BY COLIN FLY, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
Murray State coach Steve Prohm was more than willing to trade a higher seed in the NCAA tournament for the opportunity to begin play in Louisville.
So instead of dwelling on being given a six seed in the West region and a matchup with Colorado State, the Racers are focused on playing in their home state on Thursday.
"Who knows what goes into seedings," Prohm said. "At the end of the day, (we're) excited about being in Louisville. If they put as a six seed because of location, I hope we do have 7, 8,000, 9,000 fans from Murray come over and support us."
Murray State (30-1) finished the regular season ranked 11th and is the only team in Division I not to lose on the road this year. But the Racers will have had an 11-day gap between their victory in the Ohio Valley Conference championship and when they play their first game against the Rams (20-11) in the NCAA tournament.
Prohm said he's glad to know who he is playing and can move forward.
"I'm glad that's all behind us so now we can concentrate on the game," he said. "Now it's time to play."
While the Racers have been historically strong, this year has exceeded every expectation under their rookie coach .Prohm, a long-time assistant to Billy Kennedy, took over after Kennedy departed for Texas A&M.
The Racers have won three straight regular-season Ohio Valley Conference titles and two of the past three conference tournaments. In 2010, Murray State reached the second round of the NCAA tournament, but fell to eventual runner-up Butler by two points when Canaan's pass was deflected in the closing seconds.
Senior Jewuan Long said this time it's different because they're a higher seed instead of the 13 like in 2010.
"They know who Murray State is," Long said. "They're not going to look over us. For us, we've just got to come out like we did against Vanderbilt, against Butler. We've got to come out hungry and play like underdogs."
After falling in the conference tournament last year, the Racers are back and have been the darlings of the mid-major ranks all season by starting the year on a 23-game winning streak as Division I's last unbeaten team.
When Murray State blew a 13-point second-half lead and lost to Tennessee State on Feb. 9, the Racers avenged the setback twice — once on the Tigers home court and again in the finals of the conference tournament to erase any doubt about their one lackluster performance of the season.
Prohm has been a steady force all year by letting his team play and work through its issues on the court instead of trying to micromanage a group of upperclassmen and playmakers that includes Canaan and Donte Poole on the perimeter with Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel patrolling the paint. Long is the defensive stopper, but isn't afraid in the spotlight and hit the winning bucket in the OVC title game.
"I'm glad we got in Louisville," Long said. "I'm looking forward to seeing a lot of blue and gold. I'm just excited about that."
The Racers biggest threats come from beyond the arc. Murray State hits 3-pointers at 40.6 percent clip, good for sixth overall in the country and Canaan leads the way by making 47.3 percent of his 3s to lead the team by averaging 19.2 points per game.
Teams have tried to keep him from handling the ball, but Canaan hasn't been afraid to pull up from anywhere or defer to the Racers' other 3-pointer specialists: Poole (39.2 percent), Long (44.9 percent) or Stacy Wilson (37.5 percent).
Murray State's biggest weakness, meanwhile, comes on the glass. The Racers have been outrebounded in 13 games this season and lack the type of size they'll see in the tournament with just one regular — reserve Brandon Garrett — taller than 6-foot-7. The Rams of the Mountain West Conference are similarly undersized.
It also remains to be seen just how the Racers react when they finally return to the court. While most teams played in their conference tournaments last week, Murray State will have had 11 days off between games, by far the Racers' longest layoff of the season.
Prohm said he'll begin preparation immediately, watching two game tapes on Sunday night and two more on Monday morning before installing a game plan.
"I won't sleep a lot," Prohm said. "We've got our hands full."