Tracking The Four: Regular Season Recap, Postseason Prospects

Posted by EJacoby on March 7th, 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 a wild ride for our four teams this year, yet the most important games are just beginning. All four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament and will have high hopes to do some damage in the postseason. But before Selection Sunday comes, let’s take a look at how each team finished its regular season and what its prospects are for postseason play. Murray State, of course, finished its regular season early and already completed its postseason tournament as part of one of the mid-major leagues that began Championship Week last weekend. The Racers are OVC champions and we will preview their NCAA Tournament outlook while looking at the other three teams’ conference tourney prospects.

Murray State Racers

Murray State Took Down the OVC and Looks Strong Heading into the Big Dance (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Racers are on fire since losing their only game of the season and continue to look better and better. They finished off the season with impressive wins at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech. That earned them a double-bye in the OVC Tournament where they only had to win one game before the finals, and oddly enough the two teams that Murray matched up with in the conference bracket were the two teams with which it had ended the season. Victories over Tennessee Tech (a blowout) and Tennessee State (a nailbiter) proved that this team can win in a variety of ways and that it is peaking heading into postseason play.
  • Resume Review – Murray State finishes tied with the nation’s best overall record at 30-1, which could be the outright best record if neither Syracuse nor Kentucky wins its conference tournaments. The Racers finished 17-1 against OVC competition with an RPI of #24. They went 3-0 against the RPI top-50, with good wins at Memphis and against Southern Miss on a neutral floor. Their only loss was a ‘bad’ one, at home against Tennessee State’s #117 RPI. Murray State’s Pomeroy/Sagarin/BPI/LRMC rankings are as follows: #45/#40/#33/#29. Very solid all-around.
  • Seed Projection – Since all of its games are now completed, we can start projecting Murray State’s NCAA Tournament seed accurately. This team is looking like a #5 or #6 seed according to the consensus bracketologists around the country, though I believe it is closer to a #4 than it is a #6. A #5-seed seems about right, which could possibly mean they’d play in Nashville or Louisville for their first two rounds next week.
  • Player DevelopmentsIsaiah Canaan is the runaway OVC Player of the Year and will receive consideration for national All-America teams as the stellar guard continues to play at an elite level. He averaged 19.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per gamein his final five contests and continues to shoot lights out from three. Ivan Aska has struggled down the stretch, failing to record double-digit scoring or rebounding games in any of his last five. Murray State will desperately need his contributions against the bigger opponent it is likely to draw in the first round.
  • Notable Numbers - Murray State’s +10.5 adjusted scoring margin is very similar to other potential #5- or #6-seeds like Louisville, Vanderbilt, and St. Mary’s. The Racers finished the season with the sixth-best three-point shooting percentage in the country (40.6%) and allowed opponents to shoot just 29.5% from three, ranked 16th best. That’s a tremendous margin. This team also finished with a top-15 free throw rate, true shooting percentage, and steal percentage. The Racers want to send high pressure defensively to look for steals, get out in transition, and hit open threes. This helps hide the fact that they are such a small team inside.
  • Preview & Predictions! – All that’s left for this team is the Big Dance. Therefore, it’s really impossible to predict success without seeing the bracket. However, I don’t think this team is going to be upset in its first game unless it gets a really rough matchup. Assuming a #5 seed, Murray should draw one of the middling bubble teams from a power conference, and it just has to hope it gets someone like Tennessee or Northwestern rather than someone like UConn (sporting great size). From there, we need to see the matchups before declaring whether this team could make the Sweet Sixteen.

