Set Your Tivo: 02.15.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 15th, 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.
Kansas State revived their Tournament chances (at least for now) with a big win last night. Can Michigan State do the same? Plus, first place is on the line in the Colonial. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
George Mason @ VCU – 7 pm on ESPNU (****)
Entering tonight, VCU sits one game behind George Mason as the teams meet for the only time in the regular season. The Patriots are one of the hottest teams in the nation, currently on an 11 game winning streak, while the Rams suffered their first home loss in over a year at the hands of Old Dominion on Saturday. To avoid a second straight home loss, VCU will have to contain George Mason’s potent guard-oriented attack.
The Patriots are solid on both ends of the floor and take great care of the ball, very important against a VCU team that loves to turn teams over. They have an admirable turnover margin, but George Mason is #14 in turnover percentage. It’s important for the Rams to win this battle but it’ll be difficult to do against a team that averages only 11 giveaways per game. VCU ranks #146 in defensive efficiency and has given up 70+ points 11 times this season including 91 in a loss at Northeastern. It’s going to be hard for them to defend a George Mason team that shoots the ball well and ranks in the top 25 in offensive efficiency. Their leading scorer is big man Jamie Skeen, but VCU’s most important players are their guards. This team doesn’t take to the boards terribly hard and that could cause problems considering how many threes they launch. George Mason is #15 in three point defense, surrendering just 30% shooting on average. If VCU is missing deep shots, the Patriots are probably going to control the glass. The Rams get 34% of their points from the three point arc and that part of their game must be on target for them to knock off the league-leading Patriots. Skeen had 32/11 at Delaware but was shut down by Old Dominion, forcing VCU to bomb away from deep where they were held to 25.9%. That’s not a winning combination for Shaka Smart and his team must do better this time around. Skeen must be a factor inside against the Patriots, a team that has only one player who sees major minutes (Mike Morrison). If he can get it going inside, that will free up some space for VCU’s guards such as Brandon Rozzell and Joey Rodriguez to make threes. Rodriguez is coming off a rough 2-14 FG game against Old Dominion, though.
George Mason has a three point shooting game of their own, rated #17 in three point percentage with Cam Long and Andre Cornelius doing most of the damage from deep. Long has posted double figures in all but two games while Cornelius had 25 points on 7-10 from downtown in a recent win at UNC-Wilmington. George Mason doesn’t shoot as many threes as VCU but these two players can easily match what the Rams bring to the table. This game will likely be determined by guard play but Skeen can be a difference-maker inside. George Mason doesn’t have anybody of his talent level to match him but they can overcome that with great guard play. This will be George Mason’s biggest test since they played at Duquesne in December (a game they won) and how they respond could go a long way towards not only a potential conference title but their NCAA Tournament hopes as well. While the odds are that VCU won’t lose two in a row at home, this is a game George Mason can win if those guards contribute the way they should. They’re the hotter team right now, but this should be a great game in Richmond tonight.
Michigan State @ #1 Ohio State – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
At 14-10 (6-6), Michigan State is in danger of missing the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 1997, Tom Izzo’s second season as the honcho in East Lansing. A win tonight would get them back on track, however, and give them perhaps the best win of any team this season, rivaling Notre Dame’s victory at Pittsburgh and Texas’ at Kansas. With a top ten strength of schedule, a marquee win could be all that MSU needs to lock up a bid, assuming they finish at least .500 in Big Ten play. The Spartans had lost five of six games but handled Penn State easily on Thursday behind a triple-double from Draymond Green (15/14/10), only the third in school history. Green has always been a stat-sheet-stuffer extraordinaire but will need to come up big yet again if Sparty is to come out of Columbus with a win. Ohio State played well offensively in their loss at Wisconsin but the Buckeyes did not defend well, allowing Jordan Taylor and the Badgers to completely go off and shoot 51% for the game. Thad Matta’s team needs to remember the basics, and that starts on the defensive end. They’ll have to slow down Green and Kalin Lucas, playing much better of late and averaging 22.8 PPG over his last five outings. Lucas managed to get to the line 14 times against Penn State but that will be tougher tonight against the team with the #1 defensive free throw rate. If Aaron Craft can handle Lucas defensively, it could be a very long night for the Spartans. Offensively, Ohio State needs to use their biggest weapon, Jared Sullinger. With Delvon Roe’s status up in the air for MSU, Sullinger will have some more room to operate in the low post. Averaging 18/10, Sullinger shoots 56.9% and has recorded double-doubles in each of his last three games. Productive play from the big man inside also opens up the perimeter for an Ohio State team loaded with talented guards. William Buford had 21 points on 10-18 FG at Wisconsin plus the Buckeyes have other weapons such as Jon Diebler. Almost anybody on this team can get silly on any given night and the Ohio State shooters have to be licking their chops when they look at the scouting report and see Michigan State allows 38.6% three point shooting, #326 out of 345 Division I teams. The Spartans have to do better defensively on the perimeter, otherwise they could easily be blown out. Ohio State will also look to create turnovers, preying on Michigan State’s turnover percentage and average of 14 giveaways per game. The area where Izzo prides himself is rebounding and that’s where Michigan State can hold their own. A strong rebounding effort along with solid perimeter defense and shot making is the recipe for success tonight. Even that might not be enough, but this game will give us an indication of the psyche of this team. If they exhibit a solid effort and aren’t intimidated, Michigan State can stay in this game. Ohio State will most likely win but this is still a great opportunity for the Spartans to save their season.
Two games of bubble importance:
Maryland @ Virginia Tech – 8 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Maryland is really in a tough spot, suffering from a lack of quality wins and an awful RPI in the 80’s. The Terrapins desperately need any kind of win and this would be a good one on the road in conference. The Hokies have won six of eight games but aren’t safe yet. They did very little out of conference but Seth Greenberg has done a tremendous job holding this group together after suffering a rash of injuries. This game will be played mostly on the interior and both clubs are solid defensively. Virginia Tech won the first meeting at Maryland, holding Jordan Williams to 11 points and the Terps to 35.7% shooting as a team. Maryland wasn’t strong defensively in that game and they’ll have to make a big turnaround from that loss if they hope to win in Blacksburg.
St. John’s @ Marquette – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
It has been quite a year for Steve Lavin and his team. Despite nine losses, the Red Storm has many quality wins and is on the precipice of their first NCAA bid in nine seasons. They’ve won four of their last five games and probably only need to win two or three more in order to lock up their dance card. As for Marquette, things are getting a bit dicey. At 15-10 (6-6), the Golden Eagles lack a quality win away from home, their best win coming at RPI #99 Rutgers. They’ll have two more chances for RPI top 100 wins on the road (#13 UConn, #87 Seton Hall), but in the meantime the need to win games, period. This is a very winnable game at home but MU will have to stop the dribble penetration of Dwight Hardy and the interior game of St. John’s. He’s scored 83 points over his last three games and gets to the foul line with ease where he shoots 87.6%. Look for Marquette to try to bust the Red Storm’s 2-3 matchup zone with the versatile Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler, along with Darius Johnson-Odom.