Set Your Tivo: 02.04-02.06Posted by Brian Otskey on February 5th, 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.
On paper, this isn’t the best weekend of games. However, this is college basketball where anything can happen. You just never know what could happen and it may end up being a thrilling couple of days, anyway. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
West Virginia @ #12 Villanova – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
Yet another big game in the Big East features two teams tied for third place at 6-3 in league play. The winner will tie second place Notre Dame, just a game and a half behind first place Pittsburgh. West Virginia has won seven of nine games and rebounding has been a big reason why. The Mountaineers have not been out-rebounded by an opponent since a New Year’s Day game at Marquette, plus their defense has been solid. West Virginia has scored only 58 PPG over their last four games (three of them without leading scorer Casey Mitchell) but has held opponents to an average of 50 PPG over the same stretch, culminating in holding Seton Hall to 44 points on Wednesday. Bob Huggins’ team is #5 nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but will have to bring their A-game on the glass against Villanova. The Wildcats rank 20th in keeping opponents off the offensive boards and were led by the interior duo of Antonio Pena and Mouphtaou Yarou in their most recent win over Marquette. They combined for 32/15 and have been huge factors this season as Jay Wright isn’t counting exclusively on his guards to win games anymore. Although West Virginia has rebounded the ball extremely well of late, they still rank only #291 in opponent’s offensive rebounding percentage, allowing teams to grab 35.6% of their misses. Villanova will likely miss a lot of long range shots against West Virginia’s #2 ranked three point defense (allowing 27%) so offensive rebounding will be important for both teams, especially the Wildcats, in this game. Coach Huggins used 6’7 John Flowers on Seton Hall’s Jeremy Hazell in their last game and he successfully shut down the Pirates’ gunner. Might we see the same thing on Villanova’s Corey Stokes? It’s a good possibility, though Flowers may be needed inside more often to double Pena and Yarou. Flowers leads the Big East in blocked shots and needs to have another good defensive game against a Villanova team that can score in bunches. The Wildcats score 25.6% of their points from the foul line and attempted 33 free throws against Marquette. Villanova is very difficult to beat when they get to the stripe because they shoot 78% and get there so often. Dribble penetration from Corey Fisher and Maalik Wayns leads to good looks inside and plenty of free throw opportunities. West Virginia has to do a good job defending the dribble drive and Kevin Jones will be a key player in doing so. Jones is a taller player who, along with Flowers, will form the second line of defense if the Wildcat guards are able to get into the lane. Jones is also a warrior on the glass, going for 13/12 in his last game. With the status of Casey Mitchell still uncertain, West Virginia will have to stick to typical “Huggy-ball” more than ever, and that’s physical defense and great rebounding. Villanova is 16-0 when they score at least 70 points but only 2-4 when they fail to do so. With the way West Virginia is rebounding and playing defense right now, it’s very possible that this game could be in the 50’s or 60’s. We’re going to go with the upset and take the Mountaineers on the road in this game.
#10 Kentucky @ Florida – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
With a win on Saturday night, Florida can really create some separation between themselves and Kentucky. With a win against the Wildcats, Florida will hold a two and a half game lead over UK and remain ahead of Tennessee, a team they beat on the road already. Quite simply, a win here puts Florida in a commanding position in the SEC East. Of course, that won’t be so easy against the nation’s fourth ranked team in eFG% defense. The Gators have won 9 of 11 games but Kentucky will be their toughest test since a meeting with Ohio State back in November. The Wildcats are coming off a loss at Ole Miss earlier this week, a game in which they committed 18 turnovers and didn’t defend the three point line well at all. Freshman point guard Brandon Knight had six of those turnovers and needs to do a better job tonight. Young teams can’t turn it over and expect to win on the road no matter how talented they are and Kentucky is finding out the hard way. With a 2-4 record in true road games, the Wildcats need to grow up quick if they want to play deep into March. Knight needs to create shots for himself and others, taking advantage of UK’s 40% shooting from deep. With Doron Lamb shooting the ball very well recently, Kentucky has plenty of threats to win this game. A key battle in this game will be at the forward spot as Kentucky’s freshman Terrence Jones goes up against Florida senior Chandler Parsons. Jones averages 18/9 and had 22/12 at Ole Miss while Parsons has been on an absolute tear on the glass of late. Controlling the boards will be critically important in a game that could be all about pace. The Gators would like to slow the game down and work in the half court while the Wildcats are comfortable at a quicker pace. To keep the tempo in their favor, Florida has to win the rebounding battle and make shots. The Gators are #10 in offensive rebounding percentage but the matchup between Jones and Parsons, as well as Vernon Macklin and Josh Harrellson at the center position, will likely determine who controls the glass in this game. If Harrellson can shut down Macklin (Festus Ezeli of Vanderbilt did a good job of this in the last game), the onus will be on Parsons to carry the Gators yet again. With Erving Walker hitting only 7 of his last 33 threes (21%), Florida will work the ball inside even more than they already do. The Gators get 56.8% of their points from two point range but will face the #4 interior defense in the country. Kentucky allows opponents to shoot only 41% from two point range while Florida is making 50.5% of their two point shots. This should be a physical game and whoever controls the interior will likely come out on top. Despite their road woes, we think John Calipari’s team will be ready to play tonight and hand the Gators their fourth home loss, disappointing the big crowd sure to be at the O-Dome for ESPN Game Day.
