Tracking The Four: Cuse Get Juiced and Leaves One Unbeaten Team Standing

Posted by EJacoby on January 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. 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.

Welcome back to TT4, where the lowest ranked team of the four in this week’s RTC Top 25 also happens to be the only undefeated squad left in the country. Will Murray State lose a game before the Big Dance? They continue to win in impressive fashion and are now getting a key cog back in the lineup for the stretch run. Meanwhile, our two major-conference teams are coming off poor weeks and UNLV keeps quietly handling their business. All four TT4 teams remained ranked in the Top 20 and have important games this week. Let’s look at what’s new:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Murray State Continue Pushing Towards Perfection (AP Photo/S. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They are the only undefeated team left in the country! After being down at halftime, the Racers climbed back to defeat Morehead State on Wednesday, 66-60, in a huge road win that was their toughest remaining test. Please raise your hand and leave a comment below if you had Murray State as the last team to lose this season. Not only is MSU unbeaten but they are getting their third-leading scorer Ivan Aska back any day now, as the senior forward has been cleared to play by doctors. All things are looking up for the Racers (20-0, 8-0 OVC), and all of their remaining games have suddenly become must-watch, or at least must-follow action as they try to make history.
  • This Week’s Key CogIsaiah Canaan. The star guard was named Ohio Valley Conference Player of the Week after going for 20 points in the win at Morehead State and 21 points, five rebounds, three assists, and two steals in a road win over SIU Edwardsville on Saturday night.
  • Play of the Week – The Racers were down by one against Morehead State until Canaan hit this deep three-pointer with 3:58 left to give Murray State a lead they would not relinquish.
  • Talking Point – The head coach of SIU-E, Lennox Forrester, was thoroughly impressed by the Racers on Saturday, and thinks they may have a special season ahead: “They carry a swagger about them. They’re at least a Sweet Sixteen team and maybe Elite Eight. They could be a so-called Butler.”
  • Coaching Tree of Life - The last time Murray State was ranked before this season (1998), Mark Gottfried was the head coach. The last Racers’ rookie head coach to win 20 games was Mick Cronin in 2003-04, and the in-jeopardy MSU single-season wins record of 31 came under Billy Kennedy’s watch in 2009-10. Gottfried, Cronin, and Kennedy are all major coaches at NC State, Cincinnati, and Texas A&M, respectively, today; perhaps coach Steve Prohm is next in line for a big-time job. Then again, Prohm could also be deserving of a major raise and extension there in Murray.
  • Stats Central – They’ve earned praise for proficient three-point shooting, but an underrated aspect of Murray State’s offensive game is their attacking prowess. The Racers have a season-long free throw rate (which measures FTA/FGA) of 45.1%, which ranks 19th nationally. But they’re even more outstanding in conference play, with a rate of 52.8% that ranks third in the country amongst all teams in their conference games.
  • What’s Next? – The Racers have just one game on tap for this week, at home against Eastern Illinois on Saturday (8:00 PM ET). EIU is 2-4 in OVC conference play and coming off three straight losses.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They took care of business this week by thrashing TCU at home before then opening up a big second-half lead and defeating New Mexico at home as well on Saturday. The Runnin’ Rebels continue to look the part of a consistent, elite team and they’ve even slid into the Top 10 of this week’s RTC Top 25. UNLV (18-3, 2-1 MWC) has only lost on the road to three teams that are either ranked (SDSU) or receiving votes (Wisconsin, Wichita State) this week. They are ranked sixth in the RPI and should get a very strong look at a top three NCAA Tournament seed if they continue to play this well.
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Tracking The Four: Let’s Play 21 Questions

Posted by EJacoby on January 20th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. 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.

For this week’s wildcard edition of TT4, we’re going to tackle some burning questions regarding each team. All four teams have pressing issues as they try to hit their strides in conference play, and there’s one team on our list that specifically needs to find some answers, quickly, if they want to stay relevant as a contender. Find out the answers to each question, or at least our quick takes, below each question. If you want to play along, comment with any of your answers!!!

Is Mike Moser the Best Player of our Four Teams? (Getty Images/E. Miller)

1. Which game on Syracuse and Murray State’s schedules should be circled as their toughest challenge to an undefeated regular season?

Monday night’s game in Cincinnati is Syracuse’s first shot at going down, while Murray State’s game on February 15 at Southeast Missouri State will be their toughest test.

2. Can Indiana recover from this losing streak to regain their status as a top three team in the Big Ten?

They’ll be able to recover, but Indiana is not a top three Big Ten team (OSU, UM, & Michigan State are better).

3. Will UNLV be able to win big games outside of Las Vegas, like SDSU did in The Pit this week?

They’ve already played seven true road games, so yes this will help UNLV win conference road games.

4. The Hoosiers have lost three straight games while the Racers have won 19 straight, but who would win on a neutral court if they played today?

We’d love to see this in the NCAA Tournament and today we’re going with Indiana, but if Ivan Aska comes back strong for MSU, ask again in two weeks.

