Morning Five: 05.22.14 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 22nd, 2014

morning5

  1. As we head into Memorial Day weekend, the long summer of college basketball purgatory awaits — June, July and August are fun months for many other reasons, but getting your college hoops fix isn’t one of them. Message boards and social media will remain active, of course, and we’ll do our part here from time to time as well, but at the end of the day, we’re all daydreaming about how next season will play out. The Sporting News waited a little longer than most outlets to release its post-early entry Top 25 for the preseason, but the timing works because it gives us something to chatter about. Perhaps the most surprising selection here is that TSN went against the grain in choosing a team not named Kentucky as its overall #1 team, but there are a few other surprises scattered about the list (particularly at #5). If you need a comparison Top 25, here’s RTC’s version from about a month ago.
  2. One of the teams looking to reload after losing Joel Embiid and Andrew Wiggins to next month’s NBA Draft will be Kansas. With another elite recruiting class headed to Lawrence, however, headlined by star forwards Cliff Alexander and Kelly Oubre, the Jayhawks populate most pundits’ preseason top 10s. Bill Self’s squad might find itself rising in everyone’s mind by October, as Kansas on Wednesday added another impressive piece to the class in Ukrainian guard Sviatoslav Mykhailiuk – good luck pronouncing that one — a tall but talented shooting guard who has been favorably compared with former Michigan star Nik Stauskas. With a ton of frontcourt talent on board as well as Wayne Selden and now Mykhailiuk joining the program, Self only needs to figure out his point guard situation in order to roll out another big-time National Championship contender.
  3. Speaking of one-and-dones, seemingly everyone who has a stake in the game is sick of them. Whether you’re in favor of going back to the preps-to-pros of the multi-year NFL model, people seem to agree that something needs to change. For the good of the game and all that. The Pac-12 on Wednesday took its own shot across the bow of the NBA’s dominion by releasing a letter addressed to ACC, Big Ten, Big 12 and SEC schools suggesting as one of its key reforms the following admonition: “Address the “one and done” phenomenon in men’s basketball. If the National Basketball Association and its Players Association are unable to agree on raising the age limit for players, consider restoring the freshman ineligibility rule in men’s basketball.” Of course, the NBA, under the new leadership of Adam Silver, appears to have prioritized a two-and-through model for its next round of player negotiations, but there’s certainly no guarantee that such a change in rookie eligibility will occur. But freshman ineligibility as a measure of pushback? It would only serve to further marginalize college basketball as a major American sport. 
  4. Remember Julie Roe Lach, the NCAA’s former VP of Enforcement who was run out of the organization on a rail after the disastrous investigation of Miami (FL) athletics and the influence of Nevin Shapiro? After a 14-month hiatus doing consulting work, she’s back in college athletics, now as the new Deputy Commissioner of the Horizon League. Her new responsibilities will include oversight of the league’s 19 championships, student-athlete development, finances, corporate sponsorship and branding, all interesting and important aspects of an organization that has little to do with her previous role involving enforcement. Still, her breadth of experience and without question also her ties to the inner workings of the NCAA right down the street from HL offices are attractive qualities, and everyone deserves a second chance to prove their value and integrity. We wish her and the conference well on their new endeavor.
  5. Some transfer news from the midweek: Creighton picked up Cal transfer Ricky Kreklow; Michigan State’s Russell Byrd plans to play at NAIA school Master’s College; and the nation’s top returning scorer, Niagara’s Antoine Mason, is on the move for his final season of eligibility. All three will be eligible to play next season (Kreklow and Mason are set to use the graduate transfer exception next season, while there is no transfer penalty for Byrd to drop to the NAIA), but it is the free agency of Mason that might be the most interesting of this group. The 6’3″ guard and son of former New York Knick Anthony Mason will no doubt be a hot commodity in coming weeks for schools seeking to add some immediate scoring punch to their backcourts. The caveat with Mason, of course, is that he’s a high-volume, low-efficiency guy who took as many shots as he liked for a 7-26 MAAC team last season. If a high-major coach can get through to him to cut way back on his three-point attempts (28.6% on 168 attempts last season) and focus on driving the lane to draw fouls and get to the line (where he shoots a much nicer 72.8%), then Mason could become a key contributor on a contender next season.
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The RTC Way-Too-Early 2014-15 Top 25

Posted by Walker Carey on April 8th, 2014

If preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We readily admit that we don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees, and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So we will try to project, using the partial information that we have, which are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then, this is what we came up with. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this way-too-early poll is after the jump.

