Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 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.
So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.
Louisville will look to speed up the pace of this game and shoot over the Syracuse 2-3 zone, something they’re very capable of doing with Preston Knowles and the rest of their three point attack. The Cardinals are an excellent passing team, ranked #12 in assists per field goals made. Great passing is required to beat a zone, and Louisville can certainly do it. Rick Pitino has the blueprint for beating Syracuse and will try to use it again on Saturday. The Orange have lost five of their past seven games, going from a team that looked like a title contender to one just trying to finish strong and earn a good seed in the postseason. Rick Jackson will have to continue his great rebounding on the road in order for Syracuse to keep Louisville from getting out in transiton.
#18 Kentucky @ #23 Vanderbilt – 1 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
The Commodores knocked off streaking Alabama on Thursday night, but both of these teams stand two games behind SEC East leader Florida in the loss column, plus the Gators have wins over each. The loser of this game can probably kiss their division title chances goodbye, and even the winner will still have plenty of work to do in order to catch Florida. Kentucky is 1-4 in SEC road games and that mark has to improve for them to get a good seed in the upcoming NCAA Tournament. Both of these teams shoot the ball well and whoever controls the three point arc and the rebounding margin will win this game. John Jenkins made only one of four threes against Alabama but did manage to score 20 points. Kentucky has to contain him and that job could fall to DeAndre Liggins, an excellent defender. Liggins has a couple inches on Jenkins and might be able to bottle him up, though Jenkins has shown the skill to get his shot off against anyone. Vandy’s three point defense, ranked #9, will be put to the test against a Kentucky club that shoots 40.4% from deep.
Maryland @ Boston College – 1 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Bubble baths were always cool as a kid, right? This is your basketball version, and it’s just a bit more stressful than the ones in your tub. All kidding aside, this is a huge game for both teams. Maryland lacks quality wins, their best one coming at Penn State or home against Clemson — you decide. Either way, Maryland loses in the eyes of the Selection Committee with that sort of standard. As for the Eagles, their NCAA hopes rest on a neutral court win over Texas A&M and a road win over this very Maryland team. BC has lost four of five and five of seven, slowly slipping down in the ACC standings as their atrocious defense has been exposed. The Eagles rank #264 in defensive efficiency but at least they’ve got some shooters. Neither team played much defense in the first meeting, but look for the Terrapins to do a better job this time around. They’re ranked fifth in defensive efficiency and have held their last six opponents to an average of 64 PPG. Although it hasn’t been against a Murderer’s Row schedule, Maryland has won five of those six games, losing only to Duke at home. BC has only two major contributors 6’8 or taller so the smart move for Maryland would be to pound the ball inside and let Jordan Williams go to work. He had 27/13 in the first meeting and has scored in double figures in all but three games this season. Maryland uses Williams and dribble penetration as well as anyone, and they could shred the BC interior defense if the Eagles don’t dedicate themselves on that end. Road wins are never easy, but Maryland really needs this one.
#16 North Carolina @ Clemson – 1 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
The Tar Heels acquitted themselves well at Duke on Wednesday night but their youth showed in the second half. They let Duke dictate the pace after taking it right to the Blue Devils in the first half. Still, this UNC team is rolling, and will be a mighty tough challenge for Clemson. The Tigers beat Boston College earlier this week but are in desperate need of quality wins. If you include Virginia Tech, Clemson has only three more chances before the ACC Tournament to beat a good team. One of those is at Duke, so you can say it’s really just two chances. The point is, this game is a huge opportunity and one they really need to take advantage of. Clemson plays solid defense but UNC is still better on that end, and the Tigers will have to stop the dynamic Kendall Marshall. With Tyler Zeller and John Henson playing so well inside, we’re not sure Clemson has the height to contain the Tar Heels. Their only chance may be to slow the pace to a crawl Notre Dame-style and make jump shots — otherwise UNC’s dominance over Clemson will continue.
#24 Temple @ Dayton – 1 pm Saturday on ESPNU (***)
Coming off a loss at Rhode Island, this is essentially a must-win for Dayton at home. The Flyers are 5-5 in the A-10 and haven’t beaten anyone of note since New Year’s Day when they knocked off New Mexico in overtime. Those five wins have come against the dregs of the conference and they only have three more games against the top teams, starting here. The good news for the Flyers is all three are at home but they really have to sweep them to have any shot at the Tournament. Temple is a half game out of first place but they haven’t won a road game against a decent team all year long, save for the win over Maryland in Washington, D.C. This will be a good test to see where the Owls are at right now. Temple is shooting better this year, especially on the interior where they score most of their points. Their defensive efficiency, however, is down 27 spots from where it was last season, which was top ten nationally. Scootie Randall has been hot lately, averaging 18.7 PPG over his last six outings. Dayton will have to clamp down on him defensively while simultaneously trying to shut down playmaking point guard Juan Fernandez, but Brian Gregory’s team also has to make shots to win. Dayton shoots only 40.3% as a team, #308 in the country.
