Set Your Tivo: 11.18.10Posted by Brian Otskey on November 18th, 2010
***** – quit your job and divorce your wife if that’s what it takes to watch this game live
**** – best watched live, but if you must, tivo and watch it tonight as soon as you get home
*** – set your tivo but make sure you watch it later
** – set your tivo but we’ll forgive you if it stays in the queue until 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
Maryland vs. #5 Pittsburgh — 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Maryland would have been here regardless but a shaky effort against College of Charleston last week has to give Terp fans some second thoughts about their team this season. It doesn’t get any easier against Pittsburgh this evening in the Big Apple. Pe’Shon Howard’s heroics bailed the Terps out against Charleston but they’re going to need solid contributions from many more players in order to compete with Pitt. After a bit of a rusty start against Rhode Island, the Panthers have obliterated their cupcake opponents on the backs of leading scorers Ashton Gibbs and Brad Wanamaker. Pittsburgh is an incredibly deep team, with the rotation sometimes dipping into the ninth or tenth man on the roster. Jamie Dixon has an outstanding rebounding team which will present major problems for Maryland. The Terrapin front court, led by Jordan Williams, is really good and can hang with Pitt on the glass. The problem lies in the backcourt where Pitt’s guards and wings are tremendous rebounders for their size. Maryland has a couple good rebounding guards but this is where the depth of the Panther lineup will really flex its muscle. Dixon can rotate fresh players in and out all night and still have enough manpower to control the boards. Pitt is the second ranked offensive rebounding team so far in the young season. The other glaring issue for Maryland is turnovers. The Terps have had problems handling the ball so far, averaging 20 turnovers per contest. By contrast, Pittsburgh controls the ball well with Gibbs and Travon Woodall off the bench and is fairly successful at getting steals. If the Panthers are prone to one thing it’s three point shooting. Unfortunately for Maryland, they are not a particularly good three point shooting team to begin with so they’ll need an above average shooting performance from their guards to take advantage of this. Even so, it’s hard to see Maryland having enough to win this one. You know Gary Williams will have his troops ready and playing hard but the depth, talent and coaching of Pittsburgh should be too much for Maryland to overcome in Madison Square Garden, Pitt’s second home.
Western Kentucky vs. Minnesota — 7:30 pm on ESPN3.com (***)
This game from the Puerto Rico Tip Off is intriguing because it features a mid-major sleeper and a major conference sleeper picked by some to win this tournament. Last Friday, Western Kentucky went into Philadelphia and absolutely demolished St. Joe’s by 28 points led by 31/9 on 11-15 FG from Sergio Kerusch off the bench. WKU has shot the lights out in their two games this year, averaging 56% from the floor. Remarkably, that’s better than their percentage from the free throw line (52%). The Hilltoppers now face some stiffer competition in Puerto Rico this weekend. Minnesota is 2-0 but didn’t exactly blow the doors off either of their opponents. The Golden Gophers haven’t shot it well from the arc or the free throw line in the early going but are making up for it in the paint. The trio of Ralph Sampson III, Trevor Mbakwe and Colton Iverson is going to be extremely difficult for the undersized Hilltoppers to handle. Ken McDonald’s team has only one contributor tall enough to match Minnesota inside and that is Cliff Dixon. He won’t be able to do it alone so barring foul trouble, expect Minnesota to dominate this game in the paint. Western Kentucky needs to make up for that on the wing as their three leading scorers, including Oklahoma transfer Juan Pattillo, are all 6’5 or 6’6 and play off the ball. On defense they may even be drawn inside to help guard Minnesota’s formidable front line. Any foul trouble for these players would only make it tougher for WKU. Minnesota needs to get Blake Hoffarber going from deep. The dead-eye senior shooter has struggled thus far, hitting only 4-13 from the three-point line. He’s made up for that by getting others involved, dishing out 13 assists in his first two games. Just like their opponent, Minnesota also struggles from the free throw line. This is a hard game to predict because if the Hilltopper wings get hot early they may be able to sustain that late into the second half. Minnesota needs to establish the paint early and get some WKU players into foul trouble. Western Kentucky may stay within reach for most of the game but Minnesota should be able to pull away and win comfortably.
Texas vs. #16 Illinois — 9:30 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The second game of the night from Madison Square Garden should be very entertaining. Believe it or not, Texas comes into the game a bit under the radar after last year’s fall from #1 nationally to 9-7 in the Big 12. The Longhorns should be improved this year and there’s already one big indication that they will indeed be. Texas ranks seventh in defensive efficiency so far, up from 25th last year. While they’ve played two cupcakes, great defense is an encouraging sign for Rick Barnes. Despite having rising star Jordan Hamilton on the wing to drain threes, Texas and Hamilton have struggled thus far, shooting a ghastly 24% from downtown. Up front, freshman Tristan Thompson has been an immediate contributor. Illinois has the makings of a very good team that could challenge Michigan State and Ohio State for the Big Ten crown. It all starts with senior point guard Demetri McCamey who’s averaging a cool eight assists per game so far. We wouldn’t be surprised if he keeps that average in the seven to eight range all year, he’s that good of a playmaker and distributor. The twin towers of Mike — Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale — anchor the Illini front court. Both are pivotal players for Bruce Weber, especially the seven-footer Tisdale. The sky is the limit if he can become more aggressive this season than he has been over his career. A good off-season in the weight room should help as he’ll feel more confident going up against the more physical players in the Big Ten. He’ll enjoy a nice height advantage over the 6’8 Thompson but Tristan is quicker and more athletic. This could get Tisdale in foul trouble and that will be hard for Illinois to deal with as they’ll have to turn to the inexperienced (but talented) freshman Meyers Leonard. With Texas struggling from the arc, expect Barnes to get the ball inside directly to Thompson and through guard penetration. Getting Illinois into foul trouble is obviously good, but Texas needs to take advantage of that at the line where they have not gotten it done over the years. On the other hand, Illinois has a very hard time just getting to the line in the first place. They were one of the worst teams in D1 last year in getting to the stripe and there hasn’t been much improvement so far this season. One thing Illinois will look to exploit is its offense inside the arc. Illinois is a great shooting team in the paint and mid range. When they miss however, they’re a bad offensive rebounding team. For the Longhorns to win they’ll need big games out of Hamilton and Thompson, make some free throws, get some big rebounds and shoot better from long range. The Illini just need McCamey to be himself and the big men must stay out of foul trouble. Weber can also turn to some talented wings and guards such as Brandon Paul if things don’t go as planned. These teams are fairly similar as both have a nice mix of upperclassmen and younger players. The pace should be fairly quick, even for Big Ten member Illinois. We wouldn’t be surprised to see a Texas win as they certainly have the talent to do it. Illinois is also very talented and probably has just enough experience to get by against a Longhorn team still trying to find its identity after last year’s misfortune.