Even though Murray State has raced through 20 straight victories and cracked the national top 10, questions still linger about the team’s legitimacy. With eight games left in the regular season, the Racers have not yet faltered in the Ohio Valley Conference, meaning that the Racers will probably complete the first undefeated regular season since St. Joseph’s did so in 2004.

But, like the Hawks, they will not make it to the Final Four.

Make no mistake about it: Murray State is a good team. At the end of last season, former Head Coach Billy Kennedy defected for the greener pastures of Texas A&M and three starters graduated. No one would have expected the Racers to stay at the top of the OVC.

But Head Coach Steve Prohm has had one of the best collegiate coaching debuts ever, skillfully guiding Murray State through half of a season and putting himself smack-dab in the middle of the conversation for national coach of the year.

That the Racers’ streak has gone on so long is all the more impressive given that senior forward IvanAska — who was averaging 12.6 points per game — was sidelined for six games, including three road contests.

Aska is, however, only one third of Murray’s leading trio. Junior Isaiah Canaan leads the team in scoring at 18.7 points per game. The versatile 6-foot guard also shoots 47 percent from beyond the arc and distributes the ball effectively, as evidenced by his four assists against 2.5 turnovers each game.

The Racers’ other leader is senior guard Donte Poole, who, while not as stellar as Canaan, still contributes 14.6 points per game. He also demonstrates good range, shooting better than 41 percent from beyond the arc.

The weakest links of Murray State’s roster are Jewaun Long and Ed Daniel, both good shooters who rarely take the opportunity to make a bucket.

All of these players are talented, and could find a spot somewhere on almost every team’s roster. But none of them, with the possible exception of Canaan, have the potential to play at the next level.

For now, they have found a groove where they seem to play very well together. But just how far can they go?

While the Racers really haven’t played anyone notable this season, it isn’t for a lack of trying. Theytravelled to the Great Alaska Shootout, one of the better early-season tournaments for mid-majors, but only encountered Division II Alaska Anchorage, San Francisco and Southern Mississippi.

Southern Mississippi, part of the best Conference USA class since Cincinnati, DePaul, Louisville, Marquette and South Florida left in 2005, is one of three C-USA squads Murray State has faced this season in Prohm’s attempt to beef up his team’s nonconference resume.

But these attempts have failed. Memphis, while a contender for the league title, is not the powerhouse many predicted. Alabama-Birmingham, another C-USA opponent, is a league laggard that will struggle to win 10 games.

Because of the weakness of these opponents, it could be argued that Murray State’s toughest game was a convincing victory at Morehead State, usually one of Murray’s rivals for the Ohio Valley Conference crown. Morehead was particularly strong last season, when Kenneth Faried led the Eagles to an upset of Louisville in the NCAA tournament’s opening round.

Murray State isn’t without a tournament history, either. They’ve never reached the Sweet 16, but in the two years that they have gotten out of the first round, they have lost by fewer than three points to eventual Final Four squads. That they ran into red-hot Butler in 2010 and Kansas in 1988 is incredibly bad luck.

Last season, Murray vied with Morehead all winter long, winning the regular season title but falling in the conference tournament. Not only do the Racers remember that game, but they undoubtedly remember a costly turnover with three seconds left when they trailed Butler by just two points in the 2010 tournament.

With their talent, coaching and motivation from those bitter memories, this year’s Racers will go further than any of their predecessors ever have. They will likely reach the Sweet 16 or even Elite Eight. But without an NBA-caliber talent in the mold of Butler stars Gordon Hayward or Shelvin Mack, the road to New Orleans will prove a bit too tough for Murray State.

Evan Hollander is a sophomore in the School of Foreign Service and a deputy sports editor for The Hoya. TOP OF THE KEY appears every Friday.

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