Set Your Tivo: 01.28-01.30Posted by Brian Otskey on January 28th, 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
This weekend brings us yet another great slate of games with plenty of ranked teams heading out on the road to face unranked opponents. How many will go down this time? All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#21 Georgetown @ #6 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
Despite their win at the Carrier Dome over Syracuse last week, Villanova has lost two of its last three games and now welcomes their rival Georgetown Hoyas to the Wells Fargo Center. The Hoyas have won three straight over the New York-area schools to climb back to 4-4 in Big East play. Georgetown has won four true road games but none of those wins were against teams the caliber of Villanova.
This game features great guard matchups and the backcourt that defends the best will emerge victorious. Villanova defends the three point line very well and that will be especially important against the Georgetown guards, all capable of draining multiple triples. The Hoyas are #2 in eFG% as a team, while Austin Freeman ranks 16th in the nation in individual offensive rating. The senior guard is Georgetown’s best player and shoots an incredible 47% from behind the arc. He’ll go up against another three point gunner, Villanova’s Corey Stokes, but he’s struggling with his shot right now. Stokes has averaged only 10.8 PPG on 17-62 (27.4%) shooting in his last six games. 41 of those shots have been threes and he’s made only 11 of them. Stokes may have hit rock bottom against Providence, going 2-16 from the floor in a loss to the Friars. When any guard is struggling, it’s best to drive and try to get to the foul line. Villanova did not do this against Providence and was outscored by 17 points from the stripe. The Wildcats get 25% of their points from the free throw line and should put an emphasis on that in this game. The conventional wisdom is that Villanova is a bit better in the front court. With Antonio Pena coming off a 17/15 performance at Providence and Mouphtaou Yarou gaining confidence every game, the Wildcats should be able to control the boards and get some interior baskets. They will have to contend with a good defender, Julian Vaughn (2.2 blocks per game), but Georgetown’s other big (Hollis Thompson) is not a back-to-the-basket type of player at 6’7. Thompson has played well, though, and can open up the Hoya offense by stepping out and clearing the paint. Even if the guards get outplayed, Villanova will win if they can win the battle of the boards and control the turnover margin. Georgetown is vulnerable to turnovers and the Wildcats should look to push the pace somewhat on their home floor. The Hoyas have won in this building before, so don’t count them out this time, especially sitting at .500 in the league and in need of a win. These games have usually been highly competitive in this rivalry and we don’t expect anything different this time.
#19 Minnesota @ #12 Purdue – 1 pm Saturday on CBS (regional coverage) (***)
With Al Nolen out due to a broken foot, Minnesota won their first full game without their starting point guard against Northwestern on Wednesday. Now it gets more difficult for the Golden Gophers, starting with Saturday’s road tilt at Purdue. After this game, Minnesota stays in Indiana to face the Hoosiers and then returns home against Ohio State and Illinois, certainly not an easy stretch. At 5-3 in the Big Ten, how Minnesota holds up over this upcoming four game stretch could determine their season. The Gophers have won four straight as the schedule lightened up after a 1-3 start to conference play. They won the first meeting against Purdue at Williams Arena, but going to West Lafayette will be very tough for this team. Minnesota will have to control the paint and rebound the ball extremely well. Purdue often controls the turnover margin, so grabbing more rebounds will help mitigate the extra possessions the Boilermakers are sure to earn via turnovers. The Gophers are #11 in offensive rebounding percentage with the strength of their team residing in the interior with Trevor Mbakwe and company. Mbakwe shoots 61.8% from the floor and averages a double-double. It’ll be fun to watch who owns the paint as Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson is even more capable than Mbakwe. Minnesota shoots well from inside and defends well because of their height and rebounding