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

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.

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

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.
Share this story

Morning Five: 01.13.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on January 13th, 2012

  1. After spending a year an a half at VirginiaJames Johnson has decided to return home to play college basketball as he announced yesterday that he would be transferring to San Diego State. Johnson, who lived near San Diego during his junior and senior year of high school (the situation is more complex than that and is explained well in the article), went to Virginia originally, but was unhappy with how the team intended to use him even after he redshirted his freshman year. In announcing his decision to go to San Diego State he cited the coaching staff there as his primary reason for picking the school. With the dearth of size on the San Diego State roster, the 6’10″ sophomore could be a significant addition to the team.
  2. Last night, Indiana lost a tough game at home to Minnesota, but they picked up a big piece with the return of Will Sheehey, who returned for the first time since he injured his ankle  prior to Christmas. While the other perimeter players struggled from the field, Sheehey looked sharp in his return scoring 12 points (5-7 FG) and grabbing 6 rebounds in just 15 minutes. Although the Hoosiers played exceptionally well in his absence, Sheehey’s return adds to their depth on the perimeter, which will help on nights like last night where other perimeter players are not hitting their shots.
  3. It has been a rough past few months for Steve Lavin with his prostate cancer surgery and his delayed recovery. He talked to Seth Davis earlier this week about his health and how the team has performed in his absence. Lavin gives us the usual spiel about how about his assistants are doing a great job while he is gone. Lavin also tells Davis that he is cancer free (expected after the type of surgery he had), but the most interesting aspect of the interview is that Lavin says he is not sure that he will return this season. We hope that Lavin is right and that his absence is just due to energy issues rather than post-operative complications and that when he does return he is in shape to do so consistently.
  4. Just a few days after it lost Jeffrey Jordan to transfer due to “personal reasons”, UCF lost another senior after Dwight McCombs was suspended for the rest of the season for violating a university policy, which according to university policy (presumably a different policy than the one he got suspended for) the school cannot give additional details on. McCombs put up rather pedestrian numbers this season (2.5 points and 2.5 rebounds in 12.5 minutes per game), but his experience and size could have been useful for the Knights as the season progresses.
  5. We will finish the week with another installment of Luke Winn’s power rankings. This week Winn moves away from his controversial defensive efficiency analysis and looks at which starters on top teams play the fewest minutes and uses a matrix to separate pass-first and shoot-first point guard as well as various other statistical pearls. We do find it interesting that he credits Kevin Willard for Seton Hall‘s improvement in a little over a season there, but discounts the job that Steve Prohm has done at Murray State because he is coaching players he inherited at the end of last season when much of Seton Hall’s rise has been due to the play of three players (Herb Pope, Jordan Theodore, and Fuquan Edwin) that Willard did not recruit.
Share this story

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 CogBrandon 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.
Share this story

RTC Conference Primers: #23 – Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by cbogard on October 12th, 2011

Catlin Bogard of OVC Ball is the RTC correspondent for the Ohio Valley Conference. You can find him on Twitter @OVCBall.

Readers Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • Here Come the Cougars:  Although SIU Edwardsville is in its final year of transition to Division I, the Cougars will play a full Ohio Valley Conference slate. SIUE will be eligible to win the OVC regular season title, but cannot enter the conference tournament until they have completed their transition in 2012-13. The Cougars are unlikely, however, to make a major impact this season after going 0-9 against OVC teams a year ago.
  • Out of Balance: As a result of the Cougars entrance to the conference, the now 11-team league will play an uneven schedule of 16 games, much shorter than the 20 and 22-game schedules seen since the last OVC expansion. But the current structure won’t stay in place for long. After it was announced that Belmont will join the conference next season, OVC commissioner Beth DeBauche told the voice of the Racers, Neal Bradley, that “it appears that it would make sense to have divisions, most notably for our men’s and women’s basketball teams.” But the OVC might not remain a 12-team league long enough to matter. Jacksonville State is exploring a move to a FBS conference according to a release from the school, and the Huntsville Times reports that Tennessee State has been invited to join the SWAC.
  • What Was Old is New Again: Two teams on opposite ends of last year’s final standings have one thing in common: inexperience. Both Morehead State and Jacksonville State will feature teams with more new faces than old this year. Last season’s last place Gamecocks have seven transfers and four new players, with Stephen Hall being the only Gamecock with more than one year of experience. Meanwhile, MSU has eight new faces, including six freshmen joining the defending OVC Tournament champions.
  • New Sideline Patrolmen: Two of the top teams last year, Murray State and Tennessee Tech, will feature new coaches this season. Steve Payne replaces Mike Sutton, who retired after eight seasons with the Golden Eagles. Steve Prohm will take over the Racers after Billy Kennedy left to take the head coaching job at Texas A&M.

