Murray State has been here before—and quite often, for that matter.
Indeed, one of the most consistently successful mid-major programs in college basketball is back in the tournament, making their 16th appearance in the Big Dance. However, this is their first trip since 2012.
Yes, the Racers—fresh off their first losing season in roughly thirty years—are back in the big dance after a bit of a hiatus. Therefore, some fans might not be too familiar with the Racers. If you’re one of those fans, this post is here as a resource for you to get better acquainted with the 2018 OVC Champs.
Players to Know
While the Murray State Racers are a team with many talented guys who are capable of turning a good team into a great one, any list of their players to know begins and ends with Jonathan Stark.
Jonathan Stark, the reigning OVC Player of the Year, has been a prolific scorer throughout his college career. However, now that he’s in the NCAA Tournament for the first time, he’ll finally have the chance to make a national name for himself like so many great Racers before him (think Isaiah Canaan, Cam Payne, etc.).
This season, Stark carved up opposing defenses no matter the team’s name—be it Auburn or SEMO. Most notably, his shooting efficiency has increased this season, and his assist rate has gone down, leading one to reasonably believe that a lot of Murray State possessions usually end with the ball in his hands. He is no doubt the player whose name will be circled on the scouting report of whichever team is unfortunate enough to be matched up with Murray State in the Round of 64.
Besides Stark, Coach Matt McMahon will also look to Terrell Miller, Jr. and Ja Morant, two players on opposite ends of the eligibility spectrum.
Miller, a senior forward who does not shy away from being a powerhouse in the paint despite his relatively smaller size, has been the perfect complement to Stark. Since debuting for the Racers last season after starting out in junior college, Miller has been the frontcourt keystone for a Murray State team that—on the whole—is not very big.
Finally, there’s Ja Morant, a freshman guard whose non-selection as Freshman of the Year in the OVC left many Racers fans seething. He has played like a poised veteran down the stretch this season, and he’s the second part of a great backcourt tandem that sees him racking up assists on a team with an appetite for offense.
Recipe for Success
As with every NCAA Tournament outcome, the success of the Racers will be based solely on their matchup. In the case of Murray State, Coach McMahon and Co. will be hoping that they aren’t forced to play a big team in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament.
Indeed, Murray State only has one player who is 6’9” or above, and that’s Jalen Dupree, who doesn’t get a massive amount of floor time. For a Racers team which does often like to penetrate the post with its backcourt, it’ll be hard to go about doing so against a team with guys who are a few inches taller than even the biggest Murray State players.
Also, while the Racers aren’t a team that likes to take a high volume of shots behind the arc, they are one of the more efficient three point-shooting teams in the nation. That potency from long range could help alleviate any size disparity they may face, allowing them to spread out any big men that opposing squads will throw at them.
In the end, assuming lots of things go in Murray State’s favor (Jonathan Stark having a monster game, the matchup is favorable, and the long range shooting stays hot), the Racers could easily make some sort of run in March. If they just had a little more size, they’d likely be a trendier upset pick.
Don’t let that fool you, and if/when Murray State pulls off a first round upset while you didn’t mark it on your bracket, don’t say I didn’t warn you.