Tracking The Four: Regular Season Recap, Postseason Prospects

Posted by EJacoby on March 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

It was a wild ride for our four teams this year, yet the most important games are just beginning. All four teams are locks for the NCAA Tournament and will have high hopes to do some damage in the postseason. But before Selection Sunday comes, let’s take a look at how each team finished its regular season and what its prospects are for postseason play. Murray State, of course, finished its regular season early and already completed its postseason tournament as part of one of the mid-major leagues that began Championship Week last weekend. The Racers are OVC champions and we will preview their NCAA Tournament outlook while looking at the other three teams’ conference tourney prospects.

Murray State Racers

Murray State Took Down the OVC and Looks Strong Heading into the Big Dance (AP Photo/Wade Payne)

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Racers are on fire since losing their only game of the season and continue to look better and better. They finished off the season with impressive wins at Tennessee State and Tennessee Tech. That earned them a double-bye in the OVC Tournament where they only had to win one game before the finals, and oddly enough the two teams that Murray matched up with in the conference bracket were the two teams with which it had ended the season. Victories over Tennessee Tech (a blowout) and Tennessee State (a nailbiter) proved that this team can win in a variety of ways and that it is peaking heading into postseason play.
  • Resume Review – Murray State finishes tied with the nation’s best overall record at 30-1, which could be the outright best record if neither Syracuse nor Kentucky wins its conference tournaments. The Racers finished 17-1 against OVC competition with an RPI of #24. They went 3-0 against the RPI top-50, with good wins at Memphis and against Southern Miss on a neutral floor. Their only loss was a ‘bad’ one, at home against Tennessee State’s #117 RPI. Murray State’s Pomeroy/Sagarin/BPI/LRMC rankings are as follows: #45/#40/#33/#29. Very solid all-around.
  • Seed Projection – Since all of its games are now completed, we can start projecting Murray State’s NCAA Tournament seed accurately. This team is looking like a #5 or #6 seed according to the consensus bracketologists around the country, though I believe it is closer to a #4 than it is a #6. A #5-seed seems about right, which could possibly mean they’d play in Nashville or Louisville for their first two rounds next week.
  • Player DevelopmentsIsaiah Canaan is the runaway OVC Player of the Year and will receive consideration for national All-America teams as the stellar guard continues to play at an elite level. He averaged 19.4 points, 3.2 rebounds, and 3.6 assists per gamein his final five contests and continues to shoot lights out from three. Ivan Aska has struggled down the stretch, failing to record double-digit scoring or rebounding games in any of his last five. Murray State will desperately need his contributions against the bigger opponent it is likely to draw in the first round.
  • Notable Numbers - Murray State’s +10.5 adjusted scoring margin is very similar to other potential #5- or #6-seeds like Louisville, Vanderbilt, and St. Mary’s. The Racers finished the season with the sixth-best three-point shooting percentage in the country (40.6%) and allowed opponents to shoot just 29.5% from three, ranked 16th best. That’s a tremendous margin. This team also finished with a top-15 free throw rate, true shooting percentage, and steal percentage. The Racers want to send high pressure defensively to look for steals, get out in transition, and hit open threes. This helps hide the fact that they are such a small team inside.
  • Preview & Predictions! – All that’s left for this team is the Big Dance. Therefore, it’s really impossible to predict success without seeing the bracket. However, I don’t think this team is going to be upset in its first game unless it gets a really rough matchup. Assuming a #5 seed, Murray should draw one of the middling bubble teams from a power conference, and it just has to hope it gets someone like Tennessee or Northwestern rather than someone like UConn (sporting great size). From there, we need to see the matchups before declaring whether this team could make the Sweet Sixteen.

