MORGANTOWN — The challenges presented by Murray State may be longer than the Racers’ 13-game winning streak — the longest in the country.
The fifth-seeded WVU men’s basketball team will face the Racers, at 4 p.m. Friday, in the first round of the NCAA tournament, at San Diego’s Viejas Arena.
Murray State — the No. 12 seed in the East regional — is no more an overmatched mid-major than Colonel Sanders is a basketball coach.
The Racers’ long win streak is a mixture of solid shooting, sizable assets and a solid backcourt that features a star senior scorer and an all-around do-it-all freshman.
On top of that is Murray State’s recent NCAA tournament history. The Racers have won a first-round game in each of their last two trips, knocking off Colorado State as a No. 6 seed, in 2012, while beating fourth-seeded Vanderbilt, in 2010, before narrowly missing out on beating Butler to advance to the 2010 Sweet 16.
This is the Racers (26-5) first trip to the NCAA tournament under head coach Matt McMahon, who was hired in 2015, after Steve Prohm left to take the Iowa State job.
“They have great size and they really shoot the ball,” WVU head coach Bob Huggins said Monday. “Their bigs can step out and make shots. Their guards are good and they rebound. They’re a really good team.”
Terrell Miller Jr. (6-foot-8, 245 pounds) is an all-Ohio Valley Conference first-teamer, who averages 14.7 points and 8.3 rebounds, and he is joined down low by teammate Brion Sanchious (6-8, 245). Murray State can also bring 6-9,
240-pounder Jalen DuPree off the bench.
Miller is also a 39 percent 3-point shooter and is second on the team with 65 threes.
The three-guard look of Jonathan Stark, Shaq Buchanan and Ja Morant and they are no slouches.
Buchanan and Morant offer size at 6-3, while Stark is 10th in the nation with 109 3-pointers.
Stark was the OVC Player of the Year after averaging 21.8 points per game and Morant — a freshman point guard — did a little bit of everything, averaging 12.6 points, 6.6 rebounds and 6.4 assists per game.
“I watched a bunch of film [on Sunday] and he’s good,” Huggins said of Morant. “He’s really good for a freshman.”
The Racers’ short rotation of players have combined to become one of the better shooting teams in the nation.
Murray State is the 25th-best shooting team in the country, connecting on 48.5 percent of its attempts.
“You look at how they get what they get,” Huggins said, while looking at the Racers’ stat sheet. “They’re very good free-throw shooting team. They shoot 72 percent from the line.
“They shoot 49 percent from the field, which is pretty good.”
One final point of interest: The Racers will have been off for 13 days before facing the Mountaineers (24-10).
Murray State’s 68-51 victory over Belmont in the OVC final was on March 3 — the same day WVU wrapped up its regular season with a road game at Texas.
“This week, practice wise, we just spent focusing on Murray State and getting the team better,” McMahon said during a press conference Sunday night. “We didn’t do any advance scouting or anything like that. We’ll get to work tonight and then get prepared for West Virginia.”
Huggins said he didn’t expect Pitt’s firing of head coach Kevin Stallings to have any effect on the future of the WVU-Pitt series, which will be in its second season of a four-year deal next season.
“I don’t think so,” Huggins said. “From what I’m hearing, [Pitt] is going to go after Thad Matta or Tom Crean. Thad and I have a great relationship. Tommy and I have a great relationship.”
WVU is scheduled to host the Panthers, on Dec. 8, next season.
According to the contract, there is a buyout clause of $100,000 per games remaining in the deal, or $300,000 in this case.
Any payment is due within 60 days of the breach of contract.