skill, so it will be a bit harder for Johnson to score his points. With Ralph Sampson III and Colton Iverson also in the paint, Purdue coach Matt Painter has a matchup problem to deal with. To overcome that, Purdue must look to the three point line. Minnesota is dreadful against the three, allowing opponents to shoot 35.6%. The Gophers’ opponents get 39% of their total points from deep, and that’s #1 in the nation. Behind E’Twaun Moore and others, Purdue has a strong three point attack that has the potential to bury Minnesota. The Gophers held Purdue to 34.8% shooting from deep in the first meeting, but were out-rebounded 34-24. Minnesota won that game because of great shooting of their own, keyed by Nolen’s eight assists and Blake Hoffarber’s 10-15 FG. Playing on the road with Nolen out and Hoffarber running the point, it’s highly unlikely that Minnesota can repeat that shooting performance. However, Minnesota had 18 assists on 24 field goals without Nolen against Northwestern. That’s a good sign, but how much of that was due to the Wildcats’ poor defense? Hoffarber had 20 points of his own in that game and needs to continue such high production, along with getting others involved against Purdue. The Gophers have to be tougher on the boards and get to the free throw stripe by working inside and penetrating. Minnesota enjoys great free throw rates on both ends of the floor, plus Purdue doesn’t get to the line all that often. Minnesota is a fine team, but this seems like a tall order to win at Purdue without their point guard. We see the Boilermakers taking this one.
#10 Syracuse @ Marquette – 3 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)
This has turned into a very important game for both teams as the visiting Orange have lost three straight while Marquette has lost three of four and four of six, and now have eight losses on the year. Both teams played Tuesday night and both lost at home, Marquette by eight to red-hot Connecticut, and Syracuse by 22 points in stunning fashion to struggling Seton Hall. The Orange were completely outplayed by the Pirates from the opening tip to the final buzzer as their defense let them down yet again. The Hall shot over 50% overall and from three and that’s been the trend over this losing streak. All three opponents have shot very well as the zone defense hasn’t been nearly as airtight as last season.
This is the first of a three game road swing for Syracuse and they need to right the ship in a hurry. It’ll be tough to do on the road against a desperate team that always plays hard. Marquette has several players who can really do damage against a zone. We’re thinking first of Jae Crowder, Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom. Crowder can score in the paint and get into the middle of the zone as well as shoot the trey, plus he’s not afraid of contact. He also doesn’t turn it over often at all, having not committed a single turnover in the past five games. Crowder and Butler, who can also score from anywhere, are your classic “zone-buster” players. Johnson-Odom has the potential to fill it up from deep as well as put it on the deck and drive using his dynamic play-making abilities.
While Marquette should be fine offensively, their defense has to be a concern for Buzz Williams. The Golden Eagles have allowed 156 points in their past two games (both losses) and really struggle against the three pointer. While they should be mindful of the three, against Syracuse the main concern will be inside and how they deal with Rick Jackson. The Syracuse big man is the best rebounder in the Big East in our judgment, but is coming off an awful 6-16 FG shooting performance against Seton Hall. Jackson sometimes struggles with the “bunnies” from in close, but it’s likely that he’ll get plenty of second chances against a thin Marquette front line. The Golden Eagles can’t afford to be killed on the boards. They’ll likely lose the rebounding battle against Jackson and Kris Joseph.
Syracuse’s guards must play more efficiently in order for them to win on the road. Scoop Jardine has not been his usual self lately, and Brandon Triche is hit-or-miss. Both have the potential to light it up from deep, though, and they’ll have a chance to do that against the porous Marquette defense. We think this will be an entertaining game full of runs and momentum shifts. Considering how much each team needs this and because of the zone-busters, we’ll take the home squad in this contest.
