Set Your Tivo: 02.26-02.27Posted by Brian Otskey on February 25th, 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 are now only about two weeks away from Selection Sunday. Teams are locking up bids and others are hurting their chances down the stretch. It’s another big weekend in the college hoops world, headlined by a top ten battle in the Mountain West. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#20 Syracuse @ #11 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
The Orange will look to avenge another home defeat by winning on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. Here’s a quirky fact for you: Syracuse has lost to all three of its repeat opponents (Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall) at the Carrier Dome but a win on Saturday would give them wins in the home buildings of all three teams. That has become more likely in this one, after Chris Wright broke his hand in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. As a talented senior point guard, Wright is Georgetown’s most indispensible player. He doesn’t wow you with his shooting but he passes the ball well and does an excellent job of running John Thompson III’s complex offensive sets.
Freshman Markel Starks (averaging 8.2 minutes per game) will see more minutes but we think Austin Freeman will do a lot more of the ball handling now. It makes sense that JT3 would turn to an experienced senior to ease the pressure of a freshman playing a role he never has before at such a critical point in the season. Georgetown won the last meeting with Syracuse on the strength of defense and rebounding. They’ll have to do the same in this game without their floor general on the court. They could only muster 46 points at home against Cincinnati earlier this week.
#22 Missouri @ Kansas State – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
It’s been a tumultuous season in Manhattan but senior guard Jacob Pullen has put this team on his back and carried them to wins in five of their past six games since they started Big 12 play with a 2-5 record. Pullen has averaged 30.7 PPG over his last three and K-State will be in great position for a bid should they win two of their final three games. This game presents an opportunity for a quality win against a Missouri team that doesn’t play on the same level away from Columbia. Kansas State will have to work the ball inside and establish a post presence early. They’ll have a huge edge on the offensive glass; the Tigers leave a lot to be desired when it comes to rebounding.
Kansas State should not settle for threes. Instead they should force Missouri to defend in the half court by limiting turnovers, getting the ball inside and making a concentrated effort on the boards. Turnovers will only fuel the fire that can burn them, the Missouri transition game. Laurence Bowers is coming off a 20/9 performance against Baylor’s talented front line and a similar performance in this game will help mitigate Kansas State’s advantage on the glass.
Wichita State @ Missouri State – 1 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
Both teams are on the fringe when it comes to NCAA at-large selection but the winner of this game will win the regular season title in the Missouri Valley and take the #1 seed into next week’s conference tournament in St. Louis. These teams are similar on paper and Missouri State won the first meeting in Wichita last month. Something has to give, as the Shockers have lost only one game on the road this season (San Diego State) and the Bears have just one home loss, a one point defeat at the hands of Northern Iowa. Wichita State is better defensively but Missouri State’s three point shooting could pose a problem. Despite having a significant height advantage, Wichita State lost to VCU last week, another team with a strong three point attack. In order to win this one on the road, the Shockers have to contain Kyle Weems, rebound better and do a better job against the three. Missouri State shot 50% from deep the last time these two teams met.
#7 BYU @ #5 San Diego State – 2 pm Saturday on CBS (*****)
This is by far the best game on our slate and it will likely determine the outcome of the Mountain West title race. The winner will hold a one game edge with two games to play but each team has a fairly easy schedule left. These teams are a combined 53-3 with San Diego State’s only loss this year coming at the hands of these very Cougars. The Aztecs were successfully able to slow the game down against BYU the first time (63 possessions, BYU’s lowest total in any game this year) but allowed Jimmer Fredette to go off for 43 points on 14-24 shooting and shot only 35.5% themselves. What most people forget about that game was Kawhi Leonard playing with a bad case of the flu and still putting up 22/15, one of the best individual efforts we’ve seen all year (along with Fredette’s 43 in the same game!) given the circumstances. With Leonard and Malcolm Thomas (21 PPG in his last two) up front, San Diego State has to take advantage of their superior front court talent in this game. Nobody locks up Jimmer but the Aztecs can win this game by slowing the pace again and working through the post. That will force BYU’s defense to collapse in and open looks on the perimeter for D.J. Gay and company. When you recognize that Jimmer plays very little defense, this looks like an attractive game plan for Steve Fisher. San Diego State will have to play solid defense without fouling, keeping BYU off the line where they shoot 75% as a team. Brandon Davies went to the line 16 times against Colorado State on Wednesday as part of his 14/15 performance and the Cougars attempted a staggering 43 free throws in the game. If BYU gets some production from him in the paint, that creates a deadly inside-outside combination. Jackson Emery was a non-factor in the last game with the Aztecs but he too can create problems by giving BYU a second option from behind the arc. Even given all of thrills we’ve seen from Fredette this year, it’s hard to see him having a game like he did against San Diego State the first time. BYU will need Emery and Davies, among others, to step up alongside The Jimmer if they are to win this game on the road.
