Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 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 interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The Irish have hit a rough patch over the last ten days losing games at Marquette and St. John’s in rather uncompetitive fashion. Notre Dame has lost four games this year with the opponent reaching 70 points and the Irish failing to get to 60 in each of them. ND is undefeated at home and will look to keep that going against Cincinnati tonight. The Bearcats pose a problem for Notre Dame because they are better defensively, taller and more physical. The folks from South Bend don’t mind throwing their weight around either, but they’ll be facing a Cincinnati team that prides itself on their tough style of defense and rebounding. Cincinnati has a lot of height inside with Yancy Gates and Ibrahima Thomas which will make it tough for Notre Dame to score in the paint, putting a premium on their ability to shoot from the outside. In their two recent losses, the Irish have shot a combined 6-31 (19%) from deep and just 40% from the floor overall. With Carleton Scott still on the shelf with an injury and Tyrone Nash never having been the focal point of their offense inside, all the pressure is on Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough. It’s no coincidence that both have struggled during this losing streak but Abromaitis is averaging only 10.7 PPG over the last three games, well below his season average.
Depth is also an issue that Cincinnati will look to exploit with their bruising, grind-it-out style. With Scott out, Mike Brey uses seven players at most with the starters seeing the vast majority of the available minutes. While college athletes are in tip-top shape, it’s not unrealistic to wonder if fatigue over the long run is starting to weigh down back the Irish. Brey has used a short rotation for the entire season and it’s only natural to wonder if that’s coming back to haunt his team. As for Cincinnati, they have just two losses but both were on the road in Big East play. The Bearcats took a lot of heat for playing an awful non-conference schedule, but just because they’re not undefeated anymore doesn’t mean they aren’t a good basketball team, and UC is still a solid, upper-middle pack team in this bloated conference. Dion Dixon is their leading scorer and a threat from deep, having made 6-11 threes on the road at Syracuse. With Gates inside and freshman Sean Kilpatrick playing very well at the guard position, Cincinnati has good balance offensively. They’re not one-dimensional and that makes them tougher to guard. If this game was being played in the Queen City we would favor the Bearcats. Even in South Bend, Cincinnati should have a decent chance to earn a road win, given their style of play, but the Irish are the favorite here. Notre Dame must find its way to the foul line and get some of the Bearcat big men into foul trouble. The Irish score lots of points from the stripe, very important if they’re not shooting well, plus that will open up the paint and relieve some of the pressure on Abromaitis and Hansbrough. With Scott out, finding a third offensive threat, whether it be Nash or Scott Martin, is also very important for Notre Dame this evening.
St. John’s @ Louisville – 7 pm on SNY/MASN/WHAS 11/ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
It has been an interesting year so far for Steve Lavin and his St. John’s team. They were quickly familiarized with the ups and downs of a Big East existence; the Red Storm were not exactly stellar out of conference before winning three straight Big East games and five conference wins overall, including two on the road, then losing two in a row after that. St. John’s followed that up with a blowout of Notre Dame on Sunday, a completely different result from the 15-point defeat they sustained in South Bend just eight days earlier. The Red Storm face another tough Big East challenge tonight as they head to Louisville, a team riding high after a thrilling comeback victory against Marquette on Saturday. Louisville does two things very well that St. John’s does not: shoot the three and score in transition. The Johnnies must stop both by getting back on defense quickly after a miss, working the ball inside on offense, and controlling the boards. St. John’s is not good at defending the trifecta but they did an excellent job against Notre Dame in their last game at MSG, holding the Irish to 20% from downtown. Louisville will likely fire up more threes and it’ll be a much tougher task to defend them on the road. The Red Storm allow opponents to shoot 36.5% from deep, #255 in the country. St. John’s was burned from deep by Notre Dame in South Bend and Syracuse in their most recent losses. Louisville averages almost 25 three point attempts per game with Preston Knowles accounting for a lot of that. The senior has blossomed into Louisville’s leading scorer while connecting on 43% of his triples.
On the other end for St. John’s, Dwight Hardy is not the same type of player. He’s not a great three point shooter but excels when penetrating and creating for others, as well as getting to the line. A 90.5% free throw shooter, Hardy will try and get to the rim while drawing contact against a Louisville front court absent Rakeem Buckles who is still out. St. John’s scores inside and gets to the line often, and they must continue to do what they do best against a Cardinals team with poor free throw rates on both ends. Marquette didn’t shoot well on Saturday but got to the line 38 times against Louisville and that’s exactly what St. John’s needs to do tonight. In addition to scoring points, getting to the line stops the clock and controls the pace. Lavin needs to do everything he can to stop Louisville from getting out in transition and, on offense, pounding the ball inside to Justin Brownlee and Justin Burrell has to be near the top of the game plan.
While it sounds easy, St. John’s will have to find a way to deal with Terrence Jennings. He’s a terrific interior defender for Rick Pitino and a big reason why Louisville ranks #22 in two point defense. The Cardinals should win this game on their home floor but a strong defensive effort and a commitment to scoring inside will be able to keep St. John’s in this game.
