Vin Parise is a former assistant college coach and the college basketball insider for NBC Sports. He’ll post every week in CBT.
When Frank Martin took over Kansas State in 2007, the response from friends in the coaching world was almost always the same. “People didn’t understand it,” Martin said. “Everyone was like, ‘Why would you want to work there? It’s a graveyard for coaches.”
Soon after, he was coaching the Wildcats in the Elite Eight and honored as the Big 12 Coach of the Year.
Five years later, Martin heard the same type of questions as he began the challenge of rebuilding the brand of South Carolina basketball.
The Gamecocks are 5-3 overall but the signs of a tough road ahead in SEC play are evident. The season started by sneaking past UW-Milwaukee in overtime. Then there was the loss to Elon. And most recently, South Carolina lost their last two to St. John’s and Clemson by a combined 33 points. The Gamecocks are allowing opponents to shoot 46 percent from the floor. That is not Frank Martin basketball. Yet if history repeats itself, it shouldn’t stay this way for long. As Martin stated on his Twitter account last week: “Sorry we didn’t get it done today for you. We will build a program u deserve.”
WATCH THE RACERS PLAY -- AND SOON
I don’t know how many 6-foot-1 guards will be drafted in June, but I know one that should. Isaiah Canaan is as efficient as any point guard in the country. Canaan and Murray State critics obsess too much about his size and way too much about how legit the Racers are as a ball club. The ridiculous success Murray State attained last year and their weak schedule sometimes overshadowed their point guard’s stature nationally. Like a leopard, an elite player does not change its spots. Remember, Jewuan Long and Donte Pool are gone from last year’s dynamic squad -- so expecting Murray State to be the last unbeaten in the nation again is of course unrealistic.
But this team is still very good and their leader is noticeably stronger than last season. Canaan is 8th in the country in scoring at 22.5 points per game, shoots an astounding 49 percent from the floor, shoots 42 percent from deep and 77 percent from the foul line. And the Racers as a team? They are 5-1 with wins against St. John’s, Auburn and Old Dominion.
WELCOME MR. MUNFORD
A little over a week ago the world of college basketball was introduced to Rhode Island’s Xavier Munford. Who was this transfer who led his team to a double overtime victory at Auburn with 33 points? Dan Hurley was grateful because it was his first win as head coach of the Rhody Rams. He’s equally grateful for how long he’s known his junior transfer. Before his time at Iowa Western College and Miami-Dade College, Munford played for Hurley at St. Benedict’s Prep in New Jersey. St. Benedict’s went 26-1 Munford’s senior season and were ranked No. 2 in the nation. Also on that team, was current URI teammate and Rutgers transfer Gilvydas Biruta.
There’s only eight games under his belt, but Munford plays like a seasoned veteran and defends the only way he knows how -- the way Hurley taught him years ago. Munford is averaging 18.9 points per game -- tops in the Atlantic 10 -- and is shooting 33 percent from 3-point land. But his impact goes beyond leading the Rams in scoring. One day soon it looks like we’ll be talking about Dan Hurley’s revival of Rhode Island basketball -- and so far the script reads Xavier Munford as the first name fans from the Ocean State will credit.
Vin Parise is the College Basketball Insider for NBC Sports. You can catch him on NBC Sports Network’s SportsTalk - Mon-Fri. 6 p.m. ET. Follow him on Twitter @VinParise.