#21 St. John’s @ #14 Villanova – 2 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
The roll that started with their massive win over Duke late last month hasn’t stopped for St. John’s, aside from a little speed bump at UCLA. The Johnnies have won five straight and seven of eight, locking up an NCAA bid in the process and looking like a team that can make a lot of noise as a high seed in March. With two winnable games left after this one, St. John’s has a good chance to get to 12-6 at minimum and even 13-5 in Big East play should they win this game. They are tied for third place right now and would receive the #4 seed (and the double-bye that goes with it) if the Big East Tournament started today. Villanova is only a game back at 9-6 but their chances for a double-bye look grim with games still to play at Notre Dame and at Pittsburgh. Both teams rely heavily on dribble penetration though Villanova is the better shooting team from deep. That has to worry Steve Lavin because his team ranks #15 out of 16 in defending the three in Big East games, surrendering 36.7%. St. John’s doesn’t blow you away with anything they do but they’ve used the #1 turnover percentage and #2 defensive rebounding percentage in conference play to create fast break opportunities and even more points in the paint. Villanova has made 38% of their threes in Big East games due to the improvement of Corey Fisher’s outside shot. With Fisher complementing Corey Stokes from deep, St. John’s will have its hands full defending the perimeter in this game. Luckily for St. John’s, this game won’t be played on campus at the Pavilion. The Red Storm has overcome early season road demons by winning at Cincinnati and Marquette recently. A win here would really put the nation on notice, for any stragglers who aren’t already.
Memphis @ UTEP – 3 pm Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
This is a big game for the Tigers on the road. A loss would be their fifth in mediocre Conference USA and they would be in a precarious position heading into Selection Sunday if they fail to win the conference tournament. A win here doesn’t lock up a bid but it would give them a little more cushion and some momentum as they finish up the regular season next week. It doesn’t appear UTEP coach Tim Floyd will be suspended after his outburst earlier this week against East Carolina, a game in which UTEP received five technical fouls, but the Miners are out of the NCAA picture. Memphis is not a good three point shooting team but they’re going to have to make shots and limit turnovers to win on the road. The Tigers should use dribble penetration to their advantage and score in the paint. UTEP is a pretty solid defensive team and a zone could really bother Memphis in this game. Assuming Floyd uses a zone and Memphis can’t get anything going inside, the Miners will have a great chance to win with Randy Culpepper and Christian Polk hitting from the outside.
#16 Florida @ #19 Kentucky – 4 pm Saturday on CBS (****)
The Gators have a stranglehold on the SEC East heading into this game by virtue of mastering the art of winning close games. Seven of their 11 SEC wins have come either in overtime or by six points or less. Kentucky has essentially locked up a bid although three tough games remain for them. Chandler Parsons returned for Florida in their last game against Georgia and that’s important for the Gators. They’ve done a great job with their interior play and rebounding, mostly due to the success of Parsons. However, Kentucky ranks fifth in two point percentage against as well as block percentage. If Florida can’t hit outside shots, the Wildcats should win this game at home on the strength of their defense and perimeter shooting. UK has made 37.7% of their threes in SEC play.
