Set Your Tivo: 03.02.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 2nd, 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.
Every night is big this time of year for different reasons. Four Big East teams fight for a bye in the conference tournament while one bubble team will try to make a huge statement on the road at Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#15 Connecticut @ West Virginia – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)
After West Virginia lost at Syracuse two weeks ago, there was some talk out there about them slipping towards the bubble. The Mountaineers have won twice since then (including a win over Notre Dame) and have locked up a bid even if they drop their final two home games. With a double-bye in the Big East Tournament out of reach for both teams, the focus now turns towards NCAA seeding and getting a single bye past the first day of the conference tournament. These teams are part of a four-way tie with Cincinnati and Marquette (also playing each other tonight) for seventh place at 9-7. They’re remarkably similar on paper; each has some shooting struggles, but they defend well, plus both dominate the offensive glass yet have a hard time clearing the defensive boards. This game will come down to offensive rebounding and whoever shows up with the most intensity on defense.
West Virginia has the edge on the perimeter, boasting the nation’s #2 three-point defense. That’ll be a valuable weapon against Kemba Walker and a Connecticut team that shot well over 50% from deep in a win at Cincinnati on Sunday. The Huskies dominate on defense inside, ranked #11 in two-point defense. They’ll have to continue that against a WVU team that features good guards that can penetrate as well as Kevin Jones and John Flowers, two taller players with versatile offensive games. Flowers had 14/10 at Rutgers in his last game while Jones has always been a solid player for Bob Huggins.
One key point to watch for: whether Huggins goes with a zone or not. Opponents have successfully zoned UConn over the past month and two of their recent wins have come against Georgetown and Cincinnati, two teams that, not coincidentally, played man-to-man defense. Beilein wasn’t afraid of employing a zone during his tenure as a Mountaineer, and Huggins has relied a lot on that now-famous 1-3-1 in the post-Beilein era, still retaining that defense in West Virginia’s playbook. We think UConn will see a lot of zone in this game, but the Mountaineers will be vulnerable on the defensive boards as a result. With Connecticut’s offensive rebounding prowess dependent on able guys like Alex Oriakhi, it’s probably in West Virginia’s best interest to mix up their defenses throughout the game. Oriakhi can take over a game when he’s on, but he disappears too often when teams play zone against the Huskies or he gets into foul trouble.
Two players that can impact this game with their jump shooting are Jeremy Lamb and Casey Mitchell. Lamb had a hot streak earlier this season but cooled off before pouring in 17 points on 7-10 FG at Cincinnati. Mitchell has been erratic since returning from his suspension but remains West Virginia’s best perimeter threat. Connecticut has the best player on the floor with Walker, but the Mountaineers are home where they’re a much different team. This figures to be a typical Big East slugfest with the outcome decided very late, if not until the final buzzer. We’ll be surprised if either team even builds a double-digit lead at any time in this game.
Cincinnati @ Marquette – 8 pm on ESPN3.com (****)
We figure that both of these teams are one win away from locking up a bid, whether it comes tonight, Saturday, or next week in the Big East Tournament. Since someone has to emerge victorious in Milwaukee tonight, the Big East is guaranteed 10 teams in the tournament in our opinion, and 11 is highly likely. The winner of tonight’s game is also in the driver’s seat for a single bye in next week’s conference tournament at Madison Square Garden. Cincinnati hosts Georgetown on Saturday while Marquette heads to Seton Hall in the regular season finale before both travel to New York for the conference tournament. Each team scored a huge road win last week which all but sealed the deal in terms of NCAA viability.
In this game, Marquette’s offense will be put to the test against Cincinnati’s efficient and physical defense. The Bearcats would like to make this game a grinder, while the Golden Eagles want to create havoc and score in transition behind newfound point guard Junior Cadougan. He scored 10 points and recorded 10 assists in a win over Providence on Sunday in a starting role, playing 30 minutes. Cadougan was sidelined for most of last season, but has given Buzz Williams productive minutes as a starter over the past three games, all Marquette wins. The Golden Eagles have the makings of a very dangerous team as we head into championship week. Jimmy Butler and Darius Johnson-Odom are always solid while Jae Crowder brings a versatile offensive repertoire and energy on the boards to the Marquette lineup. Add in very positive signs from center Chris Otule and you have the makings of a team you don’t want to see in your quarter of the bracket.
