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The Top College Ball Team You've Never Heard Of


Surprising as it may be, the Super Bowl is not the only sporting event taking place this weekend. It's also college basketball season. And there is a surprise team in this week's top 10. Sandwiched in between the usual suspects like Kansas and Michigan State is a team from Murray, Kentucky - a small town in the state's west. It's the Murray State Racers. They're 22 and 0. The only undefeated team left in men's college basketball. And we're joined now by the sports editor from the Murray Ledger & Times, Ricky Martin.

Ricky, nice to have you here.

RICKY MARTIN: Well, it's good to be here with you.

GREENE: Twenty-two and 0, was anyone in Murray expecting this from the Racers this season?

MARTIN: You know, winning has become the expectation in Murray for a long time. But winning at this level certainly not anything that any of us expected.

GREENE: And, you know, I lived in Murray back in the '80s. I remember them winning in the NCAA tournament against North Carolina State in 1988. And then you guys had some success with an upset in the 2010 NCAA tournament, if I remember.

MARTIN: Yeah, it was a 13-seeded Murray State team that defeated Vanderbilt, who was the number four.

GREENE: What sets this team apart, though? I mean, tell us about the team. Is there a star player we should know about?

MARTIN: Yeah, Isaiah Canaan is the name to know. He is the guy, the bona fide leader. And there might not be a better scorer in the country. But this team, you know, one of the things that really sets them apart is that everybody contributes. And outside of Isaiah, everybody knows their role and what they need to do. And so, I mean, it's a really special group.

GREENE: I wonder about the expectation. Even if Murray State goes undefeated, you know, things will get tough in the tournament. If they do go out early or something like that, I mean, are people going to be really disappointed?

MARTIN: If they lose in the NCAA tournament it's always a disappointment, whether they're the favorite or not. Now, of course, this year, you know, there's more to be said about what the expectations are; the Sweet Sixteen berth and things like that, which has never happened in the school history. But this is a talented team, a terrific coach. And they play in a good enough league that they can put up some pretty gaudy numbers.

GREENE: Ricky Martin, just in a few words can you give me a sense for like a scene or something you see around town that makes you just know that this season is really special.

MARTIN: I mean, the signs on the local businesses - that's the one thing, because this is a pretty small community, a very, very close community. Murray State University is what the city of Murray really thrives on.

You know, the moment that really stands out to me, Ivan Aska, the senior forward, he broke his hand on December 30th, had to miss six games. He returned at a home game. And at about the 14-minute mark of the second half, Ivan stood up to check in and the entire place just erupted, 8,600 people screaming at the top of their lungs. It was so loud, he had to stop take a minute, collect himself, wave to the crowd and then they could continue playing basketball. But that's the kind of passion that these people in Murray have for this basketball team, and the appreciation.

GREENE: Well, Murray State will keep their fight going to hold onto that undefeated season with a contest tonight against Tennessee-Martin. And Ricky Martin joined us from the newsroom at the Murray Leger & Times in Murray, Kentucky.

Thanks so much for talking to us.

MARTIN: Glad to do it. Thank you.


GREENE: This is NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.