#12 Arizona @ UCLA – 4 pm Saturday on FSN (***)
Arizona’s loss Thursday night at USC brought UCLA back in the picture, now just one game behind. The Bruins can tie things up at the top of the Pac 10 with win here but they still have to go to the Washington schools next week to finish out their schedule while Arizona gets the Oregon schools at home. The Wildcats have a gaudy record but a deeper inspection reveals only a few quality wins. They’re obviously going to the NCAA Tournament but this is a game that can really help their seeding. Derrick Williams was held to eight points on 3-11 FG against the Trojans, providing teams with the blueprint needed to defeat the Wildcats. If Williams doesn’t play well, Arizona struggles because he’s their only go-to guy. Only two players scored in double figures against USC as they failed to get anything going offensively. The Bruins have played fantastic defense in Pac 10 play and they’ll be in this game if they keep up that level of play and can score points inside against the Wildcats’ #227 ranked two point defense. Arizona won the first meeting in Tucson but we think UCLA may take this. Regardless, this should be a pretty good game on Saturday in Los Angeles.
Michigan @ Minnesota – 4:30 pm Saturday on Big Ten Network (***)
After their devastating home loss to Wisconsin, Michigan is just about finished. This is an elimination game for the loser but the winner won’t be in yet either. The Wolverines must win their final two games to get to 9-9 in Big Ten play and hope to get something done in the conference tournament. As for Minnesota, they haven’t cracked 70 points since January 26, the first game they played without Al Nolen in the lineup. They’ve lost six of their past seven games and must win out to get to 9-9 in order to have a chance. Michigan shoots a lot of threes but they actually play a lot better inside where they’re making 51.6% of their shots. This game will likely be in the 50’s but Minnesota has to play better offensively to win. The Wolverines have something Minnesota no longer has and that is a good point guard. Darius Morris could be the difference in this game.
#2 Duke @ Virginia Tech – 9 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)
Anyone who looks at this matchup will want to pick the upset. Duke has taken a lot of heat for their #1 ranking in the national polls (#2 here at RTC) and Virginia is a desperate home team in need of a marquee win. This has all the makings but don’t pencil it in just yet. Duke is still a very good team and has the edge at just about every position. Jeff Allen will be a key player for the Hokies and does have an edge in the paint. He has to stay out of foul trouble and dominate the glass against Mason Plumlee and others. Allen averages 14/10 but has picked up at least four fouls in 15 of his 26 games, fouling out in five. The Hokies get to the line fairly well and shoot over 70% so getting some Blue Devils into foul trouble through dribble penetration should be the early game plan. Virginia Tech shoots 52% inside the arc and Duke opponents get nearly 60% of their points from there. However, the Blue Devils are a strong defensive club and baskets won’t come easy for the thin Hokies. Allen and Malcolm Delaney have to will their team to victory on the offensive end while the entire team must put forth their best effort of the year when it comes to defense and rebounding. This will be a fun game but we expect Duke to pull it out.
#25 Texas A&M @ Baylor – 9 pm Saturday on ESPNU (***)
Baylor is another team that has to win out and they’ll have to start here against an Aggies team they’ve already beaten in College Station, their best win of the season. Even if they get to 9-9, it’s not looking good for Baylor given the dearth of quality wins on their resume. The Bears shot over 50% and got 27 points from Perry Jones in the win at Texas A&M and Jones will need to have another big game against the A&M front line. This is a pretty good matchup for Baylor because the Aggies rely heavily on their front court but the Bears have an even more talented group up front. Scott Drew also has something that A&M can’t come close to matching: LaceDarius Dunn. He did not shoot well in the first meeting and committed seven turnovers but he still managed to score 17 points in the win. Baylor shoots the ball pretty well but a 23.8% turnover rate kills their offensive efficiency. A&M can win this with a great game from Khris Middleton but the matchups strongly favor the Bears.
#13 Connecticut @ Cincinnati – 12 pm Sunday on ESPNU (***)
Cincinnati likely locked up a bid by winning at Georgetown earlier this week but they can validate it with a win against Connecticut. The Huskies have failed to show any ability to score consistently against a zone but they’ll encounter a Cincinnati team that plays physical man-to-man defense. It’ll be interesting to see if Mick Cronin goes to zone at times because his team has had so much success playing man. He may at times but we think he’ll stick with his bread and butter for the most part. UConn will have to screen effectively to free Kemba Walker because it’ll be tough for him to create off the bounce even for the talented player that he is. Both teams hit the offensive glass very well and that could be determine the outcome. Neither team shoots well so there will be plenty of missed shots up for grabs. Playing at home however, this is a game Cincinnati will be favored in.
