Set Your Tivo: 12.04-12.05Posted by Brian Otskey on December 4th, 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.
The biggest hoops weekend of the year thus far features a blueblood clash, a national championship rematch, a good mid-major battle, a key top 25 Battle in Seattle and a bunch of other quality matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#14 Kentucky @ North Carolina – 12:30 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
Two of the three members of the 2,000 win club meet in Chapel Hill with the Tar Heels holding a 21-11 edge in this series. Even better, Gus Johnson is calling this game for CBS in its first nationally televised game of the season. North Carolina has won five of the last six meetings and could really use a quality win after starting the year 0-3 against major conference opponents. The story for North Carolina will be turnovers. Roy Williams must be going crazy over his backcourt, which committed 14 of UNC’s 18 turnovers in a loss to Illinois on Tuesday. Carolina ranks #217 in turnover percentage but Kentucky, surprisingly is just #305 in forcing turnovers. That could help North Carolina’s confidence in a home game where the place will be sold out and the fans really fired up. If Harrison Barnes can break out of his slump, North Carolina has a really good chance to win this game. Tyler Zeller and John Henson have been the only reason UNC has been competitive. With everyone else on the team having a hard time, Zeller and Henson have combined to average 26 points and 18 rebounds per game. They’ll face a different kind of challenge against Kentucky star freshman Terrence Jones. The 6’8 Jones has been on a tear to start the season, averaging 21/10 while blocking over two shots a game and stretching his game to the perimeter as well. It’ll be interesting to see whether Roy Williams puts Henson or Barnes on Jones defensively as neither comes close to Jones’ strength and athleticism for his size. A better strategy might be to let Jones get his points and focus the defense elsewhere, specifically on getting turnovers from Brandon Knight. The freshman point guard has played well for John Calipari, but his 4.5 turnovers can be a major problem against an up-tempo team like North Carolina. UNC ranks #19 in tempo which is the quickest pace Kentucky has seen since Washington in Maui. Against the Huskies, Knight had eight turnovers and no assists, though he did score 24 points. North Carolina’s guards must be ready defensively against a Kentucky team that shoots 41% from long range, good for #25 in the nation. The Tar Heels have not been good defending the trey, ranking #185. This matchup could tip the balance of this game towards UK if UNC doesn’t defend well. North Carolina gets 61% of its points from inside the arc, something to watch against Kentucky’s tough interior defense which ranks #8 in block percentage. Expect a fun to watch game with a lot of talent on the floor and intensity on the sidelines and in the stands. It’s hard to predict a winner here because UK has the edge overall but UNC is at home where they enjoy a nice advantage. Best to call this one a toss-up.
#1 Duke vs. Butler (IZOD Center, East Rutherford, NJ) – 3:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
The rematch of last year’s epic title game doesn’t have nearly the same feel. Duke is better than last year while Butler has had a rough start to the season with point guard Ronald Nored suffering a concussion against Siena. He’s day-to-day according to Brad Stevens and may miss this game. Butler’s do-everything star from last year’s team, Gordon Hayward, is gone too, averaging just two points a game in less than ten minutes for the Utah Jazz. The Bulldogs were shredded by Louisville and upset by Evansville at home last week, two disappointing losses for a team that came in with high expectations again this year. Look for Duke’s shooters to dominate this game as Butler really struggles on offense and is mediocre defensively inside the three-point line. Butler ranks #171 in two point defense and is one of the worst teams at blocking shots, #312. Duke’s opponents get most of their points inside the arc but Butler is just #246 in two point percentage. Leading scorer and rebounder Matt Howard is making 55% of his shots but as a whole the team is just at 43.5%. Shelvin Mack is back too and has done a nice job distributing the ball, especially with Nored out. Howard’s foul problems are still there but he has yet to foul out of a game this season. Going up against the athletic Mason Plumlee and company inside, it would be naïve to think Howard won’t have foul problems in this game given his history. Duke is the top ranked team in offensive efficiency and should be able to pile up the points against Butler. Kyrie Irving, coming off his spectacular 31-point performance against Michigan State, makes his return to his home state of New Jersey and will surely be ready to play well in front of the home folks. Duke simply has too much for Butler this time around. While it’s sure to be nostalgic for most college basketball fans, don’t expect this game to be close especially if Nored is still out.
