Set Your Tivo: 01.06.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 6th, 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.
After Jimmer Fredette stole the show late last night, what does Thursday have in store for us hoopheads? Two in-state clashes lead the way, one of them a heated city rivalry. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Xavier @ Cincinnati – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The Crosstown Shootout is always fun but there’s a heightened sense of importance this year for one team. The Cincinnati Bearcats have the upper hand in the city for the first time in years, undefeated and ranked in the both the AP and coaches polls. Xavier has won the last three meetings, and eight of eleven, though Cincinnati leads the series 47-30. The Bearcats will look to snap their losing streak and show the nation they’re legitimate in front of a national audience this evening.
The strength of Mick Cronin’s team lies in their defense, ranked #20 in efficiency and seventh in eFG% against. Cincinnati is a good rebounding team and can bring a bunch of players off the bench. Depth will be important tonight against a Xavier squad that gets 92% of its points from five players. Injuries have devastated Chris Mack and the Musketeers, resulting in the starters logging over 80% of the available minutes. Tu Holloway, coming off a 26-point performance against Florida, has led the way and will be the focus of Cincinnati’s defense tonight. Look for Cronin to put Cashmere Wright on the Xavier guard, a solid defender averaging two steals per game. If Wright can bottle up Holloway, Xavier doesn’t stand much of a chance against the strong Bearcats. Holloway has made five of his last nine triples over the past two games, a nice improvement after struggling for much of the season. He’ll have to do damage from deep for a Xavier team hampered by the struggles of their other perimeter threats. Dante Jackson simply hasn’t been able to find the range all year long (30%) while Mark Lyons went 1-11 from the floor against Florida and has had only one good shooting game since November.
Besides Xavier’s shooting, keep an eye on the matchup in the post. Cincy’s Ibrahima Thomas, coming off a 12/9 performance in only 23 minutes of action against Seton Hall, will take on the Musketeers’ Kenny Frease. The seven footer Frease has become a steady threat over the last month despite a foul-plagued, goose egg performance at Gonzaga two weeks ago. The 6’11 Thomas, a transfer from Oklahoma State, has been hit or miss for Cronin offensively but gives the Bearcats front court depth and a defensive presence along with Yancy Gates. Cincinnati is a comfortable favorite at home but you never quite know what to expect in rivalry games. This will be an intense battle but Xavier has lost two of three and is in a transitional year. The Bearcats should be able to snap their three game losing streak against their crosstown foes.
Northwestern @ #17 Illinois – 9 pm on ESPN2 (**)
Northwestern’s chances in this game ride on the status of John Shurna’s bum ankle. The 6’8 junior star has been much bothered by his injury over NU’s last three games, averaging just 11.7 points compared to 24.4 in the previous nine games. Shurna was held to 1-11 shooting in a loss to Michigan State earlier this week but is expected to play against the Illini tonight. With Shurna not at 100%, Northwestern’s potent offense lacks the same punch. Still, Drew Crawford and Michael “Juice” Thompson will try to lead the way. The triumvirate of Shurna, Crawford and Thompson make up just under two thirds of the Wildcats’ total offensive output so an injured Shurna hurts Bill Carmody’s team greatly. Both teams are ranked in the top ten in three point shooting and run efficient offenses, but Northwestern’s problem has been on the other end. The Wildcats are not a good defensive team and are very vulnerable inside (#246 in two point defense). Against a solid club on both ends in Illinois, Northwestern must shoot and rebound well to contend. Rebounding does not come easy for the Wildcats, especially on the offensive end where they rank a paltry #294. Illinois is much stronger both defensively and on the glass.
The Illini defend the three well, very important against a Northwestern team that gets 36% of its points from deep. Bruce Weber says Illinois goes as Demetri McCamey goes and the senior hasn’t disappointed. He’ll look to cut through the Northwestern defense and distribute the ball like he always does while also looking for his own shot. McCamey is an outstanding shooter and distributor making him perhaps the most valuable player on any team in the Big Ten. Illinois should look to use its superior height to their advantage in this one. The Illini are the tallest team in college basketball including 7’0 Meyers Leonard and 7’1 Mike Tisdale. Using the two effectively against Northwestern’s Luka Mirkovic will make it extremely difficult for the Wildcats to win. Davis is coming off a 14-rebound game against Wisconsin on Sunday and should look to be relentless on the glass against Mirkovic, not a great rebounder for his size (only 4.0 RPG over his last three games). Tisdale loves to step out and knock down jumpers, but he’ll be better utilized inside against the Wildcats if Weber chooses to do that. Northwestern has lost three of four and lacks a quality win on its résumé. While they’ll have more opportunities for quality wins in conference as the season progresses, the Wildcats could really use a big road win to boost their confidence. Unfortunately for them, the chances of that happening tonight are not good.