#1 Ohio State @ #20 Minnesota – 2 pm Sunday on ESPN (****)
This is a big game for Minnesota, sitting at 5-5 in Big Ten play after two straight losses. Ohio State is going to lose at some point and the Gophers have a chance to hand them their first loss in this game. With the height and needed to counter Jared Sullinger, Minnesota may be able to contain the superstar freshman better than anyone has all year. Sullinger had 15/12 the first time these teams met, a three point Ohio State win in Columbus. With the setting now Williams Arena, this is a good chance for Minnesota to shock the nation. However, the home squad will be without a key piece of the puzzle. With point guard Al Nolen out due to injury, it will be hard for Minnesota to get into a rhythm offensively against the solid Buckeye defense. Tubby Smith’s team successfully got to the free throw line in the first game against Ohio State and they’ll have to do it again in this time. Minnesota has a very good free throw rate but the Buckeyes rank #1 in defensive free throw rate at 20%. Another problem for the Gophers will be defense, specifically on the three point line. Ohio State is #9 in three point percentage while Minnesota is ranked below average at #211 when it comes to defending the triple. Thad Matta has a plethora of big guards on his roster, such as sharpshooter Jon Diebler, and they should easily be able to shoot over Minnesota’s defense, whether it’s a zone or otherwise. A zone defense should work well inside against Sullinger but it will allow Ohio State to burn Minnesota from deep if they’re shooting well. Minnesota’s opponents get 38.5% of their points from the three point arc, #1 in the nation. The Gophers must stop this potent offensive unit if they want to entertain any thoughts of upsetting the nation’s #1 team. It’s pick your position against Ohio State and the home team needs to hope a part of the Buckeye offense isn’t functioning properly. Minnesota does do a great job defensively on the interior with the size and shot blocking ability of Ralph Sampson III and Trevor Mbakwe. The Gophers rank fifth in blocked shot percentage and are in the top 15 in two point defense. Sampson III and Mbakwe need to have big games inside on both ends of the floor in order to match or exceed whatever Sullinger brings to the table. For Ohio State, they will look to force turnovers by playing aggressive defense. Without Nolen, Blake Hoffarber will do most of the ball handling. Aaron Craft has proven he can lock up talented opposing guards and that will be his assignment yet again against Hoffarber. If Minnesota can’t get anything going from their senior guard, they won’t be able to run their sets and get into a flow offensively. Turnovers will only exacerbate that problem and make it a long afternoon for the folks from Minneapolis. It’s going to be a great environment inside the Barn and we do think Minnesota has a chance to spring the upset. However, lots of things have to go right in order for them to do so and we don’t think Minnesota, already trending downward, will be able to accomplish everything they need to do against such a great team. We’ve been wrong before but we think the Buckeyes will earn another impressive road win on Sunday.
Other games you should pay attention to:
St. John’s @ UCLA – 1 pm Saturday on CBS (regional coverage) (***)
Steve Lavin makes his return to Westwood as his Red Storm try to make their final push for the NCAA Tournament. At 13-8 (5-5), this is a pivotal non-conference game for the Johnnies. Aside from beating Duke, they’ve picked up all of their quality wins in conference play. St. John’s does a nice job of forcing turnovers and they’ll have to do that against a UCLA club ranked #228 in turnover percentage. This game will be played on the interior for the most part as both teams struggle from deep. UCLA should have the rebounding edge with Reeves Nelson and Tyler Honeycutt. For St. John’s, Dwight Hardy drives the bus. The point guard has to have a good defensive game in addition to using his dribble penetration to get the ball inside to the Red Storm bigs, as well as getting to the line where he’s an 87% free throw shooter.