#9 Texas A&M @ #10 Texas – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The two best teams in Texas will go at it in what has become a top ten matchup. The Longhorns are a different team than last year’s dysfunctional group, playing terrific defense with good chemistry. Texas ranks fifth in defensive efficiency and is #1 in eFG% against at 40%. On the interior, Texas also ranks in the top five at #3 against two point shots. They’ll need that type of effort tonight to defeat the Aggies, a team with just about all of its strength up front. With a budding star in Khris Middleton to go along with David Loubeau and Nathan Walkup, Texas A&M has three talented front court players that combine for 51% of their total scoring. Middleton had 28 points in a thrilling win over Missouri on Saturday, while Walkup has scored 16 points in each of the last two games. Both players can even step out and knock down a three, making them tough to guard. It also helps that Mark Turgeon’s three headed interior monster are all good free throw shooters, especially Middleton and Walkup who are both above 80%. That bodes well for the Aggies, since they get to the line often. Texas A&M gets 26% of their points from the charity stripe and attempted 38 free throws against Missouri in their last game. As a team, the Aggies are a much better free throw shooting club than Texas, struggling at 64% as a unit. The Longhorns also like to work inside with guard penetration and Tristan Thompson on the block but they can also beat you from deep. Texas shoots a three about a quarter of the time but their most vicious threat is Jordan Hamilton. Averaging 19/7, Hamilton has the ability to slash to the rim and score or burn you with incredible range. His three point shooting percentage is up about six percent this year and that has made him one of the better players in the Big 12 and the nation. Rick Barnes has a great all-around player in Hamilton and a huge presence in the post with Thompson, averaging 16.8 PPG over his last six. With the steady Gary Johnson and big-time freshman Cory Joseph, Texas oozes talent. It appears they’ve finally put it together and we’re seeing the results. The ‘Horns are comfortable at any pace, but they’ll have to contend with an Aggies team ranked #270 in tempo. Texas A&M will look to limit Texas’ transition opportunities by rebounding well, getting to the line and limiting turnovers. The Aggies are a great rebounding team, not surprising given their strength up front. They rank in the top eleven in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage but they also will have to control their turnovers. They did a tremendous job of that against the fastest 40 minutes in basketball played on Saturday (just nine turnovers against Mizzou) but they still average 13 turnovers per game. This will be a highly entertaining game and the matchup between Hamilton and Middleton will be really fun to watch. It’s likely that these two sophomore stars will be matched up against each other defensively as well so keep an eye on A&M’s three point defense against Hamilton. They rank #21, permitting only 29.4% three point shooting per game. If Middleton and his team can keep Hamilton in check, Texas A&M will have a chance to win on the road in Austin. Texas is such a great defensive team, however, that it’ll be tough for the Aggies to win this one. If they do, they’ll be the favorite to grab the #2 seed in the Big 12 tourney, assuming Kansas wins the league.
Three additional games to watch:
#4 Duke @ NC State – 7 pm on ESPN (**)
The Blue Devils rebounded from their first loss with a 16-point win over Virginia but the game was closer than that for a while, with the Cavaliers actually up by six at the break. NC State has lost two straight games and must defend better against the talented Dukies. The Wolfpack need a good effort on the boards from C.J. Leslie and company and must get Tracy Smith involved early on the low block. The young Wolfpack have to limit turnovers and keep Duke from scoring in transition. Playing at a slower pace will help NC State tonight, but that probably won’t be enough, even though it is a home game. Mason Plumlee has struggled offensively since Kyrie Irving went down but he’ll need to focus on defense and the glass tonight against the interior-oriented Wolfpack.
James Madison @ Old Dominion – 7 pm on COX 11/CSN Washington (**)
The JMU Dukes have won nine straight games and sit atop the Colonial Athletic Association at 15-3 overall and 5-1 in league play. However, this will be a tough challenge for Matt Brady’s team on the road at the CAA preseason favorite. Old Dominion struggles to score but makes up for it with great rebounding and defense. The one area where the Monarchs are vulnerable defensively is the three point line, and that’s where James Madison must take advantage. The Dukes shoot 40% as a team with Julius Wells taking most of the triples. Wells made nine of eleven threes in a win over Northeastern on January 3 and can pose a matchup problem at 6’5. Keep an eye on Denzel Bowles inside for JMU as the 6’10/255 pound big man averages 17/9 per game and is coming off a 21/11 performance on 10-13 shooting against UNC-Wilmington.
Iowa State @ Oklahoma State – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
The Cyclones are a surprising 14-4 on the strength of the #5 eFG% against and #15 most efficient defense overall. Fred Hoiberg’s team has a chance for 20 wins, something nobody would have thought was possible heading into this season. They were very competitive in losses at Nebraska and against Kansas in Ames, and finally broke through for their first Big 12 win, easily beating Baylor on Saturday. Diante Garrett has played major minutes and responded well. The senior guard is among the most improved players in the conference and is coming off a 16/11 outing against Baylor after dropping 27 on Kansas in the game before that. Stopping him will be the focal point for Travis Ford and his team, losers of three of five. The Cowboys have struggled on the road but will be looking for some home cooking tonight at Gallagher-Iba Arena. They are going to have to eventually win away from home if they want to make the NCAA Tournament, but a nice win at home this evening will not be frowned upon by anyone. Marshall Moses has been terrific all year and forward J.P. Olukemi has been a pleasant surprise in Stillwater.