Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to SlipPosted by EJacoby on February 21st, 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.
After cruising along with a top 10-15 ranking for much of the season, UNLV is facing its first patch of serious adversity now, having lost three of its last four games (all on the road). Last week, the Rebels took a loss against a mediocre TCU team and followed that up with a blowout at the hands of New Mexico. UNLV all of a sudden finds itself a distant second in the Mountain West conference standings. Meanwhile, Indiana suffered another slip-up on the road, but Syracuse escaped in their task away from home. Murray State had the best week of all with a massive victory over St. Mary’s in the BracketBuster game, so let’s start things off with the positive trending Racers this week:
Murray State Racers
- Trending UP Because… – They’ve recovered well after dropping their only game of the season. Since falling to Tennessee State at home on February 9, the Racers (26-1, 13-1 OVC) have played their best ball and capped it off with a dominant win against St. Mary’s in the primetime ESPN BracketBuster matchup on Saturday. They still have two road games remaining against the best the OVC has to offer, but Murray State is undoubtedly headed to the NCAA Tournament now, and they certainly passed the national-audience eye test as a team with some weapons that can do damage offensively.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Donte Poole. He led the team in scoring with an 18.0 PPG average in the past week, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals as well. The senior guard carried the Racers with 25 points in their Wednesday win at Southeast Missouri State.
- Play of the Week – This ESPN announcer has now idea how to pronounce Isaiah Canaan’s name (it’s CAN-non, like the weapon), but watch this sweet alley-oop from the star guard to Brandon Garrett for a big-time dunk.
- Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about how the win over St. Mary’s could help his team’s postseason seed: “If we can finish the season strong, it gives us a chance to get a good seed. But, regardless of where you’re seeded – five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 – you’re going to play somebody good.”
- Can’t Win For Losing? - It’s starting to look like taking a loss was the best thing that could have happened to this team. By losing at home, Murray State removed the pressure off its back to run the table, and the Racers have played much better since the public doubted their legitimacy as a Tournament team. The win against St. Mary’s was their toughest opponent in over two months and the least amount of points they’ve allowed in over six weeks.
- Stats Central – For the season the Racers are now shooting 41.3% from three and allowing opponents to shoot just 29.2% in that area. A massive gap, Murray ranks in the top 20 nationally in both statistics.
- What’s Next? – Murray State finishes the regular season this week with two challenging road games. First is a rematch at Tennessee State on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU) against the only team it has lost to this season. Then the Racers travel to Tennessee Tech on Saturday (8:30 PM ET) against the team ranked fourth in the OVC. Both are losable games, but Murray should win if it can play at the level it has over the past week and a half.
- Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
- This Week’s Key Cog – C.J Fair. The sophomore forward continues to improve and show off his versatile game. Against Rutgers, he had a team- and career-high 21 points with eight rebounds, two steals, and one block and played a team-high 38 minutes despite starting on the bench as he always does.
- Play of the Week – This combo is starting to become lethal to both interior defenders and the rim. Once again, Scoop Jardine hooked up with Fair for an awesome alley-oop. See below to watch Fair go reverse with the jam:
- Talking Point – Coach Jim Boeheim on his team’s collective performance in clutch situations: “This team’s made plays when games have been close late. Veteran guys make plays. Everybody’s said all along ‘OK who’s going to make plays?’ We got a lot of guys who make plays. I think that’s going to be a good thing. It has been a good thing for us and that’s why where we’re at – different guys can make plays.”
- Dealing with Depth - Widely considered as having the deepest team in the country, Boeheim now has to deal with trimming his rotation to just eight or nine players for the postseason. Against Rutgers, only seven players got run for more than 10 minutes. Baye Moussa Keita, Rakeem Christmas, and James Southerland all played limited minutes and combined for zero points. Keep an eye on how the rotation shakes out down the stretch.
- Stats Central – Wondering how the Orange score so many points in transition? Syracuse ranks third in the country in both steals per game (9.9) and blocks per game (7.1), which usually leads to live play turnovers that convert into easy baskets on the other end.
- What’s Next? – Syracuse gets South Florida at home on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, Big East Network/SNY) before hitting the road to a desperate Connecticut team on Saturday (9:00 PM ET, ESPN) for a primetime matchup.
- Trending DOWN Because… – The Hoosiers channeled their poor play from early in the conference slate as they dropped a game at Iowa on Sunday by double digits. Indiana (20-7, 8-7 Big Ten) is barely clinging to a spot in the AP Poll and didn’t even qualify for this week’s RTC Top 25. They’ve still won three of four overall, but IU is not making a believer out of anyone with a 2-6 record in Big Ten road games.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Cody Zeller. The freshman stud continues to impress despite his team’s defensive shortcomings. Zeller scored 23 points in a win over Northwestern on Wednesday and did his best to keep his team in it at Iowa with 15 points, 13 boards, and two blocks.
- Play of the Week – Nothing crazy here, but watch Victor Oladipo finish a nifty and-one after a steal against Northwestern.
- Talking Point – Guard Jordan Hulls explained what went wrong in the loss to Iowa: “Give credit to Iowa. They came in and played a lot harder than we did. Outrebounded us, outdid us in pretty much everything, so that’s all on us.”
- Mocking the Mock – In the NCAA & select media members’ mock NCAA Tournament selection process this weekend, the Hoosiers wound up with a No. 3 seed. That was before they suffered the bad loss to Iowa, which would likely push them down to a No. 4 or even No. 5 seed if the postseason started today.
- Stats Central - IU allowed Iowa senior guard Matt Gatens to go off for 7-10 shooting from three-point range in Sunday’s loss. That’s becoming a problem for the Hoosiers, who rank 8th in the Big Ten in three-point field goal percentage defense (34.9%).
- What’s Next? – One of the weirder schedule quirks we can remember will take place for Indiana this week as it hosts the North Carolina Central Eagles of the MEAC on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET) against a team with an RPI of #262. Things return to normal when the Hoosiers play at Minnesota on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, ESPN) in a nationally televised game that is a must-win for their opponent.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
- Trending DOWN Because… – They’ve dropped two straight games and three of their last four, all on the road. We thought that the Rebels were a road-tested ballclub, but critics are proving themselves right as UNLV (22-6, 6-4 Mountain West) has played far worse away from Vegas. Now the Rebels are a full two games behind New Mexico in the conference standings and sit at No. 18 in this week’s RTC Top 25.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Anthony Marshall. Though the team lost both games over the past week, junior guard Marshall put forth a strong individual effort by averaging 17.5 points, 8.0 rebounds, and 3.0 assists in the two games at TCU and at New Mexico.
- Play of the Week – Not the usual kind of top highlight, but watch how Chace Stanback creates space to nail this corner three-pointer against TCU.
- Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice talked about what gave the team trouble against New Mexico on Saturday: “They’re terrific on the defensive end. They just challenge you to make shots from the perimeter and unfortunately we were not able to do that today.”
- Bad and Worse - In the loss at TCU, the Rebels allowed a season-high 102 points to their opponent in the overtime loss. Then on Saturday, UNLV scored a season-worst 45 points at New Mexico. It was simply a bad week for this team.
- Stats Central – In the loss to New Mexico, UNLV allowed Lobos forward Drew Gordon to score 27 points with 20 rebounds. With that performance, Gordon became just the fifth player in the past decade to go for 20-20 against a ranked team. It was not a good look for the Rebels to be on the receiving end of it.
- What’s Next? – Looking to get back on track, UNLV plays two home games this week against conference bottom feeders Boise State (Wednesday, 10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) and Air Force (Saturday, 4:00 PM ET, NBC Sports Network).