Set Your Tivo: Weekend ReviewPosted by Brian Otskey on December 17th, 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.
This is the last major weekend before conference play begins in earnest and it features a bunch of solid games but none that really jump out at you as must-watch. All in all it’s a pretty good set of games. Don’t forget about the two games in the Bahamas on Saturday (Richmond vs. Georgia Tech and Virginia Tech vs. Mississippi State). They’re not on television but are meaningful, especially the latter. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Texas vs. North Carolina (Greensboro Coliseum, Greensboro, NC) – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
You may never see a game between two unranked teams have this much talent on the court as this one. Yes the Longhorns are ranked in both the AP and Coaches polls but they aren’t in our own top 25. Texas has played better this year on the strength of defense and better chemistry though a loss at USC was cause for concern. Still, Texas has a ton of talent and has the ability to turn this season into a successful one. Leading scorer Jordan Hamilton still has a so-so shot selection but he’s connecting on 41% of his treys, a positive sign for Rick Barnes. Freshman Tristan Thompson has also been a plus for the Longhorns, giving them an athletic post presence who can score and defend very well. When you look at this matchup with North Carolina however, Tyler Zeller (16/8) is going to have a significant height advantage inside. You may see Barnes turn to Matt Hill for a bigger defensive presence in the paint in an attempt to control UNC’s big man. Each team has had some issues at the point guard, especially North Carolina. The Tar Heels have seen better play from Larry Drew II (2:1 A/T ratio) but questions remain with the team averaging 15 turnovers per contest. With a talented freshman in waiting, Roy Williams has to make a decision on who should see the majority of time at the point as they head into ACC play. For Texas, Dogus Balbay has seen his minutes drop in favor of freshman Cory Joseph, a move that’s understandable from an offensive standpoint but questionable in the eyes of some who see the experienced Balbay as a team leader and an effective distributor, not to mention an outstanding defender. Texas is not a particularly great shooting team as a whole so the transition to Joseph could be more about transition opportunities and easy buckets plus Joseph is a much better shooter. As for North Carolina, getting Harrison Barnes going could be the key between middling outside the top 25 and being a consistently ranked team and #2 in the ACC. Barnes is still in a slump, shooting just 33% overall over his last five games including a dismal 5-24 (21%) from three. He’s still averaging double figures and has done a nice job rebounding but the Tar Heels need more out of their star freshman. To become a really good team, UNC needs John Henson to become a consistent third option. He rebounds very well but he’s in double figures one night and single digits the next. He may have a hard time with Thompson inside but Henson is able to stretch his game out a bit and that may open things up inside for the Tar Heels. This figures to be another close game, far different from last year’s Texas blowout. This time North Carolina has the crowd to their advantage and may come out on top by a few points. It’s a huge game for UNC, their last non-conference opportunity for a quality win. Texas still has games with Michigan State and Connecticut but this is a big game for them too in a quasi-road environment. We wouldn’t be surprised either way but a slight edge has to go to UNC in this game.
#5 Kansas State vs. Florida (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 3:30 pm Saturday on FSN (****)
This is the first of two key games for Kansas State, the second coming on Tuesday against UNLV. Winning one or both will certainly help the Wildcats grab a better seed in the NCAA Tournament come March. Against Florida, K-State will have to contend with the Gators’ trapping pressure defense, something that could be a problem given their propensity for turnovers and some point guard issues. Jacob Pullen has been the main distributor at four assists per game but he turns it over more than three times per game, the most on a team that averages 16 turnovers as a unit. Florida’s back court pressure could cause a lot of problems for Kansas State and plenty of extra possessions for the Gators. Pullen doing a lot of ball handling could also be a factor in his overall struggle relative to last season. He’s never been a great shooter, 40% overall from the floor for his career, but his three point shooting is down over six percent to 33% this season. It is true that other teams are trying to lock him up like Duke did, but Pullen has to work through this and become a better player in order to lift Kansas State to the next level where they can compete for a national championship. Frank Martin may go with Will Spradling at the point in order to take some pressure off Pullen. As for Florida, expect them to fire up three’s as usual (17 per game) even though the Gators shoot just 32% as a team. Billy Donovan loves the trey, yet another Rick Pitino protégé who sticks to the system no matter the personnel he has. Erving Walker has improved dramatically but Kenny Boynton still can’t find the range for Florida. Walker shoots 20% better than Boynton from deep yet Boynton has 15 more attempts this season. Kansas State should look to isolate Walker and aggressively defend him, keeping the ball out of his hands. Pullen and Rodney McGruder may have to match Walker’s deep shooting but Martin will be content with Boynton chucking shots up and hitting once in a while, requiring Kansas State to clear the boards well. Both teams rank high in offensive rebounding percentage so the Wildcats must put an emphasis on keeping Florida off the glass as that will lead to easy Gator put backs. Florida is #15 in two point percentage, largely a result of offensive rebounds and the play of Vernon Macklin inside. Macklin against Curtis Kelly will be a key matchup to watch in the low post as each player finishes well and can rebound the basketball effectively. Kansas State should not bank on outscoring Florida from the line considering their awful free throw shooting (55%) and Florida’s ability to keep opponents off the line, second in the nation in defensive free throw rate. Only three players on K-State’s roster shoot over 70% from the line and Pullen is the only one of those three who gets there often. Martin’s depth will take a hit if Wally Judge is out, dealing with personal issues, but we don’t think that will have a major impact on the game. Kansas State is still a very deep team, able to go eight or nine deep if necessary. This should be a terrific game that may come down to the very end. Ken Pomeroy predicts a two-point Florida win so this game is essentially a toss-up. We see it that way as well.
