Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home StretchPosted by EJacoby on February 28th, 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.
The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.
UNLV Runnin’ Rebels
- Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Chace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
- Play of the Week – After a turnover, Anthony Marshall misses the layup but Mike Moser finishes strong with a putback jam against Boise State on Wednesday.
- Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
- Handicapping the Race – Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
- Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
- What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.
Murray State Racers
- Trending UP Because… – The Racers finished off the regular season in strong fashion, taking down Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech on the road to head into the OVC Tournament flying high at 28-1 overall and 15-1 in conference. Murray State will be heavy favorites to win the conference tournament, but it will still qualify for a solid NCAA Tournament seed even with a loss before the championship game.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Isaiah Canaan. The star guard polished off his All-America candidacy by leading his team in scoring in both final victories, averaging 21.0 points, 3.0 rebounds, 4.0 assists, and 1.5 steals during the week.
- Play of the Week – Senior guard Jewuan Long finished off the Tennessee State victory with authority with this one-handed dunk in transition.
- Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm on finishing the regular season strong: “There was a lot of reasons we could have just said, ‘You know what? Let’s just head on back and get ready for the OVC Tournament.’ But we’ve got a lot of character, a lot of toughness, a lot of resiliency, and we’ve shown it all year.”
- Lifetime Achievement Awards – Seniors Ivan Aska, Donte Poole, and Long were recognized this week for being involved in 100 wins during their four seasons at Murray State, eclipsing the previous record of 99 wins for a senior class.
- Stats Central – The Racers have been fantastic away from home this season. The only team in the country not to lose a road game, Murray State’s +10.9 average scoring margin in road games ranks second in the nation.
- What’s Next? – It’s championship week for the Racers. They received a double-bye in the OVC tournament and will await their challenger in the semifinals of the tournament on Friday.
- Trending EVEN Because… – It hasn’t been pretty lately, but Syracuse just keeps on winning. The Orange (29-1, 16-1 Big East) trailed South Florida at home on Wednesday for much of the first half before making a run and escaping with an eight-point victory. Then, Saturday night in Storrs was the College Gameday primetime game that saw the Orange play poorly in the second half but still eke out a two-point road win on the final possession. They still look all the part of an NCAA Tournament #1 seed.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Scoop Jardine. The senior point guard was a true leader in the past week, getting his team to execute down the stretch of close games. He led the Orange in scoring on Wednesday and in assists on Saturday, combining to average 11.0 points, 3.5 rebounds, 5.0 assists, and 2.5 steals during the week.
- Play of the Week – The full highlights from Saturday’s victory over UConn are worth watching. The clip is only 1:21 long and full of sweet plays:
- Talking Point – C.J. Fair on how the ‘Cuse pulled out the win over UConn: “This was a big character win, because we didn’t have the momentum for the last jfive minutes and everything was going right for them. For us to come up with a win like this is big.”
- What’s The Point? – Freshman Rakeem Christmas has started every game this season at power forward, but he’s been quickly getting sent to the bench in favor of reserves, and never getting up off the pine again. Christmas played one minute on Wednesday and four minutes on Saturday; why even use him in the starting lineup?
- Stats Central – An underrated part of the Orange’s game, the team’s 1.6 assist-to-turnover ratio in Big East play ranks fifth in the nation and easily leads the conference. Syracuse has so many strong ballhandlers that can create plays and make smart decisions. Jim Boeheim is pleased.
- What’s Next? – To finish off the regular season, Syracuse gets Louisville at home on Saturday (4:00 PM ET, CBS) having already clinched the regular-season Big East title.
- Trending EVEN Because… – The Hoosiers recovered from their previous road loss by disposing of Minnesota, 69-50, on Sunday to tally a key road win. Indiana (22-7, 9-7 Big Ten) remains ranked in all polls but has been getting shafted by several voters for its inconsistent play. The team finishes the regular season with two home games against strong opponents, which will be crucial matchups to gauge its play heading into the postseason.
- This Week’s Key Cog – Verdell Jones III. The senior guard tallied 11 points, seven rebounds, and three assists off the bench in Sunday’s victory. He also dropped 16 points in the win over MEAC squad North Carolina Central on Wednesday, if anyone is recognizing that game.
- Play of the Week – Watch some nice plays by Cody Zeller early in this highlight reel against Minnesota.
- Talking Point – Coach Tom Crean talked about his team’s mental approach to the game against Minnesota: “Our guys were locked in, they were very focused. When you get away from what your concerns are and you stay with what really, really matters, it’s amazing what works out.”
- Off The Schneid – Forward Christian Watford had gone two full games without making a basket until he scored 12 points in the win over Minnesota. The Hoosiers need Watford’s mid-range scoring to be a factor in the postseason.
- Stats Central – The Hoosiers score the most points in the Big Ten during conference play (72.2 PPG) but also allow the most points (70.2 PPG). That’s what happens when you play at the league’s second-fastest pace (65.4 possessions per game), shoot the lights out (57.4% true shooting), and allow the second-most field goals and free throws per game to opponents.
- What’s Next? – As described, the Hoosiers finish the season with two big home games. First comes No. 4 Michigan State on Tuesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by Purdue on Sunday (6:00 PM ET, Big Ten Network). Two wins would do wonders for Indiana’s confidence, but two losses would drop them to 9-9 in league play. A split is most likely.