No. 23 Murray State set to play with 1st ranking since 2015

No. 23 Murray State will play two games this week with its first AP Top 25 ranking since 2015

Matt McMahon doesn’t want his Murray State team dwelling on earning an AP Top 25 ranking for the first time in nearly seven years.

Then again, he doesn’t want his 23rd-ranked Racers to just ignore it, either.

“Yeah, it’s a big deal,” McMahon said Monday night.

The Racers cracked Monday’s poll for the first time since spending a week at No. 25 in March 2015. Best known recently for the Ja Morant-led group that won an NCAA Tournament game in 2019, this Murray State team has its own big moment on the AP Top 25 national schedule, first with Thursday’s trip to Tennessee State, followed by Saturday’s visit to Morehead State.

“I think you can enjoy the success that you’re having and the recognition that comes with that, but also stay committed to why you’re successful,” McMahon said. “The hard work, the toughness, the unselfishness, the balance that we have offensively and defensively.

“We have a mature team. They’ve done a great job all season long with those things.”

Murray State (22-2, 12-0 Ohio Valley Conference) hasn’t lost since falling to now-No. 1 Auburn on Dec. 22, with its other loss coming to East Tennessee State in November.

The 2019 team grabbed national attention behind Morant’s brilliance, with the guard averaging 24.5 points and leading the Racers to a first-round NCAA win against Marquette before becoming the No. 2 overall NBA draft pick.

This year’s team is led by 6-foot-5 junior Tevin Brown (17.4 points) and 6-10 junior K.J. Williams (16.3). Both were regular starters during that 2018-19 season, while reserve guard DaQuan Smith was also part of that team.

McMahon figures that year offers lessons in playing with added attention, an asset now that the Racers are in the Top 25.

“I’m sure there’s some hype that comes with being ranked in the Top 25, but it won’t compare to the hype of Ja Morant’s sophomore season and playing in front of sellout crowds everywhere we went, all the autograph seekers and all that,” McMahon said. “Those guys have seen what that looks like.

“They also saw the way Ja Morant handled all the external things that were going on … and how he kept his focus on what matters the most, which was us getting better as a team and enjoying the journey we’re on and staying focused on just winning the next game.”

AT THE TOP

Top-ranked Auburn (22-1, 10-0 Southeastern Conference) has won 19 straight since a double-overtime loss to Connecticut in November. The Tigers play twice this week, first visiting Arkansas on Tuesday before hosting Texas A&M on Saturday.

Second-ranked Gonzaga (19-2, 8-0 West Coast Conference) faces a test with the week’s other new addition to the poll. After hosting Pacific on Thursday, Gonzaga hosts No. 22 Saint Mary’s — which entered the Top 25 on Monday for the first time since early in the 2019-20 season — on Saturday.

RANKED VS. RANKED

The Big Ten and Big East each have multiple matchups of AP Top 25 teams this week.

The biggest comes Tuesday with third-ranked Purdue (20-3, 9-3 Big Ten) hosting No. 13 Illinois (17-5, 10-2), matching a Boilermakers team that reached No. 1 for the first time earlier this season against a Fighting Illini team that has surged up the rankings since returning to the poll after a six-week stint among the unranked.

Elsewhere in the Big Ten, No. 14 Wisconsin visits No. 17 Michigan State, also on Tuesday.

In the Big East, No. 24 Connecticut has a pair of tough matchups, first against No. 18 Marquette on Tuesday and then a trip to No. 25 Xavier on Friday.

The other key matchups come Saturday with No. 10 Baylor’s home game against No. 20 Texas in the Big 12, and No. 12 UCLA’s visit to No. 21 Southern California in the Pac-12.

WATCH LIST

Wyoming is the top vote-getter among the week's unranked teams. Jeff Linder's Cowboys (19-3, 8-1 Mountain West Conference) have lost only once since Christmas. They host Utah State on Tuesday and visit San Jose State on Saturday.

Wyoming last appeared in the AP Top 25 for one week at No. 25 in January 2015. Before that, the Cowboys hadn't been ranked since the 1987-88 team led by Fennis Dembo.

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Follow Aaron Beard on Twitter at https://twitter.com/aaronbeardap

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More AP college basketball: https://apnews.com/hub/college-basketball and https://apnews.com/hub/ap-top-25-college-basketball-poll and https://twitter.com/AP—Top25