#16 BYU vs. UCLA (Honda Center, Anaheim, CA) – 5:30 pm Saturday on FSN (***)
The Jimmer Fredette show makes its way to SoCal at the John R. Wooden Classic, the first since the legendary coach passed away earlier this year. UCLA will be ready and excited to play in honor of the man who made UCLA basketball the goliath it is. The Bruins are 5-4 and need a good non-conference win as they get ready for Pac 10 play, a conference where quality wins will be few and far between yet again. UCLA is another team that’s struggled with turnovers at 15 per game, Tyler Honeycutt (almost four per game) being the main culprit. Turnover margin will be an important statistic in this game with UCLA’s struggles and BYU being the second best team in turnover percentage, averaging just ten per game. The Cougars are a strong team on both sides of the ball, ranking in the top 15 in both offensive and defensive efficiency. Fredette and Jackson Emery are their main three point threats but each has struggled a bit at 36% and 34% respectively, each player down significantly from where they were last year. As a result, BYU is #168 in team three point percentage, a statistic where they finished third in the country last year. Better production from Noah Hartsock and Brandon Davies inside has made the Cougars a balanced and potent offensive unit averaging 84 PPG and 42 RPG. If Fredette and Emery get back to where they were last year with regards to shooting the trifecta, BYU will be a dangerous team into March. UCLA is hoping it doesn’t start Saturday against them. The Bruins are just #153 in three point defense so it is a possibility. UCLA doesn’t shoot it all that well from deep but has two threats in Honeycutt and Lazeric Jones, each at 38%. Ben Howland may want to work the ball inside with penetration and Reeves Nelson (57% FG) finishing. UCLA gets 59% of its points inside the three point line and they’re not likely to win a three point shooting contest with the Cougars. The Bruins don’t get to the line often and don’t shoot it all that well when they do get there so a strong game in the paint from Nelson and others is necessary in order to beat BYU. On paper BYU is a strong favorite but this game is in UCLA’s backyard and the emotions of playing in the Wooden Classic can only help them, plus they know they need a quality victory. Howland’s team played their best game against their best competition (Kansas) but followed that up with a clunker at home against Montana. We’ll take BYU but up and down UCLA could possibly surprise in Anaheim.
Other games to keep track of:
#4 Tennessee @ Charlotte – 8 pm Friday on CBS College Sports (**)
It’ll be interesting to see how Tennessee responds on the road to its first loss of the season. Charlotte is not very good and coach Alan Major recently booted leading scorer Shamari Spears off the team. Still, the Volunteers need a solid effort to get their confidence back. After playing so well against Pittsburgh, Scotty Hopson was a non-factor against Oakland, the first time all year he did not score in double figures.
USC @ #3 Kansas – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
This game features the season debut of two highly touted players, Kansas’ Josh Selby and USC’s Jio Fontan. How Bill Self incorporates the ultra-talented Selby into the KU rotation will be an important storyline to watch as the Jayhawks are enjoying great chemistry this season. Fontan, a transfer from Fordham, has been hyped all week by USC coach Kevin O’Neill. A big day at Allen Fieldhouse would go a long way towards proving his coach correct.
Oakland @ Michigan – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN3.com (***)
Can the Golden Grizzlies make it two in a row on the road over power conference teams? Michigan is no Tennessee but you can bet John Beilein will have his surprising 8-2 Wolverines prepared for this test. In order to win, Michigan has to shoot the ball better than they have been. Oakland’s defense can give up a lot of points so the Wolverines will need a solid game out of point guard Darius Morris.
