Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 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.
We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.
#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.
#4 Syracuse @ St. John’s — 7 pm on ESPNU (****)
Can St. John’s do it again? The Red Storm knocked off Georgetown early last week for their signature win of the season, though that is not looking as good by the day, considering the struggles of the Hoyas mentioned above. Syracuse had trouble on the road at Seton Hall on Saturday before putting away the Pirates in the final minute of the game. Free throw shooting has to be a concern for Jim Boeheim with the Orange checking in at 64% on the year after a 17-36 performance from the stripe on Saturday. With their patented 2-3 zone, Syracuse dares you to shoot the three and that often results in many misses. St. John’s, not a good three point shooting team, can’t fall into that trap. They must attack inside, getting into the teeth of the zone and finding the seams from the high post. The Johnnies shoot 52% inside the arc and must use Dwight Hardy’s dribble penetration skills to their advantage. The senior guard has been terrific for Steve Lavin over the past month and can set the table for easy baskets inside, especially against a zone. Syracuse is a fair rebounding team overall with Rick Jackson anchoring the defense, but they had a -13 margin against smaller Seton Hall. St. John’s isn’t a great rebounding team but they’ll have to keep the margin minimal to be in a position to win. Expect a lot of Syracuse fans at MSG tonight and a pretty good turnout from the St. John’s faithful as well. The Garden should be rocking like old times again tonight and if St. John’s can knock off the unbeaten Orange, we can officially say college basketball is back in New York City.
Louisville @ #7 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
With Washington, DC and New York also hosting big games tonight, Philadelphia joins the party as the heartbeat of the Big East will be alive and well this evening from city to city. This game features two teams unbeaten in league play with Louisville looking like a possible surprise team and Villanova appearing to possibly be better than years past. Look for the Wildcats to get to the line a lot in this game as Louisville’s free throw rates are bad on both ends and Villanova is ranked #26 in getting to the stripe. The Wildcats defend the triple very well, holding opponents to 27% shooting. The Cardinals have a bunch of shooters and fire up 25 threes a game making the arc an important factor in this matchup. Preston Knowles has had a terrific senior season for Louisville and will be counted on to provide the bulk of their three point attack. With Rakeem Buckles still out, Rick Pitino will focus his offense even more around the three point line. By contrast, Villanova has only one player who’s lit it up from downtown this year. Corey Stokes is shooting 46% from behind the arc, the Wildcats’ only true threat. The struggles of Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns from deep make Stokes’ play even more remarkable. You’d figure opposing defenses would stick to him like glue and let the other players shoot but Stokes had been tremendous in spite of his teammates. Both teams like to push the pace so this game figures to be at least in the 70’s. Louisville is actually the better shooting team, but by getting to the line and defending better, Villanova should take this one.
Nebraska @ #11 Missouri – 7 pm on FS Midwest/ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
Don’t laugh. Nebraska has the #1 eFG% defense in the nation and ranks #12 in defensive efficiency. Raise your hand if you knew that and give yourself a pat on the back. While they struggle shooting from deep, the Cornhuskers play terrific defense and like to slow the game down, a great combination against the hectic Tigers. While the schedule hasn’t been great, Nebraska has won 11 in a row, all at home, including wins over USC, Creighton and Iowa State. This, however, is their first true road game in an arena known as one of the toughest places to play in the nation. It’s a tall order for Nebraska to win but they can keep this game close with their defense, tempo and depth. The Cornhuskers did beat Missouri in last year’s Big 12 Tournament, so you just never know.
#24 Georgia @ #23 Vanderbilt – 8 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (****)
All of a sudden, Georgia is a player in the SEC East again. The Bulldogs were a popular sleeper pick to start the season but a few early losses knocked a bunch of people off the bandwagon. After taking down vaunted Kentucky, people are jumping back on. Georgia cracked the both the AP and RTC Top 25 this week behind the play of Trey Thompkins (51 points in his last two games) and Travis Leslie, their two stalwarts. Georgia struggles at times offensively and that has to be on Mark Fox’s mind as they go on the road against a strong defensive club in Vanderbilt. The Bulldogs will look to slow the pace and work inside, an area where they get 62% of their points. Going up against a tall Commodores team that features Festus Ezeli, the versatile Jeffery Taylor and sharpshooter John Jenkins, Georgia will have its hands full trying to defend the talented home squad. Turnovers have been a problem for both teams but it’s Georgia that has to take great care of the ball on the road. Gerald Robinson has done a nice job at the point but his average of three turnovers per game gives away extra possessions and contributes to a mediocre turnover percentage. For a team that runs so much offense inside, Georgia doesn’t get to the foul line all that much. Vanderbilt does a good job with their free throw rates on both ends so the Bulldogs need to be more aggressive and force the issue offensively. That’ll be difficult to do when you’re trying to slow the pace. The Commodores should get back on the winning track with a key SEC East win tonight.
