Set Your Tivo: 01.11.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 11th, 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.
Three key conference clashes from different leagues take place tonight with two of the home clubs desperately needing a win. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#17 Wisconsin @ #20 Michigan State – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
The situation is becoming critical for Michigan State after a stunning loss to Penn State on Saturday. The Spartans sit at 10-5 (2-1) but face a daunting next four games starting with Wisconsin tonight. They get a bit of a breather when Northwestern visits the Breslin Center this Saturday but MSU will then head out on the road to Illinois and Purdue. Getting through this four game stretch at 2-2 or better would stabilize things somewhat, but 1-3 or worse will cause some to panic. Wisconsin enters tonight’s game winners of eight of nine after thumping Michigan last week. The Badgers will look to take advantage of their rebounding prowess against a Spartan team that isn’t a vintage Tom Izzo squad in that department. Michigan State does a decent job on the boards but certainly not in the dominating fashion we’re used to seeing from an Izzo-coached team. State was out-rebounded by Penn State in the loss, a major red flag. Wisconsin’s total rebound numbers may not jump off the page at you, but consider their tempo. The Badgers play at the slowest pace of any team in D1 and rebounds are at a premium as a result. Bo Ryan’s team is excellent at cleaning the glass given the limited shot attempts. A slow half court game may actually help Michigan State as they won’t turn the ball over often in transition as they would in a faster game. Turnovers have plagued MSU for most of the year but they’ve improved in recent games, averaging 12 per game over the past four contests. By contrast, Wisconsin does the best job of any team in the land when it comes to taking care of the ball behind Jordan Taylor, committing only eight turnovers per game as a team. Taylor’s assist-to-turnover ratio is an astounding 4.36 and Michigan State will have to guard him well to take Wisconsin out of its rhythm. As you might expect, Wisconsin’s offense is highly efficient. Stopping Jon Leuer will also be important for the Spartans and that job may fall to Delvon Roe. Leuer is as reliable as it gets in college basketball, scoring in double figures every game, pouring in almost 20 PPG. Both of these teams play solid interior defense and shoot the three well, attempting plenty, so expect a barrage from deep tonight. Wisconsin is actually quite vulnerable from behind the arc, ranking #253 in three point defense. Should this game come down to free throws, Wisconsin has a huge edge. Leuer and Taylor are terrific foul shooters as are most of the other Badgers. Draymond Green is an important player for the Spartans but he’s struggled in their two recent losses to Penn State (2-10 FG) and Texas (1-8 FG). We expect a close game in East Lansing, and while you usually have to favor the home team in the Big Ten, we wouldn’t be surprised to see this game go either way.
Florida @ Tennessee – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
The Gators have quietly played better over the past few weeks since their loss to Jacksonville. Winners of four in a row, Florida visits a Tennessee team that has lost five of its last eight and is without their coach for the time being. The Gators have won every true road game this year including wins over Florida State and Xavier. In this game, the question is…which Tennessee team shows up? With Tony Jones taking over against Arkansas, the Volunteers dropped their first game without Bruce Pearl on the sideline. There are many reasons why Tennessee has struggled since its hot start but the disappearance of Cameron Tatum has to rank high on that list. Tatum was a key player in wins against Villanova and Pittsburgh, playing his best two games of the season. Over his last five games, Tatum has averaged only 6.0 PPG, including a goose egg against Arkansas on Saturday. Parlay this with leadership issues and inconsistent play and you have the mess that is Tennessee basketball. The Vols need a third threat after the enigmatic Scotty Hopson and freshman Tobias Harris. To win this game, Tennessee has to lock down on defense. Melvin Goins needs to play well against Florida’s prolific three point shooter and leading scorer Erving Walker, who’s shooting 45% from deep on the year. If Goins can harass Walker into turnovers (he averages three per game), Tennessee will be able to run and get fast break points. The big battle inside will be on the offensive glass. Each team is highly ranked in offensive rebounding so second chance points will be big as well. Florida has Vernon Macklin inside, a better scorer than Tennessee’s Brian Williams. Williams is bigger and the better rebounder but Macklin is a strong threat to score in the paint. A lot of people might be surprised to learn that Florida gets 57% of its points inside the three point arc, which is surprising because the Gators are known for taking a lot of threes under Billy Donovan. In fact, they attempt 17 per game which is down by two from last year. If Florida can establish itself inside early, that’ll spread the floor and open up good looks for the rest of the team. The Gators can also mitigate one of Tennessee’s strengths, which is their ability to get to the free throw line. Florida ranks third in the nation in defensive free throw rate, an important weapon against a Tennessee team that ranks #15 in getting to the stripe when they have the ball. Nobody really knows what to expect from Tennessee these days. They destroyed Memphis last week but then promptly fell on the road to an Arkansas team that isn’t terrible, but one that Tennessee should be better than. If Florida can get a road win here they will jump right back into the discussion as an SEC East contender after dipping under the radar for a time.
NC State @ Boston College – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
With Tracy Smith back in the lineup, NC State is still hopeful this can be a good year. The Wolfpack stand at 11-4 (1-0) after thrashing hapless Wake Forest on Saturday for their fifth straight win. Smith has averaged 18 PPG since his return, a much-needed boost for a team that went through the motions in his absence. The senior gives the young Wolfpack leadership, experience, and opens up the floor for their talented underclassmen to do their thing. Sidney Lowe has five guys averaging double figures including Smith, the other four being three freshman and one sophomore. Playing their first road game in over a month against a more experienced and offensively proficient Boston College team, NC State must have the fortitude to defend better than they have, and to score in bunches. Boston College looks entirely different this season under Steve Donahue. The Eagles are third in the country in offensive efficiency behind the prolific shooting of leading scorer Reggie Jackson as well as Corey Raji, one of the most efficient offensive players in the country. BC plays a slower tempo but shoots well from all over the floor, 40% from deep and 56% inside the arc. Donahue’s Cornell team led the nation in three point shooting last year and he’s brought that system with him to Chestnut Hill. Boston College attempts almost 24 triples per game and has five players capable of going off on any given night. In addition to Jackson and Raji, Biko Paris, Danny Rubin and even Joe Trapani all have the ability to shoot it well from three. That has to be the focus of Lowe’s defense, one that ranks #25 in eFG% against and surrenders only 31% three point shooting. The Wolfpack must clear the boards after any Eagles miss from long range which will allow them to get out in transition and speed up the game. NC State is very good on the offensive boards with freshman C.J. Leslie doing most of the work along with Smith and Richard Howell (7.0 RPG in 18 minutes per game), but can struggle on the other end. The good thing for them is Boston College isn’t a strong rebounding or defensive team. BC pulls down just 32 RPG and is #211 in defensive efficiency, second to last in the ACC in both scoring and FG% defense. The Eagles allow their opponents to shoot 50% from two point range, a problematic number going up against an NC State team that loves to work inside (59% of their points). With Smith in the low post out-weighing every BC player except Josh Southern and the seldom-used Cortney Dunn, it falls to Trapani and Southern to defend the talented Wolfpack big man in addition to Leslie. NC State has a huge advantage in the paint tonight, so expect Smith, and possibly Leslie, to have big games. Even so, NC State’s defense, especially on the three point arc, will determine the outcome of this game. The Wolfpack were torn up by another team that plays at a slow pace (Wisconsin), but that was without Smith and against a Badgers team that BC doesn’t hold a candle to, defensively. Boston College is the rightful favorite at home and has done more to date, but this is a great opportunity for NC State to put the ACC on notice that they’re for real and won’t go quietly. Look for a fairly close game with each team being able to crack the 70 point mark.