Set Your Tivo: 02.09.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 9th, 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.
Rivalry week kicks into high gear tonight with a clash of Big East titans and the greatest rivalry of them all on Tobacco Road. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#13 Georgetown @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
Syracuse has stabilized itself after losing four straight but will run into a streaking Georgetown club tonight at the Carrier Dome. The Hoyas have won six straight games and look to be back in the thick of things with a chance for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament. Syracuse leads this classic Big East rivalry 46-38 and will have to keep up their defensive effort if they want to win for the 47th time against the Hoyas.
During their four game losing streak, Syracuse lost its defensive identity. However, it seems to have emerged once again over the last two games. The Orange have allowed 53.5 PPG to their opponents in their last two wins and will need another strong defensive game against Georgetown, a team with exceptional shooting ability. The Hoyas get most of their production from their trio of guards, led by Austin Freeman. Look for Syracuse to extend their 2-3 zone out and try to bother the Hoya guards while constantly probing for turnovers. Georgetown is vulnerable to giveaways and Syracuse needs to force them in order to get out in transition and pick up easy buckets. If John Thompson III and his team can drag the Orange into a half court game, the chances of a Georgetown win increase. Syracuse isn’t great offensively in half court situations but the Hoyas can run their modified Princeton offense in and out of the zone when they have the ball, finding the open spots and converting. The Hoyas shoot 57.1% from two-point range, second in the nation. Syracuse is #1 in blocks percentage on the strength of a big back line, but the Orange have to win this game on the perimeter by stopping Georgetown’s guards and their prolific three point shooting ability.
Offensively, Syracuse must protect the ball to keep their turnover margin in positive territory. They should work the ball inside and avoid getting into a three point shooting contest with the Hoyas, something they likely would not win. Syracuse has Rick Jackson down low to score and rebound, and they should use him extensively. If Jackson and his teammates can get the Georgetown big men into foul trouble, Syracuse will have a lot of room to operate. Additionally, foul problems for Georgetown’s interior players will push their offense exclusively to the perimeter, making it easier for Syracuse to lock up the Hoya guards. With point guard Scoop Jardine playing much better lately (9 APG over his last three games), the Orange need to get the ball to Jackson and Kris Joseph, Syracuse’s leading scorer and a player who should enjoy a significant edge at the forward position. Georgetown’s three guard lineup, along with Julian Vaughn on Jackson and Hollis Thompson on another Syracuse big, means that a guard will most likely be defending Joseph giving the Canadian a huge height advantage. We think Joseph will have a big game as a result of this mismatch. If the Orange can keep up their solid defense and own the boards with Jackson and company, they will win this game at home. Georgetown needs to shoot well from deep, slow the pace down, and get some contributions from their interior players in order to keep rolling and earn a great road victory.
#19 Louisville @ #8 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPNU (****)
What Rick Pitino has done with this Louisville team is really amazing. They’ve been hit by the injury bug and have managed to win 18 games on the season, currently tied for third place in the Big East. Opposite Pitino will be Mike Brey, a man who has worked wonders with his own team. Consequently, this game features two of the leading contenders for Big East (and possibly national) Coach of the Year. This game is going to come down to two main things: tempo and shooting, specifically from the three point line. The big question is whether or not Brey will use the “burn” offense yet again in order to slow down the Cardinals, a team that loves to force turnovers and score in transition. They very well might, because the Irish protect the ball like a mother protects her newborn child, #16 in turnover percentage. Notre Dame is an experienced team and has adjusted smoothly to their new style of play, counting on Ben Hansbrough to break down the defense and score in late shot clock situations. Hansbrough has become ND’s go-to guy, shooting well and getting to the free throw line with ease. He’s averaged 24 PPG over his last four games and Brey is really pushing him for Big East Player of the Year. As a team, Notre Dame gets 55.5% of its points from either the three point line or the charity stripe. It could get ugly for Louisville in terms of foul shots as they have very poor free throw rates, while the Irish enjoy some of the best rates in the nation on both ends of the floor. The Irish shoot 73.6% from the line as a team and can take over a game or even put it out of reach by finding their way to the line. With Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis shooting the majority of threes, Notre Dame has two of the best deep shooters in the conference on their side. As Hansbrough has stepped up, Abromaitis has shot the ball less than in the past. He’s still a threat that Pitino will have to pay attention to in his game plan.