5. When they inevitably need a bucket in crunch time, whom will Syracuse and Jim Boeheim draw the play for?

He doesn’t specialize in taking over games, but Kris Joseph is still the most talented offensive player and toughest mismatch on the team, so he should get his number called.

6. Will UNLV’s 69.1% free throw percentage come back to haunt them at some point this season?

Although it’s the worst of these four teams, no a 69% rate should not be a huge concern for the Rebels.

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Tracking The Four: And Then There Were Two (Unbeatens)

Posted by EJacoby on January 17th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor & correspondent. 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.

In this second full edition of TT4, two of our teams have taken a step backward while the other two continue to roll along as the only unbeaten teams remaining in the country. Do Murray State and Syracuse both have a good chance to go undefeated in the regular season? All four of our teams remain ranked in the Top 20 of the major polls. Let’s take a look at the juxtaposition between the two pairs of teams that are making headlines for different reasons:

Murray State Racers

Isaiah Canaan and Donte Poole are Running Full Speed Ahead for Undefeated Murray State (AP Photo/L. Dennee)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re still without injured starting forward Ivan Aska, who has a broken hand, and the Racers continue to take care of business. MSU (18-0, 6-0 Ohio Valley) remained undefeated after knocking off Jacksonville State and Tennessee Tech at home over the past week. The Racers’ unbeaten start extends the school record to open a season, and improving to 18-0 also set the school record for longest win streak overall at any point.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. The senior guard has been the perfect complement to Isaiah Canaan all season, but it was Poole who did the heavy lifting this week. He averaged 24.5 points, 5.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals in two games last week, including a career-high 28 points versus Tennessee Tech, to propel his team to those victories. The prolific three-point shooter was more aggressive attacking the basket, getting to the line a total of 23 times in the two games, converting 21 of those shots.
  • Play of the Week – Twenty-five seconds into this video clip, watch star guard Canaan split defenders on a high pick-and-roll before a crafty finish at the rim. The announcer pronounces his name wrong, so just let the highlight do the talking.
  • Talking PointSteve Prohm on improving to 18-0 despite missing their best forward: “Credit our guys’ resiliency. We’re having to play a lot of different ways and we’re just trying to figure things out and they’re doing things on the fly and making adjustments and I couldn’t be prouder of them.
  • Best Read - ESPN’s Dana O’Neil sat down with coach Steve Prohm for an interview Tuesday that discussed how the first-year coach has dealt with success, amongst other issues.
  • Stats Central – According to Ken Pomeroy’s numbers, the only currently ranked teams that played a more challenging non-conference schedule than Murray State were Duke, Kansas, and Gonzaga. The Racers were actually picked to finish third this season in the OVC by conference coaches in the preseason poll, behind Austin Peay and Tennessee Tech. Those two teams now don’t have as many wins combined (17) as the Racers currently do on the season.
  • What’s Next? – MSU has two road games this week against conference foes dreaming of ending a perfect season. First is a test at Morehead State on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET) against the defending champions of the OVC. Morehead, 3-3 in conference play thus far, is a tough team whose five best players are all upperclassmen. The Racers then head to play at SIU-Edwardsville against a Cougars team that is also 3-3 in conference. Murray will look to continue their undefeated streak again without their best big man as Aska has been ruled out for these games.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – Already at the top of nearly every poll and rating, there’s not much higher to go. Syracuse remained undefeated and improved to 20-0 (7-0 Big East) after beating the three teams at the bottom of the Big East conference last week. The Orange handled their toughest task at Villanova last Wednesday without a problem, and it’s been weeks since SU played a game in which the outcome was ever in doubt after the first 10 minutes. Fast starts are becoming a staple of this team, and it holds leads easily with the most talented bench in the nation. Jim Boeheim’s team is beating Big East opponents by an average of 15.7 points per game, although five of their seven games have come against the bottom four teams in the conference.
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Tracking The Four: Midseason Dunks of the Year

Posted by EJacoby on January 13th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and 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.

Welcome back to Tracking The Four! Remember that TT4 will run as a full piece on Tuesdays, and on Fridays we will post a shorter ‘wildcard’ edition of fun content from each team. This week, we present you with the TT4 Midseason Dunks of the Year. Some of these have become instant classic moments that are recognizable plays. We’ve embedded the top slam from each team for your enjoyment.

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana’s had plenty of highlight exposure on ESPN and your favorite basketball shows. Most notably, we all remember Christian Watford’s game-winning shot to beat Kentucky on December 10. But earlier in that game, Victor Oladipo absolutely brought the house down with an arena-shaking slam that brought the building to its feet. This one is the Dunk of the Year to me, right now, simply because of the magnitude of the play, giving huge momentum to Indiana in the second half against the #1 team in the country. Just watch the reaction to this dunk:

Any time you can have Dickie V scream out, “Are you SERIOUS America??!?!”, you know it was something special. This most amazing part of this dunk to me? He blows right by Michael Kidd-Gilchrist up top, one of the best perimeter defenders in college basketball. This dunk won’t be forgotten by anyone in Bloomington for a long time.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.11.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 11th, 2012

