Set Your Tivo: 02.07.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 7th, 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 of the top teams in the country are each without a key player tonight, plus one is on the road. How will the personnel losses affect these two deep teams? All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#4 Pittsburgh @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
The Backyard Brawl, hoops edition, tips off for the 181st time tonight in Morgantown with West Virginia owning a 95-85 series edge. However, Pittsburgh has won seven of the last ten meetings with Jamie Dixon’s program reloading every year of late. This evening the Panthers will be without a key cog in their offense, itself ranked #2 in efficiency. Ashton Gibbs, Pitt’s leading scorer and best three point shooter, is out with a knee injury and will miss up to two weeks. That means Travon Woodall will start at the point guard position and the Panthers’ outstanding depth will be put to the test.
Pittsburgh is still a capable three point shooting team without Gibbs but he has been their most reliable threat from the arc and in the mid-range. Without their best shooter, the Panthers will have to work the ball inside more — plus, the Mountaineers rank #5 in three point defense. Pittsburgh should be able to get inside due to their fantastic interior passing and high basketball IQ. Bob Huggins will sometimes play a zone, and, if he does, Pittsburgh can exploit it with hard cuts and smart passing. Even against West Virginia’s physical man-to-man defense, Pittsburgh should be able to get quality shots. They screen and cut better than almost any team in the country and run highly disciplined offensive sets. Both teams are in the top five in offensive rebounding percentage, but Pitt has an edge on the defensive glass. West Virginia ranks #292 in offensive rebounding percentage against and that could be a huge problem when you consider how good Pitt is on the offensive boards. Gary McGhee may not score a lot, but he’s a smart player who always seems to know where he is and what he wants to do. McGhee goes after the ball and wants it like no other, an important intangible in a game that figures to be close.
The Mountaineers don’t shoot very well so there should be plenty of rebounds available. West Virginia really struggles from the outside and has scored an average of only 56.4 PPG in their last five games. Outside of Casey Mitchell, who returned from suspension against Villanova but played only 13 minutes and didn’t score, West Virginia doesn’t have anybody who can consistently hit a three pointer. Like Pittsburgh, they’ll also have to look inside for most of their points tonight. The Panthers play great interior defense, making John Flowers and Kevin Jones even more important players in this game. Flowers is one of the most improved players in the conference and has averaged 14.25 PPG over his last eight outings, in addition to being a shot-blocking force. Jones hasn’t quite made the leap most observers expected this season but he’s still a top player and one of the better forwards in the conference. Along with Flowers, Jones has to rebound the ball with purpose and be aggressive on both sides of the ball against the Pittsburgh forwards.
Huggins will be thrilled if he can get anything out of Deniz Kilicli, a guy who has shown some flashes offensively but hasn’t managed to put it together consistently. Against McGhee inside, Kilicli has the potential to impact this game defensively and on the glass. These games are always heated affairs and the last meeting was a triple OT thriller played one year ago this week. The last game in Morgantown was a Mountaineer blowout, but featured an ugly incident where coins were thrown at the Pittsburgh bench. It’ll be very interesting to see how Pitt plays without Gibbs but the Panthers obviously have enough depth and talent to win this game on the road. Whether they do so is another question because we’re sure West Virginia will be up for this one, a good chance to knock off their top five Big East-leading rival.
#11 Missouri @ #3 Kansas – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
Yet another rivalry game features a deep and talented top five team without one of its best players. Kansas will likely be without Josh Selby tonight, doubtful with a foot injury. The Jayhawks lead the Border War 169-94 and have won 11 straight games against Missouri in Allen Fieldhouse. KU has won eight of the last nine, and 12 of the last 15 against the Tigers. Brady Morningstar stepped up in Selby’s absence in their last game against Nebraska, scoring 19 points and dishing out six assists. Scoring and ball movement will be very important tonight playing against the “fastest 40 minutes in basketball,” Mike Anderson’s hectic up-tempo system. Kansas is ranked #1 in eFG% and #2 in defensive efficiency, making a Missouri win a very tall order for the Tigers away from home. The road hasn’t been kind to Missouri, currently 1-4 in true road games with the only win coming at rebuilding Oregon. In order to win at Allen Fieldhouse, Missouri has to play their best game of the year defensively, rebound well and turn the Jayhawks over. Kansas averages 14 turnovers per game, so the Tigers do have an opportunity to do just that. KU should enjoy a significant advantage on the boards, however, as Missouri is barely average when it comes to rebounding. Laurence Bowers and Ricardo Ratliffe need to have terrific games on the glass as well as defensively inside against the #1 two point offense in America. That interior offense is led by Marcus and Markieff Morris, two of the best low-post scorers in the nation, if not the best. Marcus is the more efficient of the two (60.3% FG) and possesses an array of post moves that Mizzou will have to contain. If you double one of the twins, the other is ready to rebound. If you play them straight up, they can beat you in so many different ways.
If Kansas controls the paint and plays their typical perimeter defense, they shouldn’t have a problem against Missouri. Jayhawk opponents are shooting 28.2% from downtown on the year and Marcus Denmon, a 46% three point shooter for Missouri, will be put to the test against said defense. Denmon has struggled over his last four games, going 4-17 from deep, but remains a constant threat who can shoot Missouri back into any game when he gets hot. Another Missouri player to keep an eye on from the perimeter is Kim English. He hasn’t had the most productive year but enjoyed his best game the last time out against Colorado, scoring 21 points and pulling down six rebounds. English shoots just under 40% from three and the Kansas defense can’t afford to ignore him, especially coming off such a great game. Even without Selby it’s hard to see Kansas losing this game. They’ve simply been dominant at home over the years, especially against Missouri. Mizzou can surprise is if KU has an off night offensively and the Jayhawks’ turnover disorder has a rare flare-up, but the presumed rebounding gulf and futility on the road have to concern Anderson and his staff.