Oklahoma State @ #16 Texas A&M – 8 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
Though it’s very early, first place in the Big 12 is on the line here. The winner will move into a tie with Baylor at the top two games into the season. If it’s Oklahoma State, the Cowboys will move to 14-2 overall and demand some national recognition. Texas A&M is slowly getting theirs after a 14-1 start, creeping up to #16 in the latest RTC Top 25. Khris Middleton’s improvement as part of a strong front court drives the Aggie offense, though defense is primarily responsible for their hot start. Texas A&M held Washington and Arkansas to 62 points and Temple to 51, their three best wins of the season. Oklahoma State enters this game with an eFG% rated #124, not a good recipe on the road against a stout defensive club. Forward Marshall Moses will get his points, but Travis Ford needs someone else to step up. Keiton Page has played well at times but can’t be counted on every single night like Moses can. Another forward, J.P. Olukemi, played his best game of the season Saturday against Kansas State (22/11) and has scored in double figures in each of his past six games. The undersized Cowboys may have a hard time dealing with the A&M front court so they must get to the line and shoot the three ball well if they hope to win. OSU failed one major road test (at Gonzaga) this year and it’s hard to see them getting a win against a solid Texas A&M squad. It most likely won’t be as bad as the Gonzaga game but A&M should win by a comfortable margin.
#1 Duke @ Florida State – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
The Blue Devils have had a few problems over the years in Tallahassee but have managed to win the last two on the road in this series. Quite frankly, Florida State just can’t compete with Duke on the offensive end. Their only hope is to defend better than they have all year and hold Duke under 70 points. FSU’s season high against a “good” opponent is 68 points against Baylor (they’ve scored 70+ against a host of cupcakes) and it’s going to be hard to crack that number against an equally strong or better Duke defense. After a little slump from mid-November to mid-December, Chris Singleton is back to his old self. Averaging almost 22.0 PPG over his last four games, Singleton has to have another big night for the Seminoles. Duke will try to limit him knowing FSU lacks a big scoring threat anywhere else, but Singleton will be a bigger weapon on defense. Regarded among the best defensive players in the nation, expect Singleton to be tasked with locking up Kyle Singler. If he can hold the Duke star to a reasonable number, FSU just might have a shot. Even so, Duke probably has too much depth and talent to fall tonight.
#3 Kansas @ Iowa State – 9 pm on ESPN2 (**)
This is no cakewalk for Kansas. Ames, Iowa is a difficult place to play no matter how good the Cyclones are, but they’re a surprising 13-3 after being written off by many as the worst team in the Big 12 back in the preseason. Fred Hoiberg’s team has proven its mettle away from home against Creighton and Virginia and, make no mistake, the home crowd will be fired up for this game. Iowa State’s defense has been great, ranked sixth in eFG% against, but the offense hasn’t been too shabby either. Playing an up-tempo style, the Cyclones are averaging 77.0 PPG with all five starters in double figures. The problem is depth as Hoiberg uses a seven man rotation with the five starters making up 86% of their total production. Diante Garrett leads the way with 17.0 PPG and almost 6.0 APG, plus Iowa State has two strong perimeter threats in Scott Christopherson and Jamie Vanderbeken. This start has provided a glimmer of hope in Ames but they’ll be facing the toughest team on their schedule tonight. Kansas is so good on both sides of the ball, ranked first in defensive efficiency and second in offensive eFG%. Iowa State may be able to hold their own and make this a competitive game but Kansas can win at any pace and has taken punch after punch on the road over the years, usually coming away victorious as our columnist Zach Hayes pointed out in his weekly piece yesterday. This game probably won’t be an exception.
#24 UNLV @ #6 San Diego State – 10 pm on CBS College Sports (****)
Quite possibly the best is saved for last this evening. This big time Mountain West matchup features a UNLV team looking for a quality road win after getting knocked back by Jimmer Fredette and BYU last week at home, and an unbeaten San Diego State club that’s made a living in the second half of most games. The Aztecs are +183 in the second half while just +81 in the first half of games. A slow start against UNLV, quite possibly their best opponent to date, could be troublesome. Steve Fisher’s team plays a slower pace and will look to grind UNLV and their active defense to a halt. The Rebels love to pressure the ball, constantly hawking for turnovers. Overall, UNLV ranks eighth in defensive efficiency but doesn’t rebound the ball particularly well. That’ll be a problem against Kawhi Leonard and Malcolm Thomas inside. The forwards combine for 28/17 per game with Leonard leading the team in scoring and rebounding. The Rebels defend the two pointer well, however, and must continue that against a San Diego State offense that shoots 56% inside and scores the vast majority of its points from this range. For a team with such dominant inside play, the Aztecs don’t get to the foul line very well at all, one of the worst free throw rates in D1. You usually find that with slower tempo teams, but even that seems way too low. UNLV’s aggressive defense does indeed foul a lot, so SDSU may find more free throw opportunities than usual, but the onus is on them to create and be strong with the ball. UNLV’s defense will keep them in the game, plus Lon Kruger has a deeper bench that he can turn to for fresh legs. Still, the offense needs to score in the half court. Chace Stanback and Tre’Von Willis were essentially non-factors against BYU. If they repeat that performance, the Rebels will not even come close to handing San Diego State its first loss of the season. If both are on their games, this will be a competitive game into the final minutes.