12/10 Bidwell's Blog: Biggest game in a decade?
Murray State will enter Sunday's game at Memphis at 9-0, tied for the second-longest winning streak in the country. This is my tenth-season covering the Racers, and it's been a while since I can remember a game with this much buzz surrounding it.
A game with similar hype happened on December 20th, 2003. Murray State, led by first year head coach Mick Cronin, was 8-0 and heading to Pittsburgh to play the 18th-ranked and unbeaten Panthers. The Racers were receiving a view votes in the national polls (sound familiar?) after good non-conference wins over Southern Miss, TCU, Western Kentucky and Southern Illinois. As I'm writing this, the parallels between that season and this season are almost frightening.
I was actually visiting my in-laws in Pittsburgh for Christmas that year so I had a chance to go watch the game. I always loved watching that Racer team: Chris Shumate, Cuthbert Victor, Adam Chiles and Kelvin Brown among others. There turned out to be a few knuckleheads in the bunch, but before we figured that out, they were a lot of fun to watch.
The Racers gave Pittsburgh all they wanted that night. If I can remember correctly, Murray trailed by about 10 entering the last media timeout. I still recall Cronin asking his team "Do you want to try to win or should we just keep it close?" The resounding answer was "win!" That aggressive play in the final minutes helped stretch the Pittsburgh lead late as they won 70-49. It was a final score that wasn't remotely indicative of how close they game actually was.
Certainly, the Racers have played in big games since 2004. They've been to the NCAA Tournament. They've won OVC Championships. Even the game with Morehead State at home last year was an incredible environment with a regular-season title on the line. But to me, this one is a little different.
This is a game that can firmly plant Murray State on the national basketball map for the rest of the season. As the number of unbeaten teams continues to dwindle across the country, the Racers continue to get a little more publicity with every passing day. National writers are starting to take notice of a team that is 9-0 and has done so much of its damage on the road. With a win over Memphis, at Memphis, the Racers will be threatening the Top 25 and will get a win that will have the country saying "Maybe this team IS for real."
The sky seems to be the limit for this team right now. After Memphis, their schedule gets infinitely easier. You've got Lipscomb, Arkansas State, a home BracketBusters game and an OVC schedule that is shaping up to be historically weak. It's beyond silly to think the Racers can run the table to March if they beat Memphis. It's also very much a possibility this team loses less than a handful of games.
Anyway, it's too early to talk about Game #20 and beyond. First, the Racers have to deal with Game #10. If Murray State has anything going against it Sunday, it's all the publicity they've gotten this week. You've loved reading about your Racers. Don't think Memphis hasn't taken notice. This Racer team won't be sneaking up on anybody Sunday afternoon at the FedEx Forum.
Enough talking. It's been a long week and I'm ready to see this game. I know you are too.
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