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

Will the number one team in the land survive a rivalry road test? Can Missouri bounce back from its recent beatdown to win an away game? Here’s what to expect from two Top 10 teams in tough spots tonight:

#1 Syracuse at Villanova – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (***)

Can Villanova Save Its Season Tonight by Beating #1 Syracuse? (AP Photo)

  • Undefeated Syracuse comes into this game playing as well as any team in the country, but their toughest away games of the season have been at NC State and Providence, so they’re not exactly road tested. The Orange will certainly have the advantage in this one, as their 2-3 zone defense has been incredibly effective this season at forcing turnovers and limiting paint opportunities. Nova’s a team that struggles in these two areas to begin with, and also a team that fires up a lot of threes (over 20 per game) at a low conversion rate (30%, ranked in the bottom 50 nationally). If Syracuse simply executes defensively and forces the Wildcats into a three-point barrage, they’ll have a huge advantage. Jim Boeheim’s team will come at Villanova with their deep array of weapons, where Kris Joseph (14.1 PPG) and Dion Waiters (12.5 PPG) should have opportunities to score in transition and on the wings against Villanova’s poor perimeter defense.
  • Villanova is in the midst of a year to forget, but they can change the outlook of the entire season with a win tonight. The Wildcats are dying for a victory of this caliber, and fans must be fired up in Philadelphia’s Wells Fargo Center for this rivalry home game against the number one team in the land. If the Wildcats are going to have a chance to win, they need to stop chucking up threes, especially in this game against a zone defense that will encourage them to shoot from the outside. Maalik Wayns and Dominic Cheek each attempt over four three-pointers per game and both are shooting under 30% from deep! Instead, these talented guards need to play off of each other. Wayns (17.4 PPG, 4.75 APG) is one of the quickest guards in America and can penetrate the teeth of a zone defense, and from there he must make good decisions and find teammates moving amongst the trees for good shot opportunities. Jay Wright’s team also must stay out of foul trouble and defend the perimeter if they want to have a chance.
  • This seems like an uneven matchup on paper, but it could be a serious trap game for Syracuse. They haven’t yet played a good conference team on the road, and Villanova is a rival who will be fired up for this one. If Nova can find early success against the Syracuse zone, then they could have a chance in this one.
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Tracking The Four: Conference Play Begins

Posted by EJacoby on January 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC columnist and 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.

Welcome to Tracking The Four! This new series reads just like it sounds, as we will be following four buzz-worthy teams across the country. Those lucky teams are Syracuse (current #1 team and a title favorite), Indiana (a feel-good contender), Murray State (undefeated dreams), and UNLV (the best of the West). With TT4, we hope to provide readers with interesting insights about each of the featured teams that helps capture the atmosphere of the programs throughout the rest of the season. Look for a full TT4 piece every Tuesday, as well as a shorter update later in the week. Each post will be loaded with highlights, lowlights, and tidbits about each team, as well as recaps from their recent play and a look ahead at their upcoming games. Conference play is well underway and there’s plenty of news to get to this week:

Kris Joseph & Syracuse are All Smiles Right Now (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending UP Because… – They’re looking like national title favorites. The undefeated Orange (17-0, 4-0 Big East) remain number one in every national poll, including the RTC Top 25, with its consistently dominant play. They’ve beaten their four conference opponents by an average of 16.5 points, which includes two road games and two home games against ranked teams (Seton Hall & Marquette). Seton Hall has proven to be a solid and cohesive offensive team, yet the Pirates were blown out of the gym by Syracuse in a 75-49 thrashing. The Orange are the deepest team in the country with 10 meaningful contributors, and their patented 2-3 zone is as strong as ever. Jim Boeheim‘s team is now making bigger headlines on the court than off it (the Bernie Fine sexual harassment allegation was a big story), a refreshing trend for the sake of all its fans.
  • This Week’s Key Cog – Brandon Triche. The junior guard led the team in scoring last week, going for 16 points at Providence on Wednesday and another 16 at home against Marquette on Saturday. He hit four three-pointers in each game with an impressive line of 16/7/4 assts and two steals in the victory over Marquette.
  • Play of the Week – Point guard Scoop Jardine finds his go-to guy Kris Joseph in transition for a thunderous dunk from several feet away from the basket against Providence.
  • Talking Point – Guard Dion Waiters, who comes off the bench, had this to say after the win over Providence: “I’ve never been on a team with subs like this. It’s crazy. We continue to get better and make each other better in practice every day. We’ve got some of the best guards in the country.’’
  • Stats Central – Syracuse leads the nation with 37.5 points per game from its bench, further proving that they’re the deepest team in America. Also, their zone defense has been truly elite this season, as the Orange lead the country in steals (10.9 per game), are third in blocks (7.4 per game), and fifth in forcing turnovers (18.7 per game).
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play at Villanova on Wednesday at the Wells Fargo Center in Philadelphia (7:00 PM ET, ESPN2) against a struggling Wildcats team, but it’s still a rivalry game in which the Villanova crowd should be fired up and looking for the upset. Then, Cuse gets its second matchup with Providence, this time at home on Saturday (6:00 PM ET) as heavy favorites.
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