Syracuse Orange

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Orange finished on a 10-game winning streak and have locked up an NCAA Tournament #1 seed regardless of what happens in the Big East Tournament. The Orange will receive a double-bye and don’t need to play until Thursday, where they will already be in the quarterfinals. Their final five wins were all by 10 points or less, so the scoring margins have not been dominant but the experience of closing out close games should be just as important for Syracuse going forward.
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Set Your TiVo: 02.29.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:

#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Cincinnati Will be Fired Up at Home Against #8 Marquette (AP Photo/A. Behrman)

  • Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
  • The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
  • This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
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Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home Stretch

Posted 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

Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)

  • 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 CogChace 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

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Tracking The Four: Voices of…

Posted by EJacoby on February 24th, 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 ‘wildcard’ version of TT4 is back, and this week we take a look at the voices of each team. Below you’ll find key quotes throughout the season from players, coaches, and media members who cover each of our four squads. With just three games remaining (or less) for each team in the regular season, it’s an appropriate time to take the pulse of the programs before they head into the home stretch:

Tom Crean Has Had Much to Say This Season for the Surprising Hoosiers (AP Photo/A. Colwell)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • “They’ve been punking us the past couple years and we realized that. This year we had to go toe-to-toe with them.” Guard Victor Oladipo, 12/31 (after win over Ohio State)
  • “Our mindset is next man up.  We know that a lot of different people at different times can step up and make a play that helps us win games on either offense or defense.  We have done a good job of being unselfish and worrying only about getting the win.” Guard Jordan Hulls, 1/3
  • “The bottom line is this team gritted it out again. They have won 14 games 14 different ways with a lot of room for improvement, and I’m excited about them.” Coach Tom Crean, 1/5
  • “We can’t be satisfied with moral victories.” Center Cody Zeller, 1/18
  • “I think the most difficult thing to swallow from one game to another, though, is simply the consistency of this basketball team in recent weeks. You really just don’t know what you’re going to get from week to week, game to game, minute to minute. And that’s what I find to be the big difference between the 15-1 start and the 2-5 record since then. It comes down to consistency. And it’s across the board.” Beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star, 2/2
  • “If you’re going to get physical with [Zeller], he’s going to respond. The only soft thing about Cody is that he’s soft-spoken on the court, but other than that he’s a tough, tough person.” Coach Tom Crean, 2/9

Murray State Racers

  • “Coach has a great personality and he cares about our team more than anything, and the same way he cares about us we care about him and we try to go out and play as hard as we can for him.” Guard Isaiah Canaan, 12/15
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 21st, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

If you were to sum up the past week of the Mountain West in a slightly altered movie title, “How The (Mountain) West Was Won” would be the slam dunk choice. We’ve still got two weeks of conference play left, and the conference race is yet to be officially decided, but New Mexico went a long way towards sewing up the regular season title this week by getting revenge on both San Diego State and UNLV, going into Montezuma Mesa and knocking off the Aztecs, then returning home and putting a hurting on the Rebels on Saturday morning. Those wins, coupled with a pair of losses by SDSU and UNLV to lower-tier MW teams (Air Force and TCU) leaves the Lobos with a two-game conference lead with four games remaining. Prior to this week, the Lobos appeared to be in the NCAA Tournament, but certainly in the back half of the rankings. Now they’re all but guaranteed a spot in the field and are looking at a pretty solid seed.

Meanwhile, SDSU and UNLV still sport solid NCAA Tournament resumes and should have no trouble getting into the field, barring a complete collapse down the stretch (and even with a complete collapse, they’d still both be at least in the discussion), while Colorado State and Wyoming, who had been angling for their own at-large spot in the field, seem to be tailing off. Wyoming lost both of its games this weekend in particularly unappealing fashion, while Colorado State fell at Boise State on Wednesday before handing the Cowboys one of their losses this week. CSU still boasts an RPI of #30, but has little else in the positive column aside from a home win against SDSU. Still, these days when you look at the bubble, teams like North Carolina State, Arizona, Oregon and South Florida are all among either the last four teams in or first four out (according to Zach Hayes’ bracketology this week) and none of those teams have either the RPI or the quality win that CSU has.

