Nobody expected little Murray State to finish atop this season’s Ohio Valley Conference standings let alone return to national basketball prominence a year after going 31-5 with an NCAA tournament victory over Vanderbilt and a narrow 54-52 second-round loss to eventual national finalist Butler.

After all, the 2011-12 Racers were forced to replace their head coach, Billy Kennedy, who left for greener pastures at Texas A&M, and they also lost three senior starters — B.J. Jenkins, Isacc Miles and Jeffery McClain — to graduation.

Sports Illustrated tabbed Austin Peay as this season’s automatic qualifier from the OVC while the preseason annual from Sporting News projected Tennessee Tech as the team to beat.

Enter Steve Prohm, a trusted assistant to Billy Kennedy, who secured the faith of the players and the trust of the Murray State administration.

After last night’s 66-55 home victory over Jacksonville State, Murray State is now a perfect 17-0 overall and 5-0 in conference action despite playing without leading rebounder Ivan Aska, sidelined indefinitely with a broken right hand.

First-year head coach Steve Prohm told the Associated Press following last night’s win, “I want our chemistry to be great. I want these players to know I care about them, trust them, love them and that they’ve got to feel that same way about their teammates.”

Murray State will not only go favored in every game on the remainder of its schedule, but according to the efficiency number of basketball analyst Ken Pomeroy (www.kenpom.com), the Racers will be a double-digit favorite in each of their remaining 11 games.

Junior guard Isaiah Cannan is a deadly shooter capable of carrying his team to victory over any opponent in the country, including in-state powerhouses Kentucky and Louisville. Using a blended formula of Jeff Sagarin’s computer rankings, Murray State would be a neutral-court underdog to only 20-25 teams in the country.

REVENGE IS SWEET……I love to focus on the second and final meeting of the season between teams in any sport (NFL divisional foes, NBA non-conference opponents and especially NCAAB conference games).

I search for tactical advantages favoring the losing team in hopes of isolating a team able to adjust minor mistakes and accomplish same-season revenge.

I always look to play the team with the smarter coach and the more sophisticated game plan.

Earlier this week, Alabama football avenged an overtime loss in Tuscaloosa to LSU by spanking the Tigers in the BCS Championship Game, 21-0. Head coach Nick Saban made all the necessary adjustments to guarantee the Tide’s second national title in three years.

College basketball provides the greatest number of wagering opportunities for the angle of same-season revenge.

In a future blog entry, I’ll provide a list of NCAAB games in February that could potentially develop into profitable plays provided other criteria is met such as current form, line value, scheduling dynamics, etc.

FRIDAY’S BEST BET…..Play 821 CLEVELAND CAVALIERS +10.5 over the Los Angeles Lakers. The Cavs are even with the league (5-5) after an 11-point road victory last night over the Suns as a 7-point underdog. Kyrie Irving is the clear frontrunner for NBA Rookie of the Year as the Duke product, after playing only 11 games in college, has adapted beautifully to the NBA style of play. Irving’s 26 points and six assists last night led to the romping road win. The rookie’s play appears to have rejuvenated the careers of Antawn Jamison and Anderson Varejao.

COMING MONDAY……A review of tonight’s one-on-one handicapping showdown in “The SportsOptions Showdown” between Mark Simons of SportsOptions and EOG contributor “dsethi,” a 2006 graduate of the University of Notre Dame and a college hoops junkie now living in the Bay Area.

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