These days of very few live sports events being played, it is fun to debate the top list of this or the top list of that as we have explored the tremendous history of the Murray State men’s basketball program since the season ended in March.

BustingBrackets.com did this in a recent article on their take of the top-10 coaches in the Ohio Valley Conference from 2000-20 in which three of the top-5 were Murray State leaders. Current head coach Matt McMahon and former coaches Steve Prohm and Mick Cronin.

That discussion naturally leads to a larger review of the last eight MSU coaches, who have all taken the Racers to the NCAA Tournament. One of the main things you will see in this effort is that all of the winning has come because of great coaches recruiting great talent to compete for the Murray State Racers.

As the list of eight is reviewed, it cannot begin without first exploring the career of Murray State Hall of Fame Coach Ron Greene, who led the Racers from 1978-85, but never made it to the NCAA Tournament. As the only MSU head coach who was also a player for the Racers, Greene was the coach that ushered the Racers into a mindset of having a comprehensive program that would add up to becoming a championship contender nearly every season.

When Greene took over in the fall of 1978, the Racers had not won an OVC championship since 1969. The Racers went from four wins to 23 in Greene’s second season to set the NCAA record and win the OVC title for the first time in 11 seasons. Greene was the last Racer coach that had to compete against perennial OVC power Western Kentucky, and still, the Racers won two OVC titles in Greene’s seven seasons and made two National Invitation Tournament appearances. The Racers got into the NIT in 1980 and defeated Jacksonville and Alabama to reach the quarterfinals before bowing out against Illinois. Greene was inducted into the MSU Hall of Fame in 2016.  

This run of eight-straight coaches taking the Racers to the NCAA Tournament is impressive, so let’s take a look.

Coach Matt McMahon (2015-Present) 5 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 3
OVC Tournament Championships: 2
Overall: 110-51 (.683)
OVC: 65-21 (.755)
All-OVC: Jeffery Moss 2015-16, Jonathan Stark 2016-17, Terrell Miller 2016-17, Jonathan Stark (MVP) 2017-18
Terrell Miller 2017-18, Ja Morant 2017-18, Shaq Buchanan (DPOY) 2018-19, Ja Morant (MVP) (AOY) 2018-19

Current Racer coach Matt McMahon has led the program to a big run of three-straight OVC regular season championships in 2017-18, 2018-19 and 2019-20, marking the fourth time this has been accomplished in school history. Additionally, McMahon’s teams won the OVC Tournament twice, which led to a pair of NCAA appearances and one NCAA win as mentioned above in 2019. The winning has included OVC Player of the Year winners Ja Morant and Jonathan Stark.

In the last three seasons, the Racers are a combined 77-20 (.777) overall and 47-7 (.870) in OVC games. The Racers were Co-OVC champions in 2019-20 (with Belmont) which marked the Racers’ 27th regular season title, the best in the OVC. MSU had an 11-game winning streak last season, which marked the third-straight season in which they had a streak of 10 or more. It’s only the second time this has happened in program history. The first was in the 1930’s.

With the 2020-21 season schedule being finalized in the summer months, the Racers will certainly enjoy playing at home, as was explored recently on GoRacers.com. In the last three seasons, McMahon’s teams are 44-3 (.933) in the CFSB Center. They have also produced a 21-game win streak at arena, which they carry, into the 2020-21 season. Heading into his sixth season, McMahon ranks behind only Carlisle Cutchin in overall winning percentage among MSU coaches with at least five seasons.

Coach Steve Prohm (2011-15) 4 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 2
OVC Tournament Championships: 1
Overall: 104-29 (.791)
OVC: 38-10 (.791)
All-OVC: Isaiah Canaan (MVP) 2011-12, Donte Poole 2011-12, Ivan Aska 2011-12, Isaiah Canaan (Co-MVP) 2012-13, Ed Daniel 2012-13, Cameron Payne (FOY) 2013-14, Jarvis Williams 2013-14, Cameron Payne (MVP)(AOY) 2014-15, Jarvis Williams 2014-15

When Steve Prohm was named head coach after being Billy Kennedy’s assistant for five seasons, he was already immersed in the Murray State culture of great basketball. However, nobody, including Prohm, could’ve predicted what the Racers were able to do in his first season in 2011-12.

