12/22 Bidwell's Blog: One AP voter who loves Murray State explains why

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Earlier this week, I reached out to the Associated Press voters who did not have Murray State on their AP ballots this week.  Several of the voters responded and I shared their thoughts with you.  I also reached out to the two guys who had the Racers 19th on their ballots -- the highest spot any voter put Murray State.  Tom Keegan, from the Lawrence Journal-World in Kansas got back to me this morning.   This is the second week in a row he has put the Racers higher than any other voter.  Here is his explanation:

 
"When doing my ballot, I try to disregard the name of the school and judge it based on how it has played against its schedule. Winning at Memphis is a great win. Plus, there's something to be said for teams that find a way to stay undefeated and when faced with a tight game know how to win it. I don't think there is as much difference between schools from power conferences and so-called mid-majors as there used to be. The powerhouses lose players early and have a tough time against a team like Murray State, which relies mostly on juniors and seniors. I'll never forget covering Vincent Rainey, a relentless competitor from Memphis, lead Murray State to a near-upset of Duke in the NCAA Tournament. And I'll never forget how much respect Coach K had for Rainey's game."
 
So there you go.
 
As for last night's game between UT Martin and Murray State, it was by no means a work of art.  The Racers came out strong in the first five minutes and seemed to have it on cruise control the rest of the way.  After that first flurry that all but put the game away, the Racers played relatively uninspired, sloppy basketball for most of the night.  Look, it's the last game before these guys head home for Christmas break against a team they weren't remotely threatened by -- I get that their focus wasn't going to be on playing a perfect basketball game.  If anything, the 24 turnovers give something for Steve Prohm to get on them about after the break.
 
With that said, here are some interesting nuggets from last night:
1. Isaiah Canaan didn't take a single shot for the first 15 minutes of the game.
2. The Racers turned it over 24 times.
3. Murray's starting five rarely played together.
4. With 7:25 left, the Racers led by 37 points.
 
Their performance was remarkable in how sloppy they were at times, yet they still simply hammered UT Martin.  There's a good chance that will happen more often than not in conference play this year. This team isn't going to feel threatened many more times this season.  Don't get me wrong -- they WILL be threatened.  They just won't feel that way heading into many games.  There were points last night where they almost appeared to be trying to amuse themselves -- trying to make the incredible pass instead of the easy one, for one example.  This will be something they'll fight at times this year.
 
After they beat Memphis and got to 10-0, there were people who prematurely jumped on the unbeaten bandwagon.  I thought it was best to look at it as a series of five-game stretches for this team.  That way you can look down the road a little bit, but not get too far ahead of yourself.  After being 10-0, I felt the Racers had a great opportunity to get to 15-0.  The simple reason was four of their next five games were at home.  They only two more wins over Eastern Illinois and Eastern Kentucky before we start worrying about games 16-20.
 
If you're looking for a game the Racers could potentially lose, I'd argue that two of their next three games will be as tough as any they'll play the rest of the year -- for entirely different reasons.
 
December 30th at Eastern Illinois.  EIU appears to be one of the better teams in the OVC this year, but are still well behind the Racers.  But this will be the first game after Christmas break in a building that generally has next to no fans who come to watch the game.  It's like playing in a library.  It's an easy place to be lulled to sleep.  If the Racers let EIU hang around, the Panthers could bite them. Good to great Murray State teams have lost there in recent years (2006, 2008), so history is on my side with this one.
 
January 7th at Austin Peay.  So the Racers could hypothetically be 15-0 for this one playing the preseason OVC favorite, who just happens to be their biggest rival, on a Saturday night with ESPN in the house.  The Dunn Center will be like walking into a hornet's nest that night.  It will be an incredible atmosphere for a college basketball game.  As quiet and laid-back as EIU will be, Peay will be the exact opposite.  As a basketball fan, I can't wait to see it.
 
I hope everybody has a happy and safe holiday.
 
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