Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 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.
With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)
This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.
Wichita State has terrific rebounding percentages while VCU ranks in the bottom half of D-I in the same statistics. The home squad has lots of height, led by J.T. Durley, and they shoot 54.2% inside the arc, eighth in the nation. VCU has a couple of tall players on their roster but the only significant contributor is 6’9 Jamie Skeen. He’s a very good player but will have his hands full with Wichita State’s interior defense, ranked #25 nationally. Out of conference, VCU went 1-3 on the road and we don’t see them picking up non-conference road win #2 in this game.
#12 Connecticut @ #14 Louisville – 9 pm Friday on ESPN (****)
The race is on for the last two double-byes at the Big East Tournament next month and these two teams are right in the thick of it. They’re among five teams fighting for the #3 and #4 seeds, all tied in the loss column with five losses. Barring a collapse, Pittsburgh and Notre Dame will secure two of the double-byes leaving these teams and a few others with a chance for the remaining two. Louisville defeated Connecticut in the first meeting but Kemba Walker struggled, shooting 7-23. Walker is coming off a 31/7/10 performance against Georgetown on Wednesday, continuing to build on a solid game against Providence. Walker looks like the guy we all saw in November and that’s a good thing for the Huskies. The question in this game will be how Louisville chooses to defend Walker and the rest of his team. The Cardinals used a zone at times in the first matchup, but since then other teams have proved that zone is the best defense against Connecticut. Georgetown was reluctant to use it the other night and suffered a loss because of it. Rick Pitino is a master when it comes to the zone press and he’ll use that often tonight to try and force turnovers against at team that protects the ball well. We think he’ll use the zone a lot in the half court too, but that leaves Louisville vulnerable to offensive rebounds where the Huskies pull down 38.5% of their misses. With Rakeem Buckles back in the lineup, Pitino has his best rebounder again. As is usually the case, Louisville has to make threes to win. The Huskies rank #109 against the triple and that’s their weak point, if there is one, defensively.
#4 Pittsburgh @ St. John’s – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
With their win at Marquette Tuesday night, St. John’s has just about clinched a bid to the NCAA Tournament. Provided they don’t lose four or five of their remaining games, the Johnnies are dancing. They’ve won three in a row and five of six going back to the Duke win on January 30. St. John’s has taken down a slew of big time opponents at Madison Square Garden this season and Pittsburgh is hoping not to be the latest victim. With Ashton Gibbs expected to play, Pitt has their star back. The Panthers have made a living over the years of winning in tough environments and you can bet the Garden crowd will be amped up for this one. St. John’s is in the hunt for a double-bye, tied with three other teams at 8-5 for fourth place in the Big East. The Red Storm needs a big effort defensively and on the glass in order to beat Pittsburgh. With an interior defense only allowing 43.7%, Pitt has the ability to shut down St. John’s inside, a place where they need to score to be successful. With Gibbs guarding Dwight Hardy, it’s only natural to wonder if he’ll be a step slow coming off the injury. If he is, Hardy can drive past him and take it to the rim where he’s so good. If St. John’s can successfully penetrate the defense, they could get Pitt in early foul trouble and then this is anyone’s game. On the other end, Pitt’s exceptional passing ability will be key against the St. John’s 2-3 matchup zone. They’ve defended better of late, but Pitt can shred the defense with their deliberate offensive attack. Pitt hasn’t lost on the road this season and this is a good matchup for them. However, you can never count St. John’s out and we won’t be foolish enough to do so.
#7 Notre Dame @ West Virginia – 1 pm Saturday on CBS, regional coverage (****)
It’s been quite a year for Mike Brey and the Fighting Irish. They sit alone in second place after winning seven straight games, still with an outside shot to win the league. By virtue of their win at Pittsburgh, Notre Dame just has to tie the Panthers to earn the #1 seed in the Big East Tournament but they’ll likely have to do so by winning out and hoping for two Pitt losses along the way. West Virginia would be in the field of 68 as of today but a killer schedule awaits them down the stretch. The Mountaineers can’t afford to stumble into the finish line and likely need to win at least two of their final five games to clinch a bid. WVU must do a better job rebounding, specifically on the defensive end. They’re great at rebounding their own misses (#6 in the nation) but they’re #306 on the other end, allowing 36.1% of opponents’ shots to fall back into their own hands. The key to beating Notre Dame is shutting down their perimeter shooting and the Mountaineers do that well, ranked sixth in three point defense. ND has four losses and failed to score 60 points in each of them. West Virginia struggles to score but that could play right into their hands, turning this game into a physical defensive slugfest. The Irish are 18-0 when they score at least 60 points and 3-4 when they don’t. Casey Mitchell needs to have a big game for West Virginia to counter ND’s offensive firepower.
