Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 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.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

This game really comes down to two things and both involve Tennessee. They have to shoot better and defend better, it’s that simple. When the Volunteers are clicking as we saw in November, they look like a top 10-15 team. When they’re not, Tennessee is worse than ordinary. Unfortunately for them, it appears that inconsistency is the true identity of this team. Vanderbilt is the better team on both ends of the floor but the Commodores have won just one game on the road. To their credit, two road losses have been in overtime, but the bottom line is that they lost. This is the ESPN GameDay event so Tennessee should have a lot of energy in the building, important for a team that needs such support to boost their confidence. Scotty Hopson has played well over the past couple weeks along with Tobias Harris, but the struggles of Cameron Tatum have really hurt Tennessee. After Tatum, this team doesn’t have much scoring depth. On average, the three players mentioned score 57% of the team’s points. If one of them is having an off night, as has been the case with Tatum lately, it becomes difficult for Tennessee to win. Even when they’re all on the same page (like the Florida game), the lack of depth rears its ugly head. Tennessee enjoyed only 16 points combined from all players not named Hopson, Harris or Tatum in the Florida game, though the bigger problem was defense, which allowed the Gators to shoot 52.5%. Kevin Stallings and Vanderbilt will look to get John Jenkins the ball. Jenkins has been hot over the past two games making nine of his past 16 threes. Against a Tennessee defense that struggles guarding the three, Jenkins looks primed for a big game. With Festus Ezeli inside and forward Jeffery Taylor a threat from anywhere, the Commodores have great balance in their lineup. The keys for Vanderbilt will be achieving their usual efficiency on both sides of the ball, minimizing turnovers, not rushing shots as a result of Tennessee pressure, and not getting flustered by the Gameday atmosphere. If Vanderbilt can do those things fairly well, they’ll walk out of Thompson-Boling Arena with a win.

#11 Missouri @ #16 Texas A&M – 1 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)

The Aggies have just one loss, a two point defeat to Boston College in November. They’ve won 12 straight games since then and look to be a contender in the Big 12. A&M will have to slow down the Missouri Tigers in order to keep that streak going. Texas A&M loves a low-possession half court game, the exact opposite of Mike Anderson and Missouri. Three players score half of A&M’s points and they all reside in the front court. Mark Turgeon has put together a team with lots of talent up front and guards who know their roles. The Aggie offense runs through Khris Middleton, one of the most improved players in the country. The sophomore has averaged 15.0 PPG and teams with the more experienced David Loubeau and Nathan Walkup to provide a triple threat up front. Texas A&M is a tremendous rebounding team, averaging 40.0 RPG at a slower pace. That is vitally important against a Missouri club that grabs a good number of rebounds but when you look closer, they’re not that great of a rebounding team because of all the extra possessions they create with their style of play. Great rebounding will control pace and that’s what Texas A&M needs to do, along with taking care of the basketball and getting to the foul line. Ball control has to be an area of concern for Turgeon as the Aggies average 14 turnovers per game. Missouri will come at them all game with relentless full court pressure and man-to-man defense so the A&M guards must keep their composure. Getting to the line shouldn’t be a problem as Missouri can rack up fouls and the Aggies rank #13 in free throw rate. For the Tigers, interior play and three point shooting are important. Missouri has to do a good job defensively on the Texas A&M front court trio but Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe form a potent offensive threat in the post, as well. Bowers has really emerged over the last month, now second in scoring on the team. Ratliffe has been a rock in the paint all year. Without Ratliffe, Missouri would struggle to score inside and get slaughtered on the glass. When it comes to three point shooting, there aren’t many players better than Marcus Denmon. The junior has become one of the best offensive players in the country at almost 18 PPG and at least 50% shooting both overall and from deep. Making threes will open up the floor for Missouri though that’ll be difficult against Texas A&M’s defense. The Aggies limit opponents to just 28.5% three-point shooting on average, #13 in the nation. Overcoming that on the road will be hard but Denmon is capable of doing it. We expect a close game here with a lot of intensity and big plays. Turgeon will play nine guys, knowing how important it is to be fresh and have depth against the relentless Tigers. Missouri has struggled over the years away from Mizzou Arena so the Aggies should be favored at home. We’ll take Texas A&M but this game could turn into a classic.

