Set Your Tivo: 01.24.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 24th, 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.
After a thrilling Saturday, the attention turns back to the Big East and Big 12 on ESPN’s Big Monday. Can Notre Dame pick up a much needed road win? Will either Baylor or Kansas State save their season (at least temporarily) with a win? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#16 Notre Dame @ #5 Pittsburgh – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
The big story in this game will be whether or not Notre Dame can make a statement by finally picking up a road win. The Fighting Irish are 0-3 in true road games this season, but they did win the Old Spice Classic on a neutral floor back in November. Winning at the Petersen Events Center in Pittsburgh is about as difficult as it gets, a place where the Panthers have lost only 11 times since the building opened at the start of the 2002-03 season. Notre Dame has some momentum having won two straight in South Bend, including a nice comeback win against Marquette on Saturday. As for Pittsburgh, they have won nine straight games and built a resume that would earn a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament if the season ended today.
The Irish will have to contain Pitt on the glass if they hope to pull this one out. The Panthers are #1 in offensive rebounding and pull down 43 caroms per game overall. Pitt has a rebounding machine in the paint with Gary McGhee doing most of the work, but their guards and wings do a great job too. Notre Dame ranks sixth in offensive rebounding percentage against, so that bodes well for their chances of achieving their prime objective. That will still be mightily tough to do, but it’s possible if the Irish defenders get back to fundamentals and can get good position and box out.
Expect a crisp, clean game from both teams. Each runs an efficient offense (Pitt is #1 in the nation) and they don’t commit many turnovers. Both teams rank in the top three in assists to field goals made, a sign of good chemistry, unselfishness and passing ability. Pittsburgh is an especially unselfish team and that’s what makes them so difficult to defend. Jamie Dixon has done a terrific job over the years of instilling discipline and fundamentally sound play into this Pittsburgh program. The Panthers run sharp offensive sets with a lot of movement and screening making it necessary that the defense never take a play off. With Ashton Gibbs and Gilbert Brown coming off those screens, especially from deep, the Pitt shooters are talented and barely need any daylight to make shots. Gibbs has struggled from two point range over the last three games (3-16 FG), but has hit 40% of his triples over that same stretch and is at 45% from deep on the year. Notre Dame can shoot the trey as well, especially Ben Hansbrough. The senior had 28 points against Marquette on Saturday and is one of the smartest players in the nation. He knows what a good shot is and drives the lane trying to get to the line when his shot is off. The Irish need to get their second option, Tim Abromaitis back on track. He hasn’t scored more than 12 points in each of the past five games (shooting 37%) dating back to January 4. Carleton Scott is back (11/10 vs. Marquette) for the Irish and he provides another body for a thin team in addition to being a solid scorer and rebounder inside. He’ll have his hands full with the deep Pitt front court tonight. Notre Dame has to play to their strengths and get to the free throw line where they shoot 73% as a team. Against a Panther team that’s as deep as any in the country, ND must rack up fouls and disrupt the rhythm of the home squad. Pittsburgh is so tough at home and it’s hard to see the Irish keeping this close, though they can if they make shots and rebound well. We’ll take Pitt by about ten.
Baylor @ Kansas State – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
Out of these two clubs, Baylor is in the better position, though it’s a bit deceiving. The Bears’ best win is a home triumph over Oklahoma State, another team treading water in the middle of the Big 12. Baylor has won just one true road game and that was against Texas Tech, the worst team in the conference. They weren’t competitive in a loss at Iowa State and quite simply have to start winning some games if they want to have a prayer to make the NCAA Tournament. Their resume is not good right now and would barely support a bid, but a win tonight would be a step in the right direction.
At 1-4 in the Big 12, this is essentially a must win for Kansas State with three of their next four on the road, including a trip to Lawrence to face Kansas. The Wildcats have lost four of five and have struggled with a host of issues including leadership, chemistry, and the rotation among a variety of other problems. A year full of optimism after receiving a top five preseason ranking has turned into Frank Martin’s worst nightmare (if his actual demeanor is any indication, those dreams must be off the wall to say the least). While K-State will be favored at home, this is not an easy game for them. Baylor is more potent offensively and has a big front line to contend with. Baylor’s interior defense was torn up by Kansas last week but the Wildcats don’t have the talent to do the same, though they should get some good looks with Curtis Kelly inside. Kelly had 15/11 against the sizeable Texas A&M front court and he’ll need more of that aggressiveness tonight against the Bears. Kansas State is ranked very high in offensive rebounding percentage and must use that to their advantage against the Baylor bigs. Scott Drew starts two 6’10 guys and can bring another off the bench. As you’d expect, Baylor rebounds the ball well and is #7 in keeping opponents off the offensive glass. Whoever wins the rebounding battle will have a great chance to win this game.
Offensively, Baylor has a threat both inside and out with Perry Jones and LaceDarius Dunn leading the way. The 6’10 Jones has averaged 19 PPG over his past six games while Dunn is a prolific scorer at 42% shooting from beyond the arc and will look to have a big game against the mediocre K-State three point defense. The bugaboo for Baylor, though, has been turnovers. The Bears average 16 per game with Dunn and point guard A.J. Walton doing most of the damage. Walton had 16 turnovers by himself in the last two games and the Bears committed 23 as a team in the Oklahoma State game on Saturday. Luckily for them, they shot 60% and killed the Cowboys on the boards, and were therefore able to overcome the turnover problems. That won’t happen again against a Kansas State team that defends the interior well and can rebound. The good news for Baylor is that the Wildcats turn it over at almost the same rate. With Jacob Pullen handling the ball more than Martin would like, turnovers have plagued this team all year. Pullen has played well since returning from his suspension but back court teammate Rodney McGruder has been a non-factor in Kansas State’s two most recent losses. McGruder adds three point shooting when he’s on and doesn’t turn it over all that much, a guy who gives them another option offensively on a team that doesn’t shoot well. Kansas State is 9-3 when McGruder scores in double figures and just 4-4 when he doesn’t. He should find some open looks against the porous Baylor perimeter defense. Coach Drew uses a seven man rotation, so they’re not the deepest team. The Bears will look to get to the line as much as possible since K-State ranks #299 in defensive free throw rate. The Wildcats are awful from the stripe, themselves, so expect the Bears to have a huge edge on the line. This is one hard game to get a handle on. Each team’s success is dependent on so many factors and, although the Wildcats are five to six point favorites in Vegas, we’ll call this one a tossup. It likely won’t be the prettiest game but it should be a close one in Manhattan this evening.