Set Your Tivo: 03.05.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 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.
The final Saturday of the regular season is also the best of the year. Epic would be one way to describe the schedule today. Bids will be clinched, bubbles will burst and conference titles will be decided. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#2 Kansas @ #21 Missouri in progress on CBS (****)
The Jayhawks can clinch the Big 12 title with a win here or a Texas loss at Baylor this evening. Through Texas’ surge and preseason projections brandishing Kansas State and Baylor, we learned one thing in this conference in 2010-11: the conference title goes through Lawrence until proven otherwise. Missouri will be in the NCAA Tournament win or lose, but a win here would really improve their seeding and give them confidence heading into the postseason. The Tigers are a different team at home and should give KU all they’ve have in front of their raucous crowd and a national television audience, looking to complete their home slate undefeated. Kansas will need to protect the ball and dominate in the paint and on the glass in order to win on the road. Missouri’s preference for a quick pace means rebounding is a vulnerability, and the Morris twins should be able to pull down a lot of missed shots assuming they stay out of foul trouble.
Virginia Tech @ Clemson – in progress on ESPN2 (****)
Bubble game of the year? It could be. Clemson absolutely has to win this game while the Hokies could leave their fate up to the Selection Committee with a loss, though that would mean two straight to close the regular season. The winner of this game will also earn a first round bye in next week’s ACC Tournament. Both teams play at a slower pace and the game could be decided in the paint. That’s where Jeff Allen has been on a tear of late for Virginia Tech and Jerai Grant goes has done work for the Tigers. Neither team shoots the three particularly well, but you will see impressive effort defense from both sides. This game should be very close and keep an eye on who’s shooting better from the free throw line late. Clemson leads the ACC (in conference games) in free throw shooting at 74.7%, the one bright spot in an offensive attack that usually struggles to score.
#12 Louisville @ West Virginia – in progress on ESPN (****)
Louisville is locked into the #3 seed for the Big East Tournament, so this game is all about NCAA seeding for the Cardinals. A West Virginia win seals up a first round bye but they’ll still be in the hunt even if they lose, pending other results around the Big East today. Both teams play strong, physical defense but West Virginia has to do a good job protecting the ball on their end. The Cardinals are terrific at creating turnovers and will pressure the Mountaineer guards all day. The Mountaineers must win this game inside against the Rakeem Buckles-less Cards. West Virginia usually owns the offensive boards, and the opportunity is there to do so against Louisville. Rick Pitino has done a marvelous job with this injury-riddled team and could cement the Big East Coach of the Year award with a win, at least in our opinion. West Virginia has a bit more to play for and is usually a great team at home. The Mountaineers have enough talent in the paint and just enough ball handling to overcome Louisville today in Morgantown.
Duquesne @ Richmond – in progress on CBS College Sports (***)
Richmond cannot lose this game at home and expect a bid. Even with a win, the Spiders are not safe. A win here would actually be their best A-10 win to date, and that’s saying something. Richmond went 0-2 against Xavier and Temple, the conference’s two standard bearers. Duquesne had lost five of six before rebounding against St. Bonaventure on Wednesday, a stretch that ended their NCAA dreams. This game will be all about pace and Richmond should be able to slow down the up-tempo Dukes on their home floor. Justin Harper hasn’t scored in single digits since November and we expect that streak to continue on senior day for him.
Georgia @ Alabama – 1:30 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
This is an elimination game for the Crimson Tide and a win certainly doesn’t really guarantee a bid. Alabama still has work to do if they win today but they can’t afford a loss. 11-5 in the SEC, with their awful non-conference resume, won’t cut it even in this bubble climate. Whoever dominates the paint will win this game as both teams don’t attempt many threes and have top-20 interior defenses. A win for Georgia likely puts them in, but even that isn’t a sure thing. The Bulldogs need to take advantage of Alabama’s propensity to turn the ball over and use the athleticism of Travis Leslie to combat the Tide’s stingy defense. The battle between JaMychal Green and Trey Thompkins will be fun to watch and both are likely to get a lot of touches this afternoon.
