The group of Murray, Kentuckians who make the practically three-hour journey to Memphis 41 instances a 12 months will inform you it is value it. Then once more, what may you anticipate from a gaggle that has had a courtside seat to one of the vital exceptional journeys in basketball.
The evolution of Grizzlies guard Ja Morant from by chance recruited highschool participant to mid-major sensation to NBA All-Star starter, has been a wide ranging trip of us round Murray State College — a blue-blood mid-major situated within the basketball-obsessed Bluegrass State — are solely too pleased to recount.
“He is a as soon as in a lifetime participant, a as soon as in a lifetime particular person,” mentioned Racers coach Matt McMahon, who would know. The 43-year-old Oak Ridge, Tennessee, native presided over Morant’s meteoric rise, which included 54 wins over two seasons from 2017 to 2019, consecutive Ohio Valley Convention regular-season and match championships, and consecutive journeys to the NCAA match, together with a first-round upset of Marquette in 2019. Morant had a 16-assist triple-double in that win.
“The power and pleasure he performs the sport with, he introduced that to our program,” mentioned McMahon, who referred to as Morant “a tradition builder.” One who “impacts profitable and makes each particular person in your group higher.”
The results are ever current in McMahon’s program at present, which joined AP No. 1 Auburn on Saturday in changing into the primary groups in Division I to twenty wins this season.
The profitable really began with regularity some 40 years in the past when SEC Coach of the Yr Ron Greene, a former Murray State participant, left Mississippi State after one season to take over a Racers program that had fallen on laborious instances. In his first 12 months, the 1978-1979 marketing campaign, Greene went 4-22. The following 12 months he gained 23 video games. Murray State has had simply two shedding seasons since.
The college has produced 14 All-People and 25 NBA draft picks, most notably Popeye Jones, Isaiah Canaan, Cameron Payne and Morant. Shaq Buchanan went undrafted however at the moment performs within the G League for the Memphis Hustle.
Murray State has additionally been a launching pad for younger coaches. Names like Mark Gottfried, Mick Cronin, Billy Kennedy, Steve Prohm and now Prohm’s successor, McMahon, who has emerged as a high candidate for a Energy 5 job, ought to he have curiosity.
“You are speaking a couple of man who involves the health club on daily basis with an unbelievable quantity of power,” says Racers guard Tevin Brown. “There’s by no means actually a uninteresting second taking part in for him.”
Racers in each title and tempo of play, Murray State ranks among the many high 10 scoring groups in Division I at 82.1 PPG and fourth in scoring margin at 18.5 PPG. Brown and fellow junior KJ Williams prepared the ground, every averaging higher than 17 PPG. Each began as freshmen alongside Morant on the 2018-2019 squad.
“[KJ] has actually stepped it up in league play,” mentioned McMahon, noting Williams set a college report for discipline aim share (69.8%) his freshman 12 months nearly completely “on dunks and drop-offs off Ja’s dribble penetration. Now he can rating with both hand within the submit, he shoots it nicely and his rebounding (second greatest within the OVC at 8.9 RPG) has gone to a different degree.”
Brown is on a degree of his personal, and in some ways all the time has been within the eyes of Murray State. The highest recruiting goal of then-Racers assistant James Kane, Brown was competing at a small AAU occasion in Kentucky in 2016, when one other participant stole the present — a largely unknown 6-3 dynamo who’s now internationally famend. Each gamers in the end ended up at MSU, the choice of a lifetime for Brown.
“I could not have made a better option,” Brown mentioned. “Enjoying with [Morant] obtained me numerous notoriety, however it additionally made me a greater participant. Anyone with as excessive a basketball IQ as he has, it is helped my sport in each facet.”
Sophomore guard Justice “Juice” Hill and South Carolina switch Trae Hannibal, whom McMahon calls “a center linebacker taking part in guard,” complement a gaggle that hung with Auburn earlier than shedding 71-58 in late December. However the signature second of the season to this point got here inside that acquainted area in Memphis — the one Racers Nation journeys three hours to, 41 instances a 12 months.
Down 14 on the half to Penny Hardaway’s workforce inside FedEx Discussion board, Murray State outscored the Tigers 48-32 over the ultimate 20 minutes, capturing a 74-72 win.
“It simply confirmed we have now nice character as a workforce,” Williams mentioned. “Coach Mac advised us, ‘Don’t fret in regards to the rating, play as much as the rules we worth, execute on the offensive and defensive standpoint,’ and we got here out with the win.”
