Set Your Tivo: 01.04.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 4th, 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.
Tuesday is a relatively quiet night for hoops fans but there are a few interesting games out there. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#13 Connecticut @ #16 Notre Dame — 7 pm on SNY/ESPN3.com (****)
The Huskies enter a difficult road environment struggling somewhat after their hot start. Connecticut was beaten soundly at Pittsburgh last week and had a very hard time putting away Big East bottom feeder South Florida at home on Friday, needing overtime to knock off the Bulls. As has been the case all year long, Jim Calhoun’s team hasn’t found a third scorer to take some pressure off Kemba Walker and Alex Oriakhi. Walker needed 27 shots to score 31 points against Pittsburgh and Connecticut is going to need a third option tonight against an experienced Irish team with a lot of scoring balance. Notre Dame has five players averaging double figures when you round Scott Martin’s 9.8 PPG up, and each player knows their role in Mike Brey’s newly disciplined offense.
One could argue the Irish are also defending better than they ever have under their eleventh year head coach. The home squad will look to take advantage of the three point line against a Connecticut team that ranks poorly in shooting and defending the three. The Huskies are sub-200 in both categories despite Walker’s improved shooting. Kemba is hitting on 38% of his deep shots, a vast improvement from his first two seasons in Storrs, but there aren’t many other players on the roster that can be considered a real threat from the arc. Roscoe Smith shoots 36% but has only attempted 22 threes on the year while Shabazz Napier has connected only one out of three times. By contrast, Notre Dame has two players who knock down the triple with regularity, Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough, with a few others showing some range as well. The senior duo comprise the go-to guys for Brey and haven’t disappointed. Look for the Irish to use the arc to their benefit, especially if they have a tough time scoring inside against a Connecticut defense ranked #6 in defending the two point shot (eight blocks per game). Chances are the winner of this game will have won the rebounding battle, as well. Both teams grab a lot of boards, and are two of the better rebounding teams out there. Connecticut ranks third in offensive rebounding, so controlling the defensive glass is huge for Notre Dame tonight. This is a really nice early season conference game and should turn out to be a big win for the victor’s NCAA hopes come March. A slight edge has to go to the Irish because they’re home and have better balance but the Huskies should make this a competitive game late into the second half.
Arkansas @ #12 Texas – 9 pm on ESPNU (**)
Texas has played much better this season on the strength of their defense, ranked #14 in efficiency. Tonight the Longhorns face an Arkansas team that struggles to score at times. The Razorbacks are rated #126 in offensive efficiency, but do have capable players, including big time shooter Rotnei Clarke (40% from deep) and interior presence Delvon Johnson, averaging 10/9 per game on 54% shooting. Arkansas has a few other players who can knock down a trifecta but Clarke takes the majority of their shots. He’ll have to match the performance of Jordan Hamilton, Texas’ leading scorer and deadly three point shooter. The good thing for Arkansas is their defense isn’t too shabby either. Both teams are in the top ten when it comes to effective field goal percentage against, though rebounding is going to be a problem for John Pelphrey’s team against the Longhorns (43 RPG). In the paint, Johnson will have to contend with Tristan Thompson and Gary Johnson of Texas. Thompson is a talented freshman coming off a season-high 22 points against Coppin State on Friday. He possesses an array of post moves and is a strong rebounder.
Gary Johnson is a dependable senior, enjoying his best season under Rick Barnes. Texas should hold the edge on the glass based on the numbers but Arkansas plays a lot of guys and can rotate some fresh bodies into the game. That’s a good thing in some ways but it may be better for Pelphrey to shorten his rotation now that conference play is almost upon them. Another matchup to watch is in the back court between Cory Joseph of Texas and Julysses Nobles for Arkansas. This is Arkansas’ final tune up before conference play begins in earnest and a tremendous opportunity to pick up a résumé win on the road. The SEC West seems to be wide open and a win tonight would give the Razorbacks the confidence they need headed into league play. This old Southwest Conference rivalry might be closer than you expect, but Texas should emerge on top this evening.