South's Greatest Basketball Programs: No. 25 Murray State Racers

Ryne E. HancockCorrespondent IMarch 15, 2010

In 2007-08, I did a countdown of the 25 greatest college basketball programs in the South. Beginning today, we're going to take a closer look at those programs just in time for March Madness.

Murray State University

Location: Murray, Kentucky

Nickname: Racers (some people call the teams the Thoroughbreds)

Reason For Nickname: Kentucky has a strong horse racing tradition. That should explain everything.

Colors: Old Gold and Blue

Conference: Ohio Valley Conference

Arena: Regional Special Events Center (built 1998, capacity 8,602)

OVC Champions: Regular Season (1951, 1964, 1968, 1969, 1980, 1982, 1983, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2006, 2010). Tournament Champions (1951, 1964, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010)

NCAA Appearances: 1964, 1968, 1988, 1990, 1991, 1992, 1995, 1997, 1998, 1999, 2002, 2004, 2006, 2010)

NIT Appearances: 1980, 1982, 1983, 1989, 1994, 1996

Coaching Legacy: Murray State was the starting point for coaches such as Mark Gottfried, who won three conference championships in as many years during his time in Murray.

In 1997-98, the Racers won a then-school record 29 games en route to the Big Dance and another conference championship, which would prove to be the springboard he needed to accept the job at Alabama the following year. After Gottfried left, Tevester Anderson continued the success by winning conference crowns in 1999, 2000, and 2002.

In 2003, future Cincinnati head coach Mick Cronin would take over and lead the Racers to conference championships in 2004 and 2006.

Big Man on Campus: The program’s most famous player was none other than former Wizards standout Popeye Jones, who is fourth in school history in points with 2,057.

Jones also helped Murray State win conference championships in 1991 and 1992 and also had the honor of having his #54 retired, which now hangs in the rafters at the Regional Special Events Center. He is currently an assistant coach with the Dallas Mavericks.

Rivalries: For many years, Murray State and Western Kentucky has had a strong and heated rivalry that encompassed four decades. In fact, the reason for Coach E.A. Diddle’s famous red towel was because of a close and hard-fought game against the Racers in the 1940’s.

Did You Know? Joe Fulks, the inventor of the jump shot, was a standout during the 1940’s at Murray State for two years before joining the Marines during World War II.

Murray State Basketball by the Numbers

Seasons: 86

Postseason Appearances: 20

NCAA Tournament Appearances: 14

OVC Regular Season Titles: 20

OVC Conference Tournament Titles: 14