WTE-2014

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The RTC Podblast: Scott Van Pelt Edition

Posted by rtmsf on February 28th, 2014

As we count down the hours until the beginning of March, the RTC Podblast crew is excited to welcome ESPN Sportscenter anchor and all-around good guy Scott Van Pelt (@notthefakeSVP) to this week’s edition. We recorded before several of last night’s upsets, but we did get some conversation in about Kentucky’s home loss to Arkansas, a discussion about the teams we think are truly most likely to win the national title, and a hard look at the best games in a fairly loaded weekend of action. As always, Shane Connolly (@sconnolly114) hosts the proceedings. Have a listen.

Scott Van Pelt Riffed on ACC Basketball and What He Loves About March Madness

Scott Van Pelt Riffed on ACC Basketball and What He Loves About March Madness

Also, as we head into March and the insane number of podcasts/podblasts that we plan on dropping throughout the month, remember to make sure to subscribe on iTunes so that you’ll get all of the episodes immediately downloaded to your listening device. The turnarounds are going to be quick!

  • 0:00-6:33 – Arkansas Completes Kentucky Sweep in Rupp
  • 6:33-9:51 – Arizona Dominant Once Again?
  • 9:51-15:37 – Reactions to March Prognostication Rankings
  • 15:37-25:28 – Rush the Take – Scott Van Pelt
  • 25:28-32:51 – Weekend Preview
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RTC Top 25: Week Four

Posted by WCarey on December 9th, 2013

Michigan State‘s early season stronghold on the top spot in the rankings has come to an end, as the Spartans were upset victims last Wednesday at home against North Carolina. The Spartans were not the only top 10 team to suffer a loss last week, as previously third-ranked Kentucky fell to Baylor on Friday in a game played at AT&T Stadium in Dallas. Previously sixth-ranked Kansas returned to action for the first time in a week on Saturday and was promptly defeated via a buzzer-beater from Colorado. As upsets of top teams has been a trend thus far, new #1 Arizona was able to remain on the winning track with a blowout win over Texas Tech and a narrow home victory over UNLV. Considering all the ranked teams that have fallen so far this season, it is safe to say that this week’s Top 25 should be on the lookout for upset-minded squads seeking a highly-ranked scalp. The quick n’ dirty analysis of this week’s poll is after the jump.

rtc25 12.09.13

 Quick n’ dirty analysis.

  • There Is No Clear #2 Team. Arizona earned every vote for the #1 spot this week, but there was no such consensus when it came to the next team. #2 Syracuse, #3 Louisville, and #4 Ohio State all received votes for the #2 team in the country with the Orange ultimately receiving the nod with an average ballot placement of 3.0. This is quite different from last week when Arizona received every #2 vote from our pollsters. This has been quite the uncertain year thus far in college basketball and the lack of consensus after #1 serves to illustrate that.

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Morning Five: 05.01.13 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on May 1st, 2013