#15 Illinois @ #17 Wisconsin – 3 pm Saturday on Big Ten Network (****)

This is the second meeting between these Big Ten foes with Illinois taking the first one in Champaign. Coming off a puzzling loss at Penn State, however, it will be tough to sweep the Badgers by winning at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin is coming off a tough loss of their own, an overtime defeat at Michigan State in which the Badgers blew a nine point lead without about four minutes remaining. Wisconsin was still up five points with a minute left but couldn’t close the door. Jon Leuer disappeared in the second half, due in large part to Delvon Roe’s defense, but it was still perplexing to see by a player considered an All-American candidate by some in the media. Keaton Nankivil stepped up for the Badgers and they’ll need more of that on Saturday. Wisconsin can be very good when they have a third scoring option but they haven’t found a consistent threat to complement Leuer and Jordan Taylor. Last time out against Illinois, Wisconsin got just 23 points combined from everyone except Leuer and Taylor, who had 38 between them. Nankivil had 11 of those 23, meaning Wisconsin’s eight other players scored just 12 points. Illinois was able to out-rebound Wisconsin in that game and they’ll need to do it again to win on the road. The Badgers are a good rebounding team overall but can struggle against more athletic opponents. Illinois has that with Mike Davis inside (14 boards last time) but they’ll need their guards to do a better job on the glass. Taking advantage of Wisconsin’s questionable three point defense is important, especially when you have a threat like Demetri McCamey. Illinois ranks third in three point percentage and McCamey leads the way, an outstanding shooter who also has the ability to get to the rim if he needs to. He forces defenses to spread out and cover him, opening up looks for others and resulting in seven APG for the Illinois senior. Wisconsin has to get the ball to the rim more against Illinois. They fired up a stunning 35 three pointers in the last meeting and just can’t afford that against an Illini defense that holds opponents under 30% from deep. Wisconsin has to take advantage inside by driving and getting to the line where they are the best free throw shooting team in the nation. On paper this is a good matchup for Illinois. They beat the Badgers twice last season away from Champaign, once in Madison and once at the Big Ten Tournament. Wisconsin can and should win if they rebound better and exhibit their usual smart shot selection, but Illinois is on the short list of teams who can win at the Kohl Center.

Aztecs On Notice; Dairese Gary + The Pit = Toughest SDSU Test Yet.

#6 San Diego State @ New Mexico – 6 pm Saturday on CBS College Sports (****)

The undefeated Aztecs will be put to the test in the Pit, site of one of the best home court advantages in the nation. New Mexico has good balance, though their back court does most of the scoring. Dairese Gary is their best player but is coming off a donut against Colorado State. That cannot come close to happening again if New Mexico is to pull the upset. Luckily for New Mexico, Phillip McDonald and UCLA transfer Drew Gordon stepped up to offset Gary’s performance. McDonald had a career game with 27 points while Gordon scored 15 points and pulled down 16 rebounds. Controlling the boards is one of the most important things New Mexico can do in this game. San Diego State loves to work inside with Kawhi Leonard, Malcolm Thomas and Billy White, resulting in 61% of SDSU’s points coming inside the arc. Leonard and Thomas are beasts on the glass but San Diego State lacks a consistent rebounder after them; nobody else on the team averages more than 3.4 RPG. Gordon is a terrific addition for Steve Alford, plus the Lobos have a host of other players averaging around four or five rebounds. Despite having remarkably quick athletes, San Diego State doesn’t play a quick pace, so New Mexico may want to push the pace a bit using their strong back court. The only way they can do that is off of missed shots, so rebounding well is that much more important. New Mexico has a height and weight advantage in the paint and they must put bodies on those Aztec big men. As simple as this sounds, holding their ground and playing straight up, fundamental defense will give them a chance for the upset. Also, pay attention to the free throw line. New Mexico does a great job getting there, ranked #19 in the country in that category, while San Diego State has the #17 free throw rate against. Controlling the boards and getting to the stripe will give the Lobos a really good chance to hand the Aztecs their first loss of the season in front of what should be a raucous crowd in the Pit.

#8 Purdue @ West Virginia – 1:30 pm Sunday on CBS (****)

These teams step out of conference for a rematch of last year’s game, a blowout win for Purdue in West Lafayette. The Boilermakers’ ten game road winning streak was snapped Thursday night at Minnesota and they’ll look to start a new one Sunday in Morgantown. West Virginia is 11-4 but is coming off two big wins, one on the road at reeling Georgetown and, most recently the 30-point win over Providence behind a career game from John Flowers. The Mountaineers will have to contend with a Purdue defense ranked third in efficiency. West Virginia has the ability to bust that defense with Casey Mitchell stroking it from deep and Kevin Jones slashing and scoring. Mitchell has been a revelation for Bob Huggins, transforming into the leading scorer on this team after averaging 3.7 PPG last season. Mitchell’s shooting has drastically improved and he’s scored in double figures in all but two games. Against a strong perimeter shooting Purdue team, Mitchell must continue his solid play. That Purdue three point shooting was held in check by Minnesota with the Boilers shooting 34.8% from deep, 30% if you take away JaJuan Johnson’s 2-3 effort. E’Twaun Moore is still at 40% on the year from three but has really struggled lately. He was held to five points on 2-14 shooting against the Gophers and has scored only 20 points in the three games since his 31 point explosion against Northwestern. West Virginia is ranked in the top ten in defending the triple, so another off-shooting night is not out of the question for Purdue. If the Mountaineers can contain them, Purdue will be forced to look inside to Johnson. That’s never a bad thing, but if Johnson is the only guy scoring for the Boilermakers, they’ll lose on the road again. Huggins needs a big defensive game out of Deniz Kilicli and Flowers in order to stop Johnson. Flowers is athletic and blocks 2.5 shots per game but is three inches shorter than the 6’10 Johnson, who’s coming off a 29-point performance at Minnesota. Purdue’s defense was torched by Minnesota and they must prevent that from happening again against West Virginia’s #11 most efficient offense. This should be a terrific game but Purdue has to get back to basics and that means defense. We’ll call this a toss-up game, but in addition to their shooting and defense, how Purdue responds after a loss in another tough road environment may determine the outcome. 

