I’m not sure if you guys heard about this or not, but the Ohio Valley was pretty thoroughly dominated by one team this season.
The Murray State Racers? That ring a bell? Anyone?
After running through the OVC slate with just a single loss for the second time in three years, Steve Prohm’s club is looking to become the third straight team from the conference to win a game in the NCAA Tournament. Last year, it was Kenny Faried and Morehead State knocking off Louisville as a 13 seed. The year before that, it was actually Murray State doing the damage once again, as Danero Thomas his a 17-footer at the buzzer the send Vanderbilt packing as (you guessed it) as a 13 seed.
After a memorable regular season, one that saw Murray State climb into the top ten as they won their first 23 games of the year, with an even more memorable senior class, the Racers look to be headed to a seed that is closer to a four than a 13. In other words, Murray State is the team that some plucky underdog will be preparing for and hoping to upset in the first round.
Crazy how things change …
Where: Nashville, TN
When: Feb. 29th-Mar. 3rd
Final: March 3rd, 1 p.m., ESPN
Favorite: Murray State
Duh. That’s what happens when you go 28-1 during the regular season. And while this group has, in fact, had their record a bit trumped up due to a relatively weak schedule, there are some wins on their resume that you simply cannot deny. Going into Memphis to beat Memphis? That’s good. Easily handling St. Mary’s on national television in mid-February? That’s good, too. A 15-1 record in a better-than-you-think OVC with every single opponent playing their biggest game of the year against you? That’s more than respectable. I’ve seen Murray State play six or seven times this year. They are a veteran group with some big-time athletes and a superstar in Isaiah Canaan. They’re for real.
And if they lose?: Tennessee State
There are two reasons for this. First of all, the Tigers are the only team in the country to beat the Racers this season. The only one, and they did it at Murray State in a game televised on ESPNU. That’s admirable. And while their winning streak is not in the same stratosphere as Murray’s, Tennessee State did win nine in a row before getting dropped by Murray State in the last game of the regular season. They’ve proven capable of beating the best team in the league and they’re playing their best basketball of the season right now. Good combination.
Sleepers: The biggest threat outside of the top two teams in the OVC is probably Tennessee Tech, although I’ll get to why in a minute. SEMO has some athletes and gave Murray State a run when they played at Murray earlier this year. But SEMO has lost their last four games and Tech has lost three of their last five. So how about Morehead State? The Eagles have won four of their last five and eight of their last ten in league play.
– Kevin Murphy, Tennessee Tech: We have to start with Murphy, as he is the leading scorer in the conference at 20.6 ppg and is the only player in the country this season to go for 50. That said, he’s joined by Jud Dillard (the league’s third-leading scorer and leading rebounder) and Zac Swansey (the league leader in assists and steals) as well.
– Robert Covington, Tennessee State: Covington is a dangerous, face-up big man. He averages 18.8 ppg and 8.1 rpg while shooting 45.5% from three and collecting 1.3 bpg and 1.6 spg. He’s a matchup problem for Murray State.
– Tyler Stone, SEMO: Stone is the leading scorer and rebounder for the Redhawks.
– Isaiah Canaan, Murray State: You didn’t actually think I would forget my man Isaiah Canaan, did you? He’s a sharpshooter that can heat up about as quickly as Jimmer and a legititmate all-american candidate.