Set Your Tivo: 01.21-01.23Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 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.
Almost all of the action is on Saturday but what a day it will be. A couple of huge games start us off right away at noon but the rest of the day will not disappoint. It’s very unfortunate but #21 St. Mary’s @ #23 Vanderbilt is not on television and neither is Belmont at East Tennessee State on Sunday, a battle for first in the Atlantic Sun. You obviously won’t be able to watch those games unless you’re attending but definitely check and see how they play out. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#1 Ohio State @ #18 Illinois – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
It should be a crazy environment in Champaign on Saturday when the #1 team in the land pays a visit. Illinois is having a good year but probably not as good as some of the more optimistic Illini fans would have hoped. That can change in a big way with a marquee win over the Buckeyes. You’ll recall what happened almost six years ago in Columbus. Illinois was #1 at 29-0 on the last day of the regular season and lost on a Matt Sylvester three with five seconds to play as the unranked Buckeyes knocked off the eventual national runner up. By the way: Gus Johnson was working that one in 2005 and he’ll be in Champaign on Saturday if you even needed another reason to tune in.
While it’s not March yet, we’re sure Illinois fans are hoping for some payback. To do that, Illinois is going to have to rebound well and out-shoot Ohio State. The Buckeyes, with Jared Sullinger (17/10) in the paint, pull down more rebounds than you’d expect despite starting four guards/wings. While certainly a team with height, Illinois has rather pedestrian rebounding percentage numbers. With OSU #1 in defensive free throw rate and Illinois not being able to get to the stripe often, the home squad has to shoot considerably better than the Buckeyes from the field in order to win. That won’t be easy against a team that averages 50% shooting, but it can be done through perimeter defense. Illinois lacks the toughness to stop Sullinger so expect Thad Matta to work the ball inside to his star big man quite often. However, Illinois defends the three well, and that’s where you can beat Ohio State. If Illinois can contain the Buckeye guards and shoot the three well themselves (#3 in the nation at 42.7%), they will have a chance to knock off #1. Not many players can shoot the triple better than Demetri McCamey and the senior point guard will be a key player in this game, as he is in every Illini game. He hasn’t attempted as many threes in recent games but is coming off an 11-assist performance against Michigan State. Bruce Weber has a lot of height on his bench and may use it to bother the smaller Buckeyes. The quicker OSU guards, however, may then be able to blow by and finish at the rim.
Dallas Lauderdale will be important for the Buckeyes. While his minutes have fallen dramatically, the senior has the experience, strength and toughness to disrupt Illinois inside. It’ll be interesting to see if Matta plays him more than he has of late. Ohio State is not a deep team, employing a seven man rotation and ranked #325 in bench minutes. Although not very likely given their defensive free throw rate, Illinois can cause a lot of problems for the thin Buckeyes if they can rack up some early fouls, especially on Sullinger. Illinois is 2-19 all time against #1-ranked opponents but we think they have a good chance to make it three wins on Saturday. Ohio State is #1 for a reason but they’re going to slip up at some point, it’s just a matter of when. While that may not be here in Champaign, this is the most likely place where it could happen.
#7 Villanova @ #3 Syracuse – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)
This is just another day in the Big East, right? Both teams are coming off losses to top ten opponents and another top ten battle is in store here. In front of what could be a record crowd at the Carrier Dome, one of these teams will be looking at a two game losing streak after this game. This game should come down to rebounding and interior scoring. These teams are identical in their three point offense and defense but the Orange are more proficient on the interior. Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena need to establish position on every shot to rebound against the best glass cleaner in the Big East, Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Syracuse can struggle at times on the boards as a team but it’s going to take a big time effort from Yarou and Pena for Villanova and their smaller guards to out-rebound the Orange on their home floor, especially if Kris Joseph plays (day-to-day, but we expect him out there). Joseph is their best player, adding depth, versatility, scoring and rebounding to the Orange lineup. If Villanova can get anything going from outside against Jim Boeheim’s zone, they will be in this game until the end. The Wildcats have a potential zone buster with Corey Stokes (44% from deep) but he’s struggled of late. The key for Villanova will be getting to the middle of the zone and finding the open spots for jumpers or drives. Corey Fisher can do that with the best of them and he’s coming off a sterling 28-point effort against Connecticut on Monday. If Fisher gets to the rim and draws contact, it’ll open up some shots for others in addition to putting the Wildcats on the free throw line where they excel. Villanova shoots an admirable percentage from the stripe and gets 25% of their points from it. It’s critical for Villanova to get there; they won’t win if they can’t get to the line. Syracuse is the favorite at home and and even bigger one if Joseph plays, but this is a different Villanova team than last year. They defend better and have a bit of a swagger about them this season. Syracuse ran them out of the Carrier Dome last year but we have a feeling the Wildcats will stay with the Orange this time. They may not win but you can expect a highly competitive game and a fun one to watch in upstate New York.