Syracuse Orange

  • Finished STRONG Because… – The Orange finished on a 10-game winning streak and have locked up an NCAA Tournament #1 seed regardless of what happens in the Big East Tournament. The Orange will receive a double-bye and don’t need to play until Thursday, where they will already be in the quarterfinals. Their final five wins were all by 10 points or less, so the scoring margins have not been dominant but the experience of closing out close games should be just as important for Syracuse going forward.
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Tracking The Four: Hitting the Home Stretch

Posted by EJacoby on February 28th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

The final week of the regular season is upon us. One of our teams, Murray State, even begins its postseason as the Ohio Valley Conference tournament begins later in the week. This is a crucial time for teams to build confidence and polish their resumes heading into the NCAA Tournament. Let’s take a look at how all of our teams are playing right now as they head into the home stretch.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

Anthony Marshall and UNLV Are Locked In Again (Las Vegas Sun/S. Morris)

  • Trending UP Because… – After dropping two in a row, the Rebels recovered nicely with back-to-back double digit wins in the past seven days. More importantly, their top conference competitor lost both its games, setting up for a crazy finish to this season. UNLV (24-6, 8-4 MW) is tied with New Mexico and San Diego State atop the Mountain West with just two games to play. The Runnin’ Rebs have still lost three straight road games and will look to end that streak when they head to Colorado State on Wednesday.
  • This Week’s Key CogChace Stanback. The swingman led the team in scoring in both wins last week, averaging 20.0 points, 7.5 rebounds, and 2.5 steals per game. The senior shot a fantastic 9-13 from three-point range in the victories.
  • Play of the Week – After a turnover, Anthony Marshall misses the layup but Mike Moser finishes strong with a putback jam against Boise State on Wednesday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Dave Rice on getting the win over Air Force on Saturday: “It was very important to us to get our swagger back. Our swagger is our defensive intensity.”
  • Handicapping the Race - Who’s going to win the Mountain West? The Rebels have a tough draw down the stretch with bubble team Colorado State on the road, followed by Wyoming at home in the season finale, a team they lost to earlier this season. New Mexico, meanwhile, gets two home games against the bottom feeders of the conference.
  • Stats Central – UNLV’s average scoring margin of +19.4 points in home games this year ranks 11th in the country. But its road margin is just +2.0, hence the 6-6 record in true road games this season.
  • What’s Next? – As mentioned, the Rebels take a trip to Colorado State on Wednesday (10:00 PM ET, CBS Sports Network) before drawing Wyoming at home on Saturday (10:00 PM ET, The Mountain) to finish their regular season.

Murray State Racers

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Tracking The Four: Voices of…

Posted by EJacoby on February 24th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

The ‘wildcard’ version of TT4 is back, and this week we take a look at the voices of each team. Below you’ll find key quotes throughout the season from players, coaches, and media members who cover each of our four squads. With just three games remaining (or less) for each team in the regular season, it’s an appropriate time to take the pulse of the programs before they head into the home stretch:

Tom Crean Has Had Much to Say This Season for the Surprising Hoosiers (AP Photo/A. Colwell)

Indiana Hoosiers

  • “They’ve been punking us the past couple years and we realized that. This year we had to go toe-to-toe with them.” Guard Victor Oladipo, 12/31 (after win over Ohio State)
  • “Our mindset is next man up.  We know that a lot of different people at different times can step up and make a play that helps us win games on either offense or defense.  We have done a good job of being unselfish and worrying only about getting the win.” Guard Jordan Hulls, 1/3
  • “The bottom line is this team gritted it out again. They have won 14 games 14 different ways with a lot of room for improvement, and I’m excited about them.” Coach Tom Crean, 1/5
  • “We can’t be satisfied with moral victories.” Center Cody Zeller, 1/18
  • “I think the most difficult thing to swallow from one game to another, though, is simply the consistency of this basketball team in recent weeks. You really just don’t know what you’re going to get from week to week, game to game, minute to minute. And that’s what I find to be the big difference between the 15-1 start and the 2-5 record since then. It comes down to consistency. And it’s across the board.” Beat writer Terry Hutchens of the Indianapolis Star, 2/2
  • “If you’re going to get physical with [Zeller], he’s going to respond. The only soft thing about Cody is that he’s soft-spoken on the court, but other than that he’s a tough, tough person.” Coach Tom Crean, 2/9