It is also interesting to note that with the sudden resurgence of cellar dwellers Boise State and Air Force (who are a combined 5-1 over the last two weeks), there are again no teams in the Mountain West with losing records on the season.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – No need to think about this decision at all this week: UNM knocked off the two other teams in the top tier of the conference, opened up a commanding two-game lead in the race for the regular season title and in doing so also put themselves in the driver’s seat for the #1 seed in the MW Tournament in March. If the final standings are at all similar to what we’ve got right now, that means that UNLV and SDSU will be on the same side of the bracket, potentially meeting in the semifinal, while the Lobos will get a far easier (though still potentially dangerous) opponent in their semifinal matchup. We’ll get to Drew Gordon’s big week shortly, but also wanted to highlight sophomore guard Kendall Williams for a bit here too. Williams hasn’t made that big leap forward that was perhaps unreasonably expected of him in his second year, but he was certainly big in the win over SDSU on Wednesday, hitting five increasingly difficult three-pointers on his way to tying his career-high of 21 points.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon Skying High For A Rebound Was A Familar Sight This Week (Lenny Ignelzi/AP)

Player of the Week

Drew Gordon, Sr, New Mexico – The traditional stats are pretty impressive: two double-doubles against ranked teams, averages of 22 points and 18.5 rebounds per game, 20-of-35 from the field. The rebounding numbers jump out, and they’re even more impressive when you look at them as a percentage. On the offensive glass, there were 61 total opportunities for Gordon to grab a rebound last week; he grabbed 10 of them, or 16.4%, a figure that would put him in the top ten nationally if carried out over the course of a season. Defensively he was even better. There were 65 opportunities for him to grab a defensive board last week; he grabbed 27 of them, or 41.5% an astronomical number that is almost ten percentage points ahead of Thomas Robinson, the best defensive rebounder in the land. Gordon almost single-handedly controlled the glass for the Lobos this weekend, as no other player on his team grabbed more than four rebounds in the past two games. Without a doubt, Gordon is playing his best basketball of his career as his final year plays out.

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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted 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

Murray State is Soaring Right Now After Taking its Only Loss (AP Photo/J. Wright)

  • 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 CogDonte 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.

Syracuse Orange

  • 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.
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Tracking The Four: Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection Ends Early

Posted 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:

Syracuse Orange

C.J. Fair Was Huge for Syracuse Against Louisville, One of Three Big Wins This Week For the Orange (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • 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 CogKris 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

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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 14th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

For months now we’ve heard talk of a merger, in some form or another, between the Mountain West and Conference USA. Monday, we got a clearer picture of what that will look like, as it was reported that the remaining members from those two conferences will join together in a newly named conference, beginning as early as the 2013-14 season. So, here we are in the middle of yet another great Mountain West basketball season, and we’re faced with the eventuality of the MW going away.

We’ve known (but tried to forget, at least temporarily) that Boise State’s stopover in the conference was a short-term thing, as they would be headed to the Big East, but the fact that San Diego State would be sending its football team with them (because, you know, San Diego just screams East!) and sending its other sports to the Big West was a low blow. TCU already had plans to head to the Big East (Texas, frontier of the wild, wild East!), but reneged on that and chose a more suitable landing spot in the Big 12. But, with Nevada and Fresno State set to move to the conference next season, it looked like the MW was well on its way to guaranteeing survival in pretty solid shape. Now, however, we’re looking at a future where teams like UNLV and New Mexico are going to be shoehorned into a new conference with teams like Rice and Marshall (not to be confused with Dave Rice and Anthony Marshall).

In short, it has been an extremely fun ride in the MW, specifically over the last five years or so, but that wild ride is coming to an end. Maybe the next ride will be even more fun and exciting than this one has been, but it is hard to imagine a mid-major basketball conference that can survive the subtraction of such great rivalries as SDSU/UNLV, Utah/BYU, and UNLV/BYU and not skip a beat.

Mountain West, Conference USA

Air Force, Colorado State, New Mexico, UNLV and Wyoming Appear Headed To A Still-To-Be-Named New Conference

But, let’s put all that behind us for the next month or so. Right now we’ve got high quality basketball to salve those wounds. First and foremost, this past weekend marked the start of the second half of the MW schedule, and we were treated to another excellent battle between the two teams at the top of the conference. You can read more about UNLV’s win over SDSU below.