#10 Texas @ #2 Kansas – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (*****)
You may not see more pure basketball talent on the floor in any game this season after you watch this one. In addition to the oodles of talent, each club plays stifling defense. Ranked in the top five in eFG% defense, both teams are contenders to go deep in March. Kansas was expected to be in this position, but Texas has been a pleasant surprise. Due in large part to their defense and improved chemistry, the Longhorns stand at 15-3 (3-0), tied for first place in the Big 12. Since they don’t meet again, the winner of this game will hold the inside track to the conference title. Similar to the Villanova/Syracuse game, this one should be decided by interior play. Each team has three point shooters but Kansas has the edge in FG% inside the arc. Marcus and Markieff Morris put on their own personal clinic at Baylor on Monday, scoring 44 points combined on 17-19 (89%) shooting from two-point range. It’s safe to say they won’t put shooting numbers like that against Texas but they’re still a force that the Longhorns must contend with. Texas ranks #4 in two point defense so they certainly are capable of limiting the twins. Rick Barnes has his own low post weapon with freshman Tristan Thompson. He’s been on a tear lately but he’ll face his biggest challenge yet going up against the more experienced twins, as well as Thomas Robinson. Thompson and his front court teammates also have to rebound well for the Longhorns to pull the upset on the road. Texas matches up pretty well with the Jayhawks but to win on the road you have to play smart and make shots. The Longhorns can open up the floor with quality shooting so their three point attack must be humming in order to prevent Kansas from packing their defense in the paint, making it tougher to score and rebound. Jordan Hamilton had 27 points on 10-14 FG against Texas A&M this week and has made eight of his last 15 triples. It may be too much to ask of Hamilton for him to limit his shot selection but we’re sure Barnes doesn’t mind him firing up threes if he’s hot.
Keep an eye on Dogus Balbay guarding Josh Selby. Balbay is a defensive specialist and he’ll need to limit the star Kansas freshman if Barnes chooses to use him more. He played only eight minutes against A&M but Texas didn’t need him in the blowout. We expect Balbay to see significant minutes with his only task being to lock up Selby and protect the ball on offense. If Texas can turn Selby and Kansas over, transition opportunities will be plentiful. It’s so tough to win at the Phog but Texas has the talent and defense to do it. Kansas had trouble against another stout defensive team in Nebraska, but we have a feeling the Jayhawks weren’t quite as “up” for that one as they’ll be for this nationally televised game with first place on the line.
#19 Michigan State @ #14 Purdue – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
The Boilermakers escaped Penn State on Wednesday on a JaJuan Johnson jumper in what would have been their third straight loss after starting the season 15-1. They managed to hang on but questions now exist for Purdue. Matt Painter’s team has struggled to score over the last three games as Ryne Smith’s hot streak has ended and E’Twaun Moore isn’t shooting the ball particularly well. The onus is on their rock in the middle, Johnson, and he’s responded with 25+ point outings in each of the last three games. He will need more help on Saturday night against a tough Michigan State defense. The problem for the Spartans is they don’t have much inside to limit Johnson. Expect to see a lot of double teams from Tom Izzo’s squad as a result because his best defender, Delvon Roe, is two inches shorter than the Purdue big man. Purdue will look to force turnovers against the giveaway-prone Spartans so Michigan State will have to make up for that on the boards to create extra possessions. They simply haven’t lived up to Izzo’s standards on the glass and don’t look like a team capable of going deep in March as a result.
