Set Your Tivo: 12.31.10Posted by Brian Otskey on December 31st, 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.
A really good schedule awaits college basketball fans today on your New Year’s Eve. The Battle of the Bluegrass gets things going right away with an early noon tip, a game tailor made for Gus Johnson. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#12 Kentucky @ Louisville — 12 pm on CBS (*****)
Louisville will be shorthanded in this game but is favored according to the Vegas odds. The Cardinals, still without Jared Swopshire, will also be missing the services of Rakeem Buckles and Mike Marra this afternoon. Still, this is a game you must watch with Gus Johnson on the call. It is a unique rivalry that doesn’t get enough press and has only heated up with the addition of John Calipari and the switch of Rick Pitino from Kentucky blue to Louisville red. It started almost 100 years ago in 1913 but the teams have only met 41 times prior to today with Kentucky holding a 27-14 edge. These teams did not meet for 24 years from 1959 until an elite eight NCAA Tournament game on March 26, 1983. They have met every year since then with UK leading 18-11 in the modern era. One interesting fact is that Kentucky has never failed to win at least two games in a row after winning one throughout the entire history of this series. With the Wildcats on a one game winning streak entering the game today, that statistic, though ultimately meaningless, would suggest a UK win. Expect this game to feature a lot of threes, a big part of each team’s offense. Kentucky actually has five guys who can knock down a triple, much more than the average team. Doron Lamb and Preston Knowles are the big shooters for their respective teams with Lamb being the better of the two so far this year. The freshman has connected on 54% of his treys including a seven for eight performance against Winthrop, a large part of Kentucky’s #13 three point percentage. Knowles is Louisville’s leading scorer and a good defender who teams with Peyton Siva to really disrupt opponents on the defensive end. That will be a big factor against Kentucky point guard Brandon Knight, averaging almost four turnovers per game. Rick Pitino loves the zone press so expect a lot of trapping and aggressive on-ball defense from the Cardinals, trying to get Knight out of a rhythm and make him turnover-prone. As a whole, Kentucky takes remarkably good care of the ball with only 11 turnovers as a team. Calipari needs a good point guard to run his dribble drive offense and Knight is often the key to their success. He had an awful game in a loss to Connecticut and fouled out after committing six turnovers in UK’s loss to North Carolina. In the front court, Kentucky has the best player on the floor in Terrence Jones. The 6’8 freshman can score from almost anywhere on the floor and uses his superior athleticism effectively to create space. Another T.J., Terrence Jennings, has to have a good game defensively for Louisville. He’s a good shot blocker and must neutralize Jones inside. Despite their reliance on the three pointer, the Cardinals get a lot of points inside as well, the seventh best two point shooting team in the country. With Buckles out however, Louisville may turn even more towards the trey in order to win. Kentucky lacks a true scoring center as Josh Harrellson rebounds well but doesn’t look to score much, attempting just four field goals per game. Expect Kyle Kuric to step up in the absence of Marra and Buckles. He’s played more minutes lately and scored 25 points against Morgan State on Monday. Quite simply, this game is going to be a war. The fans hate each other, the coaches do too and even the players got into it right away last year. Most rivalry games are close and despite Louisville’s personnel issues, we expect this one to be as well. However, depth could rear its ugly head if the Cardinals get into foul trouble. Louisville fouls a lot and Pitino has to ensure that doesn’t become an issue. Even though they’re on the road, Kentucky is the better team and has to get the edge here. Take the Wildcats and the points today.
#13 Minnesota @ #18 Michigan State – 4 pm on Big Ten Network (****)
A critical game for both teams, the loser will face some tough questions going forward. With a loss today, Minnesota faces the real possibility of starting Big Ten play at 1-3 with a game at Ohio State next Sunday and Indiana in between. Michigan State would drop to 8-5 overall with a loss today, making Monday’s game at Northwestern a huge one for the Spartans. For Tom Izzo’s team, the three point line is critical in this matchup. Minnesota doesn’t defend it well at all (#260) and the Spartans shoot 40% behind a trio of capable long range bombers. Durrell Summers leads Michigan State in scoring and is arguably their best shooter from deep while Kalin Lucas and Korie Lucious can also knock down the trifecta. Tubby Smith likes to play a zone but that may hurt the Gophers in this matchup. Unless Minnesota extends their defense beyond the line, Michigan State can easily shoot right over it. Of course when you extend a zone there will be holes inside. Minnesota’s big men must lay down the law in the paint and force MSU to beat them from the outside. A strong defensive game will really limit the Spartans offensively and turn this into a rebounding battle, one Minnesota should feel confident in their ability to win. Michigan State has not been a vintage Izzo team in terms of defense and rebounding, a bad sign against a tall and talented Minnesota team. Trevor Mbakwe could be deadly against the Spartans today with his quickness and long arms around the tin. With Mbakwe inside and Blake Hoffarber outside, the Gophers will keep Michigan State on their toes all game long. Al Nolen must play better for Minnesota. Wisconsin shut him down on Tuesday night held the Minnesota offense in check en route to a victory. Turnovers will again be the story for the Spartans, averaging 16 per game. Extra possessions only enhance the Gophers chances. Michigan State looked awful against Syracuse and the Gopher bigs are even taller than Syracuse’s. Despite the KenPom prediction and the Vegas odds, we’re going against the grain and feel this game will come right down to the very end. This is anyone’s ballgame in East Lansing this afternoon.