#1 Ohio State @ #11 Wisconsin – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)
Quite simply, this is the big one. Can the Badgers knock off the undefeated Buckeyes at the Kohl Center, a place where they’ve been so dominant over the past decade? This is the biggest of two remaining road blocks preventing Ohio State from going undefeated. To win this game, Wisconsin has to control the boards, establish a third scoring option offensively, and contain Jared Sullinger. The Badgers are not going to get to the free throw line against the Buckeyes, rated first in defensive free throw rate, so they’re going to have to control the ball and make shots against the third-rated defense in the nation. It’ll be interesting to see if Bo Ryan chooses to double Sullinger with Jon Leuer and Keaton Nankivil, because that will open up the perimeter for Ohio State’s big guards, all 6’5 or better with the exception of Aaron Craft. The matchup at the point guard position between Craft and Jordan Taylor will be important. Craft is a savvy defender and will face a highly intelligent point guard who runs an offense better than almost anyone in the country. Wisconsin is vulnerable to the three point shot and the Buckeyes are shooting it at a 40.4% clip. This is a bad matchup for Wisconsin on paper, but they’re a different team at home. Anything can happen at the Kohl Center and you know the crowd will be ready for this game. We’ll take the Buckeyes in a close one, but if they’re going to lose a game, this is it.
Old Dominion @ VCU – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
Old Dominion is two games behind VCU and George Mason in the CAA and needs this win to have any chance of a conference title with only four games to go after this. It’s been the Great Escape for the Rams on the road in their last two games, but now they return home, a place where they haven’t lost since Northeastern won in Richmond in early January of last year. VCU won at ODU earlier this season and forward Jamie Skeen is coming off a 32/11 performance against Delaware on Wednesday. The Monarchs defend with vigor as a unit but are highly vulnerable on the perimeter, #311 in three point defense. That’s not good news against a VCU team that shoots lots of threes and makes 36.3% of them. A VCU win on Saturday will set up a Tuesday night showdown with George Mason for CAA supremacy, the only time the two teams meet in the regular season.
Baylor @ #2 Texas – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
Wins over Texas A&M and Nebraska have resuscitated Baylor’s NCAA hopes for now, but a daunting final stretch beckons. Two matchups with Texas, a rematch with the Aggies, and a trip to Missouri will make or break Baylor’s season. The Bears’ best win is at Texas A&M but winning at Texas would really put the nation on notice that they’re back. As you may have heard, Texas is rolling over their opponents with no regard for human life, to borrow a phrase from Kevin Harlan. The Longhorns are #1 in defensive efficiency by far, 3.4 points ahead of the tie at #2 between Florida State and Ohio State. To put that in perspective, the gap between Ohio State and #4 Alabama is 0.2. In fact, 3.4 points doesn’t quite separate #2 FSU/OSU from #12 Seton Hall, ten spots lower. To have any chance to win this game, Baylor has to hope Texas has a letdown defensively AND they have to make shots. The Bears can do that with their talented frontcourt, but Texas also ranks #1 in two point percentage defense. LaceDarius Dunn has to be on fire from the perimeter and Perry Jones must continue his stellar play inside. Of course, defense is another concern for Baylor. They were torched by the last great team they played, a certain Kansas Jayhawks side. Jordan Hamilton continues to put up ho-hum stellar game after ho-hum stellar game and we think he’ll do the same in this one. We see little evidence to think the Bears will be able to slow down the Texas train.
Georgia @ South Carolina – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (**)
South Carolina has lost four of five since a 3-1 start to SEC play and this is a game Georgia can’t afford to lose. Aside from the win over Kentucky, Georgia hasn’t beaten anyone of note in conference. While this would not be a quality win, it’s still a chance for a road win and will prevent a bad loss from showing up on the resume. The Bulldogs, clinging to that signature win over the Wildcats, need wins quickly. With four of their final seven games on the road, this is about as close to a must-win as you can get without actually calling it one.
Tennessee @ #21 Florida – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
The Gators have really caught fire of late and sit two games clear of the field in the SEC East in the loss column. Florida has won six of their past seven games since a baffling home loss to South Carolina almost a month ago. The fantastic play of senior forward Chandler Parsons, especially on the boards, has been key to their surge. Parsons is averaging 13.5/12 over his last six games to lead the Florida resurrection. As for Tennessee, they have a few quality wins on the resume, but the losses are piling up. They have nine losses coming into this game and another loss here would be their third straight. The schedule does break in their favor down the stretch but Tennessee could sure use another quality win or just a win, period. To win in Gainesville, the Volunteers must rebound the ball well and get out in transition, speeding up the game and forcing Florida into quick shots. The Gators are so much better when they play in a half court setting, attack the basket and rebound well. That’s why Parsons has been so key to their success lately. Tennessee ranks ninth in offensive rebounding percentage but Florida isn’t far behind at #11. Controlling the glass is a must for Bruce Pearl’s team on Saturday night.
