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
- 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 Cog – Isaiah 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.