Predicted Order of Finish

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

RTC Summer Updates: Ohio Valley Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on August 9th, 2011

With the completion of the NBA Draft and the annual coaching and transfer carousels nearing their ends, RTC is rolling out a new series, RTC Summer Updates, to give you a crash course on each Division I conference during the summer months. Our latest update comes courtesy of our Ohio Valley Conference correspondent, Catlin Bogard. You can read more of Bogard’s work at OVC Ball.

Reader’s Take

Summer Storylines

  • Movin’ On Up: Two teams will feature former assistant coaches in new roles in 2011-12, although each school took a much different path to the same decision. In March, Steve Payne was named the new head coach at Tennessee Tech for the retiring Mike Sutton. The longtime Golden Eagles assistant had coached the team previously, as Sutton was sidelined with a horrible health condition that threatened his immune system. Over at Murray State, Steve Prohm will head the Racers after an offseason that saw former head coach Billy Kennedy’s name come up in at least three job searches before he eventually accepted the head coaching job at Texas A&M. The late-season coaching change didn’t leave Murray without options, as former Racer and current NBA assistant Popeye Jones’ name was one of many mentioned for the opening before the Racers eventually named Prohm as Kennedy’s successor.
  • Ten-Man Class: Morehead State lost its biggest player when Kenneth Faried graduated and was drafted by the Denver Nuggets, but coach Donnie Tyndall is cashing in on the Eagles’ success last season by signing ten players for the 2011-12 season, including three juco transfers. The cupboard wasn’t exactly bare for the Eagles either, with ten players scheduled to return for Tyndall, so how he slices his rotation is something well worth monitoring for any Eagles fan.
  • Transition Period: Quite possibly the biggest news of the offseason will not even affect the OVC until next season. Belmont will join the conference in the 2012-13 season, leaving the Atlantic Sun after ten years of dominance. Also in 2012-13, SIU Edwardsville will become a full member of the conference, making the OVC a 12-team league. This year, the Cougars will play a full OVC regular season, but will be ineligible for postseason play as they continue their transition into Division I. How long it will stay a 12-team conference is up in the air, though. Jacksonville State is openly searching for a FCS football conference to move to, and Tennessee State was recently offered a chance to rejoin the SWAC.

Faried Will Be Missed in the OVC (But Not By His Opponents)

Read the rest of this entry »

Share this story

Morning Five: 05.24.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on May 24th, 2011

  1. The Zeller family (of Luke, Tyler, and Cody fame) runs “DistinXion,” which is, as they call it, “a basketball/cheerleading and character training camp.” Yesterday, new Indiana signee Cody posted on the organization’s website his 10 favorite NCAA recruiting rules, with personal tidbits on how he and his family have dealt with them as coaches have made their cases to the boys over the years. It’s definitely worth a read, if only to hear Cody explain how programs can get around the phone-call restrictions, how some schools sent him empty envelopes in the mail, how Old Dominion made a great impression, and why everything he’s written for his family’s site has to be removed after he enrolls at IU.
  2. Yesterday it was player pinball, today it’s more of the coaching carousel. With Billy Kennedy off to Texas A&M, Murray State decided to promote from within and move assistant coach Steve Prohm into the honcho position. While we’re sure Prohm has his own way of runnin’ things, we’d say future Racer teams will look similar to those under Kennedy, since Prohm had a 12-season association with Kennedy over three schools. Why mess with success?
  3. The move that turned some heads yesterday was Ed DeChellis leaving Penn State and going to…Navy. Yes, that Navy. Why would a coach at a major-conference program that made the Big Ten Tournament title game and the NCAA Tournament last season leave his alma mater for a place that has virtually no hoops tradition, offers a smaller salary, and possesses admissions criteria that make it near impossible to put together a team that can win at the D1 level? Despite this past season’s “success,” next year was going to be another tough one for PSU, a place that barely acknowledges its basketball program, anyway, so perhaps DeChellis was just getting out a little early on his own terms to a place that genuinely wants him.
  4. Maryland, it’s your tax dollars at work. The Baltimore Sun offered a breakdown of the highest-paid state employees yesterday, an interesting discussion for a couple of reasons. Most of the people who make more than the governor (who makes $150K) work for the university system, or are doctors employed by the state’s (rather alarmingly named) Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. The highest-paid state employee in 2010? Gary Williams, who pocketed $2.3 million, though most of that came from endorsements/appearances, etc, added onto a base of over $450,ooo.
  5. Let’s give a shout to Kenneth Lyons of the University of North Texas. Not familiar? Well, he’s the all-time leading scorer for the Mean Green and he’s in the school’s athletics hall of fame. He left the program after four years in 1983 without a degree, and the Philadelphia 76ers drafted him, but he never played a single game in the NBA. In 2000, he returned to UNT (it was North Texas State when he played hoops there) — not as a coach or a graduate assistant, but as a student. Tuition money has been hard to come by at times, but two weeks ago, 32 years after he started it, Lyons finished his degree in sociology. If you think college basketball has changed a lot in 32 years, just consider how different life in a classroom is now compared to then.
Share this story