Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Why Murray State Deserves a No. 1 Seed

By Andrew Jones

Murray State is 23-0. They have beaten one ranked team (Memphis) and only face one more before the end of the season (Saint Mary's). They currently hold a No. 7 ranking in the USA Today Poll and a No. 9 ranking in the AP poll. They are ranked ahead of Duke, Michigan State, and Georgetown.

Is this for real?

If they can beat Saint Mary's on Saturday, February 18 and win out, they could climb as high as number four or five if the right teams lose, which would put them at least in the conversation for a No. 1 bid in the NCAA tournament — if they were from a better conference.

In the past 10 years, and historically, No. 1 seeds have come from power conferences. In the past 10 tournaments, only four of the 40 number one seeds have come from outside the six best conferences: the Big 10, Pac 10/12, Big East, ACC, SEC, and Big 12.

The four number ones outside of those six conferences? Cincinnati had a number one seed in 2002 and Memphis had number one seeds in 2006 and 2008 both coming out of Conference USA at the time. Saint Joseph's had the No. 1 seed in 2004 out of the Atlantic 10, but I think most fans would agree that Conference USA and the Atlantic 10 (along with Horizon League and West Coast Conference) are a step above such conferences as the American East, Atlantic Sun, Ivy League, or Murray State's home, the Ohio Valley Conference.

Murray State has always been a tournament favorite of mine, even though they have only won two NCAA tournament games in 14 tournament appearances. They still always seem to provide a show, keeping games close that absolutely should not be close.

Let's look at a few examples. In 1988, they got their first tournament win — doing so as a No. 14 seed — beating number three seed North Carolina State, 78-75. They lost their second game in that tournament to sixth-seeded Kansas 61-58. Not bad. Oh yeah, and Kansas went on to win the national championship that year.

In 1990, they came as close as any 16 seed ever has, taking No. 1 seed Michigan State into overtime, but eventually losing, 75-71.

In 1995, they lost to No. 2 seed North Carolina (who made the Final Four that season), 70-60. In 1997, they lost to No. 2 seed Duke, 71-68. In 2006 they lost to third-seeded North Carolina, 69-65.

And finally in 2010, they got their second win in tournament history, defeating fourth-seeded Vanderbilt, 66-65. They lost their second round matchup by 2 points to fifth-seeded Butler, who of course went on to lose in the national championship game.

The past 25 years has seen some pretty exciting stuff out of Murray State and this season, they are having their best season yet. In arguably their previous best season ever in 2010, a 30-4 record only got them a 13 seed. What will a 31-0 record get them in 2012?

Anything less than a three seed is an insult. But Murray State should be prepared to be insulted. Their current RPI is 48. Behind fellow mid-major tournament hopefuls Long Beach State, Oral Roberts, Harvard, Middle Tennessee, Saint Mary's, Wichita State, and Creighton.
I'm not saying RPI is the end all, be all factor for tournament seeding, but it certainly is a factor and it is not looking good for Murray State in that regard.

But the real question is: how far can Murray State advance in the tournament?

Whether or not they go undefeated, they'll make the tournament. They could be anywhere from a two seed to a 12. I'll guess they end up with a six or seven seed. Can they make it past the second round? Yes.

If they draw a seven or 10 seed, they'll have a tough time making it to the second weekend. If they draw an eight or nine, they'll likely fail, but from seeds of two, three, four, five, six, 11 or 12, I think they'll make their first Sweet 16.

Despite complaints about their weak schedule, Murray State is still undefeated and nobody else can say that in all of Division I men's college basketball. I know, if they played in the ACC, they would not be undefeated.

Much like their counterparts in college football (mid-majors who have gone undefeated) Murray State can't do anything more than win their games. Boise State, Utah, and TCU created noise and controversy in college football by ending seasons undefeated. That noise over the period of a decade may hopefully lead to some sort of playoff system for college football in the near future.

In college basketball, Murray State could end the regular season undefeated, but they'd still have six games to prove themselves. Since that is the case, I honestly see no problem awarding them with a two or a three seed. It honestly would make things more interesting — not that the NCAA tournament needs things to be more interesting.

Look at it this way, if you give Murray State a two seed and the tournament moves forward with no upsets, they'll have to beat a 15 seed, a seven seed, a three seed, and three number one seeds to win the national championship. If they do that, they deserve to win it and I don't think anybody can argue with that.

If you give them a seven seed, again with no upsets, they'll have to beat a 10 seed, a two seed, a three seed, and three number ones — a tougher road, but all roads end the same: three number ones.

The NCAA tournament is setup to prevent teams that are seeded too high from advancing to the national championship game. And there is so little harm in seeding Murray State higher than their RPI might indicate.

Why do they deserve it? When is the last time an undefeated entered the NCAA tournament? It hasn't happened in 20 years! UNLV was the last team in 1991. Before that you'd have to go all the way back to 1979 where Larry Bird and Magic Johnson faced off as undefeated Indiana State lost to Michigan State in the championship game. Meanwhile, Alcorn State went undefeated in 1979 and wasn't even invited to the NCAA tournament.

So in more than 5,000 opportunities from 1992-2011, no Division I school went undefeated in men's college basketball and when one has the potential to do so, we're thinking they should be a … six seed?

Come on! I know they'd probably lose to Kentucky and Syracuse and Missouri, but come on! The Racers might accomplish something that is incredibly rare in today's college basketball environment. They should be rewarded; they must be rewarded.

I've changed my mind. If Murray State enters Selection Sunday undefeated, anything less than a one seed is an insult.

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