Set Your Tivo: 01.03.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 3rd, 2011
***** – 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.
Two ranked teams take to the road this evening against a couple of clubs trying to crack the top half of their respective conferences. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#8 Georgetown @ St. John’s — 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)
Steve Lavin makes his Big East home debut tonight at Madison Square Garden as St. John’s looks to score a big win and move to 3-0 in conference play, already off to their best start since the 1999-2000 team began 4-0 in the Big East under Mike Jarvis. The Red Storm have looked like a different team over the last four games. Since an embarrassing loss at Fordham on December 11, St. John’s has won four straight over better competition. The offense started to click in the second half against Northwestern and they haven’t looked back at all. Lavin’s offense is on fire due to the inside play of Justin Burrell and Justin Brownlee, the former shooting 76% over his last three games, as well as Dwight Hardy on the perimeter. The 6’2 senior guard has scored 41 points over the last two games and is shooting 40% from three over the last three. Even with the improved shooting, Hardy is still under 30% on the year from deep giving you an indication of how much he was struggling before this hot stretch. St. John’s gets a lot of points inside (59% of their total production) and has only attempted 17 threes over the last two contests. They shoot 53.5% inside the arc and utilize their forwards and dribble penetration effectively.
Valuing the ball is important against Georgetown as you must limit their chances to score. St. John’s was bothered a bit by Providence’s full court pressure in the second half on Saturday but managed to hang on to win by a bucket. That won’t be so easy against the talented Hoyas. Despite their offensive success recently, the main reason St. John’s has won four straight is their defense. Lavin has mixed in some zone along with man-to-man defense, often confusing the opponent. St. John’s is not a great defensive team but there has been a noticeable improvement over this four game stretch. Opponents’ field goal percentage has gone from 42% over their first eight games to 39% over the last four. Similarly, opponents’ three point percentage was 39% over the first eight but has dropped to 35.5% during the winning streak. The Johnnies still rank just #281 in defending the triple and they’ll need a strong effort on the perimeter to contain a guard-oriented Georgetown attack.
The Hoyas are 12-2 but some would say they were exposed at Notre Dame last week, playing solid defense but unable to buy a bucket from long range. Georgetown shot 4-22 (18%) against Notre Dame and fell by 14 points on the road. Chris Wright had an awful game, plus turnovers and the failure to get to the line doomed Georgetown against the Irish. Wright is a key player, setting up the offense while picking his spots to score. There has been a strong correlation over Wright’s career between his poor games and Hoya losses. St. John’s has to bottle him up and force turnovers in order to win. Containing Austin Freeman and Jason Clark is paramount as well because the three Georgetown guards take 57% of the shots on this team. Forcing turnovers, especially from Wright and Clark, limits Georgetown’s possessions and gives St. John’s an opportunity for transition buckets. The Hoyas shoot a lot of threes, so they don’t get to the line often. They shoot it better than St. John’s but the home squad has to attain an advantage at the stripe. Aggressive inside play against Georgetown’s Julian Vaughn is important because foul trouble for Vaughn will open up the paint for St. John’s to go to work. John Thompson III should look to Vaughn more offensively, creating more balance between the guards and the front court while making it easier to get second chance opportunities. Long shots usually lead to long rebounds and the Hoyas aren’t especially great when it comes to offensive rebounding. Georgetown is incredibly difficult to beat when they’re shooting the ball well so it would be wise for St. John’s to set the tone early with in-your-face defense. Getting what should be a decent crowd quickly into the game may be able to drive them to victory.
Each team has an almost identical defensive efficiency rating so this could be a very close game if St. John’s manages to contain the Georgetown offensive onslaught. The Hoyas haven’t been able to beat the Red Storm at Madison Square Garden in nearly three years, their last win coming on January 30, 2008. With St. John’s playing very well right now, this figures to be a very close game. Georgetown is the better team, but the Johnnies have a decent chance to pull the upset tonight and enhance their NCAA résumé. A road win here for the Hoyas may look better as the season moves along provided St. John’s continues to improve.
#18 Michigan State @ Northwestern – 7:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
Northwestern will try to avoid going 0-2 in Big Ten play when they host Michigan State tonight. The Wildcats need quality wins in a hurry and tonight is a good opportunity to grab one. The Spartans have struggled a bit offensively, including a dismal 29% shooting performance in a home loss to Texas. Korie Lucious is having a very tough time of late, shooting just 9-35 (26%) from the floor including 6-24 (25%) from three dating back to Michigan State’s loss to Syracuse almost a month ago. Tom Izzo has received good production out of Durrell Summers but this Spartan team seems to be lacking the intangible “edge” that past Izzo teams have had. One area of concern tonight will be the matchup inside featuring Luka Mirkovic going up against an undersized Michigan State front court. Izzo may need to look at Garrick Sherman to provide solid defense and rebounding against Mirkovic, who is averaging 15.5 PPG over his last two outings. The 6’11 Wildcat big man made six of twelve attempts while scoring 16 points against Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson on Friday, a fine accomplishment. However, Mirkovic grabbed only one rebound which leads us to what should be one of Bill Carmody’s biggest concerns in this game: rebounding. Though this is not exactly a vintage Michigan State team when it comes to glass cleaning, the Spartans play solid defense and grab a bunch of boards. Northwestern averages just 32 RPG and ranks #290 in offensive rebounding.
Another area to be worried about if you’re a Wildcat fan is defense. Northwestern isn’t even in the top 100 in defensive efficiency and their effective field goal percentage against is hovering around #200 in the country. The Wildcats are vulnerable inside, allowing 50% shooting from two point range. As bad as they are defensively, Northwestern is very good on the other side of the ball. They shoot it well from deep behind John Shurna, still making over 60% of his shots from three, and overall. Shurna is a matchup nightmare for most teams because he can take it inside and drive or hang out on the perimeter and bury a three with his unique shooting form. Shurna has, however, hit a slight bump in the road over his last two games, scoring just 24 points total. While most players would take that any day, the 12 PPG is ten below Shurna’s average. The key for Michigan State is to defend. Northwestern was held to 69 points in their two losses, both to respectable teams in St. John’s and Purdue. While it should be easier for the Spartans to score against the softer Wildcat defense, they shouldn’t take points for granted on the road. Summers needs to be on his game and the continued signs of improvement from Kalin Lucas would be encouraging for Izzo and Spartans fans. You’d have to favor Michigan State, even on the road, but this could be a tight game. If Sparty turns the ball over a lot, the Wildcats will get many more opportunities to score and could make it a nail biter. Northwestern isn’t quite desperate yet but they could really use a quality win here. Playing at home, expect the Wildcats to be fired up and give the Spartans all they can handle. Whether that will be enough for a win is another question.