Set Your Tivo: 01.27.11Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 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.
Tonight we highlight the little guys. First place is on the line in the Colonial while St. Mary’s looks to widen its lead in the WCC. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Hofstra @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)
Both teams are tied atop the CAA at 8-1 but the Rams are the favorite here at home where they’re undefeated on the year. VCU has lost only twice at home in the last three years and both defeats were to the same team: Northeastern. Shaka Smart’s team loves to shoot the three, but is missing a key part of that attack with Brandon Rozzell out due to a broken hand. Without Rozzell in the fold, VCU will turn to Joey Rodriguez and Bradford Burgess for the bulk of their three point shooting. Rodriguez is coming off a season high 28 points at Towson while Burgess is making 44% of his threes this season. Against a Hofstra defense ranked #290 against the trey, you can bet VCU will be firing up plenty of them tonight, as they usually do.
The Rams shoot the ball better as a team than Hofstra, but they’ll have to contend with the best player in the Colonial, one Charles Jenkins. He’s coming off a stellar 35-point performance against James Madison, a game in which the Pride were down 15 in the second half but forced overtime and ended up winning. Jenkins leads the league in scoring at 23.7 PPG while shooting 56% from the floor. He teams with Mike Moore to form an imposing back court. Moore has scored in double figures 11 games in a row, while he and Jenkins shoot 41% from three combined. While Mo Cassara’s team doesn’t shoot it from deep as often as VCU, Moore and Jenkins must be stopped if the Rams hope to win. VCU will pressure the ball and try to force turnovers (they have a good turnover margin), but Hofstra takes great care of the basketball, #10 in turnover percentage when they have the ball. The battle in the paint should be one to watch as the versatile Jamie Skeen of VCU goes up against Greg Washington. The Rams are somewhat vulnerable defensively in the paint, so Washington, coming off a double-double, may get some pretty good looks from close range. Skeen is the better scorer and overall player, but sometimes he gets caught up drifting out to mid-range or even the three point arc. Hofstra is 7-1 in true road games this season but it’s hard to pick against the Rams on their home court. They’ve won seven in a row since a loss at Georgia State and look to be the better team, at least on paper. We think VCU will move into sole possession of first place in the Colonial tonight.
#23 St. Mary’s @ Gonzaga – 11 pm on ESPN2 (****)
It’s hard to call a game in January a must-win but that may be the case for Gonzaga tonight. They have the conference leaders coming into the Kennel and have lost two straight games on the road to teams they should have beaten, Santa Clara and San Francisco. The Zags are 13-7 overall and 3-2 in WCC play. If they keep struggling, an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament is no sure thing. Tonight’s game features a Gonzaga team with lots of height and the versatile Steven Gray (15 PPG) going up against a St. Mary’s club that shoots the ball extremely well behind great guard play. Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova lead the way with terrific three point shooting and passing ability. Between them, these two players average 12.4 APG and should do a lot of damage against the mediocre Gonzaga defense. When it comes to shooting prowess, there aren’t many duos better than this one. St. Mary’s loves to shoot the three and with McConnell checking in at 46.7% from deep and Dellavedova at 38.9%, they don’t disappoint. In addition to the two guards, St. Mary’s can turn to 6’7 Clint Steindl at 42.9% for even more three-point shooting acumen. The Gaels run the eighth most efficient offense in the nation, they rank first in eFG%, third in two point percentage, and #11 in three point percentage. Against the Gonzaga defense, which ranks a putrid #300 against the triple, St. Mary’s really has the potential to light it up this evening.
The Bulldogs need to use their height wisely. Gray can open up the floor if he’s on from downtown, but he’s more dangerous when he drives and draws the defense towards him. If he can do that successfully, passing lanes will open up and Gonzaga should be able to get some easy buckets inside with Robert Sacre and Elias Harris. If the Zags can score inside and rebound effectively, they should be able to hold serve at home against St. Mary’s, a team that gave up 89 points to Vanderbilt in their most recent outing. The Gaels have some height, too, but they don’t rebound as well as you would think. Rob Jones is their best rebounder, yet he’s only 6’6. At 14/7 a game, however, he’s an important contributor for Randy Bennett’s team and will need to do a great job defensively on the interior against the Gonzaga front line. St. Mary’s plays eight guys and they all average at least 6.0 PPG, something you don’t find almost anywhere else. Their offense is so efficient because they shoot it well, but also because of the balance and ball protection they employ. The Gaels rank #14 in turnover percentage, preventing opponents from getting transition opportunities while increasing the number of scoring possessions when they have the ball.
In recent years, the games between these two teams have usually been highly competitive. St. Mary’s is probably the better team right now but playing on the road in the raucous Kennel is never easy. Gonzaga should be a small favorite at home but this game could go either way. The Gaels, however, are just 4-19 against Gonzaga under Bennett with three of those wins coming back home in Moraga, and the other in last year’s WCC Tournament on a neutral floor. Since they’ve never won at Gonzaga with Bennett at the helm, that’s a mental block St. Mary’s will have to overcome in this game. They could very well do it but the only thing we’re sure of is that this will be an important and entertaining game tonight in Spokane.