Tracking The Four: Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection Ends EarlyPosted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.
It was only a matter of time. Murray State had been narrowly escaping against OVC competition in the past few games, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that the Racers lost their first game of the year on Thursday against a Tennessee State team ranked second in the conference standings. The loss certainly hurts the team’s postseason seeding and kills off the major story that was the undefeated season, but the team may actually benefit from shedding that spotlight off their back. They have a quick turnaround with their most challenging week of the season upcoming. Elsewhere, Syracuse just completed a monster week of wins, and UNLV and Indiana handled business with big home victories. Let’s get to this week’s outlook:
- Trending UP Because… – They had an awesome week, solidifying themselves as a top team in the land alongside Kentucky. Cuse played tight games against Georgetown and at Louisville, but great late-game execution lead to victories. Throw in Saturday’s win over Connecticut and the Orange are now 26-1 and 13-1 in the Big East, looking like a near-lock for a #1 seed come March Madness.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Kris Joseph. Who said this team doesn’t have a go-to guy? Joseph scored 29 points, including the game-winning three in overtime, in Wednesday’s win over Georgetown. He averaged a team-high 17.0 points per game in the three victories.
- Play of the Week – A sweet alley-oop from Scoop Jardine to C.J. Fair from nearly half court was a momentum builder in Saturday’s win over UConn.
- Talking Point – Coach Jim Boeheim talked about Monday’s ugly win at Louisville, which ended with a score of 52-51: “You can either give the defenses credit or say it was a bad offensive game. We’re going to look on the bright side and say it was a real defensive struggle tonight.”
- Erasing History - The Orange had lost seven straight games to Louisville heading into Monday’s matchup, and it looked like the streak was going to reach eight when the team trailed by five points with under 4:00 to play. But Jardine and Joseph, two seniors who have never beaten the Cards, were able to erase that history and taste their first ever victory against Rick Pitino’s squad when they closed out the game with strong defense.
- Stats Central – Monday’s victory was nothing to write home about. Syracuse averages a conference-leading 111.9 offensive efficiency in Big East games, but they only recorded an 89.7 rating in the game against Louisville. Nonetheless, they held the Cardinals to an 87.9 efficiency themselves and walked way with a one-point road victory.
- What’s Next? – The Orange play just once this week, at Rutgers on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, ESPN) against a struggling Scarlet Knights team. However, Rutgets has already defeated Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame at home this season, and the RAC has become a tough place to play.
Murray State Racers
- Trending DOWN Because… – They lost a game! The undefeated season ended with a home loss to Tennessee State on Thursday. The Racers (24-1, 12-1 OVC) did recover, though, with a big win over Austin Peay on Saturday, 82-63. Perhaps removing that burden of going undefeated will help this team play its best down the stretch.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Isaiah Canaan. The mid-major superstar single-handedly got his team back in the game against Tennessee State, but just came up short in the end. Nonetheless, he earned his fifth Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week award, sharing it this week with T-State’s Robert Covington. Canaan averaged 27.0 points, 4.0 rebounds, and 3.5 assists per game while hitting 68.2% from the field, 66.7% from three-point range and 82.4% from the free throw line during the week.
- Play of the Week – So the Racers did lose this week, right after ESPN recorded their ‘Knight Watch’ segment breaking down the team’s strengths, but the video is still worth watching. It highlights several of the team’s top plays this season:
- Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked after the game about the team’s first loss of the season, and he turned it into a positive moment rather than sulking: “I’ve got to do a better job in some areas to make sure we’re doing a better job executing at times. But, I’m proud. I’m extremely proud of our guys. We had an amazing run, 23 wins in a row. I’m sure we set a lot of records along the way, but now we’ve got to be totally locked in on winning a conference championship.”
- Dickie V Comes to Town - On the call for this weekend’s BracketBusters game against St. Mary’s will be ESPN’s Dave O’Brien and Dick Vitale. This is a special game, being the top billing of the BracketBusters challenge event, senior day for Jewuan Long, Ivan Aska, and Donte Poole, and a sellout crowd between the first pair of ranked teams ever to play in the CFSB Center.
