Murray State; Another Special Season in the Making

Murray State Men's College Basketball

Murray State; Another Special Season in the Making

As of Wednesday night, Murray State was one of the last three unbeaten teams in the nation in NCAA Division I basketball. And while some will say the Racers are the biggest surprise among the teams still owning perfect records, I can’t say that I am surprised.

The Racers have a tradition of success in the Ohio Valley Conference, and more recently the NCAA tournament. Their success continued on Saturday with an 87-75 road win over OVC rival Austin Peay. Isaiah Cannan led the way, just as he has done so often this season, pouring in 35 points as the Racers tied the mark for the best start in school history.

The 1935-36 Murray State team also won its first 16 games, the only other team in school history to do it. The longest win streak in school history is 17 games during the 2009-10 campaign, a streak the Racers can tie with one more win.

But before you look ahead, you have to look back at what the Racers have done so far.

Cannan has certainly had a lot to do with the success. The junior guard from Mississippi has been unreal. Against Austin Peay, he buried his first six three-point attempts and has drilled 50 in all this season. He is averaging 18.7 points per game and has gotten it done on defense as well, racking up 24 steals.

Donte Poole and Ivan Aska have been steady contributors as well, averaging 13.3 and 12.6 points per game, respectively. As a team, the Racers are pouring in 75.9 points per outing.

Their defense isn’t bad either. Murray State is allowing just 60.4 points per contest.

The thing to remember about Murray State, too, is that they have won some big games during their hot start. They have beaten Dayton and went on the road and earned a win over Memphis. Those are two quality wins, and you better believe the Racers are poised for bigger things as the season rolls on. After all, this is a Murray State team that has a veteran-laden roster, one that features three seniors and seven juniors.

A year ago, the Racers fell 89-76 to Missouri State in the opening round of the NIT.  Two years ago, the Racers made a name for themselves with a thrilling 66-65 win over Vanderbilt in the opening round of the NCAA tournament. They lost 54-52 to eventual national runner-up Butler in the second round. Some of the players on this Murray State team remember what it was like to enjoy that success in the tourney. They remember the pain of being knocked out of the tourney as well.

I would be surprised if Murray State finished the season without a loss. I cover college basketball for a living and I have seen how the grind of a college basketball season can take its toll on a team on any given night. Still, the Racers have a chance to do something special this season, perhaps even make a run at the Final Four in New Orleans.

Fifteen or 20 years ago, a team like Murray State would have been just happy to be in the NCAA tournament. But with the success of Butler and Virginia Commonwealth a year ago in their runs to Houston, a Final Four trip for Murray State isn’t out of the question.

I certainly wouldn’t bet against the Racers.