Cincinnati works almost exclusively inside and gets to the line often. Marquette’s interior defense is mediocre at best, allowing 50.7% shooting inside the arc in Big East play. The Bearcats are stronger and deeper than Marquette and pose a significant problem in the frontcourt. Marquette’s guards are better, and that’s where they’ll have to win this game, in addition to Butler and Crowder exploring all areas of the floor. Yancy Gates has been playing like a man possessed since Mick Cronin benched him last month, while Rashad Bishop gives Cincinnati a threat to matchup with Butler at the forward position. The Bearcats aren’t going to be able to win a game in the 70’s or 80’s so they must keep this a low scoring game by controlling pace, limiting turnovers and playing their trademark defense. Whichever team imposes their will thusly is likely to win this game, although Marquette will have a slight edge playing at home. Cincinnati has already won four times on the road in Big East play and they’ll have a good chance to make it five here. Just like the game above, we expect this game to come down to the wire and it should be a thriller between two teams with a lot at stake.
Other games of interest, including a couple teams on the bubble:
#11 North Carolina @ Florida State – 7 pm on ESPN (***)
If you like defense, this game is for you. Two of the best defensive teams in the nation go at it here, each ranked in the top five in efficiency. Admittedly, not much defense was played in the first meeting between these two clubs, an 89-69 UNC win in Chapel Hill. Florida State is 2-1 without Chris Singleton and appears headed for the NCAA Tournament unless they completely collapse and lose their final two games plus their first round ACC Tournament contest. North Carolina announced yesterday that Reggie Bullock, a fairly important role player, will miss the rest of the season with a knee injury. It obviously remains to be seen how Bullock’s absence will affect UNC, if at all, but we don’t think it’ll be major. Kendall Marshall recorded 16 assists last time against Florida State and he should be able to have another strong game if the Tar Heels can turn FSU over and get out in transition. The Seminoles rank #311 in turnover percentage and are last in ACC play in the same statistic. Combine that with the rebounding edge UNC figures to have and you have a recipe for lots of transition buckets, something Roy Williams would love to see occur. Of course, it is never easy to win on the road. Florida State knows a win here would remove any doubts about their NCAA viability while simultaneously improving their seed. The Seminoles have the chops on defense to stay with North Carolina throughout this, but whether or not they can win will come down to their execution on the offensive end of the floor.
Clemson @ #4 Duke – 9 pm on ESPN (***)
While this seems like an almost impossible task, winning at Duke would do wonders for Clemson’s NCAA chances. They’re right on the fence according to most bracket prognosticators, and a win here would be the best of any bubble team by a wide margin. The more important game regarding Clemson’s chances, should they lose here, is Saturday at home against Virginia Tech. The Tigers have to win that to have a chance, and they could knock the Hokies out in the process.
To pull off the upset at Cameron, Clemson has to defend and make this a low scoring game. They must shut down Duke’s perimeter attack and make some deep shots of their own against Duke’s #1 three point defense (in ACC play). Clemson cannot afford to turn the ball over, either, something they struggle with at times averaging 13 a game. It would be quite a stunner if they were to win, but road trips against quality teams should always be viewed as opportunities to make something happen. That’s the only mindset to have tonight.
Texas A&M @ #2 Kansas – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Both teams are obviously safely in the field of 68 but you may want to watch this game in order to get a better read on them as we head into the madness. Look for A&M to slow the game down and work through their frontcourt, trying to get Kansas into some early foul trouble. The Aggies get to the line very well and shoot 70% as a team from the stripe. Khris Middleton must have a good game for the Aggies to have a chance of pulling the upset at the Phog, but he can’t do it alone. He’ll need some help from the A&M guards who have to be able to hit shots from the outside against the potent Jayhawks. It seems like a tall order for the Aggies to win on the road against a KU team that figures to be finding its collective focus as they prepare for a national championship run. You never know what can happen this late in the year, but this game should be all Kansas.