Georgia @ Tennessee – 1 pm Saturday on CBS, regional coverage (***)
Tennessee’s schedule is not easy down the stretch. Despite big wins over Pittsburgh and Villanova out of conference, the Volunteers are just 16-10 and can’t afford another bad streak to end the season. Georgia is the definition of a bubble team, but they have one thing going for them: the Bulldogs haven’t lost to a “bad” team all year. That will continue regardless of what happens here but with two additional tough road games down the stretch, this is a mighty big opportunity for Georgia to make its case. Both teams really struggle to score at times and this looks to be a low scoring affair as a result. The game may be determined by rebounding and the Vols rank ninth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage behind Brian Williams’ #6 individual rate. This game will be played mostly on the interior and that’s a place where Georgia can excel defensively, ranked #12 in two point defense. Trey Thompkins is a better offensive player than Williams and Tennessee will have to win by getting to the line, rebounding and making mid-range jumpers. Scotty Hopson has scored 45 points in his last two games and another solid effort from him and his teammates should be enough to give Tennessee a home win.
Boston College @ #14 North Carolina – 4 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
It’s probably unrealistic to expect the Eagles to go into Chapel Hill and win against a hot UNC team, but stranger things have happened. Nevertheless, this is a massive opportunity for a late season quality win, one that could push this bubble team over the top and into the field. BC’s eighth ranked offensive efficiency will be put to the test against the Tar Heels’ top five defense. Boston College has to control the pace by rebounding and taking care of the ball. If UNC gets out in transition, game over. Kendall Marshall will tear up the soft BC defense if that happens and the Eagles won’t have a chance. North Carolina is not a good three point shooting team and that’s an area where BC can beat them, should their shots fall. UNC gets 59.1% of its points inside the arc and the Eagles allow 50% shooting from two point range. North Carolina has won seven of eight and 12 of 14 dating back to December 21 and we see no reason why that won’t continue here.
Vermont @ Charleston – 5 pm Saturday on ESPNU (***)
While both teams have essentially wrapped up their conference titles, this is an intriguing BracketBuster matchup. Andrew Goudelock will again be on display for the nation to see. At 23.4 PPG, Charleston’s leading scorer has torn through the Southern Conference while also coming up big in games against major conference opponents such as Maryland, North Carolina, Tennessee and Clemson. Goudelock’s perimeter acumen has opened up the middle for Jeremy Simmons and company to score easily. Charleston ranks third in the nation in two point percentage behind Simmons’ 61.7% FG. The matchup inside between Simmons and the Catamounts’ leading scorer Evan Fjeld, a 55.8% shooter in his own right, will be fun to watch. Vermont is a strong defensive club, especially inside, ranking #11 against the two point shot. We like Charleston in this one, but if the Catamounts can control the Cougars inside and keep Goudelock somewhat in check, Vermont will have a chance to win on the road.
Missouri State @ Valparaiso – 5 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
Both teams are locked in tight battles at the top of their respective conferences but this game will obviously do nothing to change that. Still, it’s a nice matchup between two teams that could very well cause trouble in the NCAA Tournament, should they get there. Missouri State has a slight chance for an at-large berth but has only two top 100 wins, though both were away from home. The Bears play at a slow pace but run a fairly efficient offense. They shoot it well behind do-it-all swingman Kyle Weems, shooting 43.4% from three while averaging 16.7/7 per game. Missouri State will have to do a good job defending a Valparaiso team with two big threats from deep, especially Ryan Broekhoff. He shoots 48.6% from three and is coming off a 21-point effort at Milwaukee, his second best scoring output of the season. Brandon Wood (16.3 PPG) can also shoot the trey but Valparaiso is at their best inside the arc where they shoot 53.8% as a team, #11 nationally. The Crusaders should be able to take advantage of Missouri State’s mediocre interior defense but they’ll have to rebound well in order to win. The Bears do a great job limiting opponents on the offensive boards so there could be a lot of one and done possessions for Valparaiso in this game.
