Set Your Tivo: 01.26.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 26th, 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.
Coming off their huge win at Kansas on Saturday, Texas heads back out on the road to another tough environment and looking to avoid a letdown while the game of the year in the Mountain West takes place tonight in Provo, Utah. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#6 Texas @ Oklahoma State – 7:30 pm on ESPN (***)
Emotions will be running high in Stillwater as the Cowboys take the court tonight and the Oklahoma State community honors the legacy of the ten lives lost in the plane crash that occurred ten years ago Thursday. Gallagher-Iba Arena is always a tough place to play and that will especially ring true this evening.
This is actually a very important game for the Cowboys, as they’re sitting near the NCAA bubble and a quality opponent is in town. Texas has won 10 of 11 games and leads the Big 12 after knocking off Kansas and ending their 69-game home winning streak on Saturday. Oklahoma State will have to get its three leading scorers back on track against the vaunted Texas defense. Marshall Moses, Keiton Page and J.P. Olukemi average 41 PPG combined, but totalled just 12 between them in OSU’s last game, a loss at Baylor on Saturday. Moses, who has been outstanding for the most part this year, was held to one point in only 11 minutes of play. Before Baylor, Olukemi had begun to make a real name for himself, averaging almost 16 PPG since December 11 while scoring in double figures in eight out of nine games. Oklahoma State gets a lot of points inside due to their poor three point shooting, so Moses and Olukemi have to bring their maximum effort against a Longhorn defense ranked #3 in two point percentage. Both teams like to work the ball inside often but Oklahoma State relies on it much more because of their inconsistency from outside. OSU must prevent Texas from getting to the foul line, but that could be a problem, given their #297 defensive free throw rate and the number of touches we expect their interior players to get in this game. Texas has one of the most talented starting lineups in America but it’s that defense we mentioned that has driven the Longhorns into the top ten of the rankings. Rick Barnes has done a terrific job of getting his players to buy into a defensive philosophy knowing that everything will take care of itself offensively, given their talent level. With better chemistry and leadership this year, Texas has the look of a Final Four contender. The visiting Longhorns enjoy much better guard play than Oklahoma State in addition to brandishing Tristan Thompson inside and Jordan Hamilton on the wing. As long as they continue their great defensive play, Texas should win this game. Never underestimate home court advantage, though, especially given the circumstances on this night. While this game looks like all Texas on paper, you never know what could happen on such an emotional night for the home squad.
#4 San Diego State @ #9 BYU – 10 pm on CBS College Sports (*****)
Quite simply, there has never been a bigger game in the entire history of Mountain West basketball since its founding in 1999. Both teams are ranked in the top ten nationally and the visitors head into the raucous Marriott Center undefeated at 20-0. Upwards of 23,000 fans are expected at this game and, even though it’s Mormon country, the Cougar fans can get really loud and rowdy inside the arena. Even given all of this, the biggest story might be how national POY contender Jimmer Fredette plays in such a huge game. Fredette lit up Florida in last year’s NCAA Tournament but even though that was a do or die game, you could make an argument for this one being bigger. Whoever wins this game has an outside shot at a #1 seed in this year’s tournament depending how things shake out in the major conferences and the inside track to win the Mountain West regular season. Need more evidence? San Diego State is projected on the top line right now in our latest bracketology.
This contest features two teams with vastly different styles. BYU plays at a frenetic pace utilizing superior guard play behind the senior tandem of Fredette and Jackson Emery. By contrast, San Diego State plays a much more deliberate and patient style, emphasizing their frontcourt prowess. Steve Fisher has three highly talented forwards that account for 50.4% of their total points. The Aztecs are #8 in two point percentage and pull down a lot of offensive rebounds, resulting in plenty of second chance scoring opportunities. BYU has capable post players of their own with Noah Hartsock (10/6) and Brandon Davies (11/6) but their highly efficient offense is run mostly though the back court. Fredette leads the nation at 26.7 PPG and has scored over 40 points in two of his last three games. It’s almost impossible to defend Fredette, but Sports Illustrated’s Luke Winn wrote a fantastic piece on the strategies of BYU opponents who’ve had the most success (limited) against The Jimmer. Look for San Diego State to constantly be in his face all night, even when he doesn’t have the ball. Fredette has an arsenal of moves to shake a defender, as well, so it may be a futile effort. Instead, the Aztecs should look to slow the game down, pound the ball inside and lock up Emery on the perimeter. That’s not an easy task either, but it’s much more realistic than stopping Jimmer. Offensively, San Diego State has to take advantage of Kawhi Leonard inside. The 6’7 sophomore forward is a monster on the glass in addition to averaging almost 16 PPG. Leonard has recorded a double-double in five of his last seven games and has a physical advantage over BYU’s Kyle Collinsworth. Unless Dave Rose goes with a zone, Hartsock and Davies will be guarding Billy White and Malcolm Thomas, leaving the 6’6/210 Collinsworth on the 6’7/225 (and more talented) Leonard. While that’s certainly a concerning matchup for the Cougars, they are the favorites at home in an arena where they’ve lost only four times dating back to November of 2005. San Diego State won a big road game at New Mexico almost two weeks ago and they did it because they made shots (49%), led by guard D.J. Gay’s 7-11 from downtown. The Aztecs likely won’t get to the line very often, considering their poor free throw rate, so making shots on the road, whether it’s from inside or outside, will be the key to winning tonight. If San Diego State doesn’t out-shoot BYU, it will be hard for them to win this game. We expect a terrific game with a high level of talent on both ends going at it in front of thousands of pumped up fans. This is one of the handful of regular season games you absolutely must watch and it should be a thriller.
A couple of Big East games to keep track of:
West Virginia @ Louisville – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)
The Mountaineers are down to eight scholarship players at the moment after leading scorer Casey Mitchell was suspended by Bob Huggins and Dan Jennings walked off the bench in bizarre fashion on Sunday. This will be a tough game for the Mountaineers to win, plus Louisville is coming off a disappointing loss at Providence. As usual, Rick Pitino’s club will look to push the pace and get out in transition against a more patient West Virginia team. Louisville’s three point attack will encounter the #3 perimeter defense with WVU allowing only 27.4% from deep. With Mitchell out, Kevin Jones has to step up and be the go-to guy for West Virginia tonight. The winner of this game will move into a third place tie with Connecticut at 5-2 in Big East play.
St. John’s @ #21 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com/SNY/MASN (***)
The Big East grind has taken a toll on Steve Lavin and St. John’s. Since defeating Georgetown on January 3 at Madison Square Garden, the Red Storm have lost four of five and dropped to .500 in league play. With the Hoyas tonight and Duke next, things don’t get easier for St. John’s until Rutgers comes to town on February 2. The Hoyas haven’t played in eight days, their last game being an escape on the road at Seton Hall. Georgetown was down by six with just over two minutes to play but ended the game on a 13-2 run to put away the Pirates. St. John’s doesn’t defend the three well and that’s where Georgetown can take advantage. Austin Freeman had 28 points in his last game and he’ll need to continue that tonight. When these two teams met in New York, Freeman, Chris Wright and Jason Clark were held to a combined 20 points on 7-25 shooting. That can’t happen again if Georgetown wants to move back to .500 in the league.