#11 Missouri @ #6 Texas – 9 pm Saturday on ESPNU (*****)
The Longhorns have surged from the bottom of the polls and into the top ten, and look like a Final Four contender. Texas ranks #1 in defensive efficiency, eFG% against, and is in the top ten in both two- and three-point percentage defense. Quite simply, this is the best defensive team Rick Barnes has ever had and it’s paying dividends. They will be put to the test on Saturday, however, against the potent Missouri offense, and the “fastest 40 minutes in basketball.” Pace is obviously going to be a huge factor in this game. The Tigers will have to keep running all night in order to prevent the Longhorns from setting up in their stifling half court defense. Missouri isn’t a bad half court team, but they will have problems against the best defensive unit in the country. If this game is played largely in this setting, Texas will romp. Missouri has difficulty getting to the line so that will put a premium on jump shooting, rebounding and the interior play of Ricardo Ratliffe. He’s been terrific for Mike Anderson this year, but Texas is physical inside and has a strong rebounder and scorer in Tristan Thompson, among others. Texas works hard on the glass, an area where Missouri struggles. If the Tigers can’t get rebounds, this will be a long game for the folks from Columbia.
This game will feature a lot of scoring inside the arc as both teams get 55% of their points from two point range. Given Missouri’s poor free throw rates on both ends, look for Texas to be aggressive on the interior with their bigs, as well as using the play-making of point guard Cory Joseph to enjoy a significant edge at the charity stripe. Keeping the Longhorns off the line, disrupting their offensive flow with pressure, and forcing them to make jump shots are all paramount for Missouri. Each team can shoot it well from outside as well, but neither squad takes as many threes as you might expect. However, they both have a pure gunner. The offensive show of Marcus Denmon and Jordan Hamilton will be fun to watch as both have great range and tremendous shooting ability. While they likely won’t guard each other, this could turn into a game of “anything you can do, I can do better” on the perimeter. Keep an eye on some of these defensive matchups. Anderson may stick Kim English on Hamilton while you may see Texas’ Dogus Balbay guarding Denmon. Balbay is a great on-ball defender but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Barnes use him on Missouri’s best shooter at times during the game.
The Longhorns have allowed only one opponent (Connecticut) to score over 63 points in 2011, and it would be one heck of an achievement if they can do the same to Missouri. Mizzou has played plenty of great games this year and this could be another fantastic one to watch. Texas should win at home but the Tigers will keep this close.
#17 Washington @ Washington State – 10 pm Sunday on FSN (****)
This is the last game of the weekend, and hopefully you can stay up and watch it as we expect a battle in Pullman between two of the top teams in the Pac 10. Washington should win the league, but the in-state rival Cougars are ranked third in the league according to Ken Pomeroy, despite their 4-4 start to Pac 10 play. Washington State was defeated at home by Arizona eight days ago but has still won four of six since their three game losing streak after Christmas. The Huskies have won the last four games between these schools but had lost the prior seven in a row between 2006 and 2008.
U-Dub is #4 in the nation in offensive efficiency and has really taken off with the play of Isaiah Thomas ever since Abdul Gaddy was lost for the year. Thomas has been absolutely on fire, averaging 22.7 PPG and 10.3 APG over the last three games. With his improved play and Washington’s solid shooting and rebounding, it’s not a surprise to see the Huskies rated so highly. This team can play defense, too, and that’s where they’ll have to win this game. Washington has a strong edge on the boards, but may find it tougher to score on the road in a tough environment against another solid defensive club. Washington State does a great job with interior defense despite their poor rebounding, and DeAngelo Casto is a big part of that. He blocks two shots per game and is always in good defensive position, both primarily and on help. Although he’s only fouled out once this season, he has racked up four fouls on ten other occasions and that could be a problem against Washington. The Huskies have a strong front line and plenty of forwards who can score in the paint and rack up demerits on the Cougars. Led by Matthew Bryan-Amaning, Washington shoots 54% inside the arc and poses a problem for WSU with their rebounding strength. Bryan-Amaning had 30 points in a win over Arizona State last Saturday and shoots 59% from the floor, second on the team in scoring. The Cougars shoot well inside the arc, but they’ll have a tough time against the deeper and taller Washington front court. If they can’t get the Washington big men into foul trouble, Wazzu has to beat the Huskies from outside with Klay Thompson, Reggie Moore and Faisal Aden. Thompson, by far their best player, was held to nine points on 4-16 FG against Arizona, his worst game of the season. You can bet Lorenzo Romar watched the tape of that to see what he can do to make that happen again in this game.
