Set Your Tivo: 01.05.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 5th, 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.
An important in-state rivalry game and a heavyweight clash in the Mountain West headline tonight’s college basketball schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Memphis @ Tennessee – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Each team has faced some turmoil this season but in vastly different ways. Memphis has barely skated by a host of inferior opponents on their way to an 11-2 record while Tennessee has lost four of six after starting 7-0. This is Bruce Pearl’s final game before his eight game suspension begins this Saturday at Arkansas. The Volunteers have struggled defensively during this lackluster stretch of games and allowed Charleston to shoot 58% in the Cougars’ win last week. Tennessee’s defense simply must get better, and that starts with Melvin Goins. Pearl’s senior point guard has a reputation as a great on-ball defender and he’ll need to bring it against a guard-heavy Memphis squad.
Tennessee has a big height advantage in this game inside with Brian Williams in addition to most of the matchups at the guard and forward positions. You could conceivably argue that Memphis starts five guards because even 6’9 Wesley Witherspoon plays like one. The Tigers will look to speed up the game through creating steals and getting transition baskets, otherwise Tennessee should have an edge in a half court setting. The Vols don’t mind playing fast either but their height will be better utilized in a half court game. With the experienced Goins hounding Memphis freshman point guard Joe Jackson, the Tigers might have problems getting into their offense. Jackson dished out eight assists in each of Memphis’ last two games but going up against Goins will be among the toughest assignments the young man faced all season.
Tennessee is not a great shooting team (#212 eFG%) but Memphis must have a good game on the glass in order to win on the road. Tennessee is a great offensive rebounding team (#15) while the Tigers rank #274 in keeping their foes off the offensive boards. Josh Pastner’s game plan should be to force Tennessee into lots of threes. The Vols shoot only 30% from deep and firing up a lot of triples will keep them out of the paint while resulting in long rebounds and transition opportunities for Memphis. Tennessee has shot 15-68 (22%) from three in their four losses, making perimeter defense an important part of the equation as well. If you want the Vols to shoot a lot of threes, you better be prepared to defend them. By contrast, Pearl should plan to have his guards to drive and distribute on every occasion, a strategem that makes them a much more dangerous team since their guards possess an exceptional ability in finishing strong or dishing to guys like Tobias Harris for an easy deuce. Getting inside will also get Tennessee to the free throw line, a place where they’ve thrived this season. Ranked ninth in free throw rate, the Vols average almost 29 free throw attempts per game. Tennessee’s top four scorers all shoot over 70% from the stripe giving Pearl options in tight games. Tennessee is a good team on paper but they’ve clearly been struggling. This is an unpredictable game when you factor in the erratic play of both teams. However, it may be asking too much for the young Tigers – the fourth least experienced team in the nation – to win their first true road game against a decent team.
Memphis will get a boost if Charles Carmouche is able to play after a bout with the flu but we can’t say if he’ll be 100%. It’s hard to see how this one plays out but we’ll give Tennessee a slight edge at home.
#15 BYU @ #25 UNLV — 10 pm on CBS College Sports (****)
Two of the best in the west meet in Las Vegas tonight in a pivotal Mountain West opener. UNLV, ranked ninth in the nation in defensive efficiency, will have a huge challenge trying to contain Cougars star Jimmer Fredette. The senior guard averages 24.0 PPG and, while he’s struggled shooting the trey this season compared to last, The Jimmer is 11-24 (46%) from deep over his last three games, slowly heating up. With a hot Fredette and reliable Jackson Emery, the Cougars are always a threat, and the emergence of Brandon Davies in the post gives BYU a third offensive weapon. Davies has hit double figures in seven of his last nine games and shoots almost 57% from the floor. Emery, Fredette’s back court mate, is a terrific defender averaging three steals per game. That’s good for a top five ranking among all college basketball players in terms of steal percentage. When you peek at stats like that for these squads, you can see how, more than in other games, steals and turnovers will play a key role in determining the outcome of this contest. BYU is second in the nation in protecting the ball on offense while the Rebels rank second in forcing turnovers. Whoever controls the turnover margin should therefore have an edge tonight.
Dave Rose’s Cougars also rebound the ball very well, a big concern for Lon Kruger and his team. UNLV averages only 35 RPG with 6’6 Kentucky transfer Derrick Jasper leading the team at 5.5 per game. An important player rebounding-wise for UNLV is another transfer, Quintrell Thomas, who came over from Kansas. The Newark, New Jersey native has finally found a home in Vegas, averaging 15 productive minutes per game. If Thomas asserts himself on the glass, UNLV can hold their own against a Cougar team averaging 41 boards per game. Still, UNLV was able to defeat another solid rebounding club (Wisconsin) even while being out-rebounded 35-25.
The Rebels shoot and defend well inside the arc, clearly their strength on both ends. Kruger has five players averaging at least 9.0 PPG but he would love to get Chace Stanback going. Ever since a 16-point effort against UC Santa Barbara, Stanback has scored just 20 points in three games while hitting only three of his last 14 field goals. Look for the Rebels to try and go inside against Davies and Noah Hartsock, attempting to get the BYU big men in some early foul trouble. This group of Cougars has never won at UNLV so the slightest of edges goes to the Rebels. These are two pretty evenly matched teams, however, and it should be a terrific game. This could go a long way towards determining the Mountain West champion, though San Diego State will eventually have a lot to say about that.