Published on January 20th, 2012 | by Bryant West, Columnist1
Team of the Week: Murray State
Let’s get this out of the way—in terms of talent, Murray State isn’t a top 10 team in the nation. They sit with a solid RPI of 28, but a strength of schedule of just 149. Their schedule is littered with contests against Division II matchups, and only two of the teams they’ve beaten hold RPI’s above 35.
And yet they’re one of only two teams left in the NCAA with an unbeaten record. It’s hard not to be impresses by a team with a 19-0 record.
#10 Murray State, of the Ohio Valley Conference, stands atop the NCAA standings with #1 Syracuse as the lone squads without a loss to their name. Unlike Syracuse, however, Murray State is likely one loss away from tumbling out of the top 25—especially considering the Ohio Valley Conference doesn’t have single other decent squad in it.
What they do have over Syracuse, however, is a serious chance to go unbeaten in the regular season… especially considering the Ohio Valley Conference doesn’t have single other decent squad in it. No squad remaining on their schedule has an RPI better than East Tennessee State at 162.
Murray State could legitimately end up at the start of the conference championships with an unbeaten record, running the table against the rest of the OVC. So far, the Racers are 7-0 in conference play and are outscoring their opponents by an average of 14.7 points per contest.
That’s not to say that Murray State doesn’t have a nice game on their resume—they have two quality wins, a 75-58 dismantling over a very solid Dayton squad on December 3rd, and then a 67-62 upset victory in Memphis against the then #20 ranked Tigers.
The Racers are led by Isaiah Canaan, a speedy guard who averages 18.6 points, 4.0 assists and 1.7 steals a contest while shooting 48.2 percent from the field and 47.1 percent on the longball. He’s paired up in the backcourt by Donte Poole, the hero of Murray’s upset in Memphis when he had 20 points and connected on six threes in the win. Poole currently averages 14.5 points and 3.6 rebounds on 45.5 percent shooting.
Murray’s biggest weakness is their lack of post strength, where Ivan Aska (12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds) is the teams only real consistent big man. The Racers grab just 32.5 rebound a contest, an astoundingly low 273rd in the NCAA.
And the biggest threat to the Racers bid for an unbeaten regular season could be a game they don’t even have schedule yet—a potential Bracketbuster matchup. The Murray State faithful will have to hope for a lucky draw from the ESPN selection committee. But considering how high the Racers have been ranked over the past few weeks, a cupcake contest shouldn’t be expected. The Bracketbuster games will be played on February 17th through the 19th and the matchups will be announced on January 30th.
Should Murray State escape the regular season with a perfect 29-0 record (their current 28 game schedule, plus the expected ESPN Bracketbuster) or even a one loss season, they’ll be a very interesting case come March Madness time. Undoubtably, such a remarkable record will put Murray State in a high seed, and fans everywhere will have serious headaches over figuring out their brackets around the Racers.
Still, it’s too easy to write Murray State off thanks to their weak schedule. The NCAA field is never easy, and having a 19-0 record is certainly a very respectable record. And hey, the Racers are currently Kentucky’s winningest squad. Take that, Wildcats.