Murray State Racers

  • “Coach has a great personality and he cares about our team more than anything, and the same way he cares about us we care about him and we try to go out and play as hard as we can for him.” Guard Isaiah Canaan, 12/15
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Tracking The Four: Rebels Starting to Slip

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

After cruising along with a top 10-15 ranking for much of the season, UNLV is facing its first patch of serious adversity now, having lost three of its last four games (all on the road). Last week, the Rebels took a loss against a mediocre TCU team and followed that up with a blowout at the hands of New Mexico. UNLV all of a sudden finds itself a distant second in the Mountain West conference standings. Meanwhile, Indiana suffered another slip-up on the road, but Syracuse escaped in their task away from home. Murray State had the best week of all with a massive victory over St. Mary’s in the BracketBuster game, so let’s start things off with the positive trending Racers this week:

Murray State Racers

Murray State is Soaring Right Now After Taking its Only Loss (AP Photo/J. Wright)

  • Trending UP Because… – They’ve recovered well after dropping their only game of the season. Since falling to Tennessee State at home on February 9, the Racers (26-1, 13-1 OVC) have played their best ball and capped it off with a dominant win against St. Mary’s in the primetime ESPN BracketBuster matchup on Saturday. They still have two road games remaining against the best the OVC has to offer, but Murray State is undoubtedly headed to the NCAA Tournament now, and they certainly passed the national-audience eye test as a team with some weapons that can do damage offensively.
  • This Week’s Key CogDonte Poole. He led the team in scoring with an 18.0 PPG average in the past week, to go along with 5.0 rebounds and 2.0 steals as well. The senior guard carried the Racers with 25 points in their Wednesday win at Southeast Missouri State.
  • Play of the Week – This ESPN announcer has now idea how to pronounce Isaiah Canaan’s name (it’s CAN-non, like the weapon), but watch this sweet alley-oop from the star guard to Brandon Garrett for a big-time dunk.
  • Talking Point – Coach Steve Prohm talked about how the win over St. Mary’s could help his team’s postseason seed: “If we can finish the season strong, it gives us a chance to get a good seed. But, regardless of where you’re seeded – five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10 – you’re going to play somebody good.”
  • Can’t Win For Losing? - It’s starting to look like taking a loss was the best thing that could have happened to this team. By losing at home, Murray State removed the pressure off its back to run the table, and the Racers have played much better since the public doubted their legitimacy as a Tournament team. The win against St. Mary’s was their toughest opponent in over two months and the least amount of points they’ve allowed in over six weeks.
  • Stats Central – For the season the Racers are now shooting 41.3% from three and allowing opponents to shoot just 29.2% in that area. A massive gap, Murray ranks in the top 20 nationally in both statistics.
  • What’s Next? – Murray State finishes the regular season this week with two challenging road games. First is a rematch at Tennessee State on Thursday (8:00 PM ET, ESPNU) against the only team it has lost to this season. Then the Racers travel to Tennessee Tech on Saturday (8:30 PM ET) against the team ranked fourth in the OVC. Both are losable games, but Murray should win if it can play at the level it has over the past week and a half.

Syracuse Orange

  • Trending EVEN Because… – The Orange avoided a bad loss by escaping Rutgers with a 10-point win on Sunday. Syracuse (27-1, 14-1 Big East) remains a lock for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament as long as it doesn’t suffer a losing streak down the stretch.
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Tracking The Four: Racers’ Pursuit of Perfection Ends Early

Posted by EJacoby on February 14th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

It was only a matter of time. Murray State had been narrowly escaping against OVC competition in the past few games, so it shouldn’t come as a huge shock that the Racers lost their first game of the year on Thursday against a Tennessee State team ranked second in the conference standings. The loss certainly hurts the team’s postseason seeding and kills off the major story that was the undefeated season, but the team may actually benefit from shedding that spotlight off their back. They have a quick turnaround with their most challenging week of the season upcoming. Elsewhere, Syracuse just completed a monster week of wins, and UNLV and Indiana handled business with big home victories. Let’s get to this week’s outlook:

