One year ago, the Murray State Racers were 23-1.
Isaiah Canaan, Donte Poole and company had just dropped their first game of the season in a heartbreaker against Tennessee State.
The Racers were ranked No. 9, after sliding down from No. 7 after the loss. We all remember the season for the ages, wishing it would never end, but knowing in the back of our minds it would have to sooner or later. It’s funny how things change in just one year.
This year, the Racers are 18-5 (hopefully they’ll be 19-5 by the time you’re reading this). Poole, Ivan Aska and Jewaun Long are long gone. Zay Jackson is in jail, and Latreze Mushatt is still trying to get back to his classic form after a devastating Achilles injury.
No, the Racers are not on ESPN every night. People are not writing songs or making videos, the arena has yet to sell out and Dickie V is not on his way back to Murray. Yet, I’m excited as can be for the next month and a half, and you should be, too.
All season, the players have said over and over again this team wasn’t there yet. Early in the year, Prohm said they had to find their identity. Just last week, Mushatt told me it was going to be scary when they finally clicked.
“I don’t think people have seen the best of Murray State. We’re getting better every day. Once we start clicking, it’s going to be amazing.” Guess what folks. They’ve clicked.
It couldn’t come at a better time, either. In the biggest week of the season, with arguably the top
two teams in the conference headed to town, this team has found its stride.
Defensively, they’re playing as good as the 31-win team from a year ago. This team is holding opponents to a lower shooting percentage and forcing more turnovers than the 2011-12 Racers.
Mushatt is back and providing a big-time spark off the bench, and freshmen Jeffery Moss and C.J. Ford are becoming important role players as they look a lot more comfortable each time out.
Are they as good as last year’s team? The record would say no. And to be honest, I’d probably say no as well. Regardless, these guys are figuring it out. They’ve proven this conference still runs through Murray, and while Belmont controls its own fate for the regular season crown, it’s the tournament that really matters.
If it comes down to a championship game in Nashville between the Bruins and Racers for the automatic NCAA Tournament berth, a remark Canaan made last week to Belmont’s Ian Clark could prove to be the difference yet again.
“I’ve been through this,” Canaan told Clark after draining a 3 to hand the Bruins their first conference loss of the season.
No, it’s not the same as last year; we would have been naive to expect a repeat. Regardless, I would not count these guys out just yet. They’re smart, experienced, defense-oriented and they’re getting hot at exactly the right time. In a year where there are no truly dominant teams in college basketball, those qualities are extremely dangerous.
These guys tend to make things exciting, and I, for one, am beyond pumped to see how they conclude this season.
Column by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.