#23 Illinois vs. #24 Gonzaga (Key Arena, Seattle, WA) – 5:15 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
These teams met last year in Chicago with Gonzaga winning an overtime thriller and handing the Illini their fifth loss in a season where the losses just became too much to overcome for Illinois in their quest to make the NCAA Tournament. The circumstances are different this year with Illinois at 7-1 and Gonzaga at 4-2. A loss to Illinois would mean the Bulldogs have lost three of four marquee non-conference games so far this year. Mark Few still has a lot of good games line up but make no mistake: this is a very important game for Gonzaga playing in front of a partisan crowd in Seattle. Ball handling problems have plagued the Zags so far with Steven Gray trying to do it all. Gray is averaging 5.5 assists per contest but turns it over 3.5 times as well. The versatile 6’5 swingman is going to be a difficult matchup for the Illini defensively. Bruce Weber doesn’t have a big guard to put on Gray so expect to see a lot of Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale drifting away from the basket at the high post trying to force Gray to the wings and keeping him out of the paint where he can distribute or pull up. Illinois smaller and quicker guards can be useful in trying to create turnovers but Illinois is not a team that actively hunts for turnovers though they should against the Bulldogs, ranked #180 in turnover percentage. The Illini are fundamentally sound defensively, ranking #10 in efficiency. The three point line will be a critical factor in this game as Gonzaga shoots it well but the Illini can defend it well themselves. Gray has taken 44% of Gonzaga’s three point attempts, connecting on 46%. The rebounding battle will be crucial as well with Robert Sacre and his tall teammates ranking #17 in offensive rebounding percentage. In the back court, expect the Illinois shooters to have a big game against a suspect Gonzaga defense. Rated in the 170’s in both three and two point defense, Gonzaga has given up 68 PPG overall and 74 against their quality opponents. Demetri McCamey should have a huge game for Illinois against this defense. The senior point guard is shooting over 50% from three and averages eight assists a game. He should find a lot of room to distribute against a porous Gonzaga defense. Despite Gonzaga’s defensive flaws, this game has all the makings of a classic. You’d expect the Bulldogs to hold a slight rebounding edge and with interior scoring but Illinois has a strong edge against a turnover-prone Gonzaga back court still trying to find its identity. There have been quite a few memorable “Battle in Seattle” games and this one doesn’t figure to disappoint, either.
Wichita State @ #13 San Diego State – 10 pm Saturday on The Mtn. (***)
For Wichita State, this is a critical game. It’s their last opportunity to earn a marquee non-conference win after falling to Connecticut in Maui and consequently missing out on a chance to play Michigan State in the semifinals. Instead the Shockers played D2 Chaminade and middling Virginia. The win against Virginia will look good if the Cavaliers can play like they did at Minnesota on Monday but we don’t see that happening. Both of these teams shoot the ball well, each ranking in the top 25 in effective field goal percentage. San Diego State gets a lot of points from two point range behind star forwards Billy White and Kawhi Leonard. The Aztecs are #14 in two point percentage but don’t get to the line nearly enough, ranking #320 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts. Rebounding will also be a story in this game as San Diego State ranks in the top ten in offensive rebounding percentage while Wichita State is #31 in cleaning the defensive glass. The Shockers actually average more rebounds than the Aztecs due to Gregg Marshall’s ten-man rotation that’s always fresh. No Wichita State player averages over 24 minutes a game, remarkable for a mid-major. Guard David Kyles has been outstanding this year, averaging 15 PPG while shooting 58% from three and over 60% overall. Wichita State’s potent offense will look to take advantage of poor three point defense by San Diego State. Steve Fisher’s team ranks #210 against the trey, something that will really hurt them against the sharpshooting Shockers (42% from deep). Wichita State runs terrific offensive sets, assisting on 70% of their made field goals, second in the nation. J.T. Durley will be counted on by Marshall to do a good defensive job inside against the Aztecs’ strong duo of White and Leonard. San Diego State is the better team on paper and they’re home but don’t discount the meaning of this game for Wichita State. They know they need a quality win so expect them to come out playing well in what should be another great game last on a Saturday night in San Diego.
Temple vs. Maryland (Verizon Center, Washington, DC) – 8 pm Sunday on FSN/MASN (****)
This is a critical game for both clubs, each with two losses on the year. Maryland was swept in the 2K Classic in New York a couple weeks ago but have since won three games including a 62-39 throttling of Penn State on Wednesday in State College. The up-tempo Terrapins will play another team with a similar style on Sunday, the Temple Owls. Fran Dunphy’s team had a rough trip to Disney World, losing two of three in the Old Spice Classic. They found themselves on the ropes against Central Michigan on Wednesday, down ten early in the second half. Over the final 16 minutes, Temple outscored the Chippewas 34-12 en route to a 12-point win. Temple is renowned for its defense and it really stepped up against Central Michigan in a game they had to have. Both teams are in the top 15 in defensive efficiency so expect this to be a low scoring game played almost exclusively inside the arc. These teams are #1 and #2 in percentage of points from two point range, each at 66%. Temple is one of the worst three point shooting teams in the country at 24.5%, though point guard Juan Fernandez was 4-7 from downtown against Central Michigan. Fernandez had been struggling but broke out at least for one game with 18/5 on 6-12 shooting. For their part, Maryland shoots just 30% from the arc despite Terrell Stoglin’sJordan Williams (17/12) going up against the Temple tandem of Lavoy Allen and Michael Eric. Behind Williams, Maryland ranks #13 in block percentage while Temple is the ninth-rated defensive team against two point field goals. Williams has a significant weight advantage against both Allen and Eric so he should be able to create space for himself. From there, the Temple players have to stand their ground and avoid foul trouble against Williams. Temple is very thin up front and cannot afford its bigs getting in foul trouble. Rebounding is another concern for Temple. Maryland averages seven more rebounds a game and the Owls are #254 in offensive rebounding percentage. Aside from Stoglin, Maryland’s back court is very experienced but not so much in ball handling. Greivis Vasquez handled the ball for most of last season and Maryland’s guards have had turnover problems trying to adjust. Swing Cliff Tucker has had a nice improvement this year, averaging 12/4/3. He’ll need to bother Fernandez by helping defensively with his height and keeping the Argentinean out of the lane where he is most dangerous. This is a virtual home game for Maryland in Washington, DC, but Temple is in need of a big win. Another lockdown defensive effort from the Owls will give them that chance. Williams has such an advantage inside that Dunphy may look to shut down Maryland’s other players instead. This should be yet another close game that could possibly come down to free throws, though neither team shoots it well from the line. Expect a physical, defensive struggle and a very low scoring game, probably in the 50’s. 8-17 (47%) shooting from deep. The key matchup is in the paint with Maryland’s stud sophomore
Other important games to watch:
- Utah State @ #10 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on ESPNU (***). Stew Morrill finally decided to play a tough road game out of conference, going cross country for a noon eastern tip. Tai Wesley and Brady Jardine have been terrific for the Aggies while Georgetown’s backcourt is among the very best in the nation.