Syracuse Orange

C.J. Fair Was Huge for Syracuse Against Louisville, One of Three Big Wins This Week For the Orange (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

  • Trending UP Because… – They had an awesome week, solidifying themselves as a top team in the land alongside Kentucky. Cuse played tight games against Georgetown and at Louisville, but great late-game execution lead to victories. Throw in Saturday’s win over Connecticut and the Orange are now 26-1 and 13-1 in the Big East, looking like a near-lock for a #1 seed come March Madness.
  • This Week’s Key CogKris Joseph. Who said this team doesn’t have a go-to guy? Joseph scored 29 points, including the game-winning three in overtime, in Wednesday’s win over Georgetown. He averaged a team-high 17.0 points per game in the three victories.
  • Play of the Week – A sweet alley-oop from Scoop Jardine to C.J. Fair from nearly half court was a momentum builder in Saturday’s win over UConn.
  • Talking Point – Coach Jim Boeheim talked about Monday’s ugly win at Louisville, which ended with a score of 52-51: “You can either give the defenses credit or say it was a bad offensive game. We’re going to look on the bright side and say it was a real defensive struggle tonight.”
  • Erasing History - The Orange had lost seven straight games to Louisville heading into Monday’s matchup, and it looked like the streak was going to reach eight when the team trailed by five points with under 4:00 to play. But Jardine and Joseph, two seniors who have never beaten the Cards, were able to erase that history and taste their first ever victory against Rick Pitino’s squad when they closed out the game with strong defense.
  • Stats Central – Monday’s victory was nothing to write home about. Syracuse averages a conference-leading 111.9 offensive efficiency in Big East games, but they only recorded an 89.7 rating in the game against Louisville. Nonetheless, they held the Cardinals to an 87.9 efficiency themselves and walked way with a one-point road victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Orange play just once this week, at Rutgers on Sunday (1:00 PM ET, ESPN) against a struggling Scarlet Knights team. However, Rutgets has already defeated Florida, Connecticut, Cincinnati, and Notre Dame at home this season, and the RAC has become a tough place to play.

Murray State Racers

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Tracking The Four: Perception vs. Reality

Posted by EJacoby on February 10th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. 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.

Public perception dictates a lot in all sports — suits in Las Vegas determine which teams are favored to win games. Players are often labeled as ‘clutch’ or ‘not clutch’ based on arbitrary public sentiments that take no data into account. With much of the college basketball season already completed, players and teams have already developed reputations that become a part of the season narrative; Murray State has ‘played nobody’, Indiana is ‘soft’, Syracuse is the ‘deepest team’, and UNLV ‘can’t win on the road’. But are these sentiments really accurate? This week’s TT4 Wildcard takes the court of public opinion on trial and tries to separate what’s false from what’s reality. All four of our teams remained ranked in the polls, so they’ve been plenty exposed to public chatter:

Indiana Hoosiers

Indiana is Trying to Shake the Label that They're Soft on Defense (AP Photo/T. Ding)

Biggest Misconception – This team is soft defensively

The Hoosiers have certainly had their defensive struggles during Big Ten games, and the results were ugly for a while. They still average a 109.0 dEfficiency in conference play, which is much too high. But soft? That label needs to go, as Indiana has shown much improvement and is starting to fight back when they get hit in the mouth. In their last four games against Wisconsin, Michigan, Purdue, and Illinois, they are allowing just 64.3 points per game. They’ve improved their Big Ten rebound rate to 51.9%, which is fourth in the conference. Defense is still an issue, but give them credit for making strides after beginning the Big Ten with an extremely tough schedule.