The good news for Washington State is they have these three shooters to rely on if someone is having an off night. It’s hard to see the Cougars winning, however, if Thompson is struggling again. Even without Gaddy, Washington is the deeper team and has won nine out of ten games. This looks like a game the Huskies should win on the paper but it’s a rivalry and they’re on the road. Washington hasn’t exactly been a great road team over the years and this will be a tough game for them. We’ll pick the Huskies, but we’d be surprised if it were an easy one.
Other important games on tap:
Louisville @ #8 Connecticut – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
The Huskies are really rolling right now and the winner of this game will move into second place in the Big East. Louisville needed another comeback against West Virginia this week but made it happen and came away with a win. The Cardinals can defend, and their intensity on that end wll annoy a Connecticut team that doesn’t shoot as well as their reputation. Of course, stopping Kemba Walker will be important, but Louisville can make this very competitive behind the three point shooting of Preston Knowles.
Xavier @ Richmond – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
The X-men have quietly won six in a row as Chris Mack has done a wonderful job of managing a variety of injuries on a squad that isn’t as talented as past Musketeer squads. Playing at Richmond will be very difficult, though, and Xavier must stop versatile big man Justin Harper and point guard Kevin Anderson. Richmond is #3 in the country in three point shooting and should be able to do some damage against the mediocre Xavier defense. Mack’s team will have to get to the line quite often and rebound well in order to overcome what should be an offensive clinic by the Spiders. Richmond will tie Xavier for second place with a win while the Musketeers will stay in first if they manage to snag this one on the road.
#22 Florida State @ Clemson – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Brad Brownell has done a great job in his first season with the Clemson Tigers in a year in which they weren’t expected to do anything. Clemson is 14-6 (3-3) and has a favorable stretch of games coming up. If they manage to get this one at home, they should challenge for a finish in the top half of the ACC. That won’t be easy against the newly-ranked Seminoles, winners of four straight. Everyone knows the story with FSU: they can’t shoot, but they can defend as well as any team in the country. However, a game like this could be even more of a problem offensively for the ‘Noles. Clemson likes to play a slower tempo and Florida State is — to put it lightly — not good in a half court offensive setting. This could be a real struggle with a final score in the 50’s.
Butler @ Valparaiso – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (**)
It’s a surprise but Valpo is actually ahead of Butler in the Horizon League standings by a game. The Crusaders are led by the tandem of Brandon Wood and Cory Johnson who combine for 44% of the team’s total offensive output. You should know, though, that Wood is questionable for this game with a hamstring injury and Valparaiso is banged up in a few places. While a few of the other injured players should play, Homer Drew really needs Wood in this game if he’s able to go. The amazing thing about Butler is their offense has actually improved over last year (#50 to #28) but their defensive efficiency has fallen off a cliff. It’s been one of the biggest mysteries in all of college basketball, but the Bulldogs are rated #124 in defensive efficiency after ranking #5 last year. That’s what propelled them to the championship game. Butler is highly porous inside and that’s where Valpo does most of its damage (53% FG). If Matt Howard and company can’t stop the Crusaders inside, the home folks will win.
#15 Wisconsin @ Penn State – 4 pm Saturday on Big Ten Network (***)
A win over the Badgers would get the Nittany Lions in position for a possible run at an NCAA berth. Penn State has already knocked off Michigan State and Illinois at the Bryce Jordan Center, in addition to a solid non-conference win over Duquesne. PSU has even showed up on the road, putting a scare into undefeated Ohio State as well as Purdue. This will be an incredibly slow game, considering each team ranks in the bottom 15 in the nation when it comes to tempo. Wisconsin runs their highly efficient offense at a 58.1 possession pace and is coming off a blowout win at Northwestern behind a triple-double from freshman Josh Gasser, a game played with only 50 possessions. Stopping Talor Battle is important, but Jeff Brooks and David Jackson can cause problems both inside and outside. Wisconsin is so disciplined behind point guard Jordan Taylor that it’s hard to see them losing against a poor defense, but you never know how a team will react on the road. Penn State knows they need this one and they just might get it if they can defend well.