Be sure to check out these other televised games:

Marquette @ Louisville – 11 am Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

Marquette finally got over the hump, pounding Notre Dame on Monday night for their first high-quality win of the season (they’ve also beaten West Virginia). They get another good opportunity here on the road against a Louisville squad that gave up 88 points to Villanova on Wednesday. That’s good news for Marquette, rated #9 in offensive efficiency. However, the Golden Eagles are dismal against the three, bad news against a Cardinals team that loves to shoot it. With Rakeem Buckles out for Louisville, Marquette must attack inside with Jae Crowder and company. They shoot 54% inside the arc and must get a lot of points in the paint to offset the Louisville threes that will surely come.

Cincinnati @ #4 Syracuse – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (***)

The Bearcats flunked their first major road test last week at Villanova, although they were competitive for most of the game. It only gets tougher at Syracuse, though Mick Cronin’s squad has some size and bulk inside to match up with the powerful Orange. To win, Cincinnati must defend extraordinarily well, rebound, and take quality shots. As is the case with most Syracuse opponents, the Bearcats must avoid falling into the trap of shooting over the zone. Getting good shots for Yancy Gates is vital so their guards have to find the open spots in the zone. Working from the free throw line and looking for openings will be important for Cincinnati.

Maryland @ #7 Villanova – 1 pm Saturday on CBS (***)

This is an important game for the Terrapins. Maryland has lost to every good team it has played and the time to pick up quality wins is getting short. Playing in the ACC, this is Maryland’s second-to-last chance for a win against a top ten team. The Terps are the #1 defensive team in the nation, checking in with an 81.8 efficiency rating. They must stop Corey Stokes from beating them from deep while putting a body on Mouphtaou Yarou in the paint. With Jordan Williams inside, that shouldn’t be a big problem. Maryland can win this game but they must shoot the ball better against an improved Villanova defense.

NC State @ Florida State – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (**)

How will the Seminoles respond at home after beating #1 Duke? That’s the big question and NC State is a team certainly capable of beating Florida State. NC State will look inside to Tracy Smith and C.J. Leslie but they may have a tough time against Chris Singleton, one of the best defensive players in the land. FSU ranks second in two point percentage defense and the Wolfpack get the majority of their points inside. Should they win, FSU’s interior defense will be the reason.

Old Dominion @ Hofstra – 4 pm Saturday on MSG/Comcast Sports Group (**)

If you haven’t seen Charles Jenkins play, tune in for this game. The senior guard from Queens has been a four year star for Hofstra and is in the middle of his best season yet. Jenkins shoots 58% overall and 49% from deep for the Pride, sitting atop the CAA at a surprising 5-0. Old Dominion really struggles shooting the ball and will have to win this game through defense and rebounding. The Monarchs can really guard you but they should be able to dominate the glass against a Hofstra team with only a few players taller than 6’7. ODU is #2 in offensive rebounding percentage while the Pride pull down just 34 RPG.

Baylor @ Iowa State – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (***)

Fred Hoiberg has done a marvelous job in Ames, getting a rather barren roster to compete. Iowa State is 13-4 on the strength of great defense but they can also put the ball in the basket behind five double figure scorers. Baylor has played just one true road game, a win over a Texas Tech team that should finish in the basement of the Big 12 with Oklahoma. With a big home game coming up against Kansas on Monday, the Bears may be looking past the Cyclones on the road. This is a great chance for Iowa State to earn a nice win after a competitive loss to Kansas on Wednesday. We wouldn’t be surprised one bit if they manage to do so.

#10 Notre Dame @ St. John’s – 12 pm Sunday on ESPN FullCourt/ (***)

The Johnnies were the talk of the Big East a week ago but have lost two straight games in which they were not terribly competitive, one of them to this very Notre Dame team. The win over Georgetown doesn’t look as special now, considering the struggles of the Hoyas, and St. John’s now finds itself in a position where they must defend their home court. With no breaks in the schedule until February, the Red Storm have to get a couple of wins during this stretch to keep their head above water. Notre Dame is going to pose a major problem offensively against a St. John’s team that doesn’t defend the three well at all. ND shot 51% in the last meeting just a week ago, including 36% from deep. Dwight Hardy, SJU’s biggest play maker, was stifled by the improved Irish defense and the Johnnies couldn’t get anything going offensively as a result. Steve Lavin needs to make major adjustments against an Irish team coming off a loss of their own in blowout fashion at Marquette.

Brian Otskey (269 Posts)

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