RTC 2012-13 Top 25: Post NBA Draft Deadline

Posted by KDoyle on May 1st, 2012

It’s never too early for these, right? We all love the debates, projecting who is too high or too low, and taking a closer look at the upcoming college hoops season — six months goes by quickly, promise. In quickly looking at the Top 25, one would surmise that having five of a team’s top players forgo the remainder of their college careers in favor of the NBA Draft would absolutely kill that team’s prospects for the upcoming season, but that is simply not the case for Kentucky. Last year’s National Champions check in at #2 in the Top 25, proving that John Calipari doesn’t rebuild, he reloads. It would not behoove us to let Kentucky steal the storyline, however, as Tom Crean’s Indiana Hoosiers are the top dog in what looks to be a banner upcoming year. In what was arguably the most exciting and high-flying game of last year’s Tournament, the Hoosiers fell to Kentucky in the Sweet Sixteen, but have nearly all the pieces back. Just two years ago this was a 12-20 team with no postseason experience, and now they are the top team in the land — according to our group of experts, at least. What a tremendous job Tom Crean has done. The usual Quick ‘n Dirty after the jump…

Whether it is through an exceptional recruiting class, or an impressive finish to the 2011-12 season coupled with a strong nucleus returning, the following five teams surged upward—and for good reason:

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Six Big Ten Teams Have Their Dancing Shoes On

Posted by jnowak on March 12th, 2012

There are six Big Ten teams in the NCAA Tournament. So what? So let’s dance!

Big Ten fans everywhere should be excited about their team’s prospects in the tournament. The conference has been considered the best in the nation all season, and more than a few squads have the goods to make the Final Four in New Orleans. Here’s a brief look at each of the six Big Ten teams’ first-round games, with some thoughts from our Big Ten contributors Joey Nowak (@joeynowak) and Ryan Terpstra (@terphimself):

Tom Izzo is a master in March. How far can he take his Spartans this year? (Justin Wan/The State News)

#1 Michigan State vs. #16 Long Island University-Brooklyn

  • Ryan Terpstra: A #16 has never beaten a #1, and that won’t change for MSU. The Spartans are playing great, and are 3-for-3 in going to Final Fours when they’ve entered the tournament as a #1 seed. It would behoove them to build an early lead and put the game out of reach so they can rest some starters, because a potential matchup with Memphis would be a tough one for the next round.
  • Joey Nowak: What is there to say about a #1-#16 match-up? As a Brooklyn resident, I’ve been rooting for LIU-Brooklyn the last couple weeks, until I found out they’re matched up against my alma mater. I honestly think this game will be competitive for most of the first half before the Spartans pull away.

#2 Ohio State vs. #15 Loyola

  • RT: The Buckeyes are disappointed to not be a #1 seed after losing in the Big Ten Tournament, but their talent and size can’t be matched by many teams. They should overpower Loyola easily, but a possible game against West Virginia wouldn’t be such a pushover.
  • JN: The Buckeyes probably feel a little burned after losing to the Big Ten Tournament championship game, and that’s bad news for Loyola. Ohio State plays always rebounds well from losses and has shown in the last two weeks that this team means business.
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Big Ten Tournament Second Round Recaps

Posted by jnowak on March 10th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown of how things went down in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals on Friday in Indianapolis:

Wisconsin senior Rob Wilson was practically unstoppable on Friday. (AP)

Wisconsin 79, Indiana 71
  • The Hoosiers were playing this quarterfinal game without the services of senior Verdell Jones III, who tore his ACL in the team’s win on Thursday, but did have a hometown crowd behind them. As it turned out, it wouldn’t be enough to silence the unlikeliest of assassins: Wisconsin’s Rob Wilson. The senior, who came into the game averaging just 3.1 points per game, went off for 30 to give Bo Ryan his school record 266th victory. The win for the Badgers was also significant in that the program avoided its fourth straight one-and-done appearance in the tournament, setting a date with Michigan State on Saturday. Now can Wisconsin avoid losing three times in one season to the Spartans?
Michigan State 92, Iowa 75
  • It was a game many were watching to see how the Spartans would respond without freshman wing Branden Dawson, who was lost for the year with a torn ACL suffered on Sunday against Ohio State. Those questions were answered by a number of Dawson’s teammates. It was a balanced scoring attack for Michigan State — led by Draymond Green‘s 21 points, 10 rebounds and five assists in just 24 minutes of play — that had 10 players score in the game. If Adreian Payne (16 points, seven rebounds), Travis Trice (nine points) and Brandon Wood (10 points) can all contribute like this, the Spartans are as much a threat as ever. For Iowa, it’s the end of the road for senior Matt Gatens, who averaged 15.7 PPG this year and finishes sixth all-time in career scoring at Iowa.