Elsewhere, New Mexico won its fifth straight in an absolute slugfest (and some would say abomination) with Wyoming, while Colorado State’s NCAA Tournament chances took a huge hit in a loss at TCU and their RPI continues its downward spiral; two weeks ago they had an RPI of #18, last week it dropped to #24 and today it sits at #30. Couple that with a rather unimpressive schedule that features only an upset of SDSU as any kind of quality win and I’m considerably less bullish on their NCAA chances today that I was two weeks ago.

Lastly, Boise State won its first conference game of the year, knocking off an Air Force team that had quite a shakeup, as head coach Jeff Reynolds was fired last Wednesday and replaced by assistant coach Dave Pilipovich. We’ll have more on this below, but this marks the second time in as many seasons that a MW coach was let go in the middle of the season, a trend is not particularly appealing.

Team of the Week

UNLV – In a short week like this, when each team only played one conference game, it is easy to just pick the team that beat the best team as Team of the Week. And that honor goes to the Rebels, who knocked off San Diego State and created a three-way tie at the top of the conference. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tracking The Four: Perception vs. Reality

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 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.

Public perception dictates a lot in all sports — suits in Las Vegas determine which teams are favored to win games. Players are often labeled as ‘clutch’ or ‘not clutch’ based on arbitrary public sentiments that take no data into account. With much of the college basketball season already completed, players and teams have already developed reputations that become a part of the season narrative; Murray State has ‘played nobody’, Indiana is ‘soft’, Syracuse is the ‘deepest team’, and UNLV ‘can’t win on the road’. But are these sentiments really accurate? This week’s TT4 Wildcard takes the court of public opinion on trial and tries to separate what’s false from what’s reality. All four of our teams remained ranked in the polls, so they’ve been plenty exposed to public chatter:

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana is Trying to Shake the Label that They're Soft on Defense (AP Photo/T. Ding)

Biggest Misconception – This team is soft defensively

The Hoosiers have certainly had their defensive struggles during Big Ten games, and the results were ugly for a while. They still average a 109.0 dEfficiency in conference play, which is much too high. But soft? That label needs to go, as Indiana has shown much improvement and is starting to fight back when they get hit in the mouth. In their last four games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, they are allowing just 64.3 points per game. They’ve improved their Big Ten rebound rate to 51.9%, which is fourth in the conference. Defense is still an issue, but give them credit for making strides after beginning the Big Ten with an extremely tough schedule.

Biggest Truth – They are extremely balanced offensively

The word ‘balanced’ gets thrown around with this team, but it’s looking more and more true. Cody Zeller is their clear best player, but they don’t exactly use the freshman as a go-to guy offensively. Consider this: in their last five games, Indiana has had four different leading scorers and seven different players have scored in double-figures at least once. Not only that, but IU ranks in the top 30 nationally in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, true shooting percentage, and points per possession during conference results. They are an effective offense that attacks in several different ways.

The Unknown – The Hoosiers are a product of their home-court advantage

IU has certainly played much better at home than on the road, which is true of many teams. But there was a feeling that their Assembly Hall home-court was the catalyst to everything this team does, and that argument is starting to fall apart. They’re coming off a 17-point win at Purdue in their latest road game, and their offensive style has translated to opposing arenas. The jury is still out, though, whether they are a strong enough team to win multiple games in a row away from home. The Big Ten Tournament should be a good indicator, as well as their final two winnable road games at Iowa and Minnesota.

Murray State Racers

Biggest Misconception – This team is headed for the bubble

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Checking In On… The Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on February 8th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take

 

A Look Back

  • We have suspected since late November or so that the bottom half of this conference was pretty darn good, but we still figured that when push came to shove it would be UNLV, San Diego State, and New Mexico mostly dominating the other five teams in the league. And yet, last Saturday we saw the Aztecs fall to an undersized Colorado State club, while this week it was UNLV’s turn, as they lost a tough roadie at Wyoming on Saturday night. Along the way, both SDSU and UNLV have had other struggles with Air Force and Boise State, two teams who are a combined 1-13 in the Mountain West.
  • The lone team in the conference that has been taking care of business on a regular basis lately has been New Mexico, winning its last four games by an average of more than 26 points. The only problem there, however, is the Lobos were uncompetitive at UNLV and folded in the second half of a home game with SDSU. So, for now, it appears that New Mexico is playing the best ball in the conference, but they will need to prove themselves against the Aztecs and the Rebels next week before we can really take them seriously.

