Despite being one of the last remaining undefeated Division I teams, Murray State will enter Wednesday night’s game at the CFSB Center ranked 19th in the nation.
Eastern Kentucky coach Jeff Neubauer thinks that’s far too low.
The Racers look to extend the program’s best start in 76 years when the Colonels try to remain in first place in the Ohio Valley Conference with their first 4-0 start in league play in 33 seasons.
With a 73-40 victory at Eastern Illinois on Friday, Murray State improved to 14-0 overall and 2-0 in OVC play. The Racers will be just one of four unbeaten teams in the nation as they go for their seventh consecutive victory over Eastern Kentucky (9-6, 3-0).
“The fact that they’re not ranked in the top 10 right now is insulting to them,” Neubauer said Tuesday, adding that the Racers are “head and shoulders above the OVC.”
Murray State, though, is not getting caught up with its ranking or the program’s best start since opening 16-0 in 1935-36.
After holding Tennessee State to 37.3 percent shooting in Saturday’s 73-68 victory, the Colonels have a chance to open 4-0 in OVC for the first time since 1978-79.
“The biggest thing you want to do against Eastern Kentucky is first and foremost be great defensively, to where you can get stops and score easy baskets and score in transition,” first-year coach Steve Prohm told the school’s official website. “… When they’re making a lot of baskets and making shots, they can get the game slowed down with the different zones (1-3-1, 3-2, 2-3) they play.”
The Colonels shot 36.4 percent from long range during a 6-1 run to end December and average 7.1 3-pointers from beyond the arc overall, but they’ll face a Murray State team among the nation’s best in 3-point field goal defense at 26.8 percentage.
“To find a good shot against Murray’s suffocating defense is the challenge,” Neubauer said.
So is guarding the 3-point line. The Racers are ranked among the best in Division I, hitting 43.7 percent beyond the arc after making a season-high 12 3s in 22 attempts on Friday.
“They’ve always been a good, efficient team, but I think what separates them now is their 3-point shooting,” Eastern Illinois coach Mike Miller said.
The Racers’ depth also has to concern the Colonels. With leading scorer Isaiah Canaan saddled with two early fouls and limited to a season-low 20 minutes, junior Stacy Wilson came off the bench Friday to record season highs with four 3s and a team-best 16 points.
“It says we’re deep, we don’t depend on one player,” Wilson said after the Racers’ bench scored 32 points.
That depth could help as senior forward Ivan Aska is doubtful after suffering a broken bone in his right hand against Eastern Illinois.
Canaan is four points shy of becoming the 38th player in school history to reach 1,000.
Eastern Kentucky guard Joshua Jones needs 15 points to reach that milestone. An ankle injury sidelined him in the Colonels’ last visit to Murray, a 66-56 loss Feb. 26.
Senior guard Jaron Jones, who had 12 off the bench in that contest, was named the OVC player of the week after scoring 43 points in the Colonels’ last two games.
The Racers have won three in a row at home over Eastern Kentucky by a total of 17 points. Murray State, though, has won its six games at the CFSB Center this season by an average of 24.5.