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Four Game Recaps: Big Ten Tournament First Round

Posted by Ryan Terpstra on March 9th, 2012

Here’s a breakdown on how things went down in the Big Ten tournament’s first day of action:

Matt Gatens led Iowa to a big win over Illinois (Andy Lyons, Getty Images)

Iowa 64 – Illinois 61

The skinny: It’s been a tough season for Illini fans, and now (some would say thankfully) it is over. Myers Leonard was a force down low for Illinois, scoring 18 points and grabbing six boards, but Brandon Paul struggled his way to four points on 2-11 shooting. Meanwhile, Matt Gatens continued his solid senior season with 20 points to lead the Hawkeyes, but it was his defense on Paul that really was the difference in this contest for Iowa. Head coach Fran McCaffery complained earlier this week about Gatens not being included on the all-Big Ten defensive team, and the senior looked every bit an elite-level stopper in this match-up. All-Big Ten freshman Aaron White had 13 points and 9 rebounds including a key offensive board with about 40 seconds left after a missed free throw by Roy Devyn Marble that helped seal the game for Iowa.

Up next: The #8-seed Hawkeyes will face #1-seed Michigan State at noon today. Iowa only played the Spartans once this season, falling 95-61 in a game at East Lansing on January 10.

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Big Ten Morning Five: 03.09.12 Edition

Posted by jnowak on March 9th, 2012

  1. This is the end of the road for Bruce Weber at Illinois. Well, not quite yet, but it sure feels that way. All that’s left is the formality, writes Yahoo!‘s Pat Forde from Indianapolis. It seemed the only way for the amiable coach to keep his post with the Fighting Illini was for the team to rattle off a miracle run to win the Big Ten Tournament. But it won’t be so, after the Illini dropped their first-round game to Iowa on Thursday. “It’s very hard,” Weber said. “I’d be lying to you. I’m not sure why or what, but I’ll talk when it’s all … when it all settles down.” There are only two questions remaining and they are related: first, whether Illinois plays in the NIT; and second, how much longer Weber roams the sidelines in Champaign.
  2. If there’s anybody feeling as down in the dumps as Weber today, it’s certainly Northwestern fans. They have endured what seems like a lifetime’s worth of hardships this season alone with all of the season’s close losses. And Thursday, with an overtime loss to Minnesota, it looks like another season of NCAA Tournament hopes are down the drain for the Wildcats. Northwestern was forced to lean too heavily on JerShon Cobb and John Shurna, and it will likely relegate them to their fourth straight NIT.
  3. Indiana is a trendy pick in Indianapolis to at least reach the championship game on Sunday, largely thanks to the huge contingent of Hoosiers fans that made the trek north, but how are their title hopes affected by the loss of Verdell Jones III? The senior guard suffered a sprained knee in the first half of Indiana’s win against Penn State and the Hoosiers will have to figure out how to move on without his more than 25 minutes and nearly 8 PPG.
  4. Minnesota pulled out a nice win against Northwestern, but how much farther can the Golden Gophers go without much size down low? Without the presence of Ralph Sampson III on the block, Minnesota relies much more on its backcourt. It’ll be an interesting match-up against Michigan on Friday, because the Wolverines are not a great interior team in their own right. If anything, it might leave Minnesota fans wondering what might be if they had the big man down low.
  5. Wisconsin has been one of the most steady Big Ten teams over the last decade or so, but Jim Polzin of the Wisconsin State Journal points out that much of that success hasn’t transferred to the Big Ten Tournament. The Badgers will try to avoid their fourth straight one-and-done appearance in the tourney on Friday against Indiana. Wisconsin hasn’t even held a lead in a Big Ten Tourney game the last two years. “We’ve talked about it, that nobody on this roster has won a Big Ten tournament game,” Josh Gasser said. “So it’s definitely in the back of our minds that we want to go down there and have a little chip on our shoulder and hopefully come out with a few wins.”
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ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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Seniors That Will Not Be Forgotten

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on March 4th, 2012

Senior Week is a big deal in the Big Ten.  “One and Done” is a rare term used around the 12 programs because the players typically stick around longer than 1-2 seasons. They embrace the conference and the fans bring them into their lives during the cold winters. As all the teams play their home games over the weekend, the seniors will be honored.  Some of the seniors already have well documented and recognized careers – Michigan State’s Draymond Green, Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor, Ohio State’s William Buford, and Northwestern’s John Shurna are just a few examples.