Midseason Roundup

  • Saturday’s slate in the Mountain West represented the halfway mark in the conference season. San Diego State sits atop the conference with a 6-1 record, with New Mexico and UNLV a game back and Wyoming and Colorado State, two teams who are at least in the NCAA at-large discussion, a game back from there.
  • Looking forward to some of the postseason awards, it looks like UNLV’s Mike Moser (14.5 PPG/11.5 RPG), who leads the conference in rebounding and is fourth in scoring, is the favorite for the Mountain West’s Player of the Year honor, with San Diego State’s Jamaal Franklin (16.0 PPG/7.2 RPG) and Chase Tapley (15.9 PPG/4.2 RPG/2.1 SPG) perhaps the only other names in the mix right now.
Mike Moser, UNLV

Mike Moser Is The Leader At The Turn For Mountain West Player of the Year (Nam Y. Huh/AP)

  • For Coach of the Year, there are several names that deserve to be considered. SDSU’s Steve Fisher may be the favorite at this point, rebuilding a team on the fly after losing four of five starters from last year’s Sweet 16 team, but he’s just one of many MW coaches who are excelling this year. UNLV’s Dave Rice took over in Vegas when Lon Kruger left for Oklahoma, and he not only didn’t skip a beat, he seems to be on the verge of turning the Rebels back into a consistent national power again.  At Wyoming, new head coach Larry Shyatt has completely turned around the culture in Laramie, taking a team that was a 10-21 disaster last year and building a hard-nosed consistent bunch out of largely the same cast of characters. Meanwhile, Tim Miles has taken a completely undermanned Ram team with no player over 6’6” earning significant playing time and put them in good position to possible earn an NCAA Tournament bid. Heck, even Jim Christian at TCU is working wonders. Last year the Horned Frogs lost 14 of their last 15 games; this year they’ve got pretty much the same crew and they’re now 13-9 with a chance of a better than .500 record (although their remaining schedule is brutal). While Fisher is the odds-on favorite to take down the honor, all of those coaches are doing great jobs.
  • The Freshman of the Year award is a bit more muddled. Early on, it looked like Boise State’s Anthony Drmic would run away with it, but he hit a wall midseason and has struggled lately; he shot a 57.7 eFG% in the non-conference slate, but is now hitting just 36.5% in conference play. New Mexico’s Hugh Greenwood has made a big splash in Albuquerque after taking over the point guard duties early in the season, but his effectiveness has taken a hit since an ankle injury in early January, and he’s not yet back to the same player. Boise’s Derrick Marks is averaging 9.0 points per game and has come on strong of late, but he is still a fairly up-and-down player. Then there’s TCU’s Kyan Anderson, who went for 22 points against SDSU this weekend and who figures to be an impact player for the Frogs in the future, but whose overall numbers this season don’t really merit FOTY consideration. If you expand the definition out to Newcomer of the Year, there are all sorts of good options (Leonard Washington at Wyoming, Xavier Thames at San Diego State, and, the clear cut winner, Moser), but halfway through conference play, the FOTY award is still very much up for grabs.

Team of the Week

New Mexico – For the second consecutive week, the Lobos take home the honors here on the strength of a 2-0 record over lesser Mountain West teams; the twist this week was that they scored both of those wins on the road. UNM started the week by scoring a 39-point win at Air Force in which they dominated almost every aspect of the game, then they wrapped it up with a 16-point win at Boise State. The theme for the week was balance, with six different players scoring in double figures this week, but particular highlights included Hugh Greenwood’s 10-point, 10-rebound double-double against Boise State and Demetrius Walker’s 11-point, eight-rebound outing against Air Force.