#9 Notre Dame @ #14 Connecticut – 2 pm on ESPN (****)
UConn currently sits in the bottom half of the Big East and another loss here will force them to play Tuesday and win five games in five days to take the conference tournament crown. Even a win doesn’t automatically give them a first round bye, as they’ll need help from some other teams. Six teams are either 10-7 or 9-8 and three of them will be playing on the first day no matter what. The Huskies played Notre Dame close in South Bend two months ago but have lost three of four games entering today’s matchup. This is where we all expected UConn to finish despite their unbelievable non-conference performance. Expect Mike Brey to mix up his defense a lot and not allow UConn to get into a rhythm in the half court. As we’ve seen lately, the Huskies are very beatable when you force them to make contested jumpers. Connecticut is ranked second-to-last in two point percentage when you look at Big East games only. They’ll have to win this game with defense and rebounding by stopping the Irish perimeter attack, shooting 40.3% from deep in Big East play.
Michigan State @ Michigan – 2 pm on CBS, regional coverage (****)
Michigan is yet another team playing at home that absolutely has to win. The Wolverines have crept into the discussion over the last month but their resume is lacking. A loss here would be the final nail in their coffin, barring a magical Big Ten Tournament run. Michigan State has won three of their past four games and can actually lock up a bid with a win in Ann Arbor. Michigan beat State in East Lansing earlier this year and this would really be a great win for Tom Izzo’s club if they can get it. Michigan is a desperate team and will have all the motivation in the world, plus they’re playing at home. The Wolverines must run their offense patiently and crash the boards with ferocity. Michigan is the worst offensive rebounding team in the Big Ten and you know Izzo has to be drilling that into his team’s collective head. John Beilein’s teams always attempt a boatload of threes and this one is no exception. For Michigan to win, they have to connect from deep. That should be easier against State’s #302 three-point defense but they still have to execute. This isn’t a typical Izzo year but you can never count this man out in a big spot. We like Michigan, but Sparty may have a trick or two up its sleeve.
#18 Georgetown @ Cincinnati 2 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
The Hoyas are reeling after losing Chris Wright, losing two straight without him and three of four overall. Cincinnati effectively clinched a bid this week at Marquette and will clinch a first round bye with a win. Both teams are sitting at 10-7 so the loser will still have a chance for the single bye. The Bearcats dominated Georgetown on the road a week and a half ago on the strength of their defense, which also won the Marquette game for them. Georgetown’s offensive statistics were impressive with Wright, but the Hoyas have put up 46 and 51 points in the two games without him, both at home. Even though the Hoyas are ranked, it would be a surprise if Cincinnati loses this game at home given the circumstances.
#20 Villanova @ #4 Pittsburgh – 4 pm on CBS (***)
The Wildcats are fading fast just like last season and desperately need to right the ship entering the postseason. Villanova has lost three in a row and five of seven, the only wins coming in a close call at Seton Hall and overtime at DePaul, not exactly impressive. Corey Fisher has gone cold but did score 22 points in their embarrassing blowout at Notre Dame on Monday. Villanova is simply not defending the way they need to in order to win, allowing three of their last four opponents to score at least 75 points. It gets tougher playing at the Petersen Events Center today against the fifth most efficient team on the offensive end. With a win today and a run in the Big East Tournament, Pittsburgh is still primed for a #1 seed. The Panthers have really improved their defense over the past month, holding teams to 62 or fewer points, even in losses. No Pitt opponent has scored 70 points since Marquette dropped 81 way back on January 8. Turnovers have plagued Pitt in Big East play, ranked #12 out of 16 teams in turnover percentage. Villanova isn’t a team that forces many giveaways and this looks like an awful matchup for them, especially the way they’re playing.