But Senior Night is not just about star players. It is also about the players who stuck with the program’s ups and downs over the years. It is about the guys that stuck through coaching changes and losing seasons. These kids played their last conference game with the same intensity as the first one despite their record or place in the standings. The seniors who are used to the spotlight will get their well-deserved dues this weekend but let’s take some time to recognize a few players who finish their careers after making an impact. The following are a few seniors that will be remembered as one of the toughest players over their careers.

Verdell Jones III helped Tom Crean put Indiana back in the right direction.

Verdell Jones III

Eight. That’s how many wins Jones had in conference action during his first three years. If you are reaching out for your calculator to check the winning percentage, that ends up being approximately 15%! Jones knew that his career in Bloomington would not be a walk in the park after the mess created by Kelvin Sampson, but he didn’t expect it to be that bad, especially considering Tom Crean’s ability to recruit quality talent. Jones averaged 11 points per game as a freshman and 14.9 during his sophomore season. The Hoosiers expected him to lead early in his career and he did not shy away from the responsibility. Jones had to do everything during games because of the lack of talent around him. Tom Crean remained positive and tried to keep the team’s spirits up but he couldn’t have done it without mature leaders such as Jones. Jones easily could have transferred after an excellent sophomore campaign, but he stayed with the team through the rough times. He could have been demoralized after Maurice Creek got hurt last season, but he continued to play hard. Creek was supposed to be a running mate for Jones but that never materialized.

All the patience paid off for Jones this season. Indiana beat three top 5 teams at home and they could not have done it without his leadership. He has taken a lesser role with the emergence of Christian Watford and the star freshman, Cody Zeller. But the numbers are the only aspect of his game that went down in his fourth year because he continues to be the strong pillar on the young squad. Indiana basketball is back and Jones has been an extremely key piece of the rebuilding project along with his head coach. Crean and the Hoosiers fans are thankful for his contributions.

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Night Line: Indiana Notches Another Great Win, Complicating Big Ten Matters

Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Just when we thought the Big Ten pecking order was clearly established, Tuesday night’s action had to throw us all off a bit. Michigan State, already having clinched at least a share of the Big Ten regular season title, was dominated from the start and dropped a road game at Indiana, 70-55, in front of another raucous Bloomington crowd. The win gave Tom Crean and the Hoosiers their third win over a top five opponent this season, just the fourth time a team has done that in the past decade. With wins over No. 1 Kentucky, then-No. 2 Ohio State, and now No. 5 Michigan State, the Hoosiers have proven that their balanced attack can lead to elite results. But Tuesday’s win reverberated all the way to Columbus and Ann Arbor as well in that the Big Ten race now gets very interesting.

Indiana Soared to a Big Victory on Tuesday Night (Getty Images/A. Lyons)

Before touching on what this win means for IU, it’s necessary to look at the impact Tuesday’s result could have for the Big Ten as a whole. A Michigan State win would have clinched the conference regular season title and enhanced their chance for a #1 seed, but the Spartans got thumped and dropped to 13-4 in conference. Now, Ohio State and Michigan both again sit just one game back of first place. Both teams play their remaining two games away from home, but if they do in fact handle business on the road then we will be looking at a three-way tie for the Big Ten title. If the Buckeyes can defeat Northwestern on Wednesday night, then Sunday afternoon’s game between OSU and MSU looms especially large. A win by Ohio State would give them a share of the Big Ten title, and it would be difficult for the Selection Committee to have Michigan State ranked higher on the NCAA Tournament S-Curve having lost two straight games and carrying a worse overall record. The game will be played in East Lansing, so Michigan State can end all such speculation by notching a win, a Big Ten title, and a great opportunity at a #1 seed. Of course, nothing has been going as planned this season, so you’ll just have to stay tuned in to see what happens the rest of the way.

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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: 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: 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: 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.
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