This wonderful basketball season has left me drained. Our beloved Racers have fought valiantly through a series of land mines over the course of a season and have, with one exception, waltzed through the OVC unscathed. Now they are itching to make their mark in the NCAA Tournament. It’s been a great, but oh so tiring season.
They tell me it’s time for March Madness, but, for Murray State University and its fans, it has been March all season long.
Even now, the boys are balling their way through the OVC Tournament. Although they are expected to win out, a misstep in this year’s OVCs will not signal the premature end of a glorious season just yet. These guys earned their NCAA Tournament berth long ago. Now it’s just a matter of taking care of business in Nashville and finishing the season strong.
Take a moment to think about how this season began, and look at where we are now. Murray State was picked by the all-knowing national media to finish third in a rather lackluster OVC this year. Instead, the Racers won the regular season handily and reached as high as ninth nationally. (Sorry, no respectful newspaper in the country counts ESPN’s poll, so I’m not going to start now – even if they did rank us seventh at one point.)
Who would have thought at the beginning of the year we would see CNN, Sports Illustrated, USA Today and ESPN camping out in little ol’ Murray? Who would have legitimately put Isaiah Canaan and Bob Cousy in the same sentence? Who had Dick Vitale chowing down at Tom’s Grille, for crying out loud? (He also mentioned “Matt’s Pizza” on the air, wherever that is.) And, most importantly, who thought we would ever see Ed Daniel’s ‘fro on high-def cable TV?
Clearly this season has been one that far surpassed all expectations. What is just as clear is no one thinks it is over yet. We’re not finished. There’s still business to take care of, and while it starts in the OVCs, the Big Dance looms on everyone’s mind.
The standard was set two years ago with the insanely emotional win against Vanderbilt. Last year, Billy Kennedy’s final season ended an otherwise great campaign in a way that cannot be described as anything but disappointing. This year’s progress has been such a manic, uplifting and exhausting ride that (1) we aren’t ready for it to end, and (2) we’re afraid of a bad showing in the NCAA Tournament.
This is what it’s come to. We have come from being picked third in our conference to biting our nails and hoping this crazy ride doesn’t come to an abrupt and uneventful end. We want to show ourselves to be worth all the hype.
Vanderbilt is still in our minds. This is the year of the mid-major (another one the media got completely wrong). This March, if any March, should end with the momentum of a great season culminating in a tournament depth our school has yet to experience.
This is left mostly unspoken because, frankly, we don’t know if we can do it. We don’t want to set ourselves up for disappointment.
Don’t get me wrong. This is an extremely talented Murray State team capable of going farther into the NCAA Tournament than I have seen before. They also carry a confidence and determination that can get them there.
I am not questioning the team. I am simply voicing what is largely being left unspoken by us fans. It has been a great ride. We want that great ride to end well. We expect greatness, yet we don’t want to expect too much. We want our team to be focused, but we don’t want to put too much pressure on our boys.
What we need to realize is, like it or not, this is what comes with the big stage. Once the seedings are announced on Selection Sunday, all that will be left for every team will be to put up or shut up. It’ll be time to play.
I just hope, like every other fan, that tournament time will be just as exciting as the regular season has been. And you know what? I think it will be.
Next week I’ll give you my tourney picks as we go into Selection Sunday. As a side note, I have never picked UK to win a national championship. For the last 13 years, I’ve been right. I’ll also discuss where I think Murray State will (and should) be slotted in the tournament field.