On Thursday night, Murray State overcame a double-digit deficit at home to knock of Southeast Missouri State 81-73, keeping their record unblemished and the dream of a perfect season alive.
But having to overcome a double-digit deficit against a team like Southeast Missouri State isn’t exactly the way to prove to the country that an unblemished record is anything more than happenstance. Murray State plays in the Ohio Valley, a league that isn’t exactly known for one-and-done freshmen and fielding Final Four favorites. Murray State’s three marquee wins this season? The two teams — Southern Miss and Memphis — currently battling for the regular season title in what may end up being a one-bid Conference USA and the Dayton Flyers, whose season has been more of a roller coaster ride than a night out with Lindsey Lohan.
As of today — Friday, Feb. 3rd — Murray State is sitting 10th in the AP top 25 poll. If the season ended today, the Racers would probably be looking at a five seed, give or take a seed line, in the NCAA Tournament.
I think we can all agree that the Racers aren’t one of the top 10 teams in the country. We can also probably agree on the fact that whichever 12 seed draws the Racers in the first round will be looking at a pretty favorable matchup.
In simpler terms, Murray State is overrated, and you probably won’t find many people that will argue that fact.
But that’s not the point.
Let me ask you this question: in the last five years, how many regular season Ohio Valley games have you watched? I’m not talking about the five conference championship games that have been broadcast on ESPN in that time frame or the seven games NCAA Tournament games — including wins by Murray State and Morehead State in 2009 and 2011, respectively — a league member has participated in.
I’m talking regular season conference games.
You’re number probably isn’t that high even if you are a college basketball junky.
But on Thursday night, everyone was tuned into what turned out to be a fantastic game between the Racers and the Redhawks. Everyone got a chance to see the Racers make a tremendous second half run, sparked by a flurry of deep threes from aptly named star guard Isaiah Canaan. Literally, everyone.
Yahoo’s lead college hoops scribe Pat Forde was tuned in. He tweeted “Isaiah Canaan is a bad man.” ESPN’s Dana O’Neil was watching, as she tweeted “Anyone still doubting talent of Murray St., please watch Isaiah Canaan right now and correct your opinion.” Jeff Goodman of CBSSports said “Isaiah Canaan owned this game when it mattered. Love this kid more and more every time I see him.” Seth Davis of SI.com was the most prolific Murray State tweeter, reeling off 14 Murray State related tweets during the game.
To get an idea of the kind of national attention Murray State commanded, think about this: their game was played at 8:00 pm, which happened to overlap the end of Duke’s trip to Virginia Tech and the start of a Pac-12 battle between UCLA and Washington and Florida hosting South Carolina. Care to venture how many times those four scribes commented on those three games?
And that right there is why this Murray State team and their run towards an undefeated regular season matters.
How good they are is irrelevant. Whether or not they are ranked too high or will end up overseeded on Selection Sunday is besides the point. Focusing on what’s wrong with this team completely ignores the fact that this group is everything that’s right about college basketball.
One day, if he’s lucky, Canaan may have a shot at making an NBA roster. Maybe. The rest of these guys will be lucky if they are able to carve out a career for themselves in a professional league in some obscure country in Europe. This team isn’t about draft standing. These aren’t McDonald’s all-americans that have spent the entirety of their adolescence under the microscope of talent evaluators nation wide.
This is a group of kids living out a dream season in front of our eyes.
Every time Murray State steps on the floor they will be playing a team in their biggest game of the season. They are going to get every opponent’s best shot. Win and you will be all over Sportscenter and written about on every college basketball outlet in the country. We saw that on Thursday as the Redhawks played one heckuva of a basketball game.
But Murray State, and the Canaan show, was simply too much. And you know what? It was great to watch. It was fun. Its what being a fan is all about.
Instead of complaining about what Murray State isn’t, we all need to sit back and appreciate what this team is.
An incredible story, one that is going to be must-see TV for the rest of the season.
Save your complaints for Selection Sunday, the only day they will actually matter. Until then, do like the rest of us — sit back and enjoy the show. Who knows when we will ever see one like it again.
Rob Dauster is the editor of the college basketball website Ballin’ is a Habit. You can find him on twitter @ballinisahabit.