morning5

  1. One of the problems with the NCAA is its stark lack of investigative power. Sometimes what is obvious to everyone cannot be properly investigated and proven because the organization is a private entity, and as such, does not possess subpoena power. In short, they can’t make people do much of anything that would help punish wrongdoers. They pretty much have to depend on folks stepping forward of their own volition or some kind of whistleblower situation where they are provided clear evidence of illicit activity. Enter Duke and Lance Thomas. Even though it is abundantly clear that Thomas received a loan for jewelry where it was unclear how he could pay for it while still enrolled at Duke, the NCAA was unable to get anybody — Thomas, the jeweler, his dog — to talk about the situation. No proof equals no violation, and if you follow it out to its logical conclusion, that means no negative consequences for Duke — especially for the 2010 national championship team (of which Thomas was a starter). Is it fair that such a clear NCAA violation is unprovable? At what point is it acceptable to apply a standard of strict liability where the preponderance of the evidence is greater than what can be proven? These are the kinds of questions that the NCAA really needs to clarify if it ever wants to be taken seriously by the media and public at large when it comes to these situations. Until then, people will continue to assume an agenda-driven basis for how it metes out punishment, and that’s never a good thing.
  2. The NBA Draft deadline was Sunday night and we here at RTC found time to release our post-deadline Top 25 yesterday. We weren’t the only ones. SI.com‘s Luke Winn came up with his post-deadline Power Rankings, and go figure, but our top four is exactly the same as his. Of course, the big difference is that you’ll learn more about TJ McConnell, Shabazz Napier, and Luke Hancock than you ever knew was possible. As we start to hit the long, dry desert of college basketball news from now until October, make sure you read this one as one of your jumping-off points into the summer.
  3. While on the subject of next season, ESPN.com‘s Fran Fraschilla gives us his take on what some of the more prominent returnees can improve their overall effectiveness next season. From probable preseaseon NPOY Doug McDermott to All-America candidates Jahii Carson, Glenn Robinson III, and Gary Harris, the ex-coach evaluates what these players need to do to maximize their collegiate careers. If you said that Carson needs to figure out his left hand, Robinson should understand screens better, and Harris needs to work on ball control, then you’re well on your way to working for the WWL someday.
  4. The last time a prominent player headed south from Rutgers to Florida, it worked out pretty well for the Gators. Mike Rosario headed to Gainesville two summers ago, and in the interim, he learned the difference between scoring and shooting, found that the game works a little better when he passes the ball on occasion, and became a much more effective and efficient all-around player in fewer minutes per game. Can lightning strike twice from New Jersey to Gainesville? Rutgers’ Eli Carter announced on Tuesday that he too was transferring to Florida, and the current Scarlet Knights gunner (14.9 PPG on 31.0% usage) is hoping to find the same uptick in his game after the transfer. Carter will face a similar backlog in backcourt talent but Billy Donovan has shown that he’s more than willing to give players like him a chance to succeed.
  5. And then there’s this from Lexingtonia. Ships passing, man; ships passing. Next year is going to be some kind of awesome.
Hmmm...

Hmmm…

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The RTC Way-Too-Early 2013-14 Top 25

Posted by AMurawa on April 9th, 2013

If Preseason Top 25s are an exercise in futility, polls the day after the national championship game are an exercise in imagination. We don’t know exactly what rosters are going to look like next season, what with early entry announcements, transfers (both in and out), late signees and the inevitable summer run-ins with trouble still pending. So, below, we’ll try to project, using the partial information that we have, just who are the 25 teams most likely to win a national title next season. After the NBA Draft deadline has passed, we’ll do a more educated Top 25, but until then…

  1. Kentucky – Many will be leery to pick the Wildcats #1 based on the missteps of 2012-13, but the talent here is hard to deny. Joining returnees like Alex Poythress and Willie Cauley-Stein, John Calipari adds another stellar recruiting class with (so far) four top-10 recruits (Julius Randle, the Harrison twins and James Young) and another pair in the next 10 (Dakari Johnson and Marcus Lee). The program will again have a huge spotlight on it as they try to get six or more future first-round draft picks to play nice together, but despite his failures this season, Calipari has done enough to earn the trust that he’ll fold these guys into a cohesive unit. They may not be the best team at the start of the year, but they’re the favorites to cut down the nets in Cowboys Stadium next April.