- Stats Central – The Racers are ranked #57 in the RPI, #46 in ESPN’s BPI, and #68 in KenPom’s rankings. Might they be in trouble if they lose more games this season? Murray’s schedule is quite challenging down the stretch, so they need to play their best basketball of the season to ensure themselves of a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
- What’s Next? – It’s a massive week for Murray State. On Wednesday they head to Southeast Missouri State (8:00 PM ET) to face the Redhawks, who they nearly lost to at home 12 days ago. SEMO is third in the OVC conference at 9-4. Then, the Racers get primetime ESPN billing on Saturday against St. Mary’s (6:00 PM ET, ESPN). The Gaels are 23-3, ranked #21 in the AP Poll, and could be favored in the BracketBuster matchup. It will be a tremendous game to watch this weekend.
- Trending EVEN Because… – They handled business by defeating Illinois at home in their only game during the week. Indiana (19-6, 7-6 Big Ten) looks to be playing better basketball recently and has a fairly favorable conference schedule to finish off the season.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Jordan Hulls. Several Hoosiers played well in the win, but it was Hulls who was especially effective, scoring 15 points with seven assists and four rebounds against the Illini. The sharpshooter hit 3-4 from deep, as well.
- Play of the Week – In this highlight, Cody Zeller finishes a powerful dunk by unintentionally landing on an Illinois player on his way down from the rim, in what is both a top play and a blooper.
- Talking Point – Coach Tom Crean talked about the opponent’s strategy to try to rough up his freshman center Zeller: “I think if you’re going to get physical with him, he’s going to respond. The only soft thing about Cody is that he’s soft-spoken on the court sometimes, but other than that he’s a tough, tough person.”
- Freebies – On the season, Indiana has nearly made as many free throws (465) as their opponents have attempted (489). Thursday’s game helped that stat greatly as they went 35-42 from the line while Illinois shot just 12-15.
- Stats Central - Who says Indiana lives and dies by the three-ball? The Hoosiers actually lead the conference in free throws made and field goals made during Big Ten play, and they’re only fourth in three-pointers made. The offensive balance has led to a conference-leading 111.4 offensive efficiency during Big Ten games.
- What’s Next? – The Hoosiers will be favored in both games this week, first at home against Northwestern on Wednesday (6:30 PM ET, Big Ten Network), then on the road at Iowa on Sunday (6:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network). Neither game is a lock, though, as the Wildcats are a bubble team dying for a road victory and the Hawkeyes have already defeated Michigan and Minnesota at home this year.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
- Trending EVEN Because… – They nearly gave the game away, but UNLV pulled out the victory on Saturday against San Diego State to pull even with the Aztecs and the Lobos for a tie atop the Mountain West standings. These three teams are all 6-2 and will be battling until the very last game of the season for MW supremacy.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Mike Moser. The redshirt sophomore was named Mountain West Player of the Week for his performance against SDSU. Moser tallied 19 points, nine rebounds, six steals, and four blocks in a dominant game, especially on the defensive end. The Rebels made just three field goals in the final 10 minutes of the game but sealed the victory with many key defensive stops, several by Moser.
- Play of the Week – Down by one against SDSU, Anthony Marshall turned a defensive steal into a transition layup for what turned out to be the game-winning basket with 37 seconds to play on Saturday.
- Talking Point – Guard Justin Hawkins on how the team pulled out this victory with their defense: “In the last two minutes, we started guarding the way we’re supposed to. I think we showed we want to be Mountain West champions.”
- Special Season - Moser’s Player of the Week honor marked the fourth time he’s been recognized with that award this season. That ties former Rebels great Larry Johnson for most in single-season program history. LJ won the MW Player of the Week four times en route to being named the 1990-91 National Player of the Year.
- Stats Central – Starting forward Brice Massamba averages just 5.8 points per game, but he scored the first 10 points for UNLV of the second half of Saturday’s game! It was a major boost that gave the Rebels a comfortable lead to work with for the second half, which allowed them to win despite scoring just three baskets in the final 10 minutes.
- What’s Next? – UNLV plays at TCU on Tuesday (7:30 PM ET, The Mountain) before a massive game this weekend. They head into The Pit to play New Mexico on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS) in their final game against one of their top conference competitors. That game will have major Mountain West title implications.