Set Your Tivo: 02.28.11Posted by Brian Otskey on February 28th, 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.
Can you believe March begins tomorrow? This is the final week of the regular season and a lot of mid-major conference tournaments begin over the next few days, as well. Tonight we kick the week off with three NCAA definites and a fourth likely headed for the Big Dance. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#14 Villanova @ #9 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
The Wildcats are limping toward the finish line yet again, losers in four of their last six games, including two straight home defeats this past week. Villanova is actually a very solid 7-3 on the road but they’ll have to turn things around quickly in order to win at Purcell Pavilion, a place where Notre Dame is 16-0 this season.
The Irish enjoy a significant home court advantage from the free throw line almost every night and their effectiveness at dribble penetration could hold the key to determining the outcome in this game. Both teams shoot the ball very well from the foul line, and succeed when they drive and get to the stripe. Ben Hansbrough has been terrific at this (plus many other things) and consequently is in the running for Big East POY. For Villanova, Maalik Wayns went to the line a lot against St. John’s on Saturday but didn’t get much help from his back court teammates in this regard. Corey Stokes had a very good game from deep but almost all of his shots of late have been threes. Stokes is lighting it up from the arc (55% over his last two games) but he’s only attempted four field goals inside the arc over Villanova’s last two games, both losses. Complicating matters is the struggle of Corey Fisher. He had been playing very well for most of the Big East season but has made just four of his 26 shots over the last two games while scoring only ten points total. Villanova is an extremely dangerous team when their three star guards are on the same page, but that has rarely happened.
For the Irish, Tim Abromaitis has looked like the player who went on a tear earlier this season again, scoring 50 points over his last two outings. If Hansbrough can successfully penetrate, Abromaitis should have plenty of good looks, even against Villanova’s three point defense, ranked #15 in three point percentage against. If the Wildcats can live up to that reputation and shut down the Irish shooters, they’ll have a good chance to win this game. By contrast, Notre Dame brings up the rear in terms of three point defense in Big East games, allowing opponents to shoot 39% from beyond the arc in league games.
Interior play has been a struggle for the Wildcats in recent days. Villanova has made only 46.4% of their shots inside the arc in Big East play, ranking them near the bottom of the conference. Antonio Pena’s struggles have served as the most obvious proof of this, as the Wildcat big man is averaging only 7.6 PPG over his last five games. Pena has done well on the glass, but the Irish have a fierce rebounder of their own in Carleton Scott, currently on a four game streak of 10+ rebounds. He is Notre Dame’s X-factor, simply an invaluable player who opens a lot of things up for them offensively. Neither team is very deep and they’re pretty similar on paper, but we have to favor the Irish at home. It’s so tough to win in South Bend and it appears Villanova has hit the skids. With their final game coming this Saturday at Pittsburgh, the Wildcats are in serious danger of finishing 9-9 in Big East play and having to play on the first day of the five day conference tournament next week. To make sure to avoid that fate, Villanova must win this game.
Kansas State @ #4 Texas – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
One of the more underrated coaching jobs of the year has to be Frank Martin’s rallying of this formerly dysfunctional team into a cohesive unit that has won six of its past seven games to pretty much secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Jacob Pullen has averaged 29 PPG over KSU’s last four games, clearly putting his money where his mouth is when he said he wasn’t going to play in the NIT. As for the Longhorns, they’ve lost two of their past three games (both on the road) after jumping out to an 11-0 Big 12 start.
To stay in the running for a #1 seed, Texas has to get back to basics in this game. That means defense for Rick Barnes. Texas allowed Colorado to score 91 points on 53.3% shooting in Saturday’s loss in Boulder, a game in which Texas raced out to a 22-point lead in the first half and utterly collapsed in the second half. One would figure the Longhorns will come out inspired on the defensive end, playing on their home floor, so the keys for Kansas State will be pounding the ball inside and getting out in transition, therefore denying the Texas defense a chance to set up in the half court. Curtis Kelly had 15 points on 7-9 shooting in a win over Missouri on Saturday, one of his best games of the season. He must be a factor in many ways on the interior, including scoring, rebounding and racking up fouls on opponents. If Kelly and his K-State teammates can get Texas into foul trouble, this is anyone’s game, even in Austin. Kelly has been inconsistent this season and another no-show will make it extremely difficult for the Wildcats to win this one on the road.
Kansas State ranks third in offensive rebounding percentage and they’ll have to excel in that department. Texas’ defense obviously causes teams to miss a lot of shots and it’ll be very important for the Wildcats to clean up their misses with second chance opportunities, plus Tristan Thompson is a phenomenal rebounder and defender in his own right. KSU can’t afford to fire up threes all night because Texas can (and probably will) do a better job from deep. The Longhorns are tops in Big 12 games when it comes to shooting the trey (41.3%) while the Wildcats rank last in defending it over their 14 conference games. While they don’t play the same position, don’t be surprised if Pullen and Jordan Hamilton try to one-up each other. Both are terrific scorers and among the best players in the Big 12, but each must recognize the larger importance of this game and play within the team concept. Texas needs this game because you can bet questions about chemistry and last season’s collapse will start to pop up if they lose at home tonight. Kansas State could really use this game in order to provide another shot of confidence heading into March, plus it will remove any remaining doubts about their legitimacy for a bid. We’ll be surprised if Texas doesn’t return to their intense brand of defense, but Kansas State does have a shot here, considering how hot they are. We’ll pick the Longhorns, but we predict a close one.