prohm is hoping it involves an NCAA Tournament game. Either way, he and his wife decided that inducing labor was their best option given the uncertainty of the coming days and weeks.
“I don’t know where I’ll be next week and she’s to the point now though it could happen anytime and I don’t want to be away,” Prohm explained. “I want to make sure I’ve got a couple days to get her situated and our baby situated.”
Of course, Prohm hopes Murray State (27-5) gets situated Sunday with an at-large bid from the selection committee. The Racers started the season 2-4 but won 25 straight games before losing to Belmont, 88-87, in Ohio Valley Conference Championship on Saturday.
As Prohm explained, the Racers battled injuries and inexperience early in the season before hitting their stride.
“We were inexperienced, we were young, we were beat up, and we needed time to really become a good basketball team,” Prohm said. “From Nov. 30 to March 6, we never lost a basketball game.”
They did, however, lose one March 7 – and it might cost them a tournament bid. While the Racers had a 25-game winning streak, the OVC doesn’t have a single team rated in the top 100 of the RPI. Murray State also had an unbalanced schedule this year and only got to play Belmont once – a 92-77 home win Jan. 15.
But that, Prohm said, doesn’t tell the whole story.
“If you followed our conference all season long, at one point our league had four teams in the top 100 RPI,” he explained. “What happened, some of those teams – even Belmont – they went through a stretch where they lost two or three games in a row. Eastern Illinois (did) as well. But at one point, us, Belmont, Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky were top 100 RPI teams. And so, I know the ebb and flow of the RPI can change. I know we do have an unbalanced schedule. But in all honesty, this year the league flipped to where the last couple years the East was the heavier side, the better side. This year, the West was the better side.”
Prohm noted the improvement of Tennessee-Martin (18-12) and Eastern Illinois (17-14), in particular.
“I understand the unbalanced schedule part, but if you watch that Blemont game (that we played at home), we played really well,” Prohm said. “We were up 15, 18 (points) the majority of the second half that game.”
Prohm also hopes the selection committee realizes that Murray State isn’t a one-hit wonder. Since 2010, the Racers have been ranked in the top 25 twice, won 31 games twice, were ranked in the top 10, and their 25-game winning streak was the eighth-longest in the country since 2002.
“The only teams above us, half of those teams are coached by John Calipari,” Prohm said. “I know you can’t go back on years past, but there’s got to be some credence to where (people think), ‘We’ve got a lot of respect for that Murray State program.’ Because year-in, year-out, when we got to the tournament, we’ve won games in the last several years. And we’ve won great non-conference games in the last several years. This is one of those unique years where it was tough to get a great, great tournament to go showcase ourselves. So we had to play Evansville, Illinois State (and) Xavier.”
Murray State lost at Xavier, 89-62, on Nov. 24. Prohm compared it to Kansas losing to Kentucky, 72-40, on Nov. 18.
“We weren’t very good that night, but a 27-point loss shouldn’t validate you or not validate you,” Prohm said. “Just like Kansas getting beat bad by Kentucky shouldn’t validate or not validate them.”
Gottlieb asked Prohm, 40, what he’ll do if the Racers don’t make the tournament. Will he seek a job elsewhere, knowing that he can win 25 straight games at Murray State and still be left out of the dance?
“I want to be somewhere where I’ve got a great passion to coach,” Prohm said. “I went to school at the University of Alabama. I loved it there. And when I left there as a manager, I just thought, ‘You want to be the head coach at Duke one day.’ And then I showed up here nine years ago, and I truly, truly have fallen in love with this place. My wife’s from here, and I’ve got a great passion to see this program continue to grow.
“But the one thing I will say, our league has got to continue to grow,” Prohm continued. “Our league has been too good to stay in just this one-bid mentality. We’ve got five guys currently playing in the NBA out of our league over the last couple years. That may be more than the Missouri Valley, the Mountain West – other really good, elite mid-major leagues. And so, it will be heartbreaking if we don’t get in.
“If you don’t lose a game from Nov. 30 to March 7, (you should be in). Now you get beat on a last-second shot and you go from 24th in the country – voted on by your peers – and now you’re out of the NCAA Tournament? I understand everybody has a different view, but I really think we have to get away from (just crunching) the numbers.”
After all, if we just crunched numbers, Prohm said, nobody would know who Cardale Jones is.
“Ohio State got beat by Virginia Tech early in that season,” Prohm said. “They got better, they got better and then people sat down and they said, ‘That team belongs in this final four.’ And then they went and won a national championship. I’m not saying we’re going to win a national championship, but I am saying we are one of the best 36 at-large teams when you sit down and watch us play.”