Washington @ #14 Arizona – 6 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
Although Washington destroyed Arizona in Seattle last month, the Wildcats have not lost since and have taken control of the Pac 10 in the process. Washington lost three games during that stretch (all on the road) and now sits two games back in the loss column with four games to play. If the Huskies want to win the Pac 10, they have to win this game to have a chance. Derrick Williams had another stellar game in Arizona’s win over Washington State on Thursday night, recording 26/8 on 7-10 FG and a perfect 12-12 from the foul line. Williams gets to the line with ease and that’s what he’ll have to do against a Washington team with abyssmal free throw rates on both ends of the floor. The Huskies will look to speed up the game but surprisingly, they don’t turn opponents over as often as you might think. A fast paced game isn’t going to benefit Washington all that much because Arizona shoots the ball very well. With the #3 ranked three point defense, Arizona has the ability to shut down Washington’s three point shooters and force them to score in the paint. Isaiah Thomas needs to create for others because Washington will have a very difficult time winning if they get three-happy. The Huskies are a decent defensive team overall but they’ve had lapses where opponents have put up an awful lot of points on them. If Arizona does the same, Washington won’t win. They need a great effort defensively and should look to shut down the complementary players to Williams.
UNLV @ Colorado State – 7 pm Saturday on The Mtn. (***)
It’s just about must-win time now for the Rams with trips to Provo and San Diego coming down the stretch. CSU won at UNLV in the first meeting and that’s their best win of the season. As for the Rebels, they were decent out of conference but have done nothing in MWC play, aside from a one-point home win over New Mexico, a team fading fast. With three of their final four on the road including this one, UNLV has to get at least three wins to get to 10-6 in the league. Even that may not be enough to get in the field of 68 and a run in the conference tournament (in their home arena) may be necessary. UNLV usually plays strong defense but they allowed the Rams to put up 78 points in the first meeting. CSU shoots fairly well, especially inside, but the Rebels have to do a good job keeping the Rams off the free throw line. They have a poor defensive free throw rate while Colorado State gets there at a 43.6% clip. With Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin inside, Colorado State makes 54.2% of their two point shots, good for ninth in the country. UNLV’s interior defense is normally strong but Ogide and Franklin torched them for a combined 42 points on 17-25 FG (68%) last time. That can’t happen again or else the folks from Fort Collins will sweep the Rebels for the first time since 2001.
George Mason @ Northern Iowa – 7 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
The Patriots are on a roll and enter this game coming off a total dismantling of VCU on Tuesday night. That put George Mason in command of the Colonial, a conference title they’ll inevitably win with two games remaining against Northeastern and Georgia State. Mason has won 12 in a row while UNI has lost three of four since losing senior leader and top rebounder Lucas O’Rear for the season. Without O’Rear in the lineup, Northern Iowa is painfully thin and weak on the boards. Without his 5.7 RPG, Northern Iowa averages only about 24 RPG. While others have picked up the slack a bit in his absence, that’s not a good number for a team that shoots only 43.1% from the floor. Somehow, UNI ranks #10 in defensive rebound percentage, although a lot of that had to do with O’Rear. Northern Iowa is awful on the offensive boards (#322) and George Mason should hold a significant edge on the glass as a result. The Patriots are not a great rebounding team but they do enough and should take advantage of a shorthanded Panthers squad. Northern Iowa attempts a lot of threes but converts only one third of the time. George Mason’s defense is rated #14 against the triple, plus the Patriots have players like Cam Long contributing to the #12 three point shooting offense in the nation. Northern Iowa is awful against the three and they could be buried under a barrage of Patriot treys. With Ryan Pearson doing good work inside as well, it’s hard to see George Mason’s winning streak being snapped here.
#23 Utah State @ #25 St. Mary’s – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
This is the crown jewel of BracketBusters, a pivotal matchup between two bubble teams coming off recent losses on the road in conference. This game will be all about shot making and defense. Utah State is rated #16 in defensive efficiency while St. Mary’s is #15 on the offensive side. The Gaels’ defense isn’t too spectacular, rated #105. St. Mary’s shoots nearly 50% from the floor as a team and will be buoyed by a ridiculous home atmosphere at McKeon Pavilion. Look for Utah State to try and make this a half court game, forcing St. Mary’s to run effective half court sets against the #10 eFG% defense. Both teams do a great job on the defensive glass, each ranking in the top ten nationally in offensive rebounding percentage against. More than three out of every four opponents shots end up in the hands of a Utah State player and that will be critically important in this game. The Aggies have to limit St. Mary’s to one shot, plus rebounding helps control the pace by limiting fast breaks. Mickey McConnell shoots exceptionally well from almost anywhere on the floor, plus he dishes out assists at a high rate. Tai Wesley is the offensive star for Utah State but he plays almost exclusively inside. At 6’7/240, Wesley is tough to handle for any opposing defense and is the team’s top rebounder. If Wesley and fellow rebounder Brady Jardine can stay out of foul trouble, Utah State should control the boards and the pace, allowing themselves to settle into their half court defense. If the Gaels keep the crowd’s energy going through some early buckets and fouls, it’ll be interesting to see how the experienced Aggies react in their first pressure cooker type atmosphere. The winner of this game could very well punch their ticket to the NCAA Tournament, should they need an at-large berth.