    The Harrison Twins Are Just A Small Part Of The Talent John Calipari Will Have In Lexington Next Year

    The Harrison Twins Are Just A Small Part Of The Talent John Calipari Will Have In Lexington Next Year

  2. Florida – After a down year in the SEC, we’re projecting a return to dominance at the top. The Gators lose Kenny Boynton, Mike Rosario and Erik Murphy, but with ESPN’s #9 recruit, point guard Kasey Hill, and #14 recruit, power forward Chris Walker, coming in, along with a pair of newly eligible frontcourt players in Dorian Finney-Smith and Damontre Harris, Billy Donovan’s squad could be even better.
  3. Arizona Sean Miller’s got a ridiculous front line chock full of McDonald’s All-Americans, with Kaleb Tarczewski, Brandon Ashley and Grant Jerrett all expected back and Aaron Gordon and Rondae Hollis-Jefferson arriving. Throw in Duquesne transfer T.J. McConnell as a true point and Nick Johnson back for his junior campaign and this Wildcats team should dominate the Pac-12.
  4. Duke – Coach K loses a lot, with Seth Curry, Mason Plumlee and Ryan Kelly all gone, but Quinn Cook and Rasheed Sulaimon will be joined by Andre Dawkins returning from a year off and elite recruit Jabari Parker arriving for his freshman year. If the Blue Devils can find some toughness up front from guys like Amile Jefferson, Alex Murphy and Josh Hairston, they’ll again be in the thick of things.
  5. Michigan State – Let’s make the assumption that a 6’10” guy with jump-out-of-the-gym ability and a nice three-point stroke like Adreian Payne is heading to the NBA. Nevertheless, with Keith Appling, Gary Harris, Branden Dawson and Denzel Valentine returning and Tom Izzo back on the sideline, pencil the Spartans in as a the Big Ten favorite. Read the rest of this entry »
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Ten Tuesday Scribbles: On Illinois, Undefeated Teams, A Blown Call Nobody Noticed, and More…

Posted by Brian Otskey on December 11th, 2012

Brian Otskey is an RTC columnist. Every Tuesday during the regular season he’ll be giving his 10 thoughts on the previous week’s action. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

  1. Illinois fans, here is my mea culpa. I was wrong not to rank your team. On Saturday night, the Fighting Illini ventured up to Spokane and walked out of the Kennel with the best win of any team to date. Yes, better than Duke’s wins over Louisville and Ohio State. Why? There has not been a road win of this magnitude by any team through this early point in the season. The Illini proved they’re for real with a dominant second half against a very strong Gonzaga team. After taking the opening punch and falling behind 8-0 right out of the gate, John Groce’s team didn’t panic and made fantastic adjustments. Gonzaga’s game plan was clearly to feed the ball inside and try to dominate a less than imposing Illinois front line. Illinois’ defense suddenly picked up later in the first half, swarming the Gonzaga big men and forcing the Bulldogs into an uncharacteristic 16 turnovers. Illinois was able to speed the game up a bit and prevent Gonzaga from setting up its half court offense effectively. The Zags attempted 18 threes which is right about their season average but a lot of them were rushed and not something the game plan should have called for against an Illinois team without a significant inside presence. Brandon Paul looked like an All-America candidate with his performance not just on the offensive end but defensively against Pangos and the Gonzaga guards as well. Can Illinois keep this level of play up? I’m not sure but I know one thing: The Illini are way better than I thought. This team’s over-reliance on the three-point shot is concerning and is bound to catch up with them at some point, but Illinois has already proved it will be a factor in the loaded Big Ten.

    Brandon Paul Looked Like An All-American Candidate On Saturday Night In Spokane. (Joe Robbins/Getty)

