There are still four undefeated teams in college basketball. With nothing but Ohio Valley Conference teams left on the schedule, 15-0 Murray State may have the best chance of any of them to become the first unbeaten since Indiana in 1976.
N.C. State coach Mark Gottfried thinks so: “Yes, they can,” he said Friday.
Gottfried certainly has reason to believe in the Racers. He spent three years there in his first college head-coaching job, a period in his career he remembers fondly for both the experience and the environment.
“They’re having a heck of a year, and I’m really happy for them,” Gottfried said. “It’ll be interesting to see them at the end, because I think they’re going to win a lot of games. I think they can go undefeated.”
Syracuse (16-0), Baylor (14-0) and Missouri (14-0) are the other undefeated teams.
Having coached there, Gottfried also knows just how much pressure there will be on Murray State to win the OVC tournament, especially if the Racers lose a conference game or two along the way. In his third season there, in 1998, Gottfried’s team was 28-3, but there was no guarantee of an at-large bid if the Racers lost the championship game.
“They have a heck of a win now at Memphis, although Memphis isn’t a top-10 team like we thought they were, it’s still a good win,” Gottfried said. “But the rest of their schedule is just kind of OK. If an ACC team played that same schedule, you’d be criticized. But they’ll get a break for it. I hope they get in (as an at-large). I think they will. I think they can go undefeated.”
That may not be the only difficult question the Racers pose for the NCAA selection committee. What kind of seed would an undefeated Murray State team get? In addition to Memphis, Murray State has wins over 14-2 Southern Mississippi and 11-4 Dayton. The highest-rated opponent on Murray State's remaining schedule is 3-12 Austin Peay, although the Racers will host a Bracketbusters game in February that could be against a quality opponent -- Long Beach State, Wichita State and St. Mary's are all among the road teams available.
Andy Glockner of SI.com found five examples of mid-major teams with gaudy records from the past 14 years; seeds ranged from No. 3 to No. 13. At 25-1, Princeton received a No. 5 seed in 1998, which may offer the best comparison to a one-loss Murray State team.
“It’ll be interesting. It’ll be a tricky one for the committee,” Gottfried said. “I don’t think they can be a 1 or 2 seed, I don’t think you can realistically do that. They’re going to play now, when you look at it, and I was in that league so I know, they’re going to play 12-14 games against 200 RPI teams and up, so it’s going to be a little tricky. I do think they’re really good. They’ve got a nice team.”