Set Your Tivo: 02.08.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 8th, 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.
An intriguing non-conference game, Bruce Pearl’s return and an ACC bubble battle headline tonight’s schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Xavier @ Georgia – 7 pm on ESPNU (***)
These teams last met in the first round of the 2008 NCAA Tournament, the year Dennis Felton’s Georgia team made an incredible run through the SEC Tournament to steal the automatic bid. Xavier has won eight of nine games coming into tonight’s matchup while Georgia has won two straight after starting 3-4 in SEC play.
Neither team did much out of conference, especially Xavier, making this a big game when it comes to NCAA implications. Georgia will have to contain the dribble penetration of star Musketeer guard Tu Holloway, their leading scorer who gets to the free throw line with ease. Holloway makes 86.6% of his foul shots and getting to the stripe has to be atop Chris Mack’s offensive game plan. In addition to scoring points, getting to the line will put some Bulldog players in foul trouble. If Xavier can get Trey Thompkins or Travis Leslie off the floor for any significant amount of time, they’ll have an excellent chance to earn a very nice road win. Georgia looks to have a solid edge on the boards in this game because of those two players; Thompkins plays bigger than his already formidable size down low, and Leslie is one of the best rebounding guards in the country. The Bulldogs also have Jeremy Price, coming off a 22/14 performance against Auburn, in the post alongside Thompkins. Georgia is an excellent offensive rebounding team and gets 59.6% of its points from two-point range, many coming courtesy of second chance opportunities. The Bulldogs are capable of making threes but will look inside for most of their points, especially against a thin Xavier team that ranks last in D1 in bench minutes and is susceptible to foul trouble. As for the Musketeers, Holloway’s performance almost always determines the team’s fortune. He has shot poorly in all but one loss (9-18 FG in a loss to Florida) and takes an average of 13 shots from the floor, and almost nine free throw attempts per game. Mark Lyons is Xavier’s second scoring threat at 13.8 PPG and has been enjoying increased accuracy of late, hitting 16-35 (45.7%) from deep over his last six games. If Lyons can hit some outside shots, it will open up the paint and spread the defense, allowing Holloway to penetrate while giving Xavier’s interior players room to operate. This is an important game for both teams but Xavier really needs a signature non-conference win. Their best wins outside the A-10 were over Butler, Seton Hall and Iowa, three wins that will fail to impress the Selection Committee. Winning away from home won’t be easy, but this is doable. The Bulldogs will be favored but we wouldn’t be surprised to see Xavier go into Stegeman Coliseum and come out with a win.
Tennessee @ #18 Kentucky – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
Bruce Pearl makes his return after sitting out eight games and his welcome back is Tennessee’s toughest SEC test to date. Scotty Hopson is listed as questionable, but expects to play tonight after sitting out the past two games with a sprained ankle. Assuming he plays, how effective can he possibly be? To pull off a win against a stunned Kentucky team, Hopson needs to contribute in a big way for the Volunteers. Kentucky is now 4-4 in the SEC after losing two straight. They’ve won 29 consecutive home games, however, which is the second-longest streak in the nation. For Tennessee to win, they’ll have to concentrate their efforts to the inside and try to neutralize Kentucky’s prowess on the offensive glass. That makes Brian Williams a key player in this game. When Josh Harrellson isn’t in the game, Williams will have a physical edge in the paint and should be able to pull down plenty of rebounds. Of course, we expect John Calipari to use Harrellson mostly when Williams is in the game to prevent exactly that from happening. Despite that, rebounding is all about positioning and effort so Williams should still be able to control the glass. Tennessee ranks sixth as a team in offensive rebounding percentage and it’s not just Williams who has to do all the work. Tobias Harris had 19/11 in the loss to Alabama on Saturday and a repeat performance from him could really help Tennessee tonight.
Tennessee doesn’t shoot the ball all that well (#209 eFG%), making rebounding absolutely critical in this game against a Kentucky team ranked #6 in eFG% against and which allows only 41.4% shooting inside the arc.
Defensively for the Volunteers, they’ll have to stop Kentucky’s three point attack. The Wildcats shoot it very well from deep and point guard Brandon Knight is coming off an impressive display at Florida. He scored 24 points in that game but Calipari has to be wary of his A/T ratio, currently at 1.12. The freshman Knight has a big height advantage on Tennessee’s Melvin Goins, but Goins is a savvy senior and one of the better on-ball defenders out there. If the experienced Tennessee defender can force Knight into turnovers (3.4 per game), the Vols will have plenty of opportunities for transition buckets and extra possessions. Tennessee is the deeper team so they may have fresher legs defensively, but Kentucky is more talented and should win at home. It’s never wise to count out a Bruce Pearl team, especially with the emotional boost his return will give the team, but we’d be surprised if Tennessee manages to steal this one.
Boston College @ Clemson – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
It doesn’t get much more bubbly than this. Clemson is probably on the outside looking in right now but Boston College isn’t a safe bet for inclusion, either. Both teams stand at 5-4 in ACC play, tied with Maryland and Virginia Tech in a log jam in the middle of the conference. It’s not likely that all four of these teams will make the Tournament so they need to separate themselves from one another. Boston College has already knocked off Maryland and Virginia Tech so a win tonight at Clemson would give the Eagles top billing among these teams. BC has lost four of its last six games, though, and star guard Reggie Jackson has struggled over the same stretch, hardly a coincidental development. Jackson is 24 for his last 75 (32%), and even the two wins were close calls at home over Virginia and Virginia Tech. Joe Trapani has stepped up over the same period (17/10 over the last six games) but it just hasn’t been enough. Jackson is BC’s go-to guy and needs to break out of this slump if Steve Donahue’s team is to make a surge towards the NCAA Tournament. Offense hasn’t been a problem for Boston College most of the year (#8 in efficiency), but defense and rebounding have been a much different story. The Eagles are a sieve, ranked #257 in defensive efficiency, which is second-to-last among power conference teams. Only lowly Wake Forest is ranked below BC in this important category. Boston College grabs only 32 RPG, a very poor number, even considering their slower tempo. Clemson can win this game with solid defense and rebounding but must pay strong attention to the three point line. BC takes a lot of threes and shoots 38.6% from deep, the most potent aspect of their offense. Clemson allows 32.6% shooting from deep and three-point defending like that should be good enough for a win at home tonight. If the Tigers can avoid turnover problems (14 per game) and rebound well, it’s tough to see them losing this game. They should have an advantage inside and forward Jerai Grant is coming off a 20/7 performance at Georgia Tech. Grant is also a terrific interior defender, averaging 2.4 blocks per game. Trapani will pose a problem if he can keep up his hot play but Clemson has more depth inside and should own the boards. We like Clemson in this one and a Tigers win will make the middle of the ACC even tougher to decipher.