Now 20-2, 10-0 in OVC play, the Racers could possibly be poised to make much more noise in March, a journey Murray, Kentucky, would once more welcome.
“We’ve got a mature workforce, who’s stayed centered on the following sport,” McMahon mentioned. “They’ve performed an excellent job balancing the success we have had and the eye that comes with it, with the laborious work and self-discipline that profitable requires.”
Different mid-major mastery:
• What a 48 hours in C-USA! First Jordan “Jelly” Walker beat the buzzer Thursday at Western Kentucky:
🚨🏀 KC’s Dagger of the Day Pt. II 🏀🚨@UAB_MBB does it in dramatic style!! Jelly Walker delivers the sport winner to raise the Blazers previous Western Kentucky! The superb @Hassel_Chris with a PERFECT name of this dagger! @CBSSports pic.twitter.com/sFPLNPVmka
— Kevin Connors (@kevconnorsespn) January 28, 2022
• Then, Saturday in Ruston, Tylor Perry delivered the dagger for North Texas!
North Texas was down 17 factors within the 2nd half at La Tech however Tylor Perry wrote a Hollywood ending for @MeanGreenMBB!
— Chris Hassel (@Hassel_Chris) January 29, 2022
• Cool angle of Jalen Williams‘ sport winner for Santa Clara in Thursday’s takedown of BYU:
— Santa Clara Males’s Basketball (@SantaClaraHoops) January 28, 2022
• Gotta think about if there have been a KC’s Group Faculty High 10, the buzzer-beater of the week would go to Isaiah Gaines and the Northwest Mississippi CC Rangers:
What a name from Adam Gore (@GoreSports).
— Brad Logan (@BradLoganCOTE) February 1, 2022
• Penn sophomore Jordan Dingle has posted back-to-back 31-point performances. It is the primary time a Penn participant has had consecutive 30-point video games in Ivy League play, and the primary time it has occurred interval since Keven McDonald did it within the 1975 Sugar Bowl Basic.
• Longwood is the lone undefeated workforce in Huge South play at 8-0, this system’s greatest begin to the league season since changing into convention members in 2012-13.
• UNC Wilmington prolonged its profitable streak to 12 video games this week, a brand new college report. Coach Takayo Siddle’s workforce posted the primary excellent January in class historical past (8-0) and owns the third-longest energetic profitable streak in Division I.
• As regards to win streaks, Jacksonville State has gained 10 in a row, and stays the one unbeaten workforce in ASUN play (8-0). Coach Ray Harper’s workforce posted an eye-opening 77-67 highway win over Liberty, snapping the Flames’ 45-game house win streak!
• Talking of Liberty, few NBA groups, not to mention school hoop groups, have as dazzling a pregame introduction because the Flames:
Courtroom 🅿️rojection 2.0 pic.twitter.com/EbM7Jd8CE6
— Liberty Males’s Basketball (@LibertyMBB_) January 28, 2022
• Cool to see the Summit League develop its postseason match to 10 groups beginning in 2023. The 2 additional groups will give the occasion an additional day of video games subsequent march in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.
KC’s Mid-Main High 10 for this week:
Final week: 5
Annnnnnddd NEW!!!!!!!!!!!!! What an increase for the Racers who joined Auburn Saturday in changing into the primary groups in D-I to twenty wins this season. Apparently, Coach Matt McMahon’s workforce hasn’t misplaced since that Auburn sport on Dec. 22, profitable 10 straight and eight video games in a 17-day span. Murray State is 10-0 in Ohio Valley Convention play, with a median margin of victory of 19.1 PPG. A July transfer to the Missouri Valley Convention cannot come quickly sufficient for the OVC’s remaining groups.
Subsequent up: at Austin Peay (Thursday)
Final week: 8
Only one workforce in D-I has an extended profitable streak than the Broncos, and it is AP No. 1 Auburn (18 straight). Coach Leon Rice’s squad has gained a ridiculous 14 in a row, eight straight in Mountain West play together with highway victories at Utah State, San Diego State and Fresno State. Since Nov. 30 just one workforce (Nevada) has scored greater than 63 factors on Boise State. Thursday’s battle at Wyoming can be a battle in a cellphone sales space.
