Murray State still has a long way to go to achieve something that hasn’t been done since the days before Larry Bird became a Boston Celtic.
Murray State, currently 19-0, has to win 13 more games to finish the regular season undefeated. The Racers have nine more conference games, plus the Ohio Valley Tournament, as well as a BracketBuster matchup –still TBD—in late February.
Even if Murray State doesn’t pull off the legendary feat of being the first mid-major team to go undefeated in the regular season, last accomplished by Bird’s Indiana State team of 1978-79, the Racers have a good chance to end up doing something no mid-major team has yet to this millennium.
No mid or low-major team since 1998 has finished the regular season with just one loss. Princeton did it that year, and went on to a No. 5 seed in the NCAA Tournament, where they lost to Michigan State in the Second Round.
Perhaps more impressive, or surprising, is that no mid or low-major team has finished with just two losses in the regular season since the late '90s. The last team to do that was College of Charleston in 1999, which earned a No. 8 seed in the NCAAs and lost in the First Round to Tulsa.
Although the two cases listed above were over a decade ago, they should help to serve as somewhat of a precedent for where this year’s Murray State could be seeded in the NCAA Tournament. In the 64-team era, going back to 1985, no mid-or-low major has finished the regular season undefeated. Only one other team besides Princeton—La Salle in 1990—finished with one loss, while six other teams before College of Charleston finished with two losses over the period going back to ’85. 15 different teams have finished with three over that time.
For this year’s Murray State team, there isn’t a whole lot left they can do in terms of quality wins, outside of their BracketBuster matchup. Here’s a look into where this year’s Murray State might expect to be seeded in this year’s NCAA Tournament, based on various scenarios of zero, one, two, or even three losses.
Undefeated (32 – 0)
If the magical feat does happen, there will be no comparable case in the 64-team era.
In terms of their profile, Murray State’s quality wins would be Dayton, at Memphis, Southern Miss (in Alaska) and their BracketBuster opponent—most likely to be Wichita State or Long Beach State. Each of those four teams could make the NCAA Tournament, but at the same time each are from being locks to make it, at least currently. In either case, the wins would certainly be a nice profile-booster for the Racers.
In terms of RPI, Murray is currently No. 29, and probably wouldn’t be too much higher at the end of the season. The next highest RPI team in the Ohio Valley is Morehead State, at No. 181. Winning 19 games against sub-150 RPI teams can’t really help the Racers, only hurt if they were to lose.
Projected Seed if undefeated: 5
One Loss – To BracketBuster Opponent
If Murray State were to lose their only game to a team such as Wichita State or Long Beach State in the BracketBuster, it wouldn’t be too devastating. Each of these teams is among the very best among the mid-majors, and I would argue each might be better overall than Murray State is currently. In ’98, Princeton’s lone loss was to North Carolina, an eventual No. 1 seed. Murray State’s loss wouldn’t be that “good”, but shouldn’t be much of a black mark on their profile.
Going undefeated in the OVC and winning the league tournament would be quite impressive, and should keep Murray State from potentially free-falling in the seeding process. The wins over Dayton, Memphis and Southern Miss would still be the driving force in where the Racers would end up.
Projected Seed: 6
One Loss – to an Ohio Valley Team
A loss within the OVC would be a bit of an RPI hit to Murray State, but in the midst of 17 to 19 games against the league, should not make or break them. The positive in this scenario is that the Racers would have won their BracketBuster game, meaning another quality win over a likely top-50 team.
If the one loss were to come in the OVC Tournament, there would be no danger of Murray State not getting an at-large bid. The main negative in that case would be that the last thing the selection committee sees is a loss to a far inferior team, which may hurt the Racers’ seeding a bit.
Projected Seed: 7
Two Losses – one to BracketBuster opponent, one to OVC team
Going of the above projection of a No. 6 seed with only a BracketBuster loss, a second loss coming to an OVC team would still mean a pretty decent seed for Murray State. However, going off prior history, it may not keep the Racers above the 8-9 game. Of the mid-majors since 1985 who lost two regular season games, none earned higher than a No. 8 seed in the NCAA Tournament (College of Charleston ’99, Princeton ’91). Playing in the OVC—currently the 21st ranked conference in terms of RPI—probably wouldn’t keep Murray State from becoming the lone exception.
Projected Seed: 8
Two Losses – both in OVC
This scenario could be a little dicey for Murray State, especially if one comes in the OVC Tournament. The four quality non-conference wins should be enough to erase any possible doubt of an at-large bid. However, as easy as it may be to forgive one bad loss, two could seriously hurt the Racers’ seeding, not to mention their RPI and their current national profile standing.
Projected Seed: 10
Three Losses – one to BracketBuster opponent, two in OVC
Staying in line with the above projections, another loss to an OVC team likely drops Murray State another two spots in the seed line. Losing to a top-50 team in the BracketBuster shouldn’t hurt the Racers’ seeding any further at this point.
Projected Seed: 10
Three Losses – two in OVC regular season, one in OVC Tournament
This is the only case out of these where it is conceivable that Murray State could miss the NCAA Tournament altogether. On the other hand, it is fairly difficult to see them lose three games to OVC teams, but you never know.
There are four teams since 1985 that lost three regular season games, including one in their conference tournament. Two of those—Green Bay in 1996, New Orleans in 1993—made the NCAAs. Two—Utah State in 2004, College of Charleston in 1996—missed the dance. Murray State would have to sweat it out a bit, but their non-conference wins give them a better overall profile than Utah State had in ’04. Plus, there are three more at-large spots than any of the previous years noted, meaning the Racers should at least land in the First Four safety net.
Projected Seed: 12