Purdue will beat you when Moore and Smith are connecting from the outside. That gives the Boilermakers an inside-outside threat, plus they play terrific defense, a combination for winning basketball although it has been missing over the last few games. This game is a good opportunity for Purdue’s shooters to get going again as Michigan State ranks #212 in defending the three, allowing opponents to shoot 35.4%. The Spartans make up for that with their strong interior defense, but that will be put to the test against Johnson. As for the MSU offense, Kalin Lucas and Durrell Summers have to be hitting from the outside for Sparty to win on the road. Lucas is playing progressively better after starting the season slow and now leads the team at almost 15 PPG. Another important player is Draymond Green. At 6’7, he can score from almost anywhere on the floor, rebound and create a shot for himself using his strength. He’ll likely be guarded by a smaller Purdue player and the Spartans would be wise to take advantage of that mismatch. We never like to count out a Tom Izzo team but this is a hard game for Michigan State to win on the road. Purdue will have a raucous crowd with this being ESPN’s Game Day/Saturday Prime Time matchup plus the home team is in need of a big win to quiet the doubters. We like the Boilermakers by a comfortable margin.
A loaded Saturday rolls on with these games:
Tennessee @ #8 Connecticut – 2 pm Saturday on CBS, regional coverage (****)
The up and down Volunteers get Bruce Pearl back temporarily as they step out of conference and head to Hartford to face the Huskies. Will the momentum from their buzzer-beating win in addition to getting their coach back for one game be enough to knock off yet another top Big East team away from Knoxville? Good luck figuring this team out, because we can’t. Tennessee has a good defender in Melvin Goins to guard Kemba Walker but the UConn guard has dominated just about every game regardless of the defense he’s encountered. Tennessee doesn’t shoot the ball well from outside so they’ll have to get to the line and score in the paint, a plan that carries a low probability of success against a typical Jim Calhoun team that doesn’t foul but typically limits your ability to score inside. Brian Williams needs to play well again for the Vols to win on the road.
#25 Temple @ Xavier – 3 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
The Musketeers have benefited greatly from a soft early stretch in their A-10 schedule. It gets tougher now with games against Temple and Richmond coming up. Xavier leads the conference at 4-0 with the Owls lurking just one game behind at 3-1. Temple was beaten soundly by Duquesne last week and has dropped their last two true road games. The Owls need to play their customary brand of physical defense to win this game on the road while shorthanded Xavier will look to drive and get to the line behind star guard Tu Holloway. For Temple, Juan Fernandez is back but hasn’t played all that well. He’s the engine that drives Temple and is vitally important on the road.
#25 Cincinnati @ St. John’s – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com/SNY/FS Ohio (***)
It’s hard for us to truly gauge how competitive these two clubs can be in the brutish Big East. St. John’s has lost three of four since beating Georgetown after New Year’s while Cincinnati has done the same after starting the season 15-0. The Bearcats have yet to win a road game against a decent opponent and that’s something they’ll need to do eventually if they want to be taken seriously come tournament time. Both teams probably feel confident they can win this game, but St. John’s will have to get back to the type of defense they played in the win over Notre Dame, and not the swiss cheese style exhibited in a blowout at Louisville earlier this week. The Johnnies live inside the arc but will have to contend with some height in the paint against Cincinnati, making it important for Dwight Hardy to have a good game for the Red Storm.
VCU @ Old Dominion – 4 pm Saturday on CSS/CSN Philly/CSN Washington (***)
The Rams are tied atop the Colonial with Hofstra entering Saturday, a bit of a surprise to some. Old Dominion is still in the thick of it but the Monarchs were expected to almost run away with the league this season. Jamie Skeen has been terrific for VCU and gives them a scorer/rebounder to bang inside with ODU’s Frank Hassell (13/9) in this contest. Look for the Monarchs to slow the game down, preferring a half court grinder of a game. The Rams need all the rebounds they can get because they have a severe disadvantage on the glass when you look at the statistics. ODU is in the #2 team in the nation in terms of offensive rebounding percentage (#22 defensive) while VCU is sub-200 in both rebounding percentages. To win, the Rams must make their threes. They usually do a pretty good job of that, plus Old Dominion ranks a dismal #268 in defending the triple.