#9 BYU @ New Mexico – 4 pm Saturday on Versus (***)
Coming off the exhilarating win over San Diego State, this is an interesting test for BYU on the road. The Cougars will look to push the pace and be totally satisfied getting Jimmer Fredette (35.7 PPG over his last six games) lots of shots against the struggling Lobos, but New Mexico has some offensive talent, too. Dairese Gary is enjoying his best season in Albuquerque and has four double-figure scorers around him to count on. New Mexico has lost just one game at home in the Pit. Still, this is a game BYU should win. The Cougars need to avoid a letdown coming off the emotional high of the win over San Diego State.
Georgia @ #14 Kentucky – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
The Bulldogs won the first meeting in Athens but have lost three of five since. This game takes on added importance when you note that all six SEC East teams are within two games of each other. To win on the road, Georgia will have to stop Brandon Knight and the Kentucky dribble-drive offense. Knight can kick it out to plenty of three point shooters, and even shoot it himself, so the Bulldogs have to be on guard for the three. Expect Georgia to run just about everything through Travis Leslie and Trey Thompkins, and be aware that Leslie now returns to Rupp Arena, the site of his sick dunk on DeMarcus Cousins last season. The matchup between Thompkins and Terrence Jones will be fun to watch in this game.
Kansas State @ #5 Kansas – 7 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
Well, this looked like a great game when the schedule was released but Kansas State has been one of the biggest (if not the biggest) disappointments in college basketball this season. This is still a nice rivalry, however, and both sides will give it their all with ESPN’s GameDay in the building. Kansas will look to start a new winning streak at the Phog after their 69-game home winning streak was snapped last week by Texas. We expect the Jayhawks to respond well and win one for Thomas Robinson, a guy who’s gone through one of the most heartbreaking months you can ever imagine. We’re thinking of you, big guy.
West Virginia @ Cincinnati – 8 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
It’s the Bob Huggins bowl as Huggy-bear returns to Cincinnati yet again. This is in an important game in the quest to create separation in the muddled middle of the Big East. The Mountaineers have lost two of three, including a tough setback at Louisville this week. Cincinnati’s physical defense and rebounding would make Huggins proud if he was still roaming the sidelines in the Queen City but he’s now coaching a team ranked #6 in offensive rebounding percentage. The problem for West Virginia has been on the defensive glass, allowing opponents to pull down 36% of their misses. With Casey Mitchell still suspended indefinitely (will it be lifted for this game? We don’t know), it will be hard for the Mountaineers to win on the road with eight scholarship players. They almost did it at Louisville, but we sense Cincinnati has something to prove in this game. With Yancy Gates doing work inside, we’ll take the Bearcats here in a close, low-scoring affair.
#2 Duke @ St. John’s – 1 pm Sunday on CBS (***)
The brutal month of January is finally coming to an end for Steve Lavin and his team, but not before they face their toughest challenge yet against Duke. St. John’s has lost four of their last five after beating Georgetown at home to start the month. A loss here would drop them to 11-9 overall and in need of a big February to get back in the NCAA hunt. St. John’s plays five of their final nine games on the road so getting a quality win at the Garden against the Blue Devils would be the signature win on their resume and give them a big boost of confidence heading down the stretch. Duke’s outstanding three point shooting should be a big factor in this game as St. John’s is awful against the triple. Point guard Dwight Hardy has to make plays by penetrating and dishing for the Red Storm if they hope to pull off the upset.