The Belmont men’s basketball team will face its rival Murray State on Thursday, in a game showcasing some of the most talented athletes in the Ohio Valley Conference.
Belmont’s Dylan Windler and Murray State’s Ja Morant have both gained national attention as NBA prospects during the 2018-2019 season so far.
The Bruins — who have a conference record of 4-2 — will need to win against the Racers if they want a chance at the OVC regular season title. The Racers are currently sitting at No. 1 in the OVC with a conference record of 6-0.
Unlike many of Belmont’s opponents, Murray State and Belmont only play each other once each season, adding an extra level of anticipation to the rivalry.
Over the past seven years, the Bruins have defeated the Racers in six of nine matchups, including three meetings in the OVC tournament final.
In 2018, Belmont defeated Murray State during the regular season, but Murray State came back to beat Belmont in the OVC tournament final, 68-51.
Heading into the 2018-2019 season, Belmont was picked to win the conference in the OVC Preseason Poll. Murray State came in second, only a couple of overall votes behind Belmont.
In the same poll, Windler was named OVC Preseason Player of the Year, while Morant made the All-OVC Preseason team.
Murray State was the only school to offer Morant a scholarship even though he played on the same Ametuer Athletic Union team as Duke superstar Zion Williamson.
Since then, Morant has taken off, jumping into the top three in many NBA mock drafts.
In the most recent NBA Mock Draft, Morant is predicted to go second overall. Analysts on ESPN and Bleacher Report are referring to Morant as one of the most exciting players to watch in mid-major basketball.
The superstar has had two dunks go viral, bringing media attention to his crazy statistics.
Morant is currently averaging 24.3 points per game, 5.9 rebounds per game and 10.6 assists per game. No one else in all of college basketball is averaging as many assists.
Windler has also had a stellar season, averaging 18.9 points per game, 9.3 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game.
He is ranked 45th on ESPN’s most recent “NBA Draft 2019 Best Remaining Players.”
Morant is ranked third overall in the same poll.
Though Morant and Windler will likely play major roles in Thursday night’s outcome, both teams are also stacked with other strong players.
Murray State’s Shaq Buchanan and Tevin Brown are both scoring over 12 points per game and playing more than 30 minutes per game.
Belmont senior Kevin McClain is averaging 14.6 points per game and playing the most minutes on average of any Bruin this season.
The Bruins have also relied heavily on talent from the freshman class.
One of those freshmen, Nick Muszynski, is on pace to be named OVC Freshman of the Year, averaging 15.1 points per game, 6.6 rebounds per game and 2.5 assists per game.
The freshman center has been named OVC Freshman of the Week four times and shows no sign of slowing down.
With so much talent on the court, Thursday’s matchup will most likely be a display of athleticism and talent that OVC fans won’t see again for a while.