Big South Championship: UNC-Asheville @ Coastal Carolina – 4 pm on ESPN2 (***)
The Bulldogs knocked off Coastal Carolina in their own building only 11 days ago and will look to do it again, this time to earn a trip to the NCAA Tournament. The Chanticleers have had a rough go of it with personnel issues but somehow stand just one game away from the Big Dance. Cliff Ellis’ team does a great job on the interior, ranked in the top 20 in both two point percentage offense and defense. They must come up big inside against a UNC-Asheville team that does most of its work inside and from the free throw stripe. Guards Matt Dickey and J.P. Primm lead the way and are strong three point threats for the Bulldogs, but they only attempt around 15 threes per game as a team. Coastal Carolina must prevent them from driving and keep them off the free throw line where they’re both well over 75% shooters. The Bulldogs forced Coastal Carolina into 17 turnovers in the last meeting and that’s what they do best, ranked #16 in defensive turnover percentage. They’ll need more of that to pull off another win on the road in South Carolina.
UCLA @ Washington State – 5:30 pm on FSN (***)
Devastating news hit Pullman on Friday when it was announced Klay Thompson had been busted for marijuana possession and suspended for today’s game with UCLA. With lots of bubble teams losing across the nation, Washington State had quietly crept back into the discussion with a big opportunity to make a move by beating the second place Bruins. Instead, Wazzu will have to win this game without the services of their star playmaker as well as Reggie Moore, doubtful for this game after spraining his ankle Thursday against USC. That means Faisal Aden and DeAngelo Casto have to step up and play prominent roles to beat UCLA tonight. The Cougars are still at home, but this game will be tough without two of their best players in the lineup. Look for UCLA to go right at Casto, attempting to get the big man into trouble against UCLA’s talented front court. With Thompson and Moore out and the Bruins playing well of late, it seems UCLA has too much for Washington State to handle, even at home. Turnovers can keep Wazzu in the game but they’re really going to struggle to score given the circumstances.
#16 Florida @ #19 Vanderbilt – 6 pm on ESPN (****)
The Commodores have lost two of their past three games but return home looking to finish 10-6 in the SEC East. Florida has dominated this conference but we’re still not sold on them as a contender in the NCAA Tournament. One thing the Gators do very well is keep opponents off the free throw line and that will be critical against Vanderbilt this evening at Memorial Gym. Vanderbilt excels at the stripe and from long range behind Jeffery Taylor and John Jenkins. They combine for almost half of Vanderbilt’s points but couldn’t get anything going from deep in a loss to Kentucky earlier this week. John Calipari said he wanted to take away the three, and he did, letting Festus Ezeli beat the Wildcats inside. You can bet Billy Donovan has seen the tape of Tennessee and Kentucky doing a great job locking up Jenkins in late game situations and he’ll impart that knowledge to his players. Florida hasn’t attempted as many threes this season and the results have been a lot better. The Gators have to attack Ezeli inside where they have a height advantage (overall). Getting the Vanderbilt big man into early foul trouble will give the Gators a massive edge in the paint, a place where they already succeed often due to their offensive rebounding ability. Chandler Parsons has been terrific in his senior season and will battle Lance Goulbourne for the edge on the glass in this game. Goulbourne has averaged 10.7 RPG over his last three games and must assist Ezeli defensively and on the glass. Taylor and Jenkins will do most of the scoring so the Commodore players need to understand their roles. This is a good matchup for Florida in our estimation, but we’ll give the edge to Vanderbilt in their final home game of the year. It should be a dandy in Nashville.
Atlantic Sun Championship (at Macon, GA): Belmont vs. North Florida – 6 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Belmont has blitzed through the Atlantic Sun with reckless abandon but only beat North Florida by two points the last time they met, back on February 5 in Jacksonville. The Ospreys are just 15-18 overall but stand one win away from the NCAA Tournament. This matchup is all Belmont on paper but March has a way of bringing about unexpected results, to put it mildly. Belmont is second nationally in forcing turnovers, plus they run one of the most efficient offenses of all mid-major teams. North Florida averages 17 turnovers per game and it’s going to be incredibly difficult to overcome that against Belmont’s pressure. Jerron Granberry made three of eight triples against East Tennessee State last night, just enough to seal the win for the Ospreys. North Florida defended extremely well in that game and will need to do so again tonight, their third game in three days. 42.7% of Belmont’s field goal attempts are three pointers and they have plenty of capable shooters on their roster, including leading scorer Ian Clark.