Old Dominion @ George Mason – 2 pm Saturday on Comcast Sports Group (***)
The Monarchs sit one game behind George Mason and VCU in the Colonial but have already knocked off the Patriots, making this a game with major title implications. Old Dominion struggles offensively but did shoot 46.7% in the first meeting. Playing on the road this time, ODU will likely have to win this game with defense and rebounding. However, the Monarchs rank #291 against the three pointer and that’s where George Mason excels, shooting 39.2% from deep behind Cam Long, Andre Cornelius and company. Old Dominion is a terrific rebounding team but they’ll have to continue their recent string of solid defense to come out on top in this one.
UNLV @ #8 BYU – 4 pm Saturday on Versus (***)
It seems UNLV has fallen off the national radar a bit but they’ve won three straight since a home loss to Colorado State. If the Rebels are to have any hope of contending for the Mountain West title, they have to beat BYU here and take down San Diego State next week in Las Vegas. BYU won the first meeting in Vegas a month ago, surrendering 89 points to the high-powered Cougars. UNLV actually ranks ninth in defensive efficiency and has had only one really poor defensive game since (the loss to CSU). Stopping Jimmer Fredette and the BYU three point attack is obviously important as UNLV really struggles from the perimeter. They get most of their points in the paint and can’t be trading twos for threes all game. Chace Stanback was a non-factor last time against the Cougars but has played pretty well since then. He has to step up and have a big game to win at the Marriott Center, already an incredibly difficult thing to do.
Alabama @ Tennessee – 5 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
After early season losses to Iowa and St. Peter’s, raise your hand if you had Alabama at 6-1 in the SEC, three games clear of everyone else in the SEC West in the loss column? The Crimson Tide have used an incredibly stingy defense to build their lead and only two Alabama opponents have cracked 65 points since Christmas. In fact, only three teams have scored 70 points or more against Anthony Grant’s team all season. Tennessee will have its hands full in this game as they don’t shoot the ball particularly well. With Scotty Hopson’s status unknown due to a sprained ankle, this is a game Alabama can win. Even if Hopson plays, Cameron Tatum has to step up and become a legitimate third scoring option. He’s played better of late but Tennessee will need that to keep going against Alabama.
Cincinnati @ #4 Pittsburgh – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Cincinnati has a grand total of one win on the road against a decent team (St. John’s). With five of their final nine games away from home, it’s make or break time for the Bearcats. Of their 18 wins, only eight have come against teams with a winning record. Of those eight, only Xavier, St. John’s and possibly Dayton have any chance of making the NCAA Tournament. In short, quality wins are non-existent for Cincinnati and they need them in a hurry. Pittsburgh has the #1 offense in terms of efficiency and Cincinnati will have to bring its A-game defensively to have any chance of winning at the Pete. The Bearcats rebound the ball well but Pitt is on another level with guys like Gary McGhee inside. McGhee plays only 21 minutes a game but pulls down eight rebounds, making him a highly productive player. Pitt’s biggest vulnerability is three point defense, averaging a rather pedestrian 34.1% against. Barring a fluke shooting night, Cincinnati doesn’t have the firepower to take advantage of that.
Michigan State @ #16 Wisconsin – 1 pm Sunday on CBS (***)
The situation is now critical in East Lansing after a 20-point blowout loss at Iowa earlier this week. Things don’t get any easier as they enter their house of horrors, also known as the Kohl Center. Michigan State has never defeated Wisconsin on the road with Bo Ryan at the helm and that doesn’t look to change in this game. The Badgers arguably should have won the matchup in East Lansing, blowing the game late in stunning fashion. It was a brick-fest in Iowa City on Wednesday night as the Spartans shot 33.9% and gave up 57.7% shooting to the Hawkeyes. Against Wisconsin, Michigan State will have to stop the nation’s second-ranked offensive efficiency. With a defense ranked #289 against the three, it seems like a tall order for the Spartans to win here against a Wisconsin team with a bevy of three point threats.
Florida State @ #24 North Carolina – 2 pm Sunday on FSN (***)
It’ll be interesting to see how the news of Larry Drew II’s departure from North Carolina affects the team. Drew had already lost the starting point guard job to Kendall Marshall but he did dish out nine assists in the win at Boston College earlier this week. He was also a terrific defender for them and despite some chemistry concerns, he will likely be missed. Florida State is 5-3 on the road overall but has only won once away from home since the calendar turned to 2011. That was a two-point win over struggling Miami, plus the Seminoles lost to Auburn and were not competitive at Virginia Tech and Clemson. However, the nation’s #2 defense should always give them a chance. While North Carolina doesn’t really wow you with anything they do offensively, Florida State is brutal and will have to contend with UNC’s sixth ranked defensive efficiency, though how much that changes without Drew is unknown. The Tar Heels have won nine of their last ten and we don’t see any reason why they won’t add another win on Sunday.