Set Your Tivo: 02.02.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 2nd, 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.
Two big rivalries lead the way tonight while a couple of key conference clashes comprise this evening’s undercard. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#19 Syracuse @ #5 Connecticut – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
It’s a matchup of the deans of the Big East as Jim Calhoun faces off yet again with Jim Boeheim. Both teams are coming off of losses on Saturday, but the Orange have lost four straight and are looking dead in the eye of a fifth as they head on the road to face Connecticut. Facing a Connecticut team that shoots the ball at a fairly average clip and has recently thrown up a couple of sub-40% performances, however, may be the prescription needed for a win.
The reason for Syracuse’s losing streak has been defense, above all else. The Orange have given up 80.75 PPG over the streak compared to 59.33 PPG in their 18 previous wins. This stunning reversal has baffled most observers, but they may get a break tonight against the Huskies, a team that shoots just 43.2% overall. Scoop Jardine has been the focal point of the criticism leveled against Syracuse as his PPG have dropped by four over the losing streak. Turnovers have been a problem for the Syracuse guard in recent weeks, but he did manage 13 points and 13 assists in the loss at Marquette on Saturday. Against the Huskies, turnovers could again be a problem for Jardine. Kemba Walker and Shabazz Napier average 3.8 steals per game between themselves and will look to harass Jardine on the perimeter. Of course, these two players aren’t just defensive threats. Walker has obviously had a terrific year but is mired in a 24-74 (32%) shooting slump over the past four games. He’s been able to get others involved (6.25 APG over the same period), but a trend has emerged when looking at the number of shots he takes. Walker averages 30% of the shots attempted by the Huskies but a closer inspection reveals the following: he’s taken at least 20 shots on five occasions this season; Connecticut has lost three of those games, though one of the wins was against Texas, a one-point overtime triumph for the Huskies. While it would seem to be counter-intuitive to most observers used to seeing his dynamic scoring ability on display, Walker’s passing of the 20-shot threshold may equate to a better chance for the opponent to win. Kemba needed 23 shots to score 20 points in their last game against Louisville, and the Huskies lost in double overtime. The bigger problem in that game was their defense, as Connecticut allowed the Cardinals to shoot 48.4% for the game, a few points above their season average. If that happens again tonight against a Syracuse team that shoots even better than Louisville does, it’s trouble.
While Walker has been the main man for the Huskies all season, Jeremy Lamb has stepped up into a much larger role. The freshman is averaging 17.6 PPG over his last five outings and looks to be a legitimate scoring option for years to come in Storrs. He’ll need to contribute with his slashing and shooting ability tonight against the 2-3 zone of the Orange, especially since this game will be won or lost on which team controls the interior. Connecticut ranks #6 in offensive rebounding percentage and should hold the edge on the boards against the zone. The Huskies also have the #7-ranked two-point defense while Syracuse is #15 in two-point percentage, so something has to give. Kris Joseph’s matchup with Lamb at the three-spot will be very important. It should be fun to watch but it will also give a strong edge to either team. Should the game come down to free throws, the advantage goes to Connecticut. The Huskies shoot 76% as a team and have just one starter (Alex Oriakhi) below 75%. Meanwhile, Syracuse shoots a dismal 63.7% from the charity stripe. We have a feeling that Syracuse will show up tonight and defend better, making this a very competitive game. These two teams always seem to play great games (MSG circa 2009 anybody?) and this one should be no different. We expect a great battle between two Big East powerhouses tonight at the XL Center in Hartford.
#6 Duke @ Maryland – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
This rivalry has really grown over the past decade and has become one of the better ones in all of college basketball. Maryland only lost by seven points in the last meeting at Cameron Indoor about three weeks ago and desperately needs a quality win to bolster their NCAA hopes. The Terrapins’ best wins have come at Penn State and home against Clemson, certainly not the only two wins of note you want to hand to the selection committee. Maryland needs to get to ten ACC wins and a victory tonight would help towards that goal while providing them with their signature win. Jordan Williams was unstoppable in the first meeting (23/13), but Duke did a great job defending Maryland’s guards, especially Terrell Stoglin and Adrian Bowie (1-14 FG combined). The Blue Devils should look to follow that same blueprint but also do a better job on Williams now that they’re on the road. Coming off a loss to St. John’s in which their defense was a total no-show, there’s a good chance Mike Krzyzewski will have his team motivated on that end of the floor.
St. John’s is a similar team to Maryland in that they score a lot of points inside. St. John’s shot 58% from the floor and only attempted five three pointers all game on Sunday. Maryland gets 63% of their points inside the three point arc so Duke’s interior defense must show up this time, otherwise the Terps will run rampant in the paint on their home floor. Going inside could also get Mason Plumlee and others into foul trouble. Plumlee had been rebounding the ball great prior to St. John’s (12.4 RPG in the five prior games) and his effort on the boards can fuel the Duke transition machine. Duke isn’t as efficient when Plumlee and his brother are not factors in the game, limiting their transition opportunities and turning the Blue Devils into a jump-shooting team. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, because Duke has so many great shooters, but playing a one-dimensional game will catch up to any team no matter how talented they may be. Duke struggled from three against Maryland the last time they played and also against St. John’s. Gary Williams’ team is ranked #2 in defensive efficiency and must contain the Duke three point attack yet again if they hope to win this game. Nolan Smith has scored 60 points over the past two games and can shoot the three like crazy, but Kyle Singler and Andre Dawkins pose even bigger threats from deep. Singler had 25/10 in the last game against Maryland and should have another big night, using his underrated quickness and height to slash through the tight Maryland defense. In his attempt to contain Williams, Coach K may use Ryan Kelly as another body on the Terrapin big man. The 6’11 Kelly played 17 minutes in the first meeting but has seen his minutes increase over the past two weeks. Five more fouls and a fresh body can’t be a bad thing when guarding a workhorse such as Williams and we’ll be curious to see if Krzyzewski has enough confidence in his sophomore big man to do so. There is no excuse for Maryland not to be ready and pumped up for this game. They need a big time win and this is a tremendous opportunity to get one in front of a national audience on their home floor. Anything less than 100% effort will be unacceptable and you can be sure Gary Williams feels the same way. This should be another slugfest and it’ll be interesting to see how Duke reacts in a tougher road environment after their blowout loss to the Johnnies.
Two more important conference battles:
Marquette @ #12 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)
The Golden Eagles have yet to win a big game on the road (two road wins at Milwaukee and Rutgers) but this game provides them with an excellent opportunity to do so. Although it’s being played at Villanova’s cozy on-campus Pavilion, a place where the Wildcats have won 45 straight games over the past four years, these two teams know each other well and always seem to play close games. Marquette has three nice home victories to its credit but eventually they need to win a game against a good team away from the Bradley Center. You can’t rest your fate on a collection of close losses come Selection Sunday, as they are, after all, losses. Villanova has lost three of four after starting the season 16-1 and a loss tonight would start to evoke memories of last year’s February/March flame out.
#7 San Diego State @ Colorado State – 9 pm on CBS College Sports (***)
This is a huge game for the Rams as they are sitting near the bubble and host a top ten team tonight. With their two leading scorers Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin residing in their front court, Colorado State should be able to put up a solid fight on their home floor against the front court heavy Aztecs. The key for the Rams will be defense. CSU has struggled against the better teams on their schedule, allowing an average of 82 PPG to Colorado, Kansas, New Mexico and BYU, not to mention the 92 points put up by Sam Houston State back in November. In order to win, Colorado State must defend better and get big time production in the form of points and rebounds from Ogide and Franklin. Containing Kawhi Leonard on the glass is a must, but darn near impossible.