  2. Another impressive performance played out in a different fashion on Saturday night in Clemson, South Carolina. Trailing Clemson by six points midway through the second half, Arizona absorbed the hit and put the pedal down in impressive fashion with a 26-5 run down the stretch to come out of rowdy Littlejohn Coliseum with a sneaky good road win. It was an impressive showing because this Arizona team had been highly touted but untested coming into the game. The Wildcats passed that test with flying colors as they head into a Saturday showdown with Florida in Tucson. Mark Lyons took control in the final minutes for Arizona but contributions from Nick Johnson (13 points, five steals) and Solomon Hill (10 rebounds despite an awful shooting night) illustrate the talent and depth of Sean Miller’s team. Although he didn’t have a great game, I was thoroughly impressed with the physique of freshman Kaleb Tarczewski. It was the first time I’ve seen him play and his body appears mature beyond his age. He’ll be a load for any opponent in the post. Arizona is clearly the best team in the Pac-12 and has the pieces to make a deep run in March. With the gritty Miller at the helm and a boatload of talent, this team will keep getting better as the year moves along. Make sure you watch the Wildcats take on Florida this Saturday night in what could prove to be the best non-conference game of the season.
  3. Another week, another confounding loss for Baylor. Just when you thought the Bears were turning the corner after winning at Kentucky, they put together an absolute stinker of a loss at home to a mediocre Northwestern team that had just suffered back-to-back home losses to Maryland and Illinois-Chicago. Baylor was dominated on the glass by a Northwestern lineup that isn’t all that physically imposing and allowed the Wildcats to shoot 51% for the game. It is inexcusable for a team with Baylor’s talent to have three losses at this point in the season but you know what I like to say, nobody does less with more than Scott Drew. When you look at the statistics, Baylor appears to be a pretty good team. But the chemistry and focus clearly is lacking, otherwise this team wouldn’t have lost to Charleston and Northwestern on its home court. Baylor is a highly talented team and has actually improved its turnover numbers significantly from previous years. Pierre Jackson is playing like one of the best point guards in America and Drew has seen junior forward Cory Jefferson take a huge step forward. Baylor has two more non-conference challenges before Big 12 play begins, against BYU in Waco and a tough trip to Gonzaga in back to back games at the end of this month. Even if the Bears enter Big 12 play at 8-4, I still believe this team is good enough to eventually earn a Top 25 ranking and fit solidly in the NCAA Tournament. At this point however, Baylor just isn’t there yet. Read the rest of this entry »
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Happy with Only Two Ranked Pac-12 Teams? You Should Be

Posted by KDanna on October 18th, 2012

The USA Today Preseason Coaches Poll, released yesterday, revealed two Pac-12 teams ranked in the Top 25: Arizona at No. 11 and UCLA at No. 13. While the Pac is the only power conference to have as few as two teams in the top 25, Pac-12 followers should not feel slighted in the slightest.

The Bruins and Wildcats give the Pac-12 the best chance to restore the conference to what it was a few years ago. (Photo credit: Stephen Dunn/Getty Images).

The major reason for the top-15 rankings for UCLA and Arizona is pretty clear — stellar recruiting classes that feature three five-star talents and one four-star guy for each. With names like Shabazz Muhammad (assuming he plays), Kyle Anderson (assuming he plays), Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley, there is no dearth of talent coming into Westwood and Tucson this year. And surely, with the No. 2 and No. 3 recruiting classes in the country (in addition to high-profile transfers Larry Drew II and Mark Lyons), the Bruins and Wildcats are deserving of preseason recognition. No. 11 and No. 13, however, might be a little high for two teams relying heavily on players who have yet play in a collegiate game. High preseason rankings for super-frosh-dominated teams are nothing new in college basketball; after all, Kentucky was No. 5 in the 2009-10 USA Today preseason poll because of a John Wall-DeMarcus Cousins combination that had yet to play in a game led by a coach who hadn’t yet handled a power conference school as the head man. And certainly, the expectations and hype surrounding the 2012-13 Bruins and Wildcats are more modest than that Kentucky team three years ago. All signs are pointing to these freshmen being great, but until they step on the court in November, you don’t really know what’s in store. And it’s not like these teams haven’t had to deal with a flamed-out recruit or two in recent years…

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Morning Five: 10.03.12 Edition