MSU was the final undefeated team in NCAA D-I at 23-0 and rose into the top-10 nationally as they reeled off win after win in front of constant sellout crowds at home and on the road. The season ended at the NCAA Tournament where the Racers were a No. 6 seed (highest in program history) and they scored the third win in program history at the Big Dance and tied the school record with 31 wins. Prohm’s 2013-14 team won the College Insider Tournament and in the 2014-15 season, won an OVC record 25 games in a row. MSU missed the NCAA Tournament on a buzzer shot and then missed going to the NIT semifinals on a buzzer shot.

Prohm’s tenure included OVC Player of the Year winners Isaiah Canaan and Cameron Payne.

Coach Billy Kennedy (2006-11) 5 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 2
OVC Tournament Championships: 1
Overall: 107-53 (.668)
OVC: 70-24 (.744)
All-OVC: Bruce Carter 2006-07, Bruce Carter 2007-08, Danero Thomas 2008-09, Isacc Miles 2008-09, Ivan Aska (FOY) 2008-09, Isacc Miles 2009-10, B.J. Jenkins 2009-10, Danero Thomas 2009-10, Tony Easley 2009-10, Isaiah Canaan (FOY) 2009-10, Isaiah Canaan 2010-11, Isacc Miles 2010-11, B.J. Jenkins 2010-11

When Billy Kennedy became the Racer coach in 2006, he began a steady process of building the Racers into a championship team. By the time MSU posted a school-record 31 wins in the 2009-10 season, the Racers were a confident bunch heading into the NCAA Tournament in San Jose, Calif. When the Racers beat Vanderbilt on Danero Thomas’ buzzer shot in the first round of the NCAA Tournament, it marked MSU’s first NCAA win since 1988. Kennedy’s team won another OVC regular season title in 2010-11. Kennedy’s run of success also included several All-OVC players including Danero Thomas, Isacc Miles, B.J. Jenkins, Tony Easley, B.J. Jenkins and a young Isaiah Canaan who was OVC Freshman of the Year and OVC Tournament MVP in 2010.

Coach Mick Cronin (2003-06) 3 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 1
OVC Tournament Championships: 2
Overall: 69-24 (.741)
OVC: 42-10 (.807)
All-OVC: Cuthbert Victor (MVP) 2003-04, Chris Shumate 2003-04, Trey Pearson 2004-05, Shawn Witherspoon 2005-06

Head Coach Mike Cronin’s Racer teams dominated OVC play for three seasons in which they won an amazing winning percentage of more than 80 percent. In the 2005-06 season, the Racers easily won the OVC regular season title with a 17-3 mark. In his first season in 2003-04, the Racers did enough to win the OVC title with a mark of 14-2, but were edged by Austin Peay who ran the table at 16-0.

In a three-season period when the Racers won nearly 75 percent of their games, Cronin coached All-OVC performers Cuthbert Victor, the 2004 OVC Player of the Year and also Chris Shumate, Trey Pearson and Shawn Witherspoon.

Coach Tevester Anderson (1998-03) 5 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 2
OVC Tournament Championships: 2
Overall: 103-52 (.664)
OVC: 60-24 (.714)
All-OVC: Isaac Spencer 1998-99, Aubrey Reese 1998-99, Rod Murray 1998-99, Aubrey Reese (MVP) 1999-00, Isaac Spencer 1999-00, Isaac Spencer 2000-01, Justin Burdine 2000-01, Justin Burdine 2001-02, James Singleton 2001-02, James Singleton 2002-03, Cuthbert Victor 2002-03

Tevester Anderson became head coach after he had a big part of the winning as an assistant coach for Mark Gottfried. Many of the players he helped recruit to Murray State became big time stars with the Racers including Isaac Spencer and Aubrey Reese and also talented players including Justin Burdine, James Singleton and Cuthbert Victor who would be OVC MVP on Mick Cronin’s first MSU team.