#11 Kentucky @ South Carolina – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
The Wildcats were upset by Alabama on Tuesday and now have to go back out on the road again, this time at the surprising SEC East leader South Carolina. The Gamecocks have beaten Vanderbilt and Florida (on the road) so they will certainly be no pushover. Of course, Columbia was the site of Kentucky’s first loss last season, but Devan Downey is no longer around. Instead, a South Carolina team that struggles to shoot will have to rely on defense and rebounding to get the job done this time against the Wildcats. UK excels in most areas of the game but they’re young and playing their second straight game on the road. It’ll be interesting to see how Terrence Jones responds to John Calipari’s verbal smack down from Tuesday night.
Marquette @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com/TWC 32 (****)
These two teams met almost two weeks ago in Milwaukee with Marquette absoultely blowing the doors off the Irish. This looks to be a good matchup for the Golden Eagles, but Carleton Scott returned to the lineup for Notre Dame against Cincinnati the other night, giving them a presence inside to stop Jimmy Butler and Jae Crowder. It’s unlikely that Dwight Buycks will have another game like he did the first time these teams met, so chances are this will be a much more competitive contest. Notre Dame goes as its shooters go and this game will be no different. Marquette will win if they can defend the arc well and keep the Irish off the free throw line. If not, Notre Dame will have the edge at home where they are so tough.
Boston College @ Florida State – 7 pm Saturday on ESPNU (***)
Believe it or not, this is a battle for first place in the ACC alongside Duke. With the tiebreaker over Duke in hand, Florida State can move into sole possession of first with a win over Boston College on Saturday. The Eagles will tie the Blue Devils with a win, something many didn’t think was possible this deep into the season. Of course, Duke remains the heavy favorite to win the ACC, but these teams are capable of hanging around and making it tougher for them. This game will be a battle between great offense (BC) and outstanding defense (FSU). Each ranks in the top five in efficiency on their better end of the floor and both are equally as awful on the other end. The Seminoles’ offensive struggles have been well-documented, but not many people have noticed that Boston College ranks #215 in defensive efficiency. While it may not hurt them too much in this game, it’s bound to come back and bite BC at some point. Chris Singleton will be a problem for BC on both ends of the floor, and we have to favor the ‘Noles because of him.
#10 BYU @ Colorado State – 9 pm Saturday on The Mtn. (***)
This game became a whole lot more interesting when Colorado State went on the road and dominated UNLV on Wednesday. Andy Ogide provides the Rams with a significant interior threat to counter BYU’s inside tandem of Brandon Davies and Noah Hartsock. Of course, that’s not all Colorado State will have to contend with tonight. Jimmer Fredette has simply been on fire lately and has become the nation’s leading scorer. CSU is not a good defensive team and it seems likely that The Jimmer will have another huge night in Fort Collins.
Arizona @ Washington State – 10:30 pm Saturday on FSN Regional (***)
The Wildcats lost at Washington late Thursday night and now head over to Pullman for a crucial matchup with the Cougars. Three Huskies players put up at least 18 points against Arizona and they’ll have to defend Klay Thompson and company better than that in order to avoid being swept in the state of Washington. Arizona ranks fourth in three point percentage defense but couldn’t stop Washington inside, allowing the Huskies to shoot 61% inside the arc. Against a Wazzu team with some good shooters and slashers, interior defense could pose a big problem for the Wildcats yet again. Arizona will have to dominate the boards to win, taking advantage of a Cougars team that doesn’t rebound all that well. If you need only one reason to watch this game, the two best players in the Pac 10 go head to head as Thompson hosts Derrick Williams.
#15 Wisconsin @ Northwestern – 12:30 pm Sunday on Big Ten Network (***)
This won’t be an easy game for the Badgers, who struggled Thursday with Indiana before finally putting the Hoosiers away. Northwestern is capable of shooting the lights out and they’re desperate for a win at 3-4 in the Big Ten. John Shurna had 24 points against Michigan but is still having a difficult time with his high ankle sprain. Wisconsin plays excellent defense overall but they’re vulnerable from the three point line, allowing 35.5% shooting. NU ranks #12 in three point shooting but has a very hard time on the other end of the floor. Wisconsin’s deliberate and efficient offensive style should be able to pick apart the Wildcat defense but, playing at home, Northwestern could easily win this game if they get hot from deep.