Marquette @ Seton Hall – 6 pm on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
This is a play-in game for Marquette and a chance for them to get to ten Big East wins for the sixth consecutive season. A loss would necessitate work for the Golden Eagles next week in New York but a win pushes them over the top in our estimation. Seton Hall upset red-hot St. John’s on Thursday night on the strength of some ridiculous shooting. If the Pirates show up to play again, this will be a tough game for Marquette to win. The Hall is better than their 12-17 record would indicate and this should be quite a battle in Newark. Marquette has never lost to Seton Hall in Big East play and they knocked off the Pirates last month in Milwaukee. The Golden Eagles lost a battle of strong defense versus their efficient offense this week against Cincinnati and will face another battle here. Despite the St. John’s game, Seton Hall usually struggles on offense but ranks #13 nationally in defensive efficiency. Kevin Willard has experimented with different defense all year and that has often confused opponents. The Pirates defend the three very well but are vulnerable inside. That’s where MU will look to take advantage with dribble penetration and senior swing Jimmy Butler doing his thing.
Princeton @ Harvard – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (****)
It doesn’t get any bigger in the Ivy League. Harvard must win this game to force a playoff with Princeton for the conference title and the subsequent automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Should the Tigers win tonight in Cambridge, they’ll be dancing for the first time since 2004 when John Thompson III was roaming the sidelines in central Jersey. Princeton beat Harvard earlier this season but the Crimson have lost only once since, a setback at Yale last week. The Crimson will have a chance for their first ever Ivy League championship if they manage to win this game. A win by Tommy Amaker’s team will force Princeton to beat Pennsylvania, a team that took them to overtime at Princeton, on Tuesday night in Philadelphia in order to force a one game playoff at a neutral site. Harvard is the second best free throw shooting team in the nation and gets to the line in 43% of their possessions. In the loss at Princeton on February 4, the Crimson actually out-shot the Tigers, but 14 turnovers gave Princeton extra possessions and the win. Princeton went to the line 21 times in that game, uncharacteristic for a Harvard team ranked sixth in defensive free throw rate. The Tigers will look to take advantage of Harvard’s three point defense, ranked #297, behind Dan Mavraides and Douglas Davis, both connecting around 40% from three on the year.
#4 Duke @ #11 North Carolina – 8 pm on CBS (*****)
Duke/Carolina is always meaningful no matter the records, and it’s even bigger when they’re both playing well. You couldn’t ask for a better finish to the season. The ACC title is on the line here, and who would have thought that would have been possible when the season started? Duke was expected to run away with the ACC, but the loss of Kyrie Irving and UNC’s resurgence altered those plans. North Carolina’s speed and height gave Duke myriad problems in the first half of the game at Cameron last month but the Blue Devils slowed the pace down and had Nolan Smith and Seth Curry take over in a dominating second half performance. Expect Mike Krzyzewski to use a similar game plan to start this time around while Carolina will look to Kendall Marshall to push the pace, create turnovers and find the open man. Each team ranks in the top five in defensive efficiency and you can bet this one will be physical. Harrison Barnes has grown up in a big way over the second half of this season, culminating with the game winning shot earlier this week against Florida State which can only be described one way: ONIONS! Duke’s offense is more efficient and that’s where they have to control this game. Smith and the Blue Devils must control the pace, penetrate and kick to the open man and establish Kyle Singler early and often. North Carolina’s strength is all up front. They’re the worst three point shooting team in ACC play but highly ranked in two point percentage and rebounding. Playing at home in the Dean Dome, we’ll favor the Tar Heels. However, Coach K will have his team ready as they try to get ready and focus in on another national championship run. This game is a good gut check to see where Duke is at heading into the Big Dance. They can definitely win this game on the road.
