Set Your Tivo: 02.01.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 1st, 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.
As we move into February, the games become more critical and the pressure increases. It’s getting towards crunch time now and tonight’s games feature a few teams trying to enhance their resumes. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#13 Purdue @ #16 Wisconsin – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
When you look at these two teams, it’s harder than you might think to differentiate between them. Both are led by 6’10 players who don’t play exclusively in the paint, both take great care of the basketball and both need a third scoring option among other things. Best of all, these squads are rated right next to each other in Ken Pomeroy’s latest ratings (UW #8, Purdue #9). Each team has won three of four games, but Wisconsin is coming off a loss to Penn State this past Saturday. The Badgers return home to the Kohl Center tonight where they are 147-11 under Bo Ryan.
The key matchup here is Jon Leuer against JaJuan Johnson. Leuer is actually the more versatile player and can really shoot it from deep, but Johnson is better in the paint and a strong force defensively. Johnson has scored 20+ points in each of his last six games and has thrown his hat into the ring with Jared Sullinger for Big Ten as well as national POY. Leuer has the ability to stretch the defense with his three point marksmanship, and pulling Johnson away from the basket will open up space for Jordan Taylor and Wisconsin to work against the aggressive Purdue defense. Taylor is a terrific point guard who takes wonderful care of the ball, creates for others and scores when he needs to. Look for Taylor to set up a lot of three point attempts for himself and others with Purdue allowing a mediocre 34% from deep on the season. Wisconsin attempts a lot of threes, #24 in three pointers attempted per field goals attempted.
Someone who’s had a lot of success from the three point line against Purdue is Keaton Nankivil. The 6’8 forward is a matchup nightmare for Matt Painter because Purdue plays four guards most of the time along with the 6’10 Johnson. Painter may have to turn to some seldom-used big men off his bench to contain Nankivil, who has shot 12-16 from three in his career against the Boilermakers. In fact, Nankivil has scored 20+ points only twice in his entire Badger career and both games were against Purdue. Averaging 12.8 PPG in Big Ten play and becoming the third option for Wisconsin, Nankivil will play a vital role in the outcome of this game. For Purdue, E’Twaun Moore has started slumping again. While it’s only been two games, the star guard has made only seven of his last 26 (27%) field goals. Purdue needs him to get going again, especially on the road in Madison. Ryne Smith stepped up for Moore against Minnesota, scoring 15 points. He was hot for a stretch about a month ago but that was largely against the lower-level Big Ten teams. Smith is a great shooter when he’s on but isn’t consistent enough to be a legitimate double-figure scorer all the time. Purdue has won five of the last six games between these two teams but it will take a strong defensive effort against the highly efficient Badger offense on the road to beat Wisconsin tonight. The Boilermakers have won at the Kohl Center before but they have to stop Nankivil or limit Leuer and Taylor in order to win this time. It can be done, but we’ll give the Badgers a slight edge on their home floor.
#23 Vanderbilt @ Florida – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
Yet another matchup between two similar teams, these SEC East foes meet in a big game as far as achieving separation in their division. With a win, Florida will move to 6-2 while Vandy will drop into last place with Georgia at 3-4, two and a half games behind the Gators. Should the Commodores win, things become more crowded. This game will be all about contrasting styles. Vanderbilt likes to drive and kick, always looking for the open three or contact inside. The Commodores get 56% of their points from the three point arc and the free throw stripe combined, enjoying solid three point shooting and a terrific free throw rate. With Jeffery Taylor playing well and getting to the line along with John Jenkins shooting the trey, Vanderbilt has a potent offensive unit that can play with anyone. Taylor has scored at least 13 points in every game over the last two months while Jenkins has averaged 21.8 PPG on 19-39 (48.7%) three point shooting in SEC play. Vanderbilt has the #13 free throw rate but Florida is #5 in keeping opponents off the line. If the Gators can win that battle, they’ll earn the win tonight. Florida will look to slow the game down while Vandy would like to hit the gas. The Gators average 64 possessions per game while Vanderbilt checks in with 69. Controlling the pace is very important in this game and rebounding goes a long way towards that goal. Florida has the edge on paper in this, rated #10 in offensive rebounding percentage. Chandler Parsons has been a warrior on the glass of late, averaging 12.3 RPG in his last three games. We expect him to keep hitting the boards hard tonight but he’ll encounter a stiff challenge from Lance Goulbourne, if the latter plays. The 6’8 Vandy forward injured his ankle on Saturday and is probable for tonight’s game. Goulbourne is a fierce rebounder and the Lappas-esque X-factor tonight because he can limit Florida’s rebounding advantage and help Kevin Stallings match up with Florida’s fairly big front line. Florida works the ball inside more than you would think, given Billy Donovan’s love of the three point shot. The Gators can shoot it from deep but Kenny Boynton is hit-or-miss and Erving Walker (at 5’8) will have some trouble with the 6’3 Brad Tinsley. The Commodores rank eighth in three point defense so it would be wise for Florida to use Vernon Macklin and company in the paint where they will get second chance opportunities. Macklin shoots 57.8%, as it is, so he’s a force to be reckoned with down low. However, he’ll have to contend with another strong big man in the post, Vanderbilt’s Festus Ezeli. Averaging 2.4 blocks per game, Ezeli can really disrupt opposing offenses and force them out of the paint. A big defensive game from the Nigerian big man will be needed for Vanderbilt to win on the road. The Commodores are probably the better team overall, but playing on the road makes this game a toss-up. Vandy must get to the line (74.7% as a team) and shoot the ball well from outside in order to win. Florida has dropped three home games already this season and it wouldn’t surprise us if they suffered a fourth such loss. Nevertheless, the Gators should win if they play to their strengths: scoring inside, controlling tempo and doing work on the boards.
Two other games with NCAA implications:
Penn State @ #24 Illinois – 9 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
After knocking off Wisconsin on Saturday, the Nittany Lions are officially in the NCAA conversation. The latest bracket projection here at RTC has Penn State just in the field while over at ESPN.com they are just outside. Either way, Penn State has something to play for in February and it’s not too often one gets to say that. With quality wins over Duquesne, Michigan State, Illinois and Wisconsin already, another win over the Illini would give PSU an impressive slate of victories for a team with eight losses. The key tonight will be defense, especially on the three point line. Penn State is near the bottom of D-I in three point defense and has to stop the #7 three point shooting team in the nation on their home floor. It’s a tall order, but their defense has improved. No Penn State opponent has scored 70 or more points since January 5th. Illinois has lost four of five and really needs to get back on track at home. A loss here would drop the Illini under .500 in conference play and questions about their NCAA hopes will start arriving in earnest.
#24 North Carolina @ Boston College – 9 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
These teams are heading in opposite directions. UNC has won eight of their past nine while Boston College has dropped three of four, mostly due to their awful defense. BC is ranked #245 in defensive efficiency and even allowed offensively-challenged Florida State to shoot 51% against them. The Eagles have played this way all year, counting on their offense to win games. While the offense certainly is very strong, we’re now deep into conference play and vulnerabilities tend to be magnified. BC could only manage 51 points against FSU, the #3 team in defensive efficiency. North Carolina ranks #7, so it won’t be much easier tonight, although BC is at home. Harrison Barnes had 25 points on 10-16 FG against NC State on Saturday and will look to keep rolling tonight against BC’s defense.