Set Your Tivo: 02.23.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 23rd, 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.
An interesting non-conference matchup and a huge bubble battle in the Big 12 lead the way tonight. Four other bubble teams will also be in search of a marquee win against ranked opponents. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#23 Temple @ #2 Duke – 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
The visiting Owls will be short a couple of important bodies tonight when they head to Cameron Indoor Stadium for a late season non-conference tilt with Duke. Starting center Michael Eric is out for the season while fellow starter Scootie Randall likely won’t play after injuring his foot recently. Temple has won eight straight games entering tonight’s contest, however, although most of those have been against the bottom of the Atlantic 10. Duke is also hot, winners of six straight and 10 of 11 dating back to mid-January.
To stay in this game, the Owls have to stop Duke’s three point shooting and stay focused in the crazy environment that is Cameron. Under Fran Dunphy, the Owls have been known for their strong brand of defense. While that has been true for the most part this season, Temple hasn’t been as consistent on that end compared to last year. Their defensive efficiency is still commendable but their three point defense has let them down. Temple allows opponents to shoot 33.7% from deep, ranked #139 in the nation (down from #3 last year). If they can’t contain Nolan Smith and Duke’s other terrific perimeter shooters, Temple doesn’t stand a chance in this game. Smith had 28/7/4 in a win over Georgia Tech on Sunday and shoots 48.2% from the floor on the year while establishing himself as a legitimate National POY candidate. Now playing mostly at the point without Kyrie Irving in the lineup, Smith is the floor captain and emotional leader for this Blue Devils team. Duke has shown a willingness to play a half court game in the absence of Irving and they’ll see a lot of that tonight from Temple. Both teams are strong on each end of the floor inside the three point arc and that’s where this game will be played for the most part, unless Duke goes nuts from deep. Smith likes to drive and also has the versatile Kyle Singler on his side but Temple’s Ramone Moore can take it to the rack as well. The 6’4 guard from Philly is a great slasher and very adept at drawing contact. Along with forward Lavoy Allen, Moore (22.3 PPG in his last four outings) has to work inside and try to pick up fouls on Duke’s big men. Allen had 14/12 in the Owls’ most recent win over St. Joe’s and must be a factor in the paint tonight. Temple rebounds the ball very well on the defensive end but is ranked a mediocre #161 in offensive rebounding percentage. They’re going to have to control the glass in order to have a chance against the Blue Devils.
As you’d guess, Juan Fernandez will also be an important player tonight. Temple’s point guard has to run the offense and create for others, as well as protect the ball. After some turnover problems earlier in the year, Fernandez has been revitalized of late, having committed only one turnover over his past four games. It seems incredibly difficult for Temple to pick up a win here with two starters out but a competitive showing would be a good sign as we move towards the month of March.
Kansas State @ Nebraska – 9 pm on ESPNU (***)
With both teams at 6-6 in Big 12 play, this is a crucial game. While Kansas State is in a better position when it comes to the NCAA Tournament, they are certainly not a sure bet for inclusion. Nebraska is lingering on the fringe but their win over Texas on Saturday has propelled them into the conversation. The Cornhuskers still have plenty of work to do, since they’re lacking in the quality win department (despite Texas) and have won only one game on the road. They likely need to win this game at home to keep their NCAA dreams alive. Nebraska managed to shoot 47.1% against the vaunted Texas defense and another effort like that could go a long way towards knocking off the Wildcats. Nebraska is a very strong defensive team and plays a slower style, preferring to grind games out rather than get into a track meet. If the Cornhuskers can come with Doc Sadler’s characteristic solid defense and shoot like they did against UT, they should beat a Kansas State team that doesn’t shoot particularly well at all. Jacob Pullen has scored 65 points in his last two games while Rodney McGruder racked up 20 points on five of seven shooting from deep against Oklahoma, but Kansas State needs more production from their role players. They got it against Kansas last week and it resulted in a season-changing win. When this team is hitting on all cylinders, they can look a lot like the group most prognosticators had pegged as top five in the nation back in November.
