Set Your Tivo: 12.27.10Posted by Brian Otskey on December 27th, 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.
Conference play in the Big Ten and Big East opens with one game from each conference with the latter being what should be one of the best games of the year. All rankings from RTC and all times EST.
Penn State @ Indiana – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (**)
Each team enters the conference opener having lost two in a row with Penn State coming off a discouraging loss at home to Maine. The Hoosiers had a tough trip to Las Vegas before Christmas, going 0-2. Penn State has the best player on the floor in this game with Talor Battle, but Indiana has quite a few match-ups tilted in their favor. The Nittany Lions struggle shooting the ball and defending the three–two areas Indiana that will look to take advantage of the Nittany Lions.Tom Crean’s team is #14 in the nation in effective field goal percentage buoyed by 38% three point shooting and the #13 ranked two point field goal percentage. Indiana hasn’t knocked off anyone of note but they shoot the ball really well at 50% and have a stud in the post in 6’8″ forward Christian Watford. He’ll go up against PSU’s Jeff Brooks, a solid player in his own right. Brooks averages 12/8 and shoots 53% from the floor. However, he will have his hands full trying to defend Watford as the Hoosier big man can step out an shoot from beyond the arc with some consistency. Pulling Brooks away from the basket will open up the middle for the guard-heavy Hoosiers to drive or pull up and score. Indiana should enjoy a slight advantage rebounding, allowing them to get easy second chance opportunities from close range. The Hoosiers can also shoot it from deep as well with Jordan Hulls(52% from 3) on the perimeter. Battle will have to shoot it well for Penn State to have a realistic shot to win on the road. The Nittany Lions will also have to shoot well as a team (they average a dismal 42%), rebound and count on their senior trio of Battle, Brooks and David Jackson to lead them. Those three players score 65% of Penn State’s points and cannot afford an off game on the road. Penn State is not a deep team but must use their slower tempo to frustrate Indiana and force turnovers. It’s not impossible for PSU to win, but you have to favor the Hoosiers at home in the first Big Ten game of the year.
#5 Connecticut @ #7 Pittsburgh – 8:30 pm on ESPN2 (*****)
This was always going to be a good game but it has reached a new level with the surprising success of Connecticut. This heavyweight fight in the Steel City opens what should be a blockbuster Big East season tonight at the Pete. The Panthers run the most efficient offense in the country under the direction of Jamie Dixon and rebound the ball extremely well on both ends. They will go up against a Connecticut team ranked #1 in defense inside the arc, an obstacle for a Pittsburgh team that loves to work the ball inside utilizing some of the best interior passing in the nation. The Panthers and Huskies both average 44 RPG but Pittsburgh does a better job cleaning the defensive glass according to the numbers. The real battle will be on the offensive boards as each team ranks in the top three in that category. Dixon can rotate a boat load of big men into the game, keeping one of the deepest teams in the nation fresh throughout the game. Of course we know you’re thinking about one other key player in this game. How does Pittsburgh go about defending the country’s leading scorer, Kemba Walker? The early front runner for national POY averages 27 PPG and since the season-opener has scored at least 20 in every game this season. Walker’s improved three point shooting, strength and leadership have made him the best guard in the conference and possibly the country. He’s a new player this year and can single handedly take over a game. Ashton Gibbs is a solid defender and will likely get the Walker assignment though Dixon could opt for the bigger Brad Wanamaker. The Panthers will have a great chance to win if they can limit Walker under 20 and crash the boards. Pittsburgh’s three point defense has to concern Dixon, rated #221 in the country. If Walker gets free and drains three’s all night, Connecticut will win this game. Contrary to popular belief, Jim Calhoun’s team is not a one man show. Alex Oriakhihas emerged as a double-double threat every night in his sophomore season. The big man is averaging 11/10 while shooting 55%. He will be challenged against the strong and deep Pitt frontline but he has been a rebounding machine this year, which has been a major key to Connecticut’s undefeated record. Two of Calhoun’s trademarks have remained strong this season as the Huskies continue to block shots (eight per game) and limit the opposition from getting to the free throw line. The Huskies are top five in both categories, something the folks in Storrs have come to expect year after year. The uncanny ability to block shots without fouling is so vital to defensive success and Calhoun has mastered that science over the years. One area of concern for Husky fans has to be their three point defense. Ranked just 201st nationally, Connecticut is vulnerable beyond the arc and Pittsburgh has two weapons that will be licking their chops. Gibbs and Gilbert Brownhave the ability to go off from deep and could carry them to a win. With Wanamaker stuffing the box score, the bigs rebounding and the entire team doing a good job protecting the ball, Pitt is a remarkably efficient offensive unit. They assist on 69% of their made field goals (third nationally). One area where they don’t have an edge is the foul line. Connecticut outshoots the Panthers by 10% (74-64) and combined with the low free throw rate for Husky opponents, don’t expect Pitt to do much work at the line in this game. This is one heck of an opener for the Big East and promises to be a terrific game. The Huskies are undefeated but have played a lot of cupcakes since their impressive run in Maui. This is Connecticut’s first true road game and they will need a third scoring option to step up and push them over the top. Whether it’s the struggling Shabazz Napieror someone else, Calhoun needs somebody other than Walker and Oriakhi to be a threat offensively. If someone steps up, Connecticut has a great chance to earn a tough road win. This one could go either way but Pittsburgh has the edge and an opportunity to hand the Huskies their first loss of the season.