Southern Miss @ Memphis – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (**)
Josh Pastner has endured a tumultuous season but his Tigers are still clinging to hopes of an NCAA berth. Both of these teams are a game behind Conference USA leader UTEP in the loss column but the Miners have a very favorable schedule to close the season. Memphis will have to deal with Southern Miss’s Gary Flowers, averaging 20.2/7.6. A junior college transfer, Flowers has been the workhorse for Larry Eustachy’s team this season. The small Tigers will have a tough time defending him with Wesley Witherspoon still out with a knee injury.
#6 San Diego State @ #25 UNLV – 8 pm Saturday on CBS College Sports (****)
UNLV has fallen off the national map a bit, but the Rebels are still right there in the thick of the NCAA hunt, though they’re lacking quality wins in conference. This is a golden opportunity to get one. San Diego State prides itself on defense and rebounding but they’ll face a team with similar defensive numbers. UNLV was competitive in the first meeting in San Diego one month ago and has won five of seven games since then. Chace Stanback has been on a tear lately and he’ll have to come up big on the boards for UNLV to pull off the upset at home. Going up against Kawhi Leonard — 18th individually in defensive rebounding percentage — is never easy, but Stanback and his team will have the benefit of the home crowd giving them some extra energy. The Rebels beat Wisconsin, Kansas State and Virginia Tech out of conference but could really use a signature win against a top ten club. If they can hold their own on the glass, UNLV has the inside punch to stay with the Aztecs and give them all they can handle in what should be a low scoring affair.
Wright State @ Valparaiso – 8 pm Saturday, no television (***)
This game isn’t on television but a video stream is available at the Horizon League website (http://www.horizonleague.org). After losing at Butler on Thursday, Wright State is two games behind Valparaiso in the loss column with only three conference games to go, and Cleveland State also in the mix. The Raiders must win this game plus their final two conference games to get to 13-5 and then hope for some major help if they are to win the league. Valpo won the first meeting on the road by 11 points and interior play is a huge concern for Wright State in this game. The Crusaders, behind Cory Johnson inside, rank #20 in two point percentage while Wright State checks in at #327 defensively inside the arc. The Raiders’ best players are guards, including Vaughn Duggins, and it’s hard to see them winning on the road with such a disadvantage on the interior.
#4 Pittsburgh @ #9 Villanova – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (*****)
It’s looking almost inevitable that Pittsburgh will win the Big East, as they currently hold a two game lead over second place Notre Dame in the loss column. With Ashton Gibbs not playing in this game, it’s a juicy opportunity for Villanova to break free from the middle of the pack and reclaim a spot in the top tier of the Big East. A loss would drop the Wildcats to 7-5 in conference play, just another of the many teams fighting for a double-bye at MSG in March. The Wildcats were stunned at Rutgers on Wednesday but return to the friendly confines of the Pavilion, a place where they’ve been so dominant over the past few years. They’ve won 45 straight games in the building but this will be their toughest test yet. Villanova must defend and rebound to win, as Pittsburgh runs one of the most efficient offenses in the nation and rebounds the ball better than almost anyone. Also an excellent passing team, the Panthers can tear up almost any defense with great ball movement. With Gibbs out, Pitt will look to the interior even more than they already do. If Pitt has one weakness it’s defending the three point line. That’s where Corey Fisher and Corey Stokes come in. The former has gone 8-12 from deep over the past two games while the latter has struggled for the better part of a month. If both can get on the same page in this game, Villanova has a great chance to win.
New Mexico @ Colorado State – 9 pm Saturday on The Mtn. (***)
This is another important matchup featuring two bubble teams. Colorado State is living off the win at UNLV but has two bad losses out of conference on its resume dragging their stock down. They almost knocked off San Diego State last week but D.J. Gay hit a gutsy jumper to give the Aztecs the win in Fort Collins. CSU has a great front court led by Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin but their defense has let them down at times this year. Against a New Mexico team that shoots the ball pretty well, defense will be critically important. While it’s a bit early for elimination games, a loss by the Lobos here could be lethal to their postseason dreams. They have one quality win (at home over BYU), a weak schedule, and a number of bad losses to contend with. Stopping the CSU front court will be the key defensively, but New Mexico has the rebounding strength and offensive firepower behind Dairese Gary and company to give them a shot on the road.
