Set Your Tivo: 03.03.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 3rd, 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.
It’s a light night across the college basketball landscape but two teams will look to increase their NCAA chances with a win tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Tennessee @ South Carolina – 7 pm on ESPN (***)
The Volunteers are likely in the NCAA Tournament with their quality wins against the second-ranked schedule, but it would be in their best interest to win at least one of their final two games. It’s possible that Tennessee could lose both and fall to 7-9 in SEC play heading into the conference tournament and therefore need at least a win or two. After tonight, the Vols host Kentucky in the regular season finale on Sunday.
Tonight’s game is their best chance for a win, even considering Kentucky’s struggles on the road. South Carolina has a really hard time putting the ball in the basket, shooting 40% from the field as a team with their leading scorer apparently going through the motions. Bruce Ellington has hit the “freshman wall” with the velocity of a semi speeding down the interstate. He’s shooting 24-102 (23.5%) in the seven games since his 20-point effort at LSU and has made matters worse by turning the ball over an average of 3.75 times over his last four games. The Gamecocks are very young overall but senior Sam Muldrow will have to come up big in the paint tonight for them to win. He’s a very good rebounder and shot blocker and recently went for 23/10 in a game against Mississippi on February 22. Muldrow will be tasked with defending Brian Williams, a great rebounder in his own right. Both teams like to get busy on the offensive glass, with Tennessee ranking first in that aspect in SEC play. The battle in the paint between Muldrow and Williams could be decided by who best avoids foul trouble. Williams has been saddled with foul difficulties in a few recent games but South Carolina has dismal free throw rates on both ends of the floor. Tennessee succeeded early this season by getting to the line, and that’s something they should be able to do against foul-prone South Carolina, even on the road. Outside of Muldrow, the Gamecocks don’t appear to have the height needed to combat Tennessee’s forwards. That could mean a big game for Scotty Hopson or Tobias Harris (or both). Hopson has been hot lately, averaging 23.6 PPG over his last five outings and has been more consistent this year when compared with his first two seasons in Knoxville. 6’6 forward Malik Cooke has been scoring and rebounding well of late but will face a stiff challenge against Hopson and Harris. Darrin Horn will have to pick his poison in terms of who Cooke will guard, but the situation will be more manageable for South Carolina if Williams is on the bench after picking up some early fouls. Tennessee has lost five of their past seven games but a win tonight may very well lock up a bid. Nothing is ever easy on the road in conference, but this would be a bad loss for the Volunteers if they can’t take care of business.
UCLA @ Washington – 9 pm on ESPN2 (****)
The Bruins sit tied atop the Pac 10 at 12-4 with Arizona but now face a daunting road trip to the Washington schools, two places that are very difficult to play. UCLA is the hottest team on the west coast, having won 12 of 14 and eight of their past nine games, likely locking up a tournament berth in the process. Washington is headed in the other direction having lost five of their past eight Pac 10 games and they’re starting to head into dangerous territory when it comes to their perception in the eyes of those who create the NCAA Tournament bracket. Lorenzo Romar’s team is lacking in the quality win department, aside from a sweep on the road at UCLA and USC in late December and a home win over Arizona on January 20. The best team Washington has beaten since then is 16-13 California, and they’ve lost to Washington State (twice) and Arizona along the way, not to mention an embarrassing sweep at the Oregon schools in early February. Washington needs to close the season strong to impress the Selection Committee and they can do that by winning two games at home over the next three days. To beat UCLA, Washington will have to overcome some offensive struggles against the best defense in the Pac 10. The Huskies are rated eighth nationally in offensive efficiency but shot only 33.8% in a home loss to Washington State on Sunday. UCLA held Arizona to 49 points on 31.5% shooting in their last game and will have to give another strong effort to stop Washington on their home floor, especially from three point range. The Huskies shoot 37.8% from deep and score 32.1% of their total points from behind the arc.
Point guard Isaiah Thomas has been playing really well in conference play and can break down a defense in many ways. Thomas can shoot, dish or drive with the best of them and has a great weapon in the paint with Matthew Bryan-Amaning on his side. The British big man has averaged 21/11 over his last four games and anchors Washington’s interior attack. Tonight he’ll have to contend with Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson, both playing terrific basketball for the Bruins. Smith is ranked second nationally among individuals in offensive rebounding percentage while Nelson is coming off a monstrous 27/16 performance against Derrick Williams and Arizona. Smith also chipped in 17 points in that victory last Saturday. Each team does a good job on the offensive boards but this game will come down to guard play and free throws. Malcolm Lee and Lazeric Jones are UCLA’s best guards and also their best free throw shooters. Both have been playing well and should look to drive against Washington’s defense. The Huskies have terrible free throw rates on both sides of the ball while the Bruins enjoy fairly good ones, getting to the line with regularity. Washington State attempted 36 free throws in their win in Seattle and something similar to that should be among Ben Howland’s top priorities tonight. What kills UCLA is their dismal turnover margin, ranked last in the Pac 10 at -2.83 per game, far worse than ninth place California (-0.90). It’s been even worse for the Bruins in league play with a margin of -3.56. UCLA must protect the ball better against the up-tempo Huskies and they’ll have to do it by running patient half court sets, working the ball inside and slowing the game down in general. Washington State proved Washington isn’t invincible at home, handing the Huskies their first loss in Seattle since USC last did the deed just over one year ago. Washington will be favored, but this is a game UCLA can win and probably should, given the trajectories of each team. Both teams need this game for different reasons: Washington needs it to solidify a tournament berth and UCLA would like to steal one in order to hang with Arizona in the chase for the conference title. We expect a fun game tonight in the Pacific Northwest that should be close throughout.