Anderson’s teams won a pair of OVC regular season and OVC tournament championships and made two NCAA trips.

Coach Mark Gottfried (1995-98) 3 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 3
OVC Tournament Championships: 2
Overall: 68-24 (.739)
OVC: 40-21 (.769)
All-OVC: Marcus Brown (MVP) 1995-96, Vincent Rainey 1995-96, Vincent Rainey 1996-97, De’Teri Mayes (NOY) 1996-97
Chad Townsend 1996-97, De’Teri Mayes (MVP) (AOY) 1997-98, Chad Townsend 1997-98, Isaac Spencer (NOY) 1997-98

Mark Gottfried’s three-year run still stands as one of the top starts of a Racer head coach. From 1995-98, the Racers won three-straight OVC regular season championships and made two NCAA appearances and set what at the time was a school record 29 wins in the 1997-98 season.

Gottfried was able to coach Marcus Brown and Vincent Rainey to the end of their MSU careers and he also brought in OVC MVP De’Teri Mayes and All-OVC performers Chad Townsend and Isaac Spencer.

Coach Scott Edgar (1991-95) 4 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 3
OVC Tournament Championships: 2
Overall: 79-40 (.663)
OVC: 48-14 (.774)
All-OVC: Popeye Jones (AOY) 1991-92, Frank Allen 1991-92, Frank Allen 1992-93, Marcus Brown 1993-94, Cedric Gumm 1993-94, Marcus Brown (MVP) (AOY) 1994-95, Vincent Rainey 1994-95

Coach Scott Edgar brought a fast and furious style of basketball to Murray State in the early 1990’s that ended with 79 wins in four seasons with three OVC regular season titles and a pair of NCAA appearances.

With Popeye Jones as a senior in Edger’s rookie season, the squad won the OVC regular season and the OVC Tournament which led the Racers to face Edgar’s mentor, Nolan Richardson and the Arkansas Razorbacks at the NCAA Tournament.

The Racers and Tennessee State engaged in one of the best rivalries in any conference in the next three seasons. After falling short of TSU in the 1992-93 season, the Racers surpassed TSU to win the next two regular season titles with records of 13-3 and 15-1.

Edgar was able to coach Popeye Jones and Frank Allen to the end of their great careers and he was able to bring in top talent including two-time OVC Player of the Year Marcus Brown and Vincent Rainey, an eventual two-time All-OVC pick.

Coach Steve Newton (1985-91) 6 Seasons
OVC Regular Season Championships: 4
OVC Tournament Championships: 3
Overall: 116-65 (.640)
OVC: 57-21 (.730)
All-OVC: Chuck Glass 1985-86, Jeff Martin 1986-87, Don Mann 1986-87, Jeff Martin (MVP) (AOY) 1987-88, Don Mann 1987-88, Jeff Martin (MVP) (AOY) 1988-89, Don Mann 1988-89, Popeye Jones (MVP) 1989-90, Chris Ogden 1989-90, Paul King 1989-90, Popeye Jones (MVP) (AOY) 1990-91, Greg Coble 1990-91, Frank Allen 1990-91, Paul King 1990-91

It was the Racers 1987-88 season that started MSU’s run of 29-consecutive winning seasons when they took the fourth-straight OVC regular season championship and won MSU’s first game in the NCAA Tournament with an upset win over North Carolina State. Coach Newton’s teams went on to add another NCAA appearance in 1995. Newton’s teams won four-straight OVC titles under his guidance.

Recruiting the likes of Jeff Martin and Don Mann, the Racers dominated OVC opponents from 1987-91. It was under Newton’s recruiting that the Racers set up a period of four-straight seasons of Jeff Martin and Popeye Jones winning the OVC Player of the Year award (Jones’ senior season was played under Scott Edgar). This marked just the second time one team had won the award in four-straight seasons since Western Kentucky did it from 1964-68. It is a feat that hasn’t happened since. 

photograph
Dave Winder – Associate AD – Media Relations
Murray State University

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