St. John’s @ Cincinnati – 12 pm Sunday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
It was another huge night at the Garden on Thursday for St. John’s as they upended yet another big name opponent. UConn was the victim this time, and St. John’s now possesses an impressive list of quality wins to go along with solid computer numbers. We think the Red Storm would be solidly in the field at the moment, but the nine losses are a cause for concern. As for the Bearcats, they’re in a worse position despite having a better record. Mick Cronin chose to inflate his team’s victory total with an embarrassing out of conference schedule but Cincinnati has just two wins of note — home against Xavier and on the road against this St. John’s club. Their home schedule is loaded down the stretch and there are plenty of opportunities for quality wins over the final three weeks of the regular season. Cincinnati’s strength is defense, and they’ll have to show off on that end against a St. John’s offense that went nuts and scored 89 points against what was formerly an elite Connecticut defense. Dwight Hardy has scored 30+ points in each of his last two outings and Cincinnati will have to keep him out of the lane where he’s so dangerous. St. John’s will play their 2-3 matchup zone and that could turn Cincinnati into a jump shooting team, as it did with UConn. That’s not a recipe for success for a Bearcat team that doesn’t shoot very well.
#14 Purdue @ Illinois – 1 pm Sunday on CBS (****)
The Illini got a much-needed win Thursday night at Minnesota and could really get back on the right track with a win Sunday over Purdue. Demetri McCamey showed signs of breaking out of his slump, shooting 6-11 against the Gophers while scoring 17 points. Against Purdue, Illinois will have to shoot the three ball well to win. Both teams shoot well from deep but the Illini do a much better job defensively, allowing only 30.1%. Interior play will be a concern for Illinois going up against JaJuan Johnson but the matchups on the wings favor Illinois. They have more height than the Boilermakers and can use it in the mid-range game. Rebounding and turnovers will also be areas to watch in this game. Purdue protects the ball exquisitely, but Illinois can use their height to their advantage on the boards and offset any giveaways by gaining extra possessions off the glass. McCamey has to lead the way for Illinois by shooting well and making others better with his passing ability.
Marquette @ #13 Georgetown – 1 pm Sunday on ESPN (****)
Golden Eagles fans breathed a big collective sigh of relief when Marquette escaped South Florida with a win earlier this week. MU was down big but managed to comeback and hold off the Bulls on the road. Marquette has three nice home wins to its credit but has not won a road game against a quality opponent all year. The win at South Florida was important merely because it prevented a bad loss, but they’re going to have to beat a quality team on the road to impress the Selection Committee. After this game, Marquette has only one more chance to do so before the Big East Tournament, and that’s a game at Connecticut. Georgetown is the hottest team in the Big East right now, having won their last seven games since starting 1-4 in conference play. During the streak, only two Hoya opponents have scored over 70 points. That makes it critical for Marquette to defend in this game, something they’ve struggled with all year. They’re undersized with no real enforcer in the paint and all but two of MU’s losses have seen the opponent score over 70 points. Defending Austin Freeman and the Georgetown three guard lineup is going to be a problem. Marquette gives up 36.2% three point shooting on average, while the Hoyas convert at a 38.7% clip from long range. Offensively, look for Marquette to drive inside with Darius Johnson-Odom and put up a lot of mid-range jump shots from the hands of guys like Jimmy Butler. If Marquette can come up with a big defensive effort, they’ll have a good chance to finally pick up that elusive quality road win.
Xavier @ Duquesne – 2 pm Sunday on FS Ohio (***)
These teams are tied atop the A-10 at 8-1 but neither is a sure bet for NCAA inclusion, especially Duquesne. The Dukes have only one win of note, a home triumph over Temple on January 15. Xavier picked up a huge non-conference road win at Georgia this week, but they too are lacking in the quality win department. They also beat Temple at home, but did win at Richmond and beat Butler, though we’re not sure how much that win is really worth this year. The bottom line is that both need wins to make their cases stronger. This game will be all about pace as Duquesne loves to play up-tempo and force turnovers, owning the distinction of being the #1 team in the nation in defensive turnover percentage. Xavier plays at a much slower pace, but their offense is centered in the half court around Tu Holloway and his dribble penetration skills. He gets to the line so well, and shoots 87.3% when he gets there, a deadly weapon against any opposition. Duquesne’s tallest major contributor is 6’7 Damian Saunders, and that’s going to be a huge problem for Ron Everhart. Xavier has a seven footer, Kenny Frease (11.8/6.7), and the 6’8 Jamel McLean who are capable of doing a lot of damage in the post. It’s very likely that Duquesne is going to be out-rebounded in this game, so it’s critical that they get out in transition and force turnovers. If this game is played in the half court, it’s Xavier’s to lose.