The Murray State Racers celebrated an entire season of great basketball news, but with one heartbreaking shot we end on a bit of a down note as far as the NCAA tournament goes. However, as the #RacersTakeOnNIT they could probably make into the final 4 of the National Invitation Tournament. On Sounds Good, Tracy Ross speaks with "Voice of the Racers" Neal Bradley on the past few games, missing the chance to get into the NCAA and their first game of the NIT: tonight's match against UTEP.
March 6, vs Morehead State 80-77
Neal Bradley says Morehead really improved as the year went on. They had a brutal travel schedule and some injury issues. He had picked them to win the division over Belmont, they just had too many struggles early on. They played well and were a physical team. The Racers were up by 11 at halftime - then Morehead came out and mde a run at the Racers, who found themselves down by 11. Near the end, the Racers got some big shots by Jeffery Moss, Cam Payne and Jarvis Williams. This brought them into the lead and they survived the game in the end.
March 7, vs Belmont 87-88
The Racers lost in a heartbreaker with one three-point shot in the final seconds of the game. Bradley says it was a terrific game in terms of fan excitement. In speaking with people who had no connection to the Racers or Belmont, they were blown away by what they saw: two high level teams playing a high level. Bradley says when Belmont makes those three-pointers and they shoot quick, they're dangerous no matter who they play. They made 15 three-pointers in total. With all of that, the Racers came back to tie the game. Belmont's Taylor Barnette hit the fade away three-pointer and banked one in before that, Bradley says, they were the better team that night. They out-shot the Racers, hit 15 threes, the Racers didn't defend the perimeter well enough and gave up 15 offensive rebounds. Bradley says they paid a steep price for these factors.
Chance for a Bid
Historically, the Racers' chance to make into NCAA was slim, Tracy Ross says, but if you use the eye test: they went undefeated in their conference and didn't lose a game in December, January or February. But it just wasn't enough to get them in the tournament. Is this fair, he asks. Does this point to something systematically wrong in how the committee selects the last few at-large teams? Bradley says it isn't fair, but it's been the criteria for years. He wasn't shocked when their name wasn't called. The Racers have a great resume: 16-0 is a pretty good body of work, he says. But how do they stack up against the top 50 or 100 teams in the nation? The Racers were penalized for bad losses against Houston, Portland, Xavier and Valparaiso. These games were early in the season when the Racers were inexperienced. He says their opportunities are slim to begin with and they were practically gone after November passed.
Bradley cites Coach Prohm's rebuttal to not getting a bid: that the Racers tried to get into a pre-season ESPN Tournament and couldn't get into that. No one wants to play a team that's good enough to beat them if you're talking about a mid-major team, Bradley says. No one will come to Murray and play a game where they might actually lose. It's a lose-lose situation. Ross says there was some talk about tweaking the first four so that those spots are reserved for mid-major teams who won their regular season and didn't make their conference championship. Bradley says it's a good idea and would give some opportunities to those teams, but he can't see that happening.
What are the resources you've been given and judged against your peers, how did you do with those resources? When you've got a losing record in your conference and a poor record on the road against some of the top teams in the country, he's not sure you deserve an NCAA bid, he says. But that's how it is. He wasn't surprised that the Racers went to the NIT.
Tonight's NIT Game Against UTEP
The Racers (27-5) host the UTEP Miners (22-10) tonight in the CFSB Center. Ross says the Racers could, without much effort and without an upset, make it to the final four of the NIT before really facing a team that might beat them. Bradley says many times when the Racers enter the NIT it's off of a lot of disappointment from not making the NCAA Tournament. It's tough to regroup from that. We've had teams that haven't wanted to play the NIT, he says, their heads weren't in it, they wanted to get it over with. He doesn't believe that's the case with this year's team. He believes they'll be a team that's hungry.
The UTEP team is really good, but nothing particularly great about their stats. They don't turn it over much, but don't force many turnovers. They don't shoot free-throws very well. They shoot well enough, but are not a great three-point team. A win over Xavier, but losses to Middle Tennessee and Western Kentucky. Outside of their conference they don't win on the road very often. If the Racers win, though, they'll have to win at Tulsa and Old Dominion. It's a difficult path, but the team is good enough to get it done.