Post season hopes and dreams: After loss, Racers unsure of possible tournament bids

Senior Stacey Williams tries to dribble around a Belmont defender during Saturday’s game. Due to the loss, the Racers are not guaranteed a NCAA Tournament bid and are unsure of their post-season status. || Taylor McStoots/The News
Senior Stacey Williams tries to dribble around a Belmont defender during Saturday’s game. Due to the loss, the Racers are not guaranteed a NCAA Tournament bid and are unsure of their post-season status. || Taylor McStoots/The News

Senior Stacey Williams tries to dribble around a Belmont defender during Saturday’s game. Due to the loss, the Racers are not guaranteed a NCAA Tournament bid and are unsure of their post-season status. || Taylor McStoots/The News

Racers’ heartbreaking overtime loss to Belmont Saturday night in the championship game of the OVC Tournament likely ended Murray State’s hopes of making a second straight trip to the NCAA Tournament.

While a win against Belmont would have earned Murray State the OVC’s automatic bid to the tournament, the Racers are now left on the outside looking in. With a Ratings Percentage Index (RPI) ranking of 115 and a 21-10 record, the Racers are likely out of the conversation for the elite field of 68 teams.

There could, however, be more basketball for the Racers this season. The National Invitational Tournament, which is widely regarded as the second most prestigious postseason tournament after the NCAA, could extend an invitation to Murray State.

The two most likely scenarios for the Racers, however, are the College Basketball Invitational and the College Insider Tournament. Both tournaments are played on the home floors of the participating schools, which could potentially mean another chance for Racer fans to see the team one more time at CFSB Center.

The CBI invites 16 teams and culminates in a three game series between the top two teams for the championship. Last year, the University of Pittsburgh defeated Washington State in three games to earn the championship.

The CIT invites 32 teams, and consists of four rounds and a championship game. Mercer defeated Utah State to take the tournament a year ago.

While the Racers may or may not earn an invitation, the seniors have said they would like to play if they get the chance.

“All the guys want to play, especially the seniors,” senior forward Latreze Mushatt said. “The way we went out, we don’t want to go out like that.”

From the start of the season, Head Coach Steve Prohm and his team set out to win a conference championship. While they fell short of their goal, Mushatt said a post season tournament could provide some redemption for the team.

“We wanted to be in the NCAA Tournament, but when you got a chance to compete in something else, you always want to win whatever you’re doing,” Mushatt said. … “That’s the type of players we have. We always want to win.”

While it likely won’t be the tournament they were hoping for, the Racers still have a lot to play for it they earn a trip to the NIT, CBI or CIT. Added games would provide a chance for the team’s six freshmen to log more playing time against talented opponents. Additionally, more games would give Canaan more time to add to his already historic Murray State career.

Friday night against Eastern Kentucky, Canaan became the sixth Racers in history to reach 2,000 points. He passed Murray State legend Howie Crittenden in the game on Saturday for fifth on the all-time scoring list. Canaan currently has 2,050 points and needs just eight more to surpass Popeye Jones for fourth.

“I haven’t really thought about it too much, but it’s an honor to keep climbing the rankings,” Canaan said. “I’m just out to try to win games and any milestones I pass within winning games I’ll accept.”

The Racers will continue to practice this week to stay in shape should they earn a postseason tournament bid. The field for the NCAA Tournament will be announced Sunday, and the remaining tournaments will begin releasing their fields Sunday evening and Monday morning.

 Story by Jonathan Ferris, Staff writer.