Posted by rtmsf on October 3rd, 2012

  1. It’s officially considered preseason when the various Top 25s start rolling out from the more reputable sources, and even though we’re still aghast that The Sporting News no longer publishes its college basketball annual (or any annual, for that matter), we’ll give them a break and assume that they still generally know what they’re talking about over there. TSN‘s Top 25 rankings were released Tuesday, and if you’re looking for any major surprises, this probably isn’t the place to start. Still, these rankings are bullish on the Big Ten (three teams in the top five), Duke (#6), and giving some love to the high-mids (seven teams on the list). On the flip side, the group is still a bit skeptical of UCLA (#11) and the Big 12 (only Kansas is represented). If you can’t handle the annoying slideshow format, check out Mike DeCourcy’s write-up on the logic of their selections here.
  2. Is the Atlantic 10 positioning itself to eventually become the pre-eminent basketball league with a predominantly east coast footprint? Obviously we’re excluding the ACC from this consideration, but with the news on Tuesday that the A-10 had signed a new eight-year television deal with ESPN, CBS Sports Network and the NBC Sports Group, you have to wonder if the conference could overcome the dwindling Big East during some of its down years, and especially if more moves (ahem, Louisville) are coming. According to CBSSports.com‘s Jeff Goodman, the league will have roughly 150 annual games on those networks, and although financial terms of the deal were not disclosed, it’s reasonable to assume that the additions of Butler and VCU as mid-major basketball empires produced a significant uptick in the league’s overall marketability and value.
  3. That muffled groan you heard late Monday night emanating from Indianapolis had nothing to do with the Monday Night Football game but instead everything to do with a decision by a federal judge in San Francisco concerning its case versus Ed O’Bannon and his friends. The class action suit against the NCAA depends primarily on the plaintiffs proving that the organization has for decades knowingly exploited its “student-athletes” through the use and sale of their names, likenesses, and images. To show the financial incentives for such a scheme, the O’Bannon group filed a motion for the NCAA to release its licensing and television contracts with ESPN since 2005, and lo and behold, the judge sided with their request. As SI.com‘s Michael McCann writes, this information is invaluable for the plaintiffs, as it not only provides specific dollar figures for the ‘monetization’ of college sports but it also opens up other companies such as ESPN and EA Sports to lawsuits down the line for exactly the same thing. This is a substantial ruling, one that should be watched carefully.
  4. North Carolina continues to find itself under fire for its jock-friendly academic coursework, as the Raleigh News & Observer has repeatedly embarrassed the school with release after release of new information that only serves to further fuel a national sentiment that there needs to be a comprehensive NCAA investigation of the academic side of the basketball program. The latest news is that a number of Tar Heel hoops players (among other athletes) were surprisingly enrolled in a 2007 Naval Weapons Systems class, a course ostensibly designed to produce commissioned US Naval officers rather than eligible power forwards. A Twitter war erupted over the fact that every school has easy classes and majors of which many athletes are attracted to, but people omitting the other side of the story are missing the bigger point. There already is clear and convincing evidence that members of the football team committed academic fraud at the school, and there is significant circumstantial evidence that the university has been at best, incompetent, or at worst, obstructionist, in evaluating the basketball side of the equation — there’s enough smoke here to strongly suggest further scrutiny because it’s becoming increasingly apparent that the school either cannot or will not adequately police itself.
  5. It’s becoming a huge recruiting week for the Class of 2013, as the Harrison twins are due to announce their decisions on ESPNU this Thursday and a couple of other top five players are busily narrowing their lists. Let’s start with some pundits’ overall #1 player, Jabari Parker. The Chicago big man released a list of 10 finalists over the summer (Connecticut was added last week), but his reported favorites Duke and Michigan State will be the first two schools to receive his official visits this fall. He will soon add three more schools from a list including the Huskies, BYU, DePaul, Florida, Georgetown, Kansas, Kentucky, North Carolina and Stanford. Another player considered by some to be the top overall player, Julius Randle, has narrowed his final list to six schools: Kentucky, NC State, Florida, Texas, Kansas and Oklahoma. Interestingly, Tobacco Road powerhouses Duke and UNC were removed from Randle’s list, while Mark Gottfried’s Wolfpack remain. After this coming weekend, the pieces of this year’s recruiting class will start to really fall into place.
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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: 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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Pac-12 Morning Five: 11.03.11 Edition

