Set Your Tivo: 02.21.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 21st, 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, every game now becomes critical. Syracuse and Villanova battle it out tonight in Philly, trying to position themselves for a double-bye in the Big East Tournament. In Lawrence, a shorthanded Kansas team will look to keep rolling against Oklahoma State. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#20 Syracuse @ #13 Villanova – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
A Syracuse loss tonight would be their seventh in Big East play, likely knocking them out of contention for a double-bye at Madison Square Garden next month. If that happens, the Orange would still have to fight with a host of teams to avoid playing on Tuesday in the conference tournament. Villanova’s hopes would obviously be damaged with a loss as well, plus they have a tough remaining schedule. Whatever happens the rest of the way in the Big East, three teams with NCAA Tournament hopes will be playing on day one of the conference tournament and would have to win five games in five days to take the title.
Both Syracuse and Villanova, despite some struggles, have won four of their past six games. The Wildcats took the first meeting last month at the Carrier Dome on the strength of hot shooting and their propensity to get to the foul line. Villanova uses dribble penetration effectively and it results in a good free throw rate. What’s even better for Jay Wright is that his team shoots 76.8% from the stripe. Defensively, Syracuse will have to keep Maalik Wayns and Corey Fisher from penetratng into their zone because that will allow them to get to the line and open up looks for other Villanova players. However, the Orange rank first in block percentage with Rick Jackson anchoring the zone at 2.4 blocks per game, and that will be their last line of defense against the Wildcat guards. Fisher had 34 points and went 5-8 from downtown in an overtime win at DePaul on Saturday. He struggled with his three point shot early this season but has been on fire of late, shooting 58.6% (17-29) from deep over his last seven games while increasing his season percentage to 39.1% in the process. Three of those games have been without sharpshooter Corey Stokes in the lineup, sidelined with turf toe. Stokes is expected to play tonight but Wright says he won’t start.
Villanova is shooting 40.3% from three point range in conference play, tops in the Big East. The Wildcats also have talent up front making it necessary that Jackson and Kris Joseph play solid to offset the contributions of Mouphtaou Yarou and Antonio Pena inside. Jackson had 18/12 in an overtime win over Rutgers while Joseph can score from the perimeter or inside making him a matchup nightmare for a lot of teams. Yarou had 12/15 in the DePaul game while Pena has provided some consistency in the post all season for the Wildcats. As a team, the Orange rank #20 in two point FG% at 52.5%. However, the key for Jackson will be rebounding. Villanova enjoys better rebounding percentages than Syracuse and it’s often tough to rebound when you play a zone defense. The problem for both of these teams, for the most part, has been defense. They are both in the middle of the pack when it comes to defensive efficiency in conference games and each allowed an inferior team to take them to overtime on Saturday. Brandon Triche is the most important Orange in this game. The Syracuse guard is both clever and aggressive in transition and will be a key ingredient at the head of Syracuse’s zone. Offensively, Triche has scored 19.3 PPG over his last three outings but did struggle against Rutgers, shooting 3-15 from the floor. Should this game come down to free throws, the advantage has to go to Villanova. We mentioned their stellar free throw percentage earlier and Syracuse shoots only 65.5% from the stripe. This should be a fairly close game but we’ll take the Wildcats at home on the strength of their backcourt.
Oklahoma State @ #3 Kansas – 9 pm on ESPN (**)
Both teams will be shorthanded tonight, since Kansas announced this afternoon that Tyshawn Taylor has been suspended indefinitely. The KU point guard is averaging 4.7 APG and Bill Self will have to find a replacement among plenty of options. Thomas Robinson may play tonight, but Self seemed unsure when asked about him, leaving it up to the trainers. As for Oklahoma State, Darrell Williams is still suspended indefinitely while facing a serious legal situation and leading scorer Marshall Moses’ status is unknown after playing only seven minutes in Saturday’s home loss to Texas A&M. Moses has been feeling sick, according to Travis Ford, and we can’t imagine he’ll be 100% even if he plays.
With all the personnel issues out of the way, let’s get to the game. Oklahoma State can revive its very slim NCAA hopes with a win tonight but it seems highly unrealistic for them to win in Lawrence. The Cowboys have lost three in a row and six of their past eight. While their schedule is somewhat favorable after tonight, they’d have to win all three remaining games just to get to 7-9 in conference if you assume a loss against Kansas. Reger Dowell came out of nowhere with a career-high 22 points on Saturday after Moses left the game, but we see quite an uphill struggle for this Oklahoma State side tonight. The Cowboys don’t shoot well and it’s going to be incredibly difficult for them to keep up with Kansas offensively. The Jayhawks are #1 in eFG% and even without their point guard they have plenty of weapons to overwhelm Oklahoma State. It’s hard to say who Self will turn to at the point guard spot, but it could be Brady Morningstar, Josh Selby or Tyrel Reed among others. Morningstar seems like the best choice coming off 16 points and five assists against Colorado, but this is really anyone’s guess. With Marcus and Markieff (26/15 vs. Colorado) Morris inside, KU has too much for the Pokes to handle.
With Moses sick and Williams suspended, J.P Olukemi becomes Oklahoma State’s top threat. The 6’7 forward knows how to get to the stripe, ranking #27 individually in fouls drawn per 40 minutes. He shoots 75.8% from the line, as well, and early foul trouble for the Morris twins will be the Cowboys’ only hope in this one. Getting to the free throw line is something OSU is actually good at as a team (#27 free throw rate), shooting 72.4%, but they often negate that advantage by fouling often themselves. They’re not good from the field at all, especially on the perimeter. Keiton Page is their best three point threat and he’s shooting only 31.9%. As a team they are #318 in three point percentage and they allow opponents to shoot 35% from deep. All the missed shots and a lot of one-on-one play has resulted in a dismal ranking of #335 in assists per field goals made. Kansas is a heavy favorite tonight, and this has the makings of a blowout. The only way Oklahoma State is going to stay competitive is by defending extraordinarily well, racking up fouls on Kansas, and hoping the Jayhawks’ chemistry is obliterated without Taylor in the lineup.