Tracking The Four: UNLV Enters Top 10, Indiana Nearly Drops Out EntirelyPosted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012
Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular contributor. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. TT4 will cover four selected teams of interest – Syracuse, Indiana, Murray State, and UNLV – by tracking their ups, downs, and exciting developments throughout the course of the season.
This week in TT4, the team out in Vegas has entered the top 10 in the RTC rankings. UNLV continues to impress, this time getting it done with back-to-back gritty overtime wins on the road. Meanwhile, Syracuse escaped for a win with some help from the referees, and Murray State found out whom they’re playing in BracketBusters for a major upcoming challenge. Our only team trending downward, Indiana, scored 50 points in a loss and 103 points in a win in consecutive games, and we’ll try to make sense of it all. With plenty of important news to get to, let’s jump into this week’s breakdown:
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
- Trending UP Because… – It wasn’t pretty, but they survived two road tests in the past week with victories at Boise State and Air Force. Now, the Runnin’ Rebels (20-3, 4-1 MW) are in the RTC Top 10 and are knocking on the Top 10 door of the AP and USA Today Polls as well. Most bracket projections have Dave Rice’s team as a #3 seed, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you see this team play. Tough tests remain, and a few losses surely await in the competitive Mountain West, but UNLV is proving to be one of the most explosive teams in America.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Mike Moser. For the second straight week and fifth time this season, a Reb was named MW Player of the Week. This time it was Moser, for the third time, after he averaged 22.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 51.7% from the field in two road victories.
- Play of the Week – Check out Oscar Bellfield’s set-up to Moser for the alley oop in this highlight against Air Force on Saturday.
- Talking Point – Coach Rice drove home the point that he was happy with the road win at Air Force, no matter how much the team struggled at times: “The bottom line is, we found a way to win. We got huge stops down the stretch when we needed them and made huge offensive plays as well. Now we’re back fighting for a conference title again.”
- Sick Performance - Moser not only dominated the Falcons on Saturday, but he also put up a career-high 21 rebounds with 18 points in the Wednesday win at Boise State — all while he was ill. The forward was battling a sore throat and head cold and had been vomiting before the game, yet still came through with one of his best games of the season.
- Stats Central – Chace Stanback had the worst shooting performance of his career on Saturday (1-10 from the field, two points), but he contributed in other ways with six rebounds, four assists, and four steals, including the crucial one with two seconds remaining to seal the victory.
- What’s Next? – The Rebels have two tough matchups this week, first a home game against Colorado State on Wednesday (10:30 PM ET), followed by a road date at Wyoming on Saturday (4:00 PM ET). CSU is ranked #15 in the RPI and a current NCAA bubble team while Wyoming is 12-2 at home this season. Both games are televised on The Mountain TV Network.
Murray State Racers
- Trending EVEN Because… – They remained undefeated after Ivan Aska returned to the lineup on Saturday and helped propel the team to an easy victory over Eastern Illinois. Much tougher games remain, including the BracketBusters matchup on February 18 that has finally been scheduled by ESPN. The Racers (21-0, 9-0 OVC) will take on No. 13 St. Mary’s at home in the marquee game of the mid-major showcase, and that will be a dandy. The Racers hope to still be undefeated at that time, though they have five games to play before then including a couple against top league competition.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Donte Poole. The less heralded guard alongside star Isaiah Caanan, Poole continues to prove that he can be a dangerous player, too. The senior guard led the team in scoring (18 points), assists (six dimes), and steals (two swipes) against EIU on Saturday in an efficient 7-11 shooting performance in just 28 minutes.
- Play of the Week – Thirty seconds into this clip, watch forward Ed Daniel throw down a nasty putback dunk over an EIU defender.
- Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about the return of his leading big man: “I thought [Aska] did good. He sat down with me on the bench and said, ‘Coach, I had a little nerves,’ but that’s normal he hadn’t played in almost a month. But I think the best moment is just the appreciation from the fans to get up and give him a standing ovation – that was pretty awesome.”
- Sold Out! - The Racers had only seen four sellouts of the CFSB Center since 1998, but fans flocked to the tune of back-to-back sellout crowds for the first time ever after the EIU game was at full capacity. Murray’s previous home game was two weeks prior against Tennessee Tech. Fans will look to continue the streak this week.
- Stats Central – Though they remained undefeated without him, the Racers definitely missed their best interior player while he was injured. With Aska in the lineup, the Racers’ scoring margin was 16.5 points. In the six games he missed, Murray won its games by an average of 10.5 points. Aska averages 12.3 points and 5.8 rebounds per game.