- Harvard @ Michigan – 1 pm Saturday on BTN (**). Crimson coach Tommy Amaker returns to Ann Arbor against a Michigan team that has surprised some, playing Syracuse tight and winning at Clemson. Harvard knocked off Colorado last Sunday, getting 19/9/6 from Keith Wright. Harvard should be an Ivy League contender along with Princeton.
- West Virginia @ Miami (FL) – 4 pm Saturday on FSN Pittsburgh/Sun Sports (***). Miami earned a nice home win over Mississippi, righting the ship after losing to Rutgers on November 21. Reggie Johnson has been a bull in the paint and should do some damage inside against the Mountaineers. West Virginia has beaten Vanderbilt and looks underrated in the Big East.
- NC State @ #16 Syracuse – 5:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***). With Tracy Smith still out, it’s hard to see NC State playing well in the Carrier Dome after the disaster at Wisconsin this week. Syracuse is undefeated but hasn’t played a top-notch opponent. That will change Tuesday in New York when they meet Michigan State. The Orange have to be careful not to look ahead against the Wolfpack.
- Murray State @ Morehead State – 7:30 pm Saturday on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (**). This is a nice Kentucky mid-major matchup and a great opportunity to see Kenneth Faried (18/15) go to work for the Eagles. Morehead State was competitive in a loss to Florida two weeks ago while Murray State has three losses against a difficult schedule.
- Southern Miss @ Mississippi – 8 pm Saturday on ESPNU (**). This in-state battle features two teams looking to sneak into the NCAA discussion in their respective leagues. Southern Miss is #1 in effective field goal percentage against and two point defense. They grab 50 rebounds a game and junior college transfer Gary Flowers is averaging 20+ PPG. The Rebels need a win after losing to Dayton and Miami already.
- #25 Richmond @ Arizona State – 2 pm Sunday on FS Arizona/FCS Pacific (***). Richmond was blitzed by a late 12-0 Old Dominion run in a loss on Wednesday. Kevin Anderson is the key player for the Spiders, challenging themselves with a strong out of conference schedule. Arizona State played well at times against Baylor on Thursday but just didn’t have enough to stay with the talented Bears.
- Clemson @ South Carolina – 4 pm Sunday on FS South/ESPN FullCourt (***). Another in-state contest, this time for South Carolina, involves two clubs we can’t quite get a read on. Adjusting to life without Devan Downey, the Gamecocks came back to win in double OT at Western Kentucky last week. Clemson needed overtime to notch its one so-so win, 64-58 over Seton Hall in the Virgin Islands. A loss to South Carolina would put the Tigers in a tough spot heading into ACC play.
- Virginia @ Virginia Tech – 6pm Sunday on FSN (***). This weekend must be in-state weekend as we have yet another game featuring rivals of the same state. The ACC opener is crucial for Virginia Tech, already with three losses. Nobody knows what to expect from Virginia, coming off a stunning road win at Minnesota. A loss here and Seth Greenberg will really feel the pressure. The Cavaliers will be without senior Will Sherrill, who fractured his right fibula against Minnesota.
- #20 Texas @ USC – 10:30 pm Sunday on FSN (**). Normally this would be a great matchup on the gridiron, though both programs have had brutal seasons. On the hardwood, Texas has surprised some folks with solid defensive play leading to a 6-1 start. Their only loss came by two points to final four contender Pittsburgh in New York. The Trojans are struggling, sitting at 4-4 after losing two straight in the nation’s heartland to Nebraska and TCU. Jordan Hamilton is shooting 44% from three, playing a bit more efficient this year though he still has a ways to go.