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Mike Lopresti | | March 7, 2022

What history says about Murray State's best record entering the men's NCAA tournament

2022 NCAA tournament men's bracket predictions on the first day of March

Murray State goes into the NCAA Tournament as No. 1.

No, not in the polls. Look for the Racers in the low 20s.

No, not in the seedings. ESPN’s Joe Lunardi currently has them as a No. 9.

But look at the wins and losses. Nobody will have a record better than 30-2 Murray State. The Racers have won 20 in a row, with the last loss to Auburn in December. They are perfect in 2022, though it took a tough fight and 10 lead changes to stay that way Saturday night in the Ohio Valley Conference title game they ultimately won 71-67 win over Morehead State. That noted former Racer, Ja Morant, had to be happy.

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So now here’s the question: Will that 30-2 mean anything two weeks from now? How far does owning the best record in the field take a team?

“I know we have more work to do,” McMahon said.

Time to visit with the record book.

The last five unbeaten teams in the tournament have not won a national championship. Four of them got to the Final Four, two the title game. Nor have the past 25 one-loss teams ended up champion.

The best record hasn’t helped Gonzaga take the final step the Zags so desperately seek. They have gone into the tournament with the best mark three times in the past nine years. They’re still waiting to cut down the nets on the last Monday.

There have been 104 teams with two losses — like Murray State — in the entire history of the tournament. 18 won the national championship, including Baylor last April. Another 18 reached the Final Four. But 17 others were one and done with quick losses.

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So, there’s been a mixed bag.

Obviously, the best record identifies a team that’s hard to beat. It has taken consistency and talent with unyielding purpose to build such a number.

“They’ve played every possession like it was going to decide the national championship, every night,” McMahon said of his Racers.

Some might quibble about the road taken. Murray State has only two Quad I wins, three in Quad 2 — and 17 in Quad 4.  Still, 30-2 is 30-2 and that ought to worry whomever has the Racers in their flight path. They will be a very dangerous opponent.

We can look at how the best-record teams have done in the tournament this century for some guidance.


Gonzaga was unbeaten last season. Until the Zags ran into Baylor in the championship game.


Buffalo and Houston were 31-3 in 2019. Buffalo lasted until the second round and a 78-58 loss to Texas Tech. Houston was taken out by Kentucky 62-58 in the Sweet 16.


Gonzaga — yep, again — was 32-1 in 2017. That ride ended with a loss to North Carolina in the title game.


Kansas, 30-4 in 2016, was a five-point loser to Villanova in the Elite Eight.


Kentucky took an unbeaten record to the 2015 Final Four, but just when college basketball was setting the table for the party to celebrate the newest perfect season, Wisconsin ruined the plans.


Wichita State was 34-0 in 2014, then had the foul luck — or the foul bracketing — to run into Kentucky in the second round. The Shockers played the Wildcats very tough but lost by two.

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It was Gonzaga again in 2013, at 31-2. But the Zags tripped over Wichita State in the second round.


In 2012, the best record belonged — and this might ring a bell around Murray, Kentucky 10 years later — to Murray State. That 30-1 mark was even better than the Racers this season. They went down by nine points to Marquette in the second round.


Kansas and San Diego State were 32-2 in 2011. The Jayhawks advanced to the Elite Eight, but collided with VCU’s Cinderella story. The Aztecs went out to Connecticut in the Sweet 16.


The blue-blooded duo of Kansas and Kentucky were each 32-2 in 2010. That didn’t help the Jayhawks much when they went splat against Northern Iowa in the second round. The Wildcats made it to the Elite Eight but lost to West Virginia. The new Kentucky coach that season — John Calipari — vowed the Wildcats would be back.

2009 and 2008

Actually, by 2010, Calipari had already put together a best-record dynasty at Memphis. If only they have trophies for that. His 31-3 team in 2009 lost in the Sweet 16 to Missouri. His 33-1 Tigers in 2008 were close enough to the championship to feel the confetti, until the free throws started clanging away late in the title game against Kansas.


Then there was the rare event in 2007 when both Memphis and Ohio State were 30-3. The committee placed both top records in the same region and they eventually met in the Elite Eight in San Antonio. Ohio State by 16.


George Washington took its turn with a shiny 26-2 mark in 2006. It didn’t much impress the committee, which gave the Colonials a No. 8 seed. They barely escaped UNC Wilmington in overtime in the first round, then had to play Duke and lost by 13. Both those games were in Greensboro, North Carolina. So much for rewarding the best record.

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Illinois made it to the national championship game in 2005, where the one-loss Illini were beaten by North Carolina 75-70. Kentucky advanced to the Sweet 16 in 2003, Stanford the Elite Eight in 2001. Stanford in 2004 and Cincinnati in 2002 and 2000 were second round casualties.


Have we overlooked anyone? Oh, right. Virginia, 31-2 on Selection Sunday in 2018. The Cavaliers looked at the TV screen that day and saw they were matched in the first round with a 10-loss, 16th-seeded team from a place called UMBC.

You probably know the rest. Murray State hopes for a much happier ending.

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