Biggest Truth – They are extremely balanced offensively

The word ‘balanced’ gets thrown around with this team, but it’s looking more and more true. Cody Zeller is their clear best player, but they don’t exactly use the freshman as a go-to guy offensively. Consider this: in their last five games, Indiana has had four different leading scorers and seven different players have scored in double-figures at least once. Not only that, but IU ranks in the top 30 nationally in three-point percentage, free-throw percentage, true shooting percentage, and points per possession during conference results. They are an effective offense that attacks in several different ways.

The Unknown – The Hoosiers are a product of their home-court advantage

IU has certainly played much better at home than on the road, which is true of many teams. But there was a feeling that their Assembly Hall home-court was the catalyst to everything this team does, and that argument is starting to fall apart. They’re coming off a 17-point win at Purdue in their latest road game, and their offensive style has translated to opposing arenas. The jury is still out, though, whether they are a strong enough team to win multiple games in a row away from home. The Big Ten Tournament should be a good indicator, as well as their final two winnable road games at Iowa and Minnesota.

Murray State Racers

Biggest Misconception – This team is headed for the bubble

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Tracking The Four: Syracuse Gets Melo & Its Swagger Back

Posted by EJacoby on February 7th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular 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.

What made Syracuse look so beatable in the past three games? Perhaps the answer is as simple as we thought, and Orange big man Fab Melo is just that important to the team’s success. He returned on Saturday and the Orange completely ran St. John’s off the floor in a performance worthy of a number one team. Meanwhile, Indiana and UNLV each split their two-game schedules full of tough road matchups. Murray State continues to cruise along undefeated and is getting closer to its big matchup with St. Mary’s. Let’s see how each team got it done this week:

Syracuse Orange

Michael Carter-Williams Had the Memorable Highlight from Syracuse's Dominant Win Last Week (AP Photo)

  • Trending UP Because… – They put together perhaps their best performance of the season on Saturday by scoring nearly 100 points on the road at St. John’s in their only game of the week. Center Fab Melo returned from suspension for the game and had a solid individual performance (14 points, two blocks, 5-6 shooting), but it’s the collective play of the team’s defense and transition offense that is more telling of his impact. The Orange (23-1, 10-1 Big East) held its opponent to 38% shooting on two-point attempts, whereas they were allowing an average of 44.4% in three games without him. Melo was on the receiving end of several lobs in transition as the team consistently found easy offense in the 95-70 win. The Cuse look to have their swagger back and will try to keep up this strong form with two home games this week.
  • This Week’s Key CogMichael Carter-Williams. This week was a reminder of how truly deep this team is. Carter-Williams is a McDonald’s All-American freshman averaging just 12 minutes per game this season, and he looked like the best player on the floor during his 17 minutes against St. Johns’s. The frosh had 13 points on 5-6 shooting, four rebounds, three assists, and just one turnover in limited playing time.
  • Play of the Week – This was a no-brainer, as our guy Carter-Williams throws down a vicious dunk in transition that was one of the top plays of the week.
  • Talking PointMelo talked about his return to the team after a three-game suspension: “I had fun. It felt good to be back on the court with my teammates. I felt a little rusty and I wanted to do everything at once but Coach told me to slow down and I did.”
  • Coaching Legend - Jim Boeheim continues his ascent up the coaching wins list. Saturday’s victory was the coach’s 879th career victory, tying him with Dean Smith for third all-time. The only men ahead of him are Bob Knight and Mike Krzyzewski, with Knight’s 902 victories a very passable number next year.
  • Stats Central – Although Kentucky owns a near unanimous top ranking, the Orange have the far more impressive overall resume. If the season ended today (which, of course, it doesn’t), then Cuse would be the top overall seed of the NCAA Tournament, boasting the #1 RPI ranking and 12 victories over RPI Top 100 teams. Kentucky has seven Top 100 wins, by comparison.
  • What’s Next? – Syracuse has two tough opponents this week, but both games are at home. First comes rival Georgetown on Wednesday (7:00 PM ET, ESPN), followed by struggling Connecticut on Saturday (1:00 PM ET, CBS). The Hoyas look like the second best team in the Big East right now, and the Huskies could be playing for their postseason lives come this weekend. It’s never easy against these talented conference rivals.