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Leonard Washington, Jr, Wyoming – For the second time in three weeks, Washington earns our POTW. His best game of the week came in a disappointing loss at TCU, but Washington was excellent there, hitting 8-10 field goal attempts, including a three-pointer, for a 21-point, six rebound outing. He backed that up by fighting Mike Moser to a draw in the Cowboys’ Saturday-night upset of UNLV, scoring 16 points and grabbing seven boards while setting a general tone of confidence throughout the game.

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington & His Teammates Gave Wyoming Fans Plenty To Cheer About (Andrew Carpenean/AP)

Game of the Week

Wyoming 68, UNLV 66 – Of all the great games around the country on Saturday, this one was my personal favorite, keeping me on the edge of my seat throughout the second half. The Cowboys led by as much as eight in the first half, before squandering it, rebuilding it, and squandering it again. But the effort from Wyoming never waned, as they fought off a tough UNLV team. The Rebels time and again tried to out-physical the Cowboys, with Oscar Bellfield in particular hounding point guard JayDee Luster all over the court. But they kept on fighting, diving after loose balls, hustling through and around screens and working on the glass. In the end, it was a complete team effort for the Cowboys, as four of the five starters scored between 14 and 16 points, with each contributing excellent defensive effort. In the end, the home crowd was rewarded with a big upset victory, leading to perhaps the slowest RTC in the history of RTCs. Read the rest of this entry »

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Tracking The Four: Syracuse Gets Melo & Its Swagger Back

Posted by EJacoby on February 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a 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.

What made Syracuse look so beatable in the past three games? Perhaps the answer is as simple as we thought, and Orange big man Fab Melo is just that important to the team’s success. He returned on Saturday and the Orange completely ran St. John’s off the floor in a performance worthy of a number one team. Meanwhile, Indiana and UNLV each split their two-game schedules full of tough road matchups. Murray State continues to cruise along undefeated and is getting closer to its big matchup with St. Mary’s. Let’s see how each team got it done this week:

Syracuse Orange

Michael Carter-Williams Had the Memorable Highlight from Syracuse's Dominant Win Last Week (AP Photo)

  • Trending UP Because… – They put together perhaps their best performance of the season on Saturday by scoring nearly 100 points on the road at St. John’s in their only game of the week. Center Fab Melo returned from suspension for the game and had a solid individual performance (14 points, two blocks, 5-6 shooting), but it’s the collective play of the team’s defense and transition offense that is more telling of his impact. The Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) held its opponent to 38% shooting on two-point attempts, whereas they were allowing an average of 44.4% in three games without him. Melo was on the receiving end of several lobs in transition as the team consistently found easy offense in the 95-70 win. The Cuse look to have their swagger back and will try to keep up this strong form with two home games this week.
  • This Week’s Key CogMichael Carter-Williams. This week was a reminder of how truly deep this team is. Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s All-American freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game this season, and he looked like the best player on the floor during his 17 minutes against St. Johns’s. The frosh had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in limited playing time.
  • Play of the Week – This was a no-brainer, as our guy Carter-Williams throws down a vicious dunk in transition that was one of the top plays of the week.
  • Talking PointMelo talked about his return to the team after a three-game suspension: “I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates. I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did.”
  • Coaching Legend - Jim Boeheim continues his ascent up the coaching wins list. Saturday’s victory was the coach’s 879th career victory, tying him with Dean Smith for third all-time. The only men ahead of him are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, with Knight’s 902 victories a very passable number next year.
  • Stats Central – Although Kentucky owns a near unanimous top ranking, the Orange have the far more impressive overall resume. If the season ended today (which, of course, it doesn’t), then Cuse would be the top overall seed of the NCAA Tournament, boasting the #1 RPI ranking and 12 victories over RPI Top 100 teams. Kentucky has seven Top 100 wins, by comparison.
  • What’s Next? – Syracuse has two tough opponents this week, but both games are at home. First comes rival Georgetown on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by struggling Connecticut on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Hoyas look like the second best team in the Big East right now, and the Huskies could be playing for their postseason lives come this weekend. It’s never easy against these talented conference rivals.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They did lose last week to a team in the mid-70’s of the RPI, but it was a two-point loss in Laramie against tough conference foe Wyoming. The Rebels had several chances to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game, and we can’t knock the team very much for this tight road game. They also easily disposed of Colorado State earlier in the week at home. UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MW) remains in good shape in the Mountain West and has a huge matchup coming up on Saturday.
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The RTC Interview Series: One On One With Clark Kellogg

