Set Your Tivo: 02.14.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 14th, 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.
We’re now less than a month away from Selection Sunday. A couple of Big East teams try to enhance their resume while one Big 12 team is in desperation mode tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
West Virginia @ #12 Syracuse – 7 pm on ESPN (***)
Given the state of the bubble, you’d have to say these two teams are solidly in the field of 68. We’re sure, however, that Jim Boeheim isn’t feeling so fine and dandy about his Orange right now. Syracuse has lost six of their last eight games and will look to snap a three game home losing streak when West Virginia visits the Carrier Dome this evening. Syracuse hasn’t won on their home floor in a month, their last victory coming over Cincinnati on January 15. In order to help the Orange continue that home losing streak, West Virginia needs to control the pace and work every possession through the middle of the Syracuse 2-3 zone. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant have proven to be a solid tandem at the point and it’ll be up to them to take care of the ball, control the pace and create open shots.
West Virginia doesn’t shoot particularly well, especially from long range. The Mountaineers rank #271 in three point percentage and #168 in eFG%. The strength of this team is their physical and mental toughness along with their defense. They have the ability to wear Syracuse down but at some point tonight they’re going to need a stretch where the offense is flowing smoothly. Whether it’s Casey Mitchell bombing from deep (36.2% 3FG), Deniz Kilicli inside or Kevin Jonesslashing his way through the zone, someone has to step up offensively for the Mountaineers. All three of those players will play key roles because they make up a nice zone-busting recipe when playing well. Mitchell can shoot over the top, forcing the defense to extend and thereby opening up the middle for Jones and Kilicli to go to work. Kilicli possesses an arsenal of fine post moves, especially the jump hook with either hand we saw against Pittsburgh last week. The Turkish big man also gives Bob Huggins added height and rebounding on the interior, very important against the tall back line of the zone. West Virginia is fifth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage but a putrid #305 in keeping opponents from grabbing offensive boards of their own. With the #5 three point defense, West Virginia will likely force Syracuse into lots of missed deep shots making defensive rebounding critical. They can’t allow Rick Jacksonand company to be getting second chances all night, because they will convert more often than not. Jackson is an important offensive weapon for the Orange but needs to get more touches. Syracuse’s guards took most of the shots in the loss to Louisville on Saturday while Jackson has taken only 10 shots over the last two games. Working the ball inside can also get Kilicli and John Flowers into foul trouble, something that will severely diminish West Virginia’s chances of success. Flowers has been great this year, adding an offensive game and becoming one of the best interior defenders in the Big East. He may be assigned to guard Syracuse leading scorer Kris Josephand that matchup could play a big role in determining the outcome. Joseph provides versatility to the Orange offense and Syracuse may resort to jump shooting if Flowers can manage to hold him down. We feel this is a good matchup for West Virginia but they must play better offensively in order to win on the road. Syracuse’s defense hasn’t been great of late but a strong defensive game should be enough to get the Orange a win and snap their home losing streak.
#3 Kansas @ Kansas State – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
When what would have been a miracle game winning three pointer courtesy of Rodney McGruder was waved off Saturday night in Colorado, Kansas State officially shifted into desperation mode. At 4-6 in the Big 12 with a handful of tough games left, tonight’s game is almost a must-win for the Wildcats. A win tonight would give them their best victory of the year by far and create some momentum heading down the stretch run. Of course, beating Kansas is never easy. They’ve dominated this rivalry of late, winning 34 of 36 meetings since the inception of the Big 12 and 21 of the last 22 at Bramlage Coliseum. The Jayhawks have beaten their last five opponents by at least 17 points, including the blowout against K-State in Lawrence a few weeks ago. To win this game, Kansas State will need a stellar defensive effort against the best front court in the nation and maybe the best overall offense in the country as well. Kansas is #1 in eFG% and two point percentage while the Wildcats struggle often when it comes to shooting the ball, just 43.1% as a team on the year. Quite simply, Kansas State has to make shots at an above average clip and come up big on the defensive end. That starts with Jacob Pullen and McGruder, their two best perimeter threats. Pullen has played fairly well since his suspension, but must show more than one dimension to his game tonight. He can’t afford to hang out on the perimeter all night and fire up threes, but he also can’t recklessly drive into the lane and miss or get stripped of the ball. He’s struggled with turnovers all year and he must protect the ball well against Kansas. The Jayhawks excel in transition and will run away with this game if the Wildcats turn it over often. With Thomas Robinson out and Josh Selby questionable, Kansas will be short a couple of talented bodies tonight. However, guys like Brady Morningstar can step up and fill in nicely. Over his last seven games, Morningstar is averaging 11.1 PPG on 28-46 FG (60.9%). That kind of production and depth is what makes Kansas so good. In addition to having a terrific front court, the Jayhawks can also shoot it well from deep. With Kansas State ranking #217 in three point defense (35.4%), that’s yet another area where the Wildcats have to play well. Kansas rebounds the ball well, but K-State is going to have to win the battle of the boards to have a chance. They do rank third in offensive rebounding percentage but a lot of that is due to all the shots they miss. Jamar Samuels had 13/7 at Colorado in only 21 minutes of play and will have to provide a similar effort against the KU big men. Even without Robinson, Kansas is deeper and more talented in the paint. Frank Martin’sbest chance may be to have Pullen and McGruder drive early and often, trying to get Marcus and Markieff Morris into foul trouble. You never know how a desperate team will react in a situation such as this, especially at home. On paper, Kansas should dominate this game. Last we checked, this one will still be decided on a basketball court, and we feel this one may be closer than some think. The Jayhawks should win but we expect a strong effort from Kansas State tonight in front of a raucous crowd in Manhattan.