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

  • Trending EVEN Because… – They did lose last week to a team in the mid-70’s of the RPI, but it was a two-point loss in Laramie against tough conference foe Wyoming. The Rebels had several chances to tie or win the game on their final possession of the game, and we can’t knock the team very much for this tight road game. They also easily disposed of Colorado State earlier in the week at home. UNLV (21-4, 5-2 MW) remains in good shape in the Mountain West and has a huge matchup coming up on Saturday.
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Tracking The Four: NBA Prospecting

Posted by EJacoby on February 3rd, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent & regular 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.

Fans, writers, and analysts aren’t the only ones watching games these days. As the second half of the conference season heats up, more and more NBA scouts also have their eyes peeled to the college game to track how players perform in big games. During the NCAA Tournament and after the season is typically when you’ll hear NBA talks pertaining to players, but those in tune with the draft already know the relative value of many players. This week’s TT4 Wildcard breaks down which players on our four teams have a shot to play at the next level. There’s plenty of time left for guys’ stock to go up or down, as well. Let’s do some NBA prospecting:

Top Prospects:

There are no surefire lottery (Top 14) picks on any of our four teams, but there are a couple of players who will make a definite push for consideration:

Scouts are Taking Note of Cody Zeller's Productive Freshman Season (AP Photo/D. Cummings)

  • Cody Zeller, Indiana – He’s only a freshman, and it seems like a sure bet that the big man will be returning to Indiana next season to improve with an even stronger team. But if he were to declare for this year’s NBA Draft, Zeller would likely go in the top 20 picks. Looking further down the road, the big man should have a great chance at being a lottery pick in the 2013 Draft. NBADraft.net currently has Zeller rated as their 13th best overall college prospect, and they have him slotted as a top five selection in 2013. With a smooth game and rock solid fundamentals on both ends, Zeller has been perhaps the most productive freshman in the country this season, averaging 15 points, 6.3 boards, 1.5 steals, and 1.4 blocks on an outstanding 65.2% field-goal percentage. He should only continue to improve as he gets stronger and more confident.
  • Mike Moser, UNLV – Our other player with major intrigue is the Runnin’ Rebels leading man, Moser. A top 50 recruit a couple of years ago, Moser was a quick transfer out of UCLA as a freshman and has stormed onto the scene as a redshirt sophomore this season for UNLV. He’s 6’8” and a freak rebounder with tremendous athleticism — his 11.6 RPG leads the Mountain West and is third in the nation. He also has perimeter skills and range out to the three-point line, hitting 30-87 on three-pointers this season. The combination of strength and skill for an athlete his size has Moser as the #22 overall college prospect at Draft Express. They have him slotted as a top 20 pick in the 2012 Draft, though we’d expect him to come back for another season and have a chance to go even higher in 2013.

First Round Fliers:

The following group of players all have something obvious in common, besides the fact that they could be NBA first-round picks. Take a look:

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Tracking The Four: UNLV Enters Top 10, Indiana Nearly Drops Out Entirely

Posted by EJacoby on January 31st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC correspondent and regular 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.

This week in TT4, the team out in Vegas has entered the top 10 in the RTC rankings. UNLV continues to impress, this time getting it done with back-to-back gritty overtime wins on the road. Meanwhile, Syracuse escaped for a win with some help from the referees, and Murray State found out whom they’re playing in BracketBusters for a major upcoming challenge. Our only team trending downward, Indiana, scored 50 points in a loss and 103 points in a win in consecutive games, and we’ll try to make sense of it all. With plenty of important news to get to, let’s jump into this week’s breakdown:

UNLV Runnin’ Rebels

The High-Flying Runnin' Rebels are Finally Being Recognized as a Top Team (AP Photo/J. Gurzinski)