Subsequent up: at Wyoming (Thursday)
Final week: 6
The Committee is just not a fan of defending losses, so let’s merely underscore the Gaels’ Ws this season. Coach Randy Bennett’s workforce has two Quadrant 1 wins (at Utah State and at San Francisco) and three Quad 2 wins (Oregon on a impartial court docket, Notre Dame on a impartial court docket and vs. Missouri State). Positive the ultimate two weeks of February are an absolute winepress (Gonzaga twice, vs. BYU and San Francisco), however at 5-1 proper now within the ultra-competitive WCC, the cabernet in Moraga positive has a clean end.
Subsequent up: at Portland (Thursday)
Final week: 1
Heavy is the top that wears the crown. For 4 weeks the Ramblers held down the highest spot in KC’s Mid-Main High 10, however after two losses in 4 video games to shut out January (albeit to excellent Missouri State and Drake groups), there’s delicate trigger for concern. Coach Drew Valentine’s workforce can provide The Committee a figurative dose of melatonin with a bounce- again effort towards Missouri State, who beat Loyola by 10 in Chicago simply two weeks in the past.
Subsequent up: at Missouri State (Sunday)
Final week: 2
It was a bounce-back week for the Wildcats following that January twenty sixth hiccup towards VCU. In his 1,000th sport on the Davidson sidelines, coach Bob McKillop earned a hard-fought win over La Salle, then Tuesday night time in Olean the Cats outlasted St. Bonaventure to maneuver to 7-1 in A-10 play. With simply three extra common season video games towards groups with profitable information, the Cats may wish to purchase, not hire, right here within the ballot of report.
Subsequent up: at George Washington (Saturday)
Final week: 7
Jordan “Jelly” Walker’s heroics saved the day in a Thursday highway win over Western Kentucky (see above) however coach Andy Kennedy’s bunch was tripped up by Marshall simply 48 hours later. Regardless, we’re not simply blowing smoke at a UAB workforce that is 12-3 since Dec. 1st with wins at Saint Louis, North Texas and Louisiana Tech … these guys are hearth. 4 of the primary 5 video games in February are at Bartow Enviornment. We’re bullish on the Blazers.
Subsequent up: vs. Center Tennessee (Saturday)
Final week: 3
How good has coach Mark Pope been in his three seasons Provo? Thursday’s powerful loss at Santa Clara, adopted by Saturday’s puzzling defeat at Pacific, marked the primary time the Cougars have dropped back-to-back common season video games on Pope’s watch. That is the constructive spin. This is the sobering one: each losses have been unacceptable for a workforce with aspirations to remain on this checklist. Completely no higher technique to bounce again than the alternatives this week contained in the Marriott Heart towards San Francisco (Thursday) and AP No. 2 Gonzaga (Saturday)
Subsequent up: vs. San Francisco (Thursday)
Final week: 9
A second straight week contained in the ballot of report for coach Rick Pitino who celebrated an equally prestigious milestone Sunday by profitable his 800th profession D-I sport. The Gaels toppled St. Peter’s 85-77 for his or her seventh straight win and tenth in 10 tries in MAAC play. You and me speaking right here — Iona might be not shedding a sport in convention this season.
Subsequent up: at Canisius (Friday)
Final week: Unranked
The college that produced #BillsMafia franchise savior Josh Allen is within the midst of what could possibly be its best season for the reason that days of Fennis Dembo. Coach Jeff Linder’s workforce has gained eight of 9 to maneuver to 17-3 and 6-1 within the rugged Mountain West. Hunter Maldonado‘s career-high 35 factors in Monday’s OT “Border Warfare” victory over Colorado State was the Pokes’ signature win of the season to this point. Additionally, there is not any cooler nickname within the sport than the “Dome of Doom,” aka Wyoming’s Enviornment-Auditorium.
Subsequent up: vs. UNLV (Friday)
Final week: Unranked
We would have recognized the Imply Inexperienced would floor right here after their stable exhibiting on the ESPN Occasions Invitational in November. Coach Grant McCasland’s membership battled each Kansas and Miami earlier than leaving Orlando with a win over a tricky Drake workforce. Since that Miami loss UNT is 13-1, and take into accout this group has been there and performed that. In final 12 months’s NCAA match North Texas surprised 4-seed Purdue in an exciting first-round OT win. Nobody can be surprised this season if it occurs once more.
Subsequent up: vs. UTSA (Saturday)
Others receiving votes: San Francisco, San Diego State, Colorado State, Belmont
Dropped out: Colorado State (No. 4), San Francisco (No. 10)
ESPN Stats & Information researcher Jared Berson contributed to this text.