March Madness NCAA Tournament: No. 11 Colorado State vs. No. 6 Murray State

There are only two teams in the NCAA Tournament field with just a single loss, and Murray State is one of them. The Racers tip off the tourney on Thursday afternoon in Louisville against Colorado State of the Mountain West. Murray State is a 4-point favorite on

The Racers were the last Division I men’s team to lose this season, reaching 23-0 before falling Feb. 9 to Tennessee State. They avenged that loss in the OVC tournament final. Murray State is led by guard Isaiah Canaan, a finalist for the Cousy Award (top point guard) and Wooden Award (top player). The Racers are aggressive and sharp shooters (47.7% overall and 40.7% from beyond the arc). Opponents average 61.2 points.

Sixth-seeded Murray State needed a layup from Jewuan Long with 4.4 seconds remaining to finally put away pesky Tennessee State 54-52 for the Ohio Valley Conference tournament title and an automatic NCAA tournament bid. That huge shot lifted the Racers into the NCAAs for the 15th time in the history of the program. Two years ago in 2010, they finished 31-5, entered the NCAA tournament as the No. 13 seed and proceeded to upset Vanderbilt 66-65 in the first round followed by a slim 54-52 loss to Butler in the second round.

Canaan and senior forward Donte Poole (14.2 ppg) are as valuable as any pair of teammates in the country. They were both named to the OVC All-Tournament Team and Poole was named the Most Valuable Player. Murray State, which needs two wins to set a program record, also has depth, which makes them quite dangerous. Getting to the Sweet 16 — and even beyond — is a distinct possibility.

No. 11 Colorado State is in the tournament for the first time since 2003. The Rams finished the regular season with an RPI of 21 and the country’s fifth-hardest schedule, which it weathered behind the strong play of guards Wes Eikmeier (15.6 ppg) and Jesse Carr (7.1 ppg, 2.6 apg) and forwards Pierce Hornung (8.7 ppg, 8.4 rpg) and Will Bell (8.4 ppg, 3.9 rpg).

But any run in March likely hinges on outside shooting, as the Rams are fourth nationally in 3-point shooting percentage (40.7) and 23rd in total field-goal shooting (47.7). And if Colorado State’s shots aren’t falling, the Rams likely won’t be good enough defensively to advance — they allow 68 ppg (206th nationally) on 43.5 percent shooting (190th). A lack of size could be a problem. No one taller than 6-6 sees significant minutes.

The winner of this game plays the Marquette vs. BYU/Iona winner on Saturday in Louisville.

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