In the 2009-2010 season, the thirteen seeded Murray State University Men's Basketball team pulled of an improbable upset over fourth seeded Vanderbilt University in the first round of the NCAA tournament. Many people had never heard of the Racers of Murray State, even with the tremendous success the team has had the last 25 years. Now, in the 2011-2012 season, Murray State is permanently putting their school on the map.
Before the 2011-2012 season, Murray State was picked to finish third in the very weak Ohio Valley Conference. They lost three seniors to graduation and head coach Billy Kennedy accepted a job at Texas A&M University; thus leaving the question how would the Racers respond next season? That question has been answered and then some. Under first year head coach Steve Prohm, who had served as an assistant under Kennedy for the last four years, Murray State is having their best season ever. If you've never heard of MSU, having their best season ever may not mean anything to you, but to the fans, players, and coaches it's something to be very proud of.
Murray State has recorded 25 consecutive winning seasons, 36 OVC conference championships, 14 NCAA appearances, and 1,464 wins in their school's history. In recent years they've had success under coaches Mark Gottfried (now at North Carolina State), Tevester Anderson (now at Jackson State), Mick Cronin (now at the University of Cincinnati), and most recently Billy Kennedy (now at Texas A&M). This school has never been the most publicized of teams, but they have a tradition of excellence that most schools have yet to experience. This season, the Racers are 20-0 and counting, leaving them as the only remaining unbeaten team in Division 1 basketball.
Isaiah Canaan is a junior at Murray and the starting point guard on the team. He has stepped into the role of leader as the Racers are chasing perfection, and elevated his game to a much higher level this season. His freshman year he averaged 10.4 points, 0.9 steals, 1.6 assists, and 2.3 rebounds per game, as well as winning OVC freshman of the year. He had another good year his sophomore year averaging 11.7 points, 1.1 steals, 2.4 assists, and 1.9 rebounds per contest. Now, as a junior, he has taken his game to the next level averaging 18.7 points, 1.4 steals, 4.0 assists, and 3.2 rebounds per game. Canaan has been a large part of the success for the Racers this year, but he has not done it alone.
This year Murray State has been getting contributions from everyone, especially senior guard Donte Poole and senior forward Ivan Aska. Poole has been very clutch all season and hit big shots to push them to victory while averaging 2.3 steals and 14.6 points a game. Another senior guard, Jewuan Long, has been making all the hustle plays for the Racers.
His contributions don't always show up on the stat sheet, but there are countless times where he has stopped a wide open layup by hustling back on defense or diving on a loose ball to give Murray State possession. Before breaking a bone in his hand, causing him to miss six games, Ivan Aska was recording 12.6 points and 6.0 rebounds per game, but the Racers never skipped a beat during his absence. Center, Ed Daniel, and forward, Latreze Mushatt, both of which are juniors, picked up the slack on the boards. Of course, to have a 20-0 record you have to have great bench production as well, and the Racers have just that. Junior guard Stacy Wilson has been very consistent on defense and has shot the ball at .405 percent from behind the arc. Zay Jackson, a freshman guard, and another player off the bench, has been one of the top defensive players for the team this year, and emerged as a guy who could stop your best guard when the team beat Memphis earlier in the year.
The Racers have reached the highest ranking they've ever had, currently at ninth in the Coach's Poll and eleventh in the AP Poll. They've beaten Memphis on the road, Dayton at home, and Southern Miss at the Great Alaska Shootout. As of right now, Murray has won more road games than any other team this season, and have lost the fewest total games. This team has many of the experts, and fans of college basketball asking, "Can this team run the table?"
Murray State is a mid-major school, and mid-major schools have proven they can make an impact in the NCAA tournament in recent years. George Mason University made the final four in 2006, Butler made it all the way to the national championship two years in a row (2010 and 2011), and VCU knocked off many power house teams on its way to the final four in 2011. Could Murray State be next? Only time will tell, but the Racers are showing that they definitely know how to win, under any circumstance, and are trying to pull off the most imperfect, perfect season in college basketball history.
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