The 25th Greatest College Basketball Program In The South: Murray State Racers
Posted by Ryne E. Hancock on September 19, 2007
Doc’s Note: This is the first in a series of the 25 greatest college basketball programs in the South.
Murray State University
Location: Murray, Kentucky
Nickname: Racers (some people call the teams the Thoroughbreds)
Reason For Nickname: Kentucky has a strong horse racing tradition. That should explain everything.
Colors: Old Gold and Blue
Conference: Ohio Valley Conference
Arena: Regional Special Events Center (built 1998, capacity 8,602)
Bright Shades of Blue: The Racers have won more conference regular season championships than any other current OVC school with 20, sharing seven of them. Not only that, the Racers have won 13 conference tournament championships, the last one coming in 2006.
Postseason Appearances: Had Murray State been in a conference like Conference USA or even the SEC, there’s no doubt they would have more than 13 appearances in the Big Dance. The Racers made their debut in the Big Dance after winning the 1964 OVC championship only to lose to Loyola-Chicago. Their only win in the Big Dance came in the 1988 tournament where they upended North Carolina State in the first round and lost to eventual national champion Kansas in the second round. Their last trip to the Big Dance came in 2006 when they faced 2005 national champion North Carolina in the first round.
Coaching Legacy: Murray State was the starting point for coaches such as Mark Gottfried, who won three conference championships in as many years during his time in Murray. In 1997-98, the Racers won a school-record 29 games en route to the Big Dance and another conference championship, which would prove to be the springboard he needed to accept the job at Alabama the following year. After Gottfried left, Tevester Anderson continued the success by winning conference crowns in 1999, 2000, and 2002. In 2003, future Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin would take over and lead the Racers to conference championships in 2004 and 2006.
Big Man On Campus: The program’s most famous player was none other than former Wizards standout Popeye Jones, who is fourth in school history in points with 2,057. Jones also helped Murray State win conference championships in 1991 and 1992 and also had the honor of having his #54 retired, which now hangs in the rafters at the Regional Special Events Center. He is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.
Rivalries: For many years, Murray State and Western Kentucky had a strong and heated rivalry that encompassed four decades. In fact, the reason for Coach E.A. Diddle’s famous red towel was because of a close and hard-fought game against the Racers in the 1940’s. Outside of that, there’s no real true rival for the Racers besides the Hilltoppers, save for Austin Peay or maybe Tennessee Tech, schools who have won conference championships along with the Racers in recent years.
Did You Know?: Joe Fulks, the inventor of the jump shot, was a standout during the 1940’s at Murray State for two years before joining the Marines during World War II.
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