Keeping Score

College Basketball: Why It’s Harder Than Ever to Stay Undefeated

Up until Thursday's game, Murray State University had a 23-0 record. But there hasn't been a completely undefeated team since 1976 — and for good reason.

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Stephen Lance Dennee / AP

Murray State students wave signs to distract a Tennessee State player in the second half of an NCAA college basketball game on Thursday, Feb. 9, 2012, in Murray, Ky. Tennessee State won 72-68.

Another perfect college basketball season has been foiled.

Murray State University  — of Murray, Ky, and a longtime standout in the Ohio Valley Conference — became the final undefeated college team this season to suffer a loss, as the Racers fell to Tennessee State on Thursday night, 72-68. Murray State now owns a 23-1 record, and will probably fall out of the top-1o national rankings when the next poll comes out on Monday.

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In truth, despite this loss, Murray State was unlikely to march through the NCAA Tournament undefeated anyway. The Racers would have become the first men’s college team to finish with a perfect season since 1976, when Bob Knight’s Indiana Hoosiers were 32-0. On paper, at least, the Racers don’t match up against traditional powers like Syracuse, North Carolina and Duke — though Butler’s run to the last two national championship games has proven that there’s nothing average about the successful “mid-major” teams.

Still, it’s just harder to stay perfect in today’s college game than ever before. The reason, coaches say, is technology. With the ease in which teams can scout their opponents through advanced video and statistical analysis, it’s almost impossible for a team to stay a step ahead of its opponents for the duration of the regular season, then a conference tournament, then the 68-team March Madness extravaganza.

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So we’re not saying it’s impossible for an undefeated college team to raise the championship trophy on that Monday night in April, with the “One Shining Moment” theme playing over the stadium loudspeakers, and in the homes of millions of fans. But 36 years after Indiana’s perfect season, don’t be surprised if, 36 years from now, no one has matched the Hoosiers.

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