The Racers are 14-0 and ranked 19th in the AP Poll, 18th in the Coaches Poll
As we begin conference play in earnest, we have just four teams left among the ranks of the unbeaten … Syracuse, Baylor, Missouri, and Murray State. Who will be the last of the unbeatens ??? Barring a major upset, it’s going to be the Murray State Racers but before we look at last year’s Ohio Valley Champions, lets look at the big three ahead of them.
We can pretty much kick Baylor and Missouri. Both are talented but can’t be considered elite. With both playing in the Big 12, they’ll play a home and home against each other of Jan 21st and February 11th. Should Baylor sweep they would still have to sweep Texas and Kansas. If the Tigers were to gain a sweep, they would also play Texas and Kansas twice. Both also have H-N-Hs with Kansas State as well. Throw in the Big 12 tournament and the speed bumps along the way, both teams will be lucky to have less than five losses before March Mania.
Syracuse is an interesting possibility. With the Big East as down as it’s been in many many years, the Orange have a real chance to win the National Championship unbeaten. “The Cuse” has a relatively easy January with their toughest home games coming against Marquette and West Virginia, both very winable. The Orange face just Villanova, Notre Dame, and Cincinnati.
February will be somewhat more difficult with facing UConn and Louisville twice but only meet a very good Georgetown team once with that game coming at the Carrier Dome. If the Orange can tip-toe through the minefield till the final week, they’ll be at UConn and home to Louisville before the heading to the Big East Tournament. It’s not likely that Syracuse can pass through the Big East gauntlet unscathed but that’s not to say that Boeheim doesn’t have the studs to do it.
Don’t call Murray State this year’s Butler. The Racers have a solid history going back to the Popeye Jones days and they’ve won 54 games over the past two years. Last year’s head coach Billy Kennedy has moved on to Texas A&M but left plenty in the cubbard for new HC Steve Prohm. The Racers are deep, talented, experienced and hungry. They already are 3-0 against Top 50 opponents with wins over Southern Miss, Dayton, and Memphis and their average margin of victory is 16.2 ppg.
MSU graduated last year’s senior backcourt of Isaac Miles and BJ Jenkins but Jr PG Isaiah Canaan has more than picked up the slack by avgg 17.7 ppg with 3.6 rpg and 4.8 helpers per. Canaan is shooting 49% from the field and 48% from beyond the arc. Running mate Donte Poole has been a capable Robin avgg 12.7 and 3.7 rpg shooting 45% from the field, 40% from downtown, and 85% from the foul line. Jewuan Long in the third amigo with 8.4/3.8/3.8 per outing.
The Racers aren’t tall in the frontcourt but they’re wide and capable. Sr. Ivan Aska is a 6’7″ 230 pound power forward avgg 12.6 ppg with 6.0 boards. Ed Daniel patrols the paint and chips in with 6.6 ppg and 3.6 rpg.
MSU isn’t great at one thing but rock solid in everything. The Racers are 62nd with 75 ppg, 61st with 14.1 assists per, 19th in FG% at 48.8% which includes 3rd in the nation shooting treys. Murray is 274th in rebounding but that could be because they shoot such a high percentage from the field.
The Ohio Valley Conference is down this year and ranked 20th of 27 conferences in Division I by Jeff Sagarin. Murray State currently ranks 13th on the Sagarin chart but then you have to go all the way down to 202 to find the next OVC on the list. In their current form, the Racers will be tough to beat and will have to have an awful shooting night to not run the table. Murray’s only real challenge to becoming the first team to make it to the Big Dance undeated in 21-years (UNLV) will be their YTBD Bracket Buster matchup that will likely come out of the Horizon or MAC. Don’t sell the Racers short.