OVC Championship (at Nashville, TN): Morehead State vs. Tennessee Tech – 8 pm on ESPN2 (***)
We’re not supposed to be rooting for teams, here, but Kenneth Faried and Morehead State are one game away from the NCAA Tournament. One win away from showcasing his talents to the nation at large for the second time. The Eagles swept Tennessee Tech in relatively easy fashion this year but the same was true of Murray State who fell to the Golden Eagles (confusing, right?) last night. Somebody with Eagles as their nickname will be heading to the NCAA Tournament out of the OVC, the question is whether they’ll be the Golden variety or the Faried species. Tennessee Tech has turned the ball over 36 times against Morehead State in two games this year, plus they struggle defensively. The Golden Eagles have a big time scorer in Kevin Murphy (16.1 PPG), but he isn’t a major threat from deep. In fact, Tennessee Tech attempts only about 13 threes per game, one of the lowest in the nation. They get most of their offense inside but that’s where Morehead is dominant with Faried and company. Tech will need a good game defensively and a strong showing from Zac Swansey, their best three point shooter.
#7 Texas @ Baylor – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
It’s a minor miracle that Baylor is still in the discussion for an NCAA berth but this is their last stand. At 18-11 (7-8), Baylor must win this game to have any chance. They’ve lost four of their past five games, not including a non-D1 game against Wayland Baptist. A sweep of Texas A&M is all they have going for them right now, but beating Texas and building on that with a couple of wins at the Big 12 tournament could sway the committee. The Bears put a scare into the Longhorns in Austin last month but eventually came up short. LaceDarius Dunn scored 26 points in that game and he’ll need a similar performance tonight along with Perry Jones inside. Dunn and Jones have to be a reliable inside-outside combination for Baylor against Texas’ solid half court defense. With GameDay in the house and their Tournament lives on the line, there is no excuse for Baylor not to be ready to play. They couldn’t catch Texas at a better time, either, as the Horns have lost three of four games after starting Big 12 play 11-0. Texas has given up 70+ points in each of those three losses and needs to get back to the kind of defense they were playing earlier this season. A loss tonight would ignite the questions about another Texas collapse at the worst possible time. Texas is still atop the Big 12 in almost every major defensive statistic but will have to contend with the #2 eFG% offense in conference games this evening. Texas can clinch the #1 seed in the conference tournament with a win tonight and a Kansas loss at Missouri. Anything else and the Jayhawks will take the conference title alone.
Nebraska @ Colorado – 9 pm, no television (***)
Yet another bubble game on the slate but this one is a total elimination game. The loser will not make the NCAA Tournament while the winner still has work to do no matter who it is. Both teams seem to be long shots at 7-8 in Big 12 play but Colorado’s wins over Texas, Missouri and a sweep of Kansas State have kept them in the discussion. This is your classic offense versus defense game. Colorado can score with anyone while Nebraska prefers their games to be played in the 50’s and 60’s, excelling on the defensive end. Colorado should look to run and run some more, using the high altitude of Boulder to their advantage. Nebraska’s tempo is amongst the slowest in D1 and they will not win a track meet. Alec Burks had 33/10 against Texas two games ago and should find his way to the line a lot tonight. Colorado needs to drive hard to the basket, creating fouls and keeping the pace up. The Buffaloes shoot 78% from the line, fifth in the nation. It’s hard to see Nebraska winning this, although they did beat Colorado earlier this year in Lincoln.
Colorado State @ #8 San Diego State – 10 pm on The Mtn. (***)
It would be a shocker if San Diego State dropped this game at home but it is an opportunity for Colorado State to move back into the NCAA picture. They’ve lost three of four and a loss here likely drops them out of consideration given their lackluster. A win, however, puts them back on the radar and gives them a marquee victory that not many teams can match. San Diego State needed a D.J. Gay 18-footer to beat Colorado State in Fort Collins on February 2 and the Rams have the front court talent to compete with the Aztecs. Steve Fisher’s team plays much better defense though and that could cause plenty of problems for Andy Ogide and Travis Franklin up front, the latter really struggling of late. Franklin has scored in double figures only twice since January, his shots becoming fewer and minutes dropping over that time. Ogide has undoubtedly become the Rams’ main man, averaging 25/9 over his past three games. Outside of BYU and New Mexico, no Mountain West opponent has scored more than 62 points against San Diego State. That should be enough for a victory on senior night in San Diego.