Among unbeatens, Murray State’s most likely to run the table
Plenty of big names are among the nine remaining unbeaten teams: Indiana, Illinois, Missouri, Xavier, Baylor and three Big East teams, Syracuse, Marquette and Louisville.
That leaves Murray State, the lone school that isn’t from a BCS conference.
It’s also the school most likely to make a run at an unbeaten season.
The Racers picked up their biggest victory of the season Sunday night by winning at No. 21 Memphis, a game they controlled right from the start and even managed to withstand a late run by the home team.
“Our guys were tremendous,” Murray State coach Steve Prohm said, “and our effort was great. We were able to start off the game in a positive way and let Memphis know we were going to be here and make it a long game.”
What ended up being longer than Prohm, the Racers’ first-year coach, would’ve liked was the final moments.
Murray State lead by 11 with under two minutes left, but Memphis cut it to one with 14 seconds remaining. Only two free throws by Isaiah Canaan in the final eight ticks helped seal the 76-72 victory. Canaan, the team’s leading scorer (20.3 ppg) relished the feat and the win. After all, beating a Top 25 team on their home floor doesn’t come along too often for an Ohio Valley school.
“These guys are resilient,” Prohm said. “They will handle it the right way. We talked about enjoying this (Sunday night). They’ll enjoy this (Sunday night), and they should.”
So. About that unblemished record.
At 10-0, the Racers won’t face another stiff test until a Jan. 7 trip to Austin Peay, its biggest rival. After that, three road trips – Morehead State and the final two regular-season games at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech – are the only knucklebiters remaining.
But that’s just regular season I’m talking about. The Ohio Valley tournament represents its own challenges. If Murray State is unbeaten, it’ll get a bye into the semis, but winning two games in Nashville with an NCAA tournament berth on the line won’t be a given.
(It should be noted kenpom.com lists Murray State as having a 9.2 percent chance of running the table in the regular season. Factor in the conference tourney and they’re probably the best odds to go perfect since UNLV in 1991. Only Syracuse is given a greater than 1 percent chance among the other eight, which is actually kind of incredible given the Orange’s schedule.)
Provided that nasty 3-point defense ensues and the Racers keep forcing turnovers, an unbeaten regular season remains promising. And if their 44.8 rate from beyond the arc keeps up, well, it might just be automatic.
You also can follow me on Twitter @MikeMillerNBC.