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.
Share this story

Statistically Confirming the SEC is Garbage

Posted by rtmsf on December 5th, 2008

During the nonconference portion of the season we can use the cross-pollination among the BCS teams as well as their games against the mid-majors as an early warning system of sorts to determine which conferences are the strongest in a given year.  Last year the Pac-10, for example, got off to a strong start, and by and large that conference was considered the best in the nation throughout most of the 2007-08 season.

Believe it or not, we’re already one-quarter of the way through the regular season (and halfway through the nonconference slate), so we have plenty of raw data to start making those determinations.  From what we see thus far, it appears that there are three grades of power conferences, with the ACC & Big East at the top, the Big 10 and Big 12 in the middle, and the Pac-10 and SEC pulling up the rear.  For confirmation, take a look at the table below.

conf-h2h-1205081

Data Source:  basketballstate.com

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Is the 2008-09 Big East the Best Conference Ever?

Posted by rtmsf on October 27th, 2008

We’re barely over a week into practice and there’s already been some talk that this year’s version of the Big East, with as many as four legitimate F4 contenders (UConn, Pitt, Louisville & Notre Dame) and another five or six legitimate NCAA Tournament teams, could be the deepest, most competitive conference of all-time.  When put in those terms, it’s difficult to disagree… but you know us, we don’t take kindly to sweeping claims of superiority without some measurable statistical basis to back it up.

(photo credit: Bob Eckstein)

The problem is figuring out how to measure such a thing.  Take last year’s Pac-10, for example.  The conference was widely considered by pundits to be the strongest, deepest conference in America.  Computer ratings tended to agree.  At various points during the season, as many as eight of its ten schools were touted as NCAA-caliber teams.  Six ultimately were invited to the NCAA Tournament, but only three of those made it to the Sweet Sixteen, with UCLA the sole conference representative in the Final Four.  Was the Pac-10 stronger than the Big East, who had six teams ranked in the final AP poll last year (vs. three for the Pac-10) and had two more teams invited to the Big Dance but only found itself with a pair standing on the second weekend (and zero in the F4)?  Or was the Pac-10 superior to the Big 12, who had the strongest NCAA showing of the major conferences with a 6-0 first round ultimately resulting in Kansas cutting down the nets?  It’s hard to say, because depending on how you set the parameters, you can make fair and defensible arguments for the strength of multiple conferences in any given year (our friends dealing with the BCS go through this every year). 

Just thinking back to last season, we could break it down this way.  AP poll?  Big East.  NCAA Tournament success?  Big 12.  Computer rankings?  Pac-10.  Pundits?  Take your pick, but leaning Pac-10.    Choosing which source to buy into is based on personal taste, but for the sake of this post, we’ll admit that there is no perfect measurement and focus exclusively on Jeff Sagarin’s computer ratings.  Using his data, we like that we can take stock year over year in relative terms.

(photo credit: sportsbubbler.com) 

So here’s our question: how good does the Big East need to be from top-to-bottom this year to be statistically considered the top conference of the last decade (Sagarin’s archive only goes back to the 1998-99 season – we requested data back to 1984-85, to no avail)?  For the sake of comparison, here are the top ten conferences by Sagarin’s computer ratings of the last ten years.   

As you can see, the 2008 version of the Big East wasn’t bad from top-to-bottom, but it was still a good distance away from the top ten conferences of the last decade.  The problem is that when people talk about how strong conferences are, are they really talking about team #10 or team #12 or team #16 in the cellar?  Of course not – they’re really talking about the NCAA-caliber teams, i.e., the top half of the conference.  So how does this list change if we only consider the top half of the major conferences of the last ten years (also represented graphically)?

It’s interesting to imagine if the Big East were still an eight-team conference like the old days, as last year’s top half alone would have rated the league as the second-best conference of the last decade (2004 ACC at 87.31 would still be #1).  As it stands, though, the Big East’s mammoth size probably ensures that from a statistical standpoint (Law of Large Numbers, much?), it will never be able to have enough great teams to overcome what some of the smaller conferences have been able to do.

Nothing is conclusive here, but we feel safe in saying that the 2008-09 Big East is unlikely to rise to the top of either of these lists, but it wouldn’t shock us if the conference ended up in the top ten (esp. the top-half list).  Notwithstanding where the conference Sagarin ratings finish, there shouldn’t be any question using the eyes and ears test that the Big East will be the most competitive and interesting conference in America this season.

Share this story