An important player in this game will be Scott Martin. He should have a height advantage at forward going up against the likes of Chris Smith or Kyle Kuric. If Louisville can’t contain Martin with a bigger defender, it could be a long night for the Cardinals. Louisville has to prevent ND from going off on the perimeter, speed up the game, and force turnovers. Everyone knows they’ll shoot a lot of triples but they probably won’t win unless they create extra possessions. The Cardinals will have a difficult time winning if they play at Notre Dame’s preferred pace. Louisville has the potential, however, to match the Irish’s three point shooting. Preston Knowles is expected to play after missing the last game with an injury, although he’s just 13 for his last 47 from deep (27.7%). Knowles has to break out of his slump and spearhead the Cardinals’ three point attack. Peyton Siva went 0-8 from the floor against DePaul but dished out 10 assists, showing his increased maturity and ability to make others better when he’s not shooting well. Notre Dame allows opponents to shoot 35% from beyond the arc and that’s something Louisville must exploit with their three-happy guards. With two important front court players on the shelf with injuries, the Cardinals have to win this game with their back court. However, keep an eye on the matchup inside between Carleton Scott and Terrence Jennings. Jennings is a great defender and Scott has been the X-factor for Notre Dame at times. Scott had 12/11 against Rutgers but will face a tougher test tonight. Louisville has shown the ability to go bananas from deep and score points in a hurry but the Irish are so disciplined and skilled that it’s not easy to find a way for Louisville to win this game. Of course, Pitino has more basketball knowledge and creativity than we’ll ever be blessed to possess, but we like Notre Dame at home, continuing a special season in South Bend.
#16 North Carolina @ #5 Duke – 9 pm on ESPN (*****)
We know ESPN hypes this game to no end, but it really is the greatest rivalry in our sport and it’s not even close. Is it the best rivalry in all of sports? A case can be made, though many will disagree. Red Sox/Yankees is the best rivalry in all of sports, in our opinion, but just consider this one fact. Those teams meet 18 or 19 times a year while UNC and Duke get together only twice or three times in rare cases. It’s certainly among the best in the entire sporting world but the rarity and the proximity of the schools are what make it so special.
North Carolina has won six of the last nine games in the series and leads overall, 130-99, but Duke has won 19 of the last 28. Adding even more juice to the game, the winner will move into sole possession of first place in the ACC. Coming into tonight, UNC is on a hot streak of their own. They’ve won five in a row and 10 of 11 overall with the only loss coming at Georgia Tech. With Larry Drew II gone, Kendall Marshall has stepped into the point guard role and excelled. Marshall had a record 16 assists in the win over Florida State on Sunday, the most by any North Carolina player in an ACC game. His teammates have benefited greatly from the stellar play of late. Tyler Zeller has stayed healthy and is shooting 73.9% from the floor over his last three games while Harrison Barnes has finally found his stroke. John Henson has averaged 15/11 over the last three games, as well, and is one of the best defenders in the nation, blocking three shots per game. The Tar Heels are making their run and look to be an extremely tough out as we head towards March. Both of these clubs rank in the top 10 in defensive efficiency and are among the top teams when it comes to tempo, with North Carolina playing the quickest pace of any major conference team in the country. A closer look at Duke, however, gives us an idea of what they may look to do in this game. The Blue Devils played at an average of 76.1 possessions per game before Kyrie Irving went down and have significantly dropped their pace to 70.1 in the games since his injury. In ACC play, their tempo is a possession lower at 69.1. Mike Krzyzewski probably wants to play this game in the half court, allowing Nolan Smith to run the show with offensive sets full of screens and cuts. Smith has been absolutely terrific this season and is a contender for National Player of the Year. At 21 PPG, Smith is Duke’s leading scorer and biggest playmaker. In this game, Coach K may have to go big to match North Carolina’s height inside. On paper, UNC has a rebounding edge. If the Tar Heels control the boards, transition opportunities will become more frequent and the pace will shift in their favor. Roy Williams loves for his team to run, and then run some more, so you can bet he’ll love to see that. Both Mason and Miles Plumlee should see a lot of time with Ryan Kelly inside and Duke may abandon their three guard sets at times. Mason Plumlee has to be a beast on the boards yet again for the Blue Devils against the tall UNC front line. He’s averaged 11 RPG over his last eight games, but must stay out of foul trouble in order to do so again. The matchup between Barnes and Kyle Singler will be really fun to watch as both are highly versatile players, each playing at a very high level coming into this game. UNC needs to contain Duke’s three point shooters and keep the Blue Devils off the line where they shoot 74.1% as a team. North Carolina is #3 in defensive free throw rate and they have to live up to that statistic in order to prevent Duke from gaining an edge from the stripe. Long rebounds off missed threes can lead to plenty of points in transition, again making rebounding a big deal for the Tar Heels. Offensively, UNC needs continued solid play out of Marshall coupled with a simple philosophy: take smart shots by working inside for high percentage looks. North Carolina’s strength lies on the interior and with Barnes’ versatility, not with the guards jacking up shots. If Marshall understands his role (he has so far) and continues to distribute the ball effectively, North Carolina will be in this game until the very end. After Duke’s dominance and UNC’s struggles last year, it’s great that this rivalry is back to where it should be. There is a lot riding on this game and we expect the red-hot Tar Heels to play very well. We won’t pick against Duke at home, but if UNC can make shots, rebound and defend well, they will make this game mighty interesting. Make sure you tune in for what should be a terrific basketball game filled with tons of talent and a level of passion on both sides not seen almost anywhere else.