Illinois @ Michigan State – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)
This game looked great when ESPN was deciding where to take its GameDay show this past fall. While both teams have been disappointments, there is still plenty of intrigue in this game. 9-9 in the Big Ten looks like the best case scenario for both teams and one or both may end up in the NIT. Michigan State has lost six of its past eight games entering this one but did show some signs of life in a loss at Ohio State earlier this week. Demetri McCamey will have a lot to do with the outcome of this game. He showed up against Michigan on Wednesday, making 50% of his threes and scoring 18 points. McCamey has struggled mightily of late and the team has gone south along with him. Chemistry questions and the friction between McCamey and Bruce Weber have heated up in recent weeks and the Illini need to make a statement on the court to prevent this season from ending up in the NIT. Similarly, Durrell Summers has gone downhill for Michigan State. He’s scored only 21 points over the last four games on 8-28 FG and the team has lost three of those four games. From the outside, it appears these teams are having a lot of internal problems. We don’t know what goes on in those locker rooms but Michigan State looks like the better team in this matchup. Three point defense will be a major concern but the Spartans should win if they rebound well and limit turnovers.
#1 Ohio State @ #11 Purdue – 1 pm Sunday on CBS (****)
Will the Buckeyes fall for the second straight week on the road against the #11-ranked team in the RTC Top 25? It could happen, although Ohio State blasted Purdue by 23 points the first time these two teams met in Columbus. JaJuan Johnson had 22 points in that game but Purdue allowed the Buckeyes to shoot 55%, including 58% from downtown. Purdue was beaten badly on the glass and that will be something Matt Painter must address this time around. “The Paint Crew” student section will be raucous and Purdue needs to seize the momentum of the crowd. Painter’s team is known for its aggressive defense and they’ll have to get back to that in this matchup. Keeping Jared Sullinger out of the lane and getting in the face of the Ohio State guards is key to beating them since their inside-outside game is so deadly. As Luke Winn of Sports Illustrated pointed out in his weekly Power Rankings column (a must read for any college basketball fan), it’s okay if Sullinger catches the ball but you have to play him on his hip and push him out of the lane when receiving a pass. That limits passes back out to the perimeter, often leading to open looks for guys like Jon Diebler. Purdue also has to make shots against a Buckeye defense that is ranked fourth in efficiency but allows some mediocre percentages. Opponents shoot 47% inside the arc and 33.2% from deep against Ohio State, neither ranking in the top 100. Purdue can definitely win this game but they’re going to have to shoot better than 38% to do it. Another 4-13 FG performance from E’Twaun Moore won’t help the cause. Moore and Johnson have to be on for the Boilermakers to pull the upset.
Cleveland State @ Old Dominion – 1 pm Sunday on ESPN2 (***)
This is a must win for Cleveland State to have any chance at an at-large bid. While the Vikings have a solid mid-30’s RPI, their best win all year has come against Valparaiso. Even if they win this game, they’re going to need a lot of help in order to back their way into the field without winning the Horizon League Tournament. Old Dominion has eight top 100 wins and looks to be in contention for a bid if they fail to win their conference tournament next month. This would be a nice top 50 win for the Monarchs but they’ll have to do it through rebounding and defense. ODU has tied Pittsburgh as the #1 team in offensive rebounding percentage, raking in 44.5% of their misses. At #29 on the other end, Blaine Taylor’s team is among the best in America when it comes to rebounding. That’s the good news. The bad news is they don’t score and they’ll be going up against a player who recorded 41/20/9 two games ago. That player is Norris Cole and if you don’t know him by now, you have to watch this game. The 6’2 Dayton native shoots 36.4% from deep as well while averaging nearly 21/6/6. Old Dominion ranks #287 in defending the triple and that could be a huge problem against the guard-oriented Vikings. Cleveland State’s leading scorers are Cole, Trevon Harmon and Jeremy Montgomery, all guards. They account for 64.2% of the team’s total points so Old Dominion has to pay special attention to all three of them, not just Cole. With the tenth ranked interior defense, the Monarchs can win the game easily if they limit Cleveland State’s guard play. If the Vikings are hitting shots from deep and getting to the rim, they could win. However, ODU has such an advantage on the glass that it’s hard to see a small team like Cleveland State winning this game on the road.