Washington @ UCLA – 4 pm on FSN (****)
Each team is 1-0 in league play after knocking off USC and Washington State respectively on Wednesday. Washington needed overtime to put away the Trojans while the Bruins used a huge second half to beat Washington State. The Huskies won’t be facing nearly the same defense that troubled them two nights ago so scoring doesn’t figure to be a problem for their talented offense. That means the Bruins have to score to win, something they were able to do against a decent Cougar defense. Malcolm Lee has caught fire over his last three games, averaging 20 points on 20-35 (57%) shooting. With Lazeric Jones (11 assists vs. WSU) running the point well, UCLA is a dangerous team. How well they can score against a strong Washington defense is another question. They’re going to have to take advantage inside with another good performance from Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt because Washington defends the three really well, allowing just 28% shooting on the year. Ben Howland has to let his team know that they must get to the foul line in this game. Washington doesn’t get there and fouls quite a bit resulting in poor free throw rates on both ends. UCLA can stop the clock, score and disrupt the pace of the game. Washington would love nothing more than to play in transition and up-tempo for 40 minutes. Controlling pace and momentum is tough to do but it’s important for UCLA to get a win today. For Washington, the game plan should be speed it up and rebound well. They should be able to score often against the mediocre UCLA defense, especially from deep. Lorenzo Romar has a bunch of players shooting well from three, good for eighth in the country. Isaiah Thomas has struggled but he’s always a threat that an opposing defense has to respect. Romar has a few other players who don’t shoot often but can knock it down with regularity when they do. Abdul Gaddy has improved tremendously from his disappointing freshman season but is just two for his last 12 field goals. Gaddy is important because he can give Washington a solid third scoring option when others aren’t playing well. The matchup inside between Nelson and Matthew Bryan-Amaning will have a significant impact on this game. Bryan-Amaning gets to the line many more times than most everyone else on a team that doesn’t get to the stripe often. If Nelson is in foul trouble as a result of the Washington big man’s play, the Huskies will have a strong edge on the interior. Combine that with their potent all around offense, UCLA will be in dire straits should that occur. UCLA has played much better over their past few games and will make this game very interesting. They definitely have a chance in this game but Washington finally earned a road win over a decent opponent against USC, their first quality road victory in almost two years. Will a new confidence in their ability to play on the road get Washington on a roll towards a Pac 10 title? It might and it could start today. UCLA will be in this game for a while but Washington has too much offensively for the Bruins to overcome.
A bunch of other solid games:
Northwestern @ #11 Purdue – 12 pm on ESPN2 (***)
The Wildcats looked awful in the second half against St. John’s last week and now enter Big Ten play likely needing at least ten wins to have a chance at the NCAA Tournament. With an awful non-conference schedule and their failure to win at St. John’s Northwestern needs quality wins in a hurry in conference. This would be a nice start but Purdue’s defense should trump Northwestern’s potent offense in this game. Matt Painter’s squad is second in the nation in defensive efficiency and is coming off a rout at Michigan earlier this week. Expect the Boilers to take this one.
Charleston @ Tennessee – 2 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Tennessee is doing just enough to scrape by against inferior opponents since losing three straight. The Vols’ season is now filled with doubt and uncertainty after crashing down from a hot start. Charleston has the offensive firepower needed to go into Knoxville and win behind Andrew Goudelock and Jeremy Simmons. Goudelock has scored at least 17 points in every game this season, averaging 23.5 per game. This is a very dangerous game for Tennessee and they just might lose their fourth game in six tries when all is said and done. Cameron Tatum has hit a rough patch at the wrong time for Bruce Pearl.
Florida @ Xavier – 4 pm on ESPN2 (***)
While the fans at the Cintas Center will enjoy some fried gator, this is an important game for Chris Mack’s team. The Musketeers won last season’s matchup in Gainesville and Florida hasn’t played well since a win over Kansas State two weeks ago. Florida has to contain Tu Holloway and will look to the three ball to win as usual. Kenny Boynton continues to struggle, just seven for his last 36 from deep (19%).
Washington State @ USC – 6 pm on FS West/FSN (regional coverage) (***)
The Cougars have dropped two straight after knocking off Baylor in Hawaii and the loser of this game will drop to 0-2 in Pac 10 play. USC received a spark with the addition of Jio Fontan and looks much better than they did earlier this season. Klay Thompson leads Washington State but Faisal Aden has been a terrific addition to this Cougar team, giving them another threat from deep.
Oklahoma State @ Gonzaga – 10 pm on ESPN2 (***)
It’s time for the Cowboys to show the nation if they’re for real. OSU is 11-1 but the schedule hasn’t been spectacular. The win over Missouri State was a good one but the Pokes have feasted on bottom feeders from major conferences and a host of cupcakes. Oklahoma State must control the boards, a tough task against a big Gonzaga team, and get Marshall Moses back on track (5-19 last two games) in order to win at the Kennel. All of a sudden the Bulldogs have two wins over quality opponents and will look for a third decent non-conference win tonight in order to get back on the right side of the at-large discussion should they need it.