Posted by nvr1983 on February 1st, 2012

Rush The Court is back with another edition of One on One: An Interview Series, which we will bring you periodically throughout the year. If you have any specific interview requests or want us to interview you, shoot us an email at rushthecourt@yahoo.com.

This time our interview subject is Clark Kellogg. Most of you probably just know Clark from his work at CBS first as a studio analyst, but eventually taking over as one of their lead college basketball analysts replacing Billy Packer. While that is impressive by itself, just saying that would be selling Clark’s on-court accomplishments short. Clark was a McDonald’s All-American, All-Big Ten, and was the #8 overall pick in the 1982 NBA Draft by the Indiana Pacers. In his rookie year, he averaged a ridiculous 20.1 points and 10.6 rebounds per game while being named All-Rookie First Team, but his career was cut short due to knee injuries. Clark joined to talk about college basketball and the Capital One Cup.

Rush The Court: One of the big topics in college sports recently has been the issue of paying athletes, whether it is the $2,000 stipend or more radical proposals. What are your thoughts on what has been proposed and how realistic do you think the proposals have been?

Clark Kellogg: I think it is a worthwhile proposal and it is realistic. Obviously, you have to look at the budgetary constraints of different programs, but I think that every Division I player in the major revenue-producing sports (men’s basketball and men’s football) because the demands of the scholarship are a full-time job should be able to supplement that with the cost of attendance, which is what the stipend is attempting to close the gap on. I think it is reasonable and practical. Obviously, it raises a question as to how you do that and what’s the right amount, but I think it is a good proposal and one that should be implemented and I think it will be in some form and fashion. I think it is a positive step because of the nature of those two sports and because of the demands on the time and minds and bodies of those student-athletes it is a full-time job and the cost of attending college is more than the cost of tuition, food, room, board, and books. That is a wonderful blessing to have that covered. All three of our children have been Division I scholarship athletes and we understand the blessing that is, but at the same time I was in a position to send each of my kids a certain amount of money each month to cover some of the incidental expenses. I think it makes sense for the universities to try and cover some of those incidental costs.

Kellogg Believes Schools Should Cover Cost Of Living

RTC: Getting back to basketball itself, one of the topics that after UNC got blown out by 33 points at Florida State people started to suggest that they are not a championship team. [Clark laughing in the background.] That championship teams don’t get blown out like that [more laughter] and they cite all these figures about how no championship team has ever lost by that much.

CK: Can you tell by my reaction? [Even more laughter] I think that is nonsensical. You play 30 to 35 games in college basketball and everybody is going to get drummed. I don’t care if you are championship caliber or not. There are a lot of factors that go into being drummed. One is being on the road. Two you play against a good team that has a terrific performance. Three is you are human; there are all kind of things: travel, finals, schools, 18- to 22-year old guys being brain neutral and not there. It happens in the NBA. Teams that win the championship get beat badly sometimes. That doesn’t change who they are. Now if it becomes a pattern then that is different, but a one-game situation I just chuckle when people say that. It is part of the context of our culture because we so want to analyze something every five or 10 minutes and make a conclusion about it. A season is indeed a season. It is made up of individual games and some games are going to be better than others. It is about consistency. It’s about being healthy. It’s about getting better. Every now and then you are going to have a game that is inexplicable. You could go crazy and make 8 out of 13 three-pointers. How often is that going to happen? So it goes both ways. It was comical to me that people automatically started thinking that Carolina was unworthy of being one of the favorites to get to New Orleans. Now they have got issues with [Dexter] Strickland being out. Who steps into his role? That is more something to analyze than the fact that they got blasted in Tallahassee.

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