Posted by Connor Pelton on November 3rd, 2011

  1. The Pac-12 sent four teams to the NCAA Tournament last season, but apparently that isn’t enough to be “relevant.” The loss of Derrick Williams, close exhibition wins (and losses) so far this year, not playing on ESPN enough, and only having two teams in the Big Dance two years ago are the reasons for this, FoxSports’ Billy Witz says. “It’s the quality from top to bottom that gets you progress,” says California coach Mike Montgomery. “There’s been the notion that the Oregon States and the Washington States weren’t any good, so it didn’t make any difference if you beat them because they’re not any good anyway.” The same is true in nonconference play; if UCLA or California gets a big win against a Top 25 team but Oregon State loses to Utah Valley State on the same night, the wins don’t even matter. In fact, the losses will sometimes get more attention. If the Pac-12 is going to be relevant in everyone’s eyes across the nation, teams like Oregon are going to have to prove themselves by beating or at least staying close with the Vanderbilts and Nebraskas of the world.
  2. Washington will face Seattle Pacific in an exhibition tomorrow night and Percy Allen has the preview. The Falcons, as you surely recall, knocked off Arizona last Thursday in Tucson and will look to do the same thing against the Dawgs in Seattle. Wins against D-I opponents aren’t anything new though for SPU, as they defeated Eastern Washington and Nevada as well last season. “It’s been fun,” coach Ryan Looney said. “Our coaches have done a good job preparing for those games and obviously our kids are motivated to play them too. The Falcons outrebounded the #16 Wildcats, 29-20, so yeah, I’ll say they were pretty prepared. “You always would like to win, but I think what’s really important is that we go through game preparations the way we’re going to go through it next Friday in our nonconference opener (against Georgia State),” coach Lorenzo Romar said. It may be just me, but I think only a coach who was worried about losing that game would say that.
  3. In other exhibition news, Oregon won the only Pac-12 game of the night, an 82-75 victory over Grand Canyon. The Ducks looked anything but impressive in the first half as the Antelopes threw out some unique defensive combinations that seemed to confuse the Oregon guards. UO had 17 turnovers on the night, but the key stat was 33 — as in 33 free throws made. If not for GCU fouling so much (which seems to be a common theme among D-II opponents this year) the Antelopes could have very easily won this game. Instead Dana Altman’s team, led by forward E.J. Singler and center Tony Woods (16 points each) escaped with a win. The game was played in front of 6,271 people at TTATT.
  4. Derek Hart previews the UCLA in this article. The Bruins have been picked at or near the top of the Pac-12 by pretty much every preseason publication out there, mainly due to their frontcourt. They have the deepest group of big men in the conference, and possibly the nation, led by junior forward Reeves Nelson and sophomore center Joshua Smith. Both averaged double figure points last season. The addition of the Wear twins, David and Travis, not only bolsters the depth in the paint but on the perimeter as well. Due to renovations at Pauley Pavilion, Bruin home games will be spread out across the greater Los Angeles area this year. They will play14 games at the Los Angeles Sports Arena (former home of USC),  four at the Honda Center in Anaheim, and one game at Citizens Business Bank Arena in Ontario.
  5. The fate of Arizona State’s season relies on forward Kyle Cain and guard Trent Lockett, the latter of whom is featured in this story by Doug Haller. With freshman guard Jahii Carson most likely ineligible due to academics, this will be Lockett’s team to lead. In his first year he was named to the Pac-10 all-Freshman team; last season he was second-team all-Pac-10; and this year he wants to climb the ladder even higher. Before he does that though he needs to improve the range on his jumper. There might not be another guard in the league that has the mid-range jumper AND offensive rebounding ability that he has, but if this Sun Devil team is going to make a respectable postseason tournament, Lockett has to be able to knock down the three with consistency.
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