- What’s Next? – This week includes the first of two meetings with top conference contender Southeast Missouri State, in which the Racers get SEMO at home on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU). Then, Murray travels to Tennessee-Martin on Saturday (7:00 PM ET) against the winless Skyhawks (0-10 in conference). Thursday’s game against 7-2 SEMO will be televised on ESPNU, so be sure to watch if you have not seen the Racers play!
- Trending EVEN Because… – They won their lone game of the week by fending off West Virginia for a two-point victory at home on Saturday. It was an uninspired performance by the Orange, who remain without Fab Melo due to suspension and were aided by a horrific blown goaltending call on the final possession of the game that would have tied the game for the Mountaineers. You can see footage of the play below in the Play of the Week. Syracuse (22-1, 9-1 Big East) still came out victorious in the end, and they have just one game this week as they continue to whether the storm of their lackluster play without Melo.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Brandon Triche. The junior guard scored a team-high 18 points on Saturday on 7-12 shooting with two assists and two steals. He also hit two three-pointers and continues to shoot the three-ball with more confidence and deeper range.
- Play of the Week – You know what it is – here’s the highlight of Deniz Kilicli’s layup that was clearly goaltended by Baye Moussa Keita on the final possession that would have tied the game for WVU. Instead, no call was made and the Mountaineers could not convert another basket.
- Talking Point – First, Keita admitted that he thought he committed the goaltending violation: “I’m just supposed to try to block those shots. Luckily, I got it and the ref missed it (the call).” Then, West Virginia coach Bob Huggins was asked if he thought it was a blown call: “Do I think it was? No. I know it was. I saw the replay.” Not a bright moment for the Big East referees in this one.
- Thieves in the Night - All eight Syracuse players recorded at least one steal against West Virginia on Saturday for a team total of 11 swipes. The Orange rank second in the nation with their 10.3 steals per game average.
- Stats Central – The combination of playing zone defense and missing their top big man is leaving Syracuse vulnerable on the offensive boards. The Orange were thrashed 41-20 on the glass by West Virginia, and the Mountaineers grabbed 19 offensive rebounds that nearly matched SU’s entire total on both ends.
- What’s Next? – It’s another slow week for Syracuse, which plays at St. John’s in Madison Square Garden on Saturday (12:00 PM ET, ESPN) for its lone game of the week. The Red Storm are an improving team that lost by just seven points at Duke on Saturday after they had previously hammered West Virginia by 16 at home. The Orange must be careful in this one, though they have plenty of time to prepare.
- Trending DOWN Because… – Another loss on Thursday at Wisconsin made it four of the last five in the L column for the Hoosiers. Tom Crean’s team rebounded for a home victory against Iowa on Sunday, but Indiana remains merely a .500 team in the Big Ten at 5-5. They have two difficult road games this week, and the team is just 1-4 in conference road games with only a victory over bottom-feeder Penn State. The talent is still clearly there with this team, as witnessed by their 103-point performance against Iowa, but IU needs to gain some confidence with a road win or two and figure out how to run their offense more effectively in hostile environments.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Cody Zeller. Nothing new here. The freshman forward went off for a career-high 26 points on Sunday with an astonishing 11-12 performance from the field. He chipped in four rebounds, four assists, three steals, one block, and no turnovers in that victory as well. He scored just seven points with three rebounds at Wisconsin the game before, but nobody on the team played particularly well in that game.
- Play of the Week – The ESPN highlight reel against Iowa is full of Zeller dunks, so choose your favorite!
- Talking Point – Tom Crean knows how tough it will be to defeat Michigan on the road this week, and told the media about it on Tuesday: “I think they have really continued to build on what they have done since John (Beilein) has been there. I think you are going to deal with a unique system of offense with a lot of cutting and movement. They are tremendous with the ball screens and they mix their defenses well. I think the one thing they are doing this year, not just judging from our first game with them this year but overall, is they are rebounding the ball so much better.”
- Dropping Out? – IU has slipped to No. 22 in most recent RTC rankings and remains at No. 20 in the AP Poll. With two road games this week in which they will be underdogs, the Hoosiers may not be sporting a number next to their name by the time we give a new update next week.
- Stats Central - The Hoosiers more than doubled their offensive output in their two games last week from Thursday at Wisconsin to Sunday vs. Iowa. Against the Hawkeyes, IU shot 21 more field goals, 21 more free throws, recorded 16 more assists, and scored 53 more points on way to a 139.2 offensive efficiency that blows away the 93.4 they put up against Wisconsin.
- What’s Next? – Huge week. Indiana plays at Michigan on Wednesday (6:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network) and at Purdue on Saturday (7:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network). The Wolverines are 12-0 at home, the Boilermakers are 10-2 at home, and both teams are above the Hoosiers in the Big Ten standings. If IU wants to legitimize their conference standing, they need to win one of these games.