  • Trending UP Because… – It wasn’t pretty, but they survived two road tests in the past week with victories at Boise State and Air Force. Now, the Runnin’ Rebels (20-3, 4-1 MW) are in the RTC Top 10 and are knocking on the Top 10 door of the AP and USA Today Polls as well. Most bracket projections have Dave Rice’s team as a #3 seed, and it’s hard not to be impressed when you see this team play. Tough tests remain, and a few losses surely await in the competitive Mountain West, but UNLV is proving to be one of the most explosive teams in America.
  • This Week’s Key CogMike Moser. For the second straight week and fifth time this season, a Reb was named MW Player of the Week. This time it was Moser, for the third time, after he averaged 22.5 points, 16.5 rebounds, 2.5 steals, 2.0 assists, and 1.0 blocks per game while shooting 51.7% from the field in two road victories.
  • Play of the Week – Check out Oscar Bellfield’s set-up to Moser for the alley oop in this highlight against Air Force on Saturday.
  • Talking Point – Coach Rice drove home the point that he was happy with the road win at Air Force, no matter how much the team struggled at times: “The bottom line is, we found a way to win. We got huge stops down the stretch when we needed them and made huge offensive plays as well. Now we’re back fighting for a conference title again.”
  • Sick Performance - Moser not only dominated the Falcons on Saturday, but he also put up a career-high 21 rebounds with 18 points in the Wednesday win at Boise State — all while he was ill. The forward was battling a sore throat and head cold and had been vomiting before the game, yet still came through with one of his best games of the season.
  • Stats CentralChace Stanback had the worst shooting performance of his career on Saturday (1-10 from the field, two points), but he contributed in other ways with six rebounds, four assists, and four steals, including the crucial one with two seconds remaining to seal the victory.
  • What’s Next? – The Rebels have two tough matchups this week, first a home game against Colorado State on Wednesday (10:30 PM ET), followed by a road date at Wyoming on Saturday (4:00 PM ET). CSU is ranked #15 in the RPI and a current NCAA bubble team while Wyoming is 12-2 at home this season. Both games are televised on The Mountain TV Network.

Murray State Racers

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Tracking The Four: Scouting Reports

Posted by EJacoby on January 27th, 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.

You know each of our four team’s records, you can see where they’re ranked relative to other teams, and their advanced statistical breakdowns are easily accessible on sites like StatSheet and KenPom. But what about how they actually look in person? If you haven’t watched these teams play multiple times this season, we have the quick-hitting analysis of their strengths and weaknesses. This week’s TT4 Wildcard gives a scouting report for each team, which is a useful way to compare and contrast teams and also look at how they perform in future games relative to their expected tendencies. Feel free to chime in if you think we missed on something!

A Dynamic Offensive Attack has Led to Indiana's Success (AP Photo)

Indiana Hoosiers

Strengths:

  • They space the floor very well offensively, capable of attacking from a variety of angles… Capable of running offense inside-out through Cody Zeller, or outside-in by swinging the ball around the perimeter amongst a number of dangerous scorers.
  • Great perimeter shooting… They take good shots, which leads to a high three-point percentage… Jordan Hulls and Matt Roth have unlimited range on their shots… Christian Watford excels in the mid-range.
  • Cohesive unit that has started the same five players in every game… Starters and reserves both know their roles.

Weaknesses:

  • Poor perimeter defense, often leaving opposing guards without much ball pressure… Allow opponents to run offense comfortably.
  • Lack depth in the frontcourt, putting themselves in a bad position if Zeller is fatigued or in foul trouble.
  • No true point guard on the roster has led to struggles penetrating offensively… Poor assist percentage for such a high-scoring offense.

Overview: A dynamic offensive team that thrives during up-tempo games, enabling them to consistently space the floor and hit open shots… Struggle defensively in the half court with physical teams, and can get in trouble when Zeller or Watford get in foul trouble… Very streaky performance has led to extended runs and deficits during games… Improving defensive team but continue to have trouble getting stops in conference play.

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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: 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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