#8 Purdue @ Michigan State – 1 pm Sunday on ESPN (****)
The Boilermakers still have a chance to catch Ohio State at the top of the Big Ten but we figure they have to win out to do so, plus they’ll need help from somebody else to knock off the Buckeyes. As for Tom Izzo and Michigan State, it appears something clicked after consecutive blowouts at Iowa and Wisconsin. The Spartans have won three of their past four and have the potential to finish 11-7 in conference play after all if they can get this win on Sunday. Should they do that and win out, Michigan State will enter the conference tournament winners in six of their past seven games. Kalin Lucas has been the man of late, averaging 21.4 PPG over his last eight contests. He scored a game-high 18 points in their win at Minnesota this week, a game where the Spartans didn’t shoot well on the road. They’ll face a strong defensive challenge from Purdue in this game. Michigan State has to shoot the ball well against Purdue’s aggressive defense, ranked sixth in efficiency. A banged up Delvon Roe will play an important role against Purdue’s JaJuan Johnson. Roe has a reputation as a great defender but Johnson is healthier and has an impressive set of skills on the offensive end. He can step out to mid range or bang down low and dominate the glass. While Johnson and E’Twaun Moore will probably rack up a lot of points, Purdue is beatable when you shut down the supporting cast. Lewis Jackson had 19 points the first time these teams met and Michigan State couldn’t overcome that. Despite being out-rebounded, the Spartans defended very well against Minnesota, holding the home team to 37.5% FG while forcing 15 turnovers. This is essentially a tossup game but the Spartans can lock up a bid with a victory and set their sights on March.
#3 Pittsburgh @ #17 Louisville – 2 pm Sunday on CBS (****)
The visiting Panthers can essentially clinch the Big East title with a win here as they would then be two games up on Notre Dame with two to play, one win or one ND loss away from officially taking the Big East regulars season crown.. Pitt would have to lose both of those games with the Irish winning both of theirs as ND holds the tiebreaker. Rick Pitino has done a remarkable job this season at Louisville and certainly has to be considered for both Big East and National COY. The Cardinals don’t have the talent that most top 25 teams have but they play so well as a unit and take pride in their defense. They held Rutgers to 37 points in their own building earlier this week and no opponent has hit 70 points since Notre Dame did so earlier this month. Louisville is ranked #13 in defensive efficiency but they’ll be put to the test against Pitt, rated fourth in offensive efficiency. The Panthers shoot, rebound and get to the line very well and that’s a bad combination for Louisville. They foul a lot and are just average on the boards. Louisville’s defense will cause some problems for the Panthers but their offensive rebounding is what sets them apart. The Cardinals have Rakeem Buckles back and he’ll be crucial in this game. He’s got to stay on the floor and put a body on the Pitt big men. Pittsburgh is so well-coached by Jamie Dixon and you can see it in the position their players work for when a shot goes up. This is a matchup of two master strategists and should be a terrific game. We figure Pitino will try a bunch of different defenses to keep Pittsburgh from establishing a rhythm while paying special attention to Ashton Gibbs. Playing at home, that just might be enough for the Cardinals to get this win.
Washington State @ Washington – 10 pm Sunday on FSN (***)
The Huskies can lock up a bid with a win over their in-state rivals on Sunday in Seattle while the Cougars’ NCAA dreams most likely will fall short unless they can win the Pac 10 Tournament. Washington State was swept last week by the Arizona schools, most likely the dagger in a season of missed opportunities against quality teams. Washington State has three good wins but too many losses (ten entering this game) have sealed their fate. The Cougars did beat Washington earlier this season in Pullman but this Washington team is so much better at home. Wazzu can’t win without a good game from their star Klay Thompson but they have to win with defense. Washington can score from anywhere on the floor, shooting a high percentage from both two and three point range. Their vulnerabilities are turnovers and foul trouble but the Cougars are not a team that draws many fouls. Isaiah Thomas could have a huge game for U-Dub in this one by slicing through the WSU zone or shooting over it. The Huskies have won five straight in this series and should make it six late Sunday night.