Sunday, January 29, 2012

Where will Murray State be seeded?

No one knows if Murray State, currently 21-0, will finish the regular season undefeated. But, as the nation's only unblemished team left, people are trying to predict the possibility of that happening.

Percentages range from 30-45 percent, depending on who you ask and depending on Murray State's opponent in BracketBusters.

Regardless, the real question isn't whether the Racers can finish the regular season 29-0 before the Ohio Valley Conference Tournament. Rather, how high Murray State can be seeded in the NCAA Tournament is the real stumper.

The general consensus is an undefeated Murray State (which would finish 31-0 by winning the OVC tournament) has a ceiling of a No. 3 seed. Many bracketologists believe, as other power conference tournaments unfold, that a perfect Murray State would be a No. 4 seed. That, while some might find insulting, would still give the Racers a preferential site for its first two games (likely in Nashville where it would have a huge following).

Nevertheless, there is no fun in that type of predicting. What happens if Murray State loses a game or two?

A 29-2 Murray State team would be much more intriguing in terms of its seeding.

The best comparison would likely be the 2005-06 George Washington Colonials. That year, GW finished the regular season 26-1 before a first-round loss in the Atlantic 10 Tournament. Due to a weak nonconference schedule (323rd in the country), a 26-2 George Washington team was "rewarded" with a No. 8 seed and a second round contest against Duke, the tournament's No. 1 overall seed.

Using Ken Pomeroy's rankings, the teams are eerily similar. (See table below with Murray State's stats updated through Friday, Jan. 27)

The only difference - and it's a big difference - is that Murray State played a pretty tough nonconference schedule. That number likely will only look better with its BracketBuster game. However, all other numbers - the Pythagorian rating, offensive and defensive efficiencies and overall strength of schedules - are pretty similar.

The A-10 was a 2-bid league that season, mostly because George Washington's loss allowed Xavier to steal the conference's auto-bid and a No. 14 seed.

The OVC is a 1-bid league, unless a similar situation happens with Murray State in the conference tournament.

All this leads me to believe if Murray State stumbles once, a No. 6 seed seems more likely. However, two losses, especially if one would be deemed a "bad loss," would almost assuredly drop the Racers into the dreaded 8/9 game.

What really makes this Murray State discussion unique is while George Washington was 26-1 entering the A-10 Tournament, the Colonials had lost their ninth game of the year. Thus, despite following the 8-1 start with 16-straight victories, George Washington never garnered the national attention Murray State has received as the nation's last unbeaten squad.

As the table above shows, every time the last undefeated team made the NCAA Tournament it was seeded No. 4 or better. Granted, all those teams except St. Joe's and Memphis were BCS-conference teams and, in those respective years, both St. Joe's (13th) and Memphis (3rd) started the year in the national spotlight.

It would be shocking of Murray State didn't receive an at-large bid if it somehow loses in the OVC Tournament. Barring some crazy collapse, the Racers will be dancing. However, the question remains: With what seed will the Racers be dancing?

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