Set Your Tivo: 01.13.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 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.
Last night’s games didn’t disappoint as #1 Duke went down and a host of other competitive games made Wednesday a night to savor. The schedule is lighter tonight but a few important conference matchups are on tap. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#8 Purdue @ #21 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
Purdue has won ten straight games overall plus ten in a row on the road, their last road loss coming almost one year ago on January 16, 2010 at Northwestern. That streak will be put to the test tonight against a Minnesota team that’s been knocked off its feet by a brutal front-loaded Big Ten schedule. The Golden Gophers have travelled to Wisconsin, Michigan State and Ohio State to open conference play and lost all three. At 1-3 in league play, tonight’s game is vitally important. You must protect your home court in the Big Ten, even against teams considered to be better than you. The Boilermakers took care of business against a much softer start to conference play, going 4-0 against teams in the middle to bottom half of the league. Tubby Smith decided against suspending big man Trevor Mbakwe, Minnesota’s leading scorer and rebounder, after he was arrested for violating a restraining order earlier this week. He will come off the bench tonight but we expect him to play starter’s minutes. Although Purdue ranks second in defensive efficiency, they may have a tough time guarding the Minnesota forward. The talented Mbakwe poses a problem for Matt Painter and his defense. The Boilermakers have JaJuan Johnson in the middle but no other significant contributor has the size to match up effectively.
Painter may have to call on a seldom-used freshman or sophomore big off his bench to provide defense and rebounding against the taller Minnesota front line or even go with a zone defense despite Purdue being known for their aggressive man-to-man strategy. While that’s certainly a concern for Purdue, they have an inside-out duo better than almost any team in the country. With Johnson in the paint and E’Twaun Moore on the perimeter, Purdue has two all-Big Ten players at their disposal. Johnson is as consistent as it gets, scoring double figures in every game this season while averaging 19/8. Moore has hit a speed bump over the last two games, shooting just 7-25 (28%) from the floor. He’ll break out of that whether it’s tonight or another game, always a threat to penetrate, pull up and shoot or dish it off to someone else, usually Johnson. Recently, Purdue has found a third option in the red-hot Ryne Smith. The junior guard has averaged 17 PPG over the last four games while shooting an eye-popping 18-27 (66.7%) from deep. If Smith can keep his level of play up (it doesn’t even have to be that good), Purdue has a legitimate third scorer opening up the floor for everyone else and making them a bigger threat to go deep in March. Stopping the Purdue perimeter attack is essential for Minnesota in this game. The Gophers are rated #249 in three point defense while Purdue shoots 38% from long range. In addition, Minnesota gives up 38% of their points against from behind the arc, #2 in the nation. If Purdue shoots the ball well from three, it’s going to be a long night for the fans in Williams Arena. Stopping Smith and/or Moore in the back court will be key but also keep an eye on the turnover margin. Purdue has an excellent point guard in Lewis Jackson and does a great job taking care of the ball as a team. They force a lot of turnovers, plus Minnesota’s most turnover-prone players handle the ball more than anyone, Mbakwe and point guard Al Nolen. Nobody knows how the Mbakwe distraction (among others) will affect the home squad but they’re desperate for a win and know they can get a quality victory tonight. We expect Minnesota to come out with strong intensity but this will be a difficult game for them to win.
Virginia Tech @ North Carolina – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
Seth Greenberg has managed to right the ship after losing a number of players to injury as Virginia Tech has won six straight after starting the year 4-4. The last win, over Florida State, looks a lot better today after the Seminoles beat Duke last night. The Tar Heels have won seven of eight after starting 4-3 and look like the team to beat in the race for second place in the ACC. Both Virginia Tech and North Carolina play solid defense, each ranked in the top 20 in efficiency. This game will be all about rebounding, turnovers and pace. The Hokies are not a strong rebounding club and they’ll have to contend with Tyler Zeller and John Henson grabbing 16 RPG on average between them. Zeller has managed to stay healthy this year and has turned into UNC’s leading scorer. Making 49% of his shots, Zeller has scored in double figures in all but two games. North Carolina will look to push the pace off rebounds and by forcing turnovers. Roy Williams loves to run and his team is playing at the ninth-fastest tempo in the country. Virginia Tech prefers a much slower game allowing Malcolm Delaney and Jeff Allen to work in a half court setting while preserving the energy of their short rotation. Virginia Tech shoots very well inside the arc and gets to the line often, a good combination when your team is short on bodies. Allen has been a double-double machine over the past six games, including a 24/11 performance against FSU. Delaney is the team’s leading scorer but turnovers have plagued the senior guard. He’s done a much better job recently but in a game like this one where the opponent is going to pressure you and get in your face, Delaney must put an emphasis on ball protection. With such little depth, Erick Green was forced into major minutes for the Hokies and he hasn’t disappointed. He’s averaged almost 14 points over the last six games while committing only six turnovers, although four came against Florida State. Virginia Tech must control the pace and not get caught up in a track meet. If they do, turnovers will pile up and Greenberg’s six to seven man rotation will be gassed. The starters are all playing well over 30 minutes per game now and staying fresh is a huge challenge against UNC. Coach Williams will keep pushing all night and the Tar Heels should be able to eventually wear Virginia Tech down. Playing on the road, this will be a tough game for the Hokies against the bigger and faster Tar Heels.
Utah State @ Boise State – 10:30 pm, no television (**)
This game isn’t on TV but first place in the WAC is on the line, a conference that looks to be a one-bid league if Utah State wins the conference tournament. Should they not win the WAC tournament, Utah State will once again be on the bubble with a gaudy record full of wins outside the top 100. That’s why tonight’s game is so important for the Aggies. Aside from BYU and Georgetown (both losses), Boise State is probably the best team they will face all year. Utah State will look to slow the game down and grind it out through creating open looks with a deliberate offense, as well as their rebounding. The Aggies rank #1 in minimizing offensive rebounds for the opposition and make 47% of their shots on the other end. Forward Tai Wesley leads the way at 15/9, making two out of every three shots he takes. Brian Green and Pooh Williams pose a threat on the perimeter giving Utah State good balance offensively. Boise State is highly vulnerable on the arc, surrendering 40% shooting from deep. Five seniors start for Leon Rice but their experience hasn’t paid off on the defensive end, though they do a nice job forcing turnovers. To win, the Broncos will need to do just that by speeding up the game and turning Utah State over. La’Shard Anderson will be a big part of that, averaging 2.4 steals per game. He had four steals against San Jose State and scored 31 points in a one-point quadruple overtime victory. Life on the road is always difficult but Utah State knows what’s at stake here. A win tonight would give them the upper hand in the conference and go a long way towards locking up the WAC title.