Turnovers and rebounding will be especially important in this game. Controlling those parts of the game gives your team more possessions and therefore more opportunities to score. In what should be a low scoring grinder, extra possessions can be critical to determining who wins. Kansas State forces a lot of turnovers but gives the ball away at a high clip as well. Nebraska is sometimes shaky with the ball so Lance Jeter will play a big role. The Nebraska point guard must do a good job running their half court offense and not allow Pullen and McGruder to get out in transition. Jeter also averages 1.8 steals per game, making him a threat defensively against the turnover-prone Wildcats. As for rebounding, Kansas State is #3 in offensive board percentage while Nebraska ranks #6 in cleaning the defensive glass. Keeping the Wildcats from earning second chances will give the Cornhuskers a much better chance to win. A cause for concern is Nebraska’s #281 ranking when it comes to their own offensive rebounding percentage. They must do a better job there and it starts with Jorge Diaz. The 6’11 center is a solid player but averages just 4.4 RPG. Nebraska can’t allow itself to be satisfied with a single shot on each trip and expect to win.
Kansas State will rely on the outside shooting of Pullen and McGruder and the rebounding efforts of their interior players. We figure it will be hard for the Wildcats to score inside, considering they shoot only 46% inside the arc, and Nebraska ranks #13 in defending two pointers. Sadler may pack his defense into a zone and dare the Wildcats to beat them from outside while shutting down any interior options. Offensively, Nebraska will have to work inside. They shoot just 31% from deep and don’t attempt all that many threes. Toney McCray is their best perimeter shooter at 41% but he attempts only about two triples per game. Both clubs are fairly deep, so keeping fresh and maintaining strong defensive intensity will be important in what should be a half court game with possessions going deep into the shot clock. Each team enters the game on a bit of a hot streak with K-State winners in four of their past five and Nebraska having won three straight. This should be a very close game and free throws may decide it. For that reason, we’ll favor the Cornhuskers on their home court.
Bubble teams looking for big wins:
#10 Wisconsin @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
It would seem the Wolverines have to find a way to get to 10-8 in conference and that means winning out. 9-9 may do the trick but they’ll then have to win a game or two in the Big Ten Tournament. Their best win is at Michigan State but a victory tonight over Wisconsin would give them the marquee win they desperately need. Michigan has won six of their past eight games and was highly competitive in losses at Ohio State and Illinois. With Wisconsin not being nearly the same team away from Madison, this is a winnable game for Michigan and one we think they’ll get at home with their postseason dreams on the line.
Colorado State @ #7 BYU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (***)
Colorado State’s resume is stunningly unimpressive but they remain in the hunt for a bid at 18-8 (8-4). While a win in Provo is almost impossible, the Rams can try to slow the pace down and work inside through Travis Franklin and Andy Ogide. CSU shoots 54.4% inside the arc, seventh in the nation. However, Franklin is coming off his worst game of the season, failing to score while turning the ball over five times in only 16 minutes of action in a loss to UNLV on Saturday. Defending Jimmer Fredette is never easy, so Colorado State may want to focus its attention on shutting down The Jimmer’s supporting cast. Even if they do, this will be an awfully difficult game for the Rams to win on the road.
Cincinnati @ #11 Georgetown – 9 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
Georgetown lost for the first time in over a month when they fell to Connecticut last week. The Hoyas rebounded with a win at South Florida on Saturday and now welcome a Cincinnati team desperate for a good road win. The Bearcats have one quality win away from home, a victory at St. John’s on January 22. While that win keeps looking better, Cincinnati still has work to do in order to secure a berth in the NCAA Tournament. They play Georgetown twice in their final four games while also mixing in a game at home against Connecticut and a trip to Milwaukee to face Marquette. Two wins in their final four will probably do the trick as that gets the Bearcats to 10-8 in league play while picking up two more quality wins, but 9-9 will be dicey. Cincinnati usually plays very strong defense but they’re going to have to make shots in order to keep up with Georgetown. This game figures to be played almost exclusively in the half court with lots of long possessions and intricate offensive sets.
Baylor @ #22 Missouri – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
After losing at home in embarrassing fashion to Texas Tech on Saturday, it’s now desperation time for Baylor. They have only one big time win to their credit, a road victory at Texas A&M 18 days ago. With three losses to sub-100 RPI teams, the Bears have almost zero margin for error. There’s a chance they can get two or three wins down the stretch but at least one of those is going to have to come either here or at home versus Texas in the regular season finale next Saturday. Winning at Mizzou Arena is incredibly difficult, a place where the Tigers haven’t lost this season and have dropped only two games (both last year) dating back to the 2008-09 season. Missouri has won four of their past five games during an easier part of their Big 12 schedule, but for some reason has dropped six spots in both national polls and 11 spots in our own RTC Top 25 since the beginning of this stretch. We imagine Missouri’s pressure and style of play will wreak havoc on Baylor’s shaky ball handling resulting in a Tigers win.