- John Gasaway, ESPN Insider
Twenty-four hours ago, the Murray State Racers were the darlings of the human rankers. Despite being nowhere to be found in the top 25 according to pre-programmed ranking systems like the Ratings Percentage Index (MSU is currently No. 34) or the Pomeroy ratings (No. 73), Steve Prohm's team was ranked No. 7 in the ESPN/USA Today coaches poll and had many looking ahead to a BracketBusters meeting with Saint Mary's and a possible unbeaten regular season.
The cause of this disparity is simple. Murray State's season-opening 23-game winning streak was the engine for its rise through the polls. When you win, your ranking improves. It's always been that way, and the Racers certainly didn't invent the rules.
Then this happened:
And just as the rules caused the Racers' rise through the polls, Thursday's home loss to Tennessee State will precipitate their fall. Now the questions become exactly how good this team really is and what to expect of it as the postseason approaches.
Isaiah Canaan is a phenomenal scoring point guard, Donte Poole has been lethally effective on offense from both sides of the arc (and at the line), and this entire team earns free throws with a machine-like regularity that even Frank Martin can appreciate. It's no mistake that the Racers won 23 straight.
In fact, I believe Murray State is far and away the best Ohio Valley team we've seen since ... Murray State in 2010. If you don't remember that team, trust me, Brad Stevens does. A bounce here and a rebound there, and the Racers would have advanced to the Sweet 16 instead of Butler. Two years after that team gave the Bulldogs everything they could handle, Murray State has already all but locked up an at-large NCAA tournament bid -- a remarkable statement to make about an OVC team in early February.
John Gasaway writes that while Murray State may have suffered their first loss last night, the Racers remain a dangerous - if potentially still overrated -- opponent for the NCAA Tournament.