UCF vs. Miami (BankAtlantic Center, Sunrise, FL) – 1 pm Saturday on FSN (***)
The undefeated Knights have lived off cupcakes and the win over Florida but now face another test from an in-state team. Everyone talks about Marcus Jordan but how about we give Keith Clanton some love? The 6’8 forward is averaging 17/9 and hit for 28 points against Louisiana Lafayette on Wednesday, a career-high. Miami, specifically Malcolm Grant and Durand Scott, has to shoot the ball well against a UCF defense rated #2 inside the arc and #3 in effective field goal percentage against.
South Carolina @ #2 Ohio State –2 pm Saturday on CBS (regional coverage) (***)
The Gamecocks are a surprising 7-1 but have only one win of note, a victory over Clemson on December 5. Balanced scoring is the name of the game for Darrin Horn’s team as five players average nine to ten points per game behind leading scorer Bruce Ellington, shooting 44% from three. South Carolina is a decent rebounding team but can struggle at times offensively. They’ll have their hands full with an explosive Ohio State team that’s deep, defends well and can hang points on you in a hurry.
Arkansas vs. Texas A&M (American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX) – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
Arkansas is off to a quiet 7-1 start with the only loss coming in overtime to UAB but the Razorbacks have only one decent win, a victory over middling Seton Hall in the SEC/Big East Invitational. Texas A&M is coming off an exciting win over Washington and sits at 9-1, their only defeat by two points at the hands of Boston College. A&M’s strength is up front and they should have an advantage there, but the three point line is the great equalizer in the college game and the Aggies have to do a good job on sharpshooter Rotnei Clark.
Cleveland State @ West Virginia – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
The question has been asked ad nauseam and it will finally be answered here. Is Cleveland State for real? The Vikings are 12-0 but two wins have come against non-D1 opponents. Their best win is over Iona but West Virginia and two games against Butler will be their only true tests this season. They need a good showing here to impress the Selection Committee in case they don’t win the Horizon League tournament in March. Norris Cole is one of the better players you probably have never heard of.
Gonzaga vs. #7 Baylor (American Airlines Center, Dallas, TX) – 4:30 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
The Bulldogs are in dire straits and running out of opportunities to pick up a quality win out of conference. They’ve lost three straight games against D1 opponents and five out of seven overall, giving up an average of 79 PPG in those losses. Baylor has a potent offense but defense has been their strength. Scott Drew’s team is fourth in defensive efficiency, giving up an average of just 52 PPG. Granted, those statistics have been piled up against an extremely weak schedule but Baylor has a strong front line that becomes lethal in a zone defense. Gonzaga has to win this game to keep any hope for an at-large bid alive should they fail to win the WCC tournament. LaceDarius Dunn hasn’t missed a beat since coming back from suspension, shooting 53% and averaging 23 PPG.
Cincinnati vs. Oklahoma (Ford Center, Oklahoma City, OK) – 9 pm Saturday on ESPNU (**)
If the undefeated Bearcats want to be taken seriously, this is a game they have to win even though it’s in Oklahoma City. They’ve played one of the worst schedules in D1 and really won’t be tested until Big East play begins on New Year’s Eve against Seton Hall, the beginning of a tough three game stretch for Cincinnati. Mick Cronin’s team will also host Xavier and then travel to Villanova. With four of their first six Big East games on the road, we’ll have a better handle on the Bearcats by mid-January. Oklahoma has really struggled and looks to be a Big 12 cellar dweller again this year, a stunning collapse for a program that won 30 games with Blake Griffin in 2008-09. The Sooners lost five in a row from November 22 to December 5, including a loss in Maui to D2 Chaminade, and weren’t competitive in any game.
Arizona @ NC State – 4:45 pm Sunday on FSN (***)
Both teams were down at the half to inferior competition on Thursday night yet each recovered with big second halves and won. The Wildcats survived Northern Arizona on Thursday night and now have to head cross-country for a date with an NC State team hoping for the return of star Tracy Smith. The Wolfpack have struggled mightily without Smith’s presence inside, having a hard time with Fairleigh Dickinson before getting destroyed at Wisconsin. They did rebound with a competitive loss at Syracuse but a loss is still a loss. On Thursday they were actually down by 13 at the half to Youngstown State before outscoring the Penguins by 30 points in the second stanza. This is NC State’s final opportunity for a quality non-conference win but the first on their home floor. Getting Smith back would be a huge shot in the arm for Sidney Lowe, a man who likely needs to make the NCAA Tournament to return to the sidelines in Raleigh next season. Derrick Williams was just 3-7 from the floor for Arizona in their comeback win against Northern Arizona.