Set Your Tivo: 12.28.10Posted by Brian Otskey on December 28th, 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.
Monday was a good night for Pennsylvania as Pittsburgh handed Connecticut its first loss and Penn State knocked off Indiana on the road. Conference play rolls on today with two key Big Ten matchups in the upper Midwest. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#11 Purdue @ Michigan – 2 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
This Tuesday matinee is a great opportunity for Michigan to put itself back on the Big Ten map. The Wolverines are 9-2 against D1 competition and had a very close loss to a top five Syracuse squad. This game pits two guard heavy teams against one another, though Purdue has JaJuan Johnson in the paint. Michigan is vulnerable inside making Jordan Morgan and Evan Smotrycz important players for John Beilein this afternoon. They have to defend Johnson well but more importantly they must grab rebounds. Purdue is not a tremendous rebounding team and neither team shoots all that well so there are going to be plenty of chances for the Wolverines to pick up extra possessions. Michigan is #210 in offensive rebounding percentage and they’ll have to do a much better job than that in order to score inside. As was the case with his West Virginia teams, Beilein loves the three ball. Michigan launches an average of 24 treys per game but connects on just a third of them. Still, the three pointer is the great equalizer in college basketball and when you shoot that often, a lot of shots are going to go through the net. The problem for Michigan is that Purdue ranks #4 in the nation in three point defense and third in defensive efficiency. It’s going to be difficult for the Wolverines to score but Darius Morris will try to make things happen. Michigan’s dynamic guard is averaging 16 PPG and almost eight assists as well while shooting over 50% from the floor. He needs to have a good game and set the table for others like Tim Hardaway Jr. and Zack Novak, a tremendous rebounder for his position and size. Hardaway is shooting just 30% from deep and must get going for Michigan to take the next step up and into the middle of the Big Ten pack. For Purdue, Matt Painter has hinted he’d like to go big but expect a lot of four guard sets with Lewis Jackson and E’Twaun Moore running the show. Outside of Johnson, Purdue’s bigs have averaged just over four PPG and six RPG in 25 minutes of play combined, clearly not getting it done. In order to win, Michigan has to shoot the ball well, control the boards and play solid defense. Beilein loves his 1-3-1 zone and it can work wonders against a team that doesn’t see it often. Expect him to use it in this game and adjust if Johnson does damage underneath the basket. Smotrycz is a key player because he can pull Johnson away from the basket, possessing the capability of knocking down a triple here and there. If the Wolverines can get Johnson into foul trouble early, they’ll have a great chance to pull the upset at home. Purdue is the better team but this should be a very close game today in Ann Arbor.
#13 Minnesota @ #14 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The Golden Gophers have won the last three meetings between these clubs but the odds makers list the Badgers as a comfortable home favorite. Of course Wisconsin is incredibly tough at home in the Kohl Center but they’ve dropped a few games there over the last couple of years. The contrast in pace is dramatic in this game as Minnesota would love to speed the game up and get the Badgers out of their deliberate offense and stout defense and into a transition game. Wisconsin’s tempo is rated second to last in all of D1 and Minnesota will not be able to win a slow, grinding type of game. Wisconsin is too good in the half court with a heady point guard in Jordan Taylor and the versatile experienced veteran Jon Leuer. Both players are Bo Ryan’s biggest threats from deep and inside, making up just under half of Wisconsin’s scoring. The question for the Badgers has been who will step up and be the third scoring option? Keaton Nankivil has done it before and is the likely answer but he hasn’t had that true breakout moment yet this year. Mike Bruesewitz is another candidate after an 18-point performance against Green Bay. To make the leap into the elite of the Big Ten, Wisconsin has to find someone else to take a part of the load off Taylor and Leuer’s shoulders. Against a deep and talented Minnesota team, that could be very important. Wisconsin takes great care of the ball and enjoys the top rebounding margin in the Big Ten. Minnesota rebounds well as a whole behind Trevor Mbakwe and Ralph Sampson III but they’re somewhat vulnerable on the defensive boards. That’s where Wisconsin can hurt them by getting second chances, scoring and getting the Minnesota big men in foul trouble. The Gophers’ strength is inside and if that gets taken away, they’ll have a tough time winning this game. Both teams are almost mirror images of each other when it comes to defending the three and two point shot. Each is well below #200 defending the trifecta while they’re both in the top 20 in two point defense. You’d have to give the edge to Wisconsin because they shoot it better from deep (38% on 22 attempts per game), though Minnesota’s Blake Hoffarber has the potential to get hot at any time and averages eight three’s attempted per game. Wisconsin should be able to run their efficient offense well, though Al Nolen could cause some problems for Taylor at the point. Nolen, a terrific defender, is the key to Minnesota’s success on both ends of the floor. He returned from an injury against South Dakota State last week and played 23 minutes. He should be ready to go again and has to have a big impact on the game for Minnesota to pull out a road win. Should this game come down to free throws, advantage Wisconsin. The Badgers don’t get to the line often but they shoot 79% as a team when they do while Minnesota struggles at just 62%. Tubby Smith should have his team pumped up for this game, a huge chance to earn a quality road win early in the conference season. However, expect the Badgers to do just enough and snap their three game losing streak against the Gophers with a close home victory.
A couple other interesting games tonight:
Providence @ #4 Syracuse – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
This seems like an easy game for Syracuse on paper but Providence has surprised some and can score. These two teams combined for 184 points in their last meeting, a 99-85 Syracuse win, so the Orange should know what they have in store tonight. The Friars have scored at least 82 points in seven of their last eight games and hit 77 in the only exception, a five point win over Northeastern. Providence is just 1-2 away from home but their defensive efficiency is tremendously improved from last season’s train wreck. Keno Davis has his defense ranked #94 this year compared to #237 last season. Syracuse should win but this game may be closer than most expect.
North Carolina vs. Rutgers (at Madison Square Garden) – 9 pm on ESPN2 (**)
Rutgers is 9-2 on the year but has played one of the easiest schedules in all of college basketball. The Scarlet Knights have a new sense of optimism and energy under first year head coach Mike Rice but still figure to struggle this year. This is the fifth consecutive year these two teams have played with North Carolina winning the prior four meetings rather easily. However, UNC cannot take this game for granted. A loss here would be their fifth of the season and with only one quality win out of conference (Kentucky), the Tar Heels have a lot of work ahead of themselves in ACC play.