Set Your Tivo: 03.06.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 6th, 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.
What a Saturday it was. The final day of the regular season for BCS teams is today while another ticket will be punched, this time out of the Missouri Valley. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
#22 Kentucky @ Tennessee — 12 pm on CBS (****)
Tennessee likely locked up a bid Thursday night at South Carolina but a loss today would drop them to 8-8 in the SEC. A win in the conference tournament would be advisable but their solid non-conference resume and strong schedule should probably be enough to push the Volunteers over the top.
Kentucky has won only twice all season on the road, against Louisville and South Carolina (Portland was technically neutral). The Wildcats have lost four straight road trips and six of their past seven but did beat Tennessee about a month ago in Lexington. Scotty Hopson and Tobias Harris combined for 49 points in the win at SC but will face a stiffer test inside from Terrence Jones and Josh Harrellson, each coming off good performances against Vanderbilt. The Vols will have to get productive minutes out of someone besides Brian Williams (out, bad back) to counter Harrellson while Tennessee’s back court has to shoot the ball well. That’s something they usually don’t do but Kentucky is near the bottom of the SEC (in conference games) in three point defense, allowing 35.1% shooting. The Wildcats are at their best defensively inside and that’s where Hopson and Harris could run into difficulties. Hopson’s mid range game is important and must be clicking, although we’re sure John Calipari may stick star defender DeAndre Liggins on him if Hopson gets hot. Tennessee has lost seven games at home (including their last two), a stunning number for a likely NCAA Tournament team. If Kentucky is ever going to win another road game, this looks like a good chance to do so.
Penn State @ Minnesota – 1 pm on Big Ten Network (***)
The Golden Gophers have officially dropped off the bubble radar but Penn State is clinging to life. Penn State has to win this game because a record of 15-14 (should they lose) is not going to get the job done, even in a year where we’re struggling to find 37 at-large teams to fill up the bracket. A win here does not guarantee the Nittany Lions a bid; it simply keeps them alive for another day. This is the classic definition of a play-out game and Penn State will have to win it with interior scoring and defense. Minnesota is prone to turnovers with Blake Hoffarber uncomfortably handling the point guard position out of necessity. Penn State beat Minnesota in Happy Valley a few weeks ago behind 28 points from senior guard Talor Battle and 13 from David Jackson inside. A similar performance will be necessary to beat the Gophers again, this time on the road. Penn State was destroyed on the boards in the first meeting and didn’t defend well, but good three point shooting and a +8 turnover margin fueled their victory. Playing on the road, the Nittany Lions have to try to get something going inside. That’ll be tough against Minnesota’s big front line but chances are that Penn State won’t shoot as well from deep in this game. Minnesota is allowing only 33.3% shooting from deep in Big Ten play with teams shooting over their zone to avoid the trees in the middle. Penn State did that in the first meeting, firing up 31 threes and converting on 12. Poor three point shooting usually results in rebounds and transition opportunities and that could allow Minnesota to speed up the game a bit. Neither team plays quick; Penn State has one of the slowest tempos in the nation, in fact. Minnesota has been in a tailspin but we feel they have a good chance to win this game on their Senior Day. Penn State has to hit their threes, create turnovers and hold their own on the boards to keep their slim NCAA hopes alive.
Missouri Valley Championship (at St. Louis, MO): Indiana State vs. Missouri State – 2 pm on CBS (****)
They split the regular season series, but the stakes are now a lot higher. Win this one and you’re dancing. Ah, the madness of March. Missouri State needed an 11-0 run in the closing minutes, capped by a Kyle Weems game winner, to dispatch Southern Illinois in the opening round of the MVC tournament. Now they stand one win away from the Big Dance after nearly falling in the first round. The Bears shot poorly against Creighton in the semifinals yesterday but got to the line 25 times and committed only three turnovers all game in the win. Indiana State has won seven of their past eight games, including a win against Wichita State in the semifinals on Saturday. The Sycamores were led by center Myles Walker and his 14/6 effort but it was their defense that won the game. Wichita State shot only 33.9% for the game including a dreadful 7-29 FG from deep. That’s what Indiana State has done well all year, ranked first in two and three point percentage defense in MVC games. They must bring another strong effort defensively to upset the #1 seed and best offensive efficiency in the league. Missouri State shoots the ball very well from three behind Weems and Adam Leonard, plus Jermaine Mallett can also stroke it from long range. Leonard, burdened by the tragic and untimely passing of his younger cousin Wes, a high school player in Michigan, had made 13 of his past 24 threes before going 1-6 yesterday against Creighton. He remains a major threat for Indiana State to contend with and no doubt will have the emotional strength of his teammates and fans on his side. The Sycamores are allowing 32.8% shooting from downtown in conference games and have the potential to really limit the Bears from the arc. Indiana State launches a lot of threes and converts 36.3% of the time but only Jordan Printy could be called a great shooter. Only two other contributors shoot above the team average but Aaron Carter and Printy are their main threats. Inside, Indiana State will have to limit Will Creekmore’s production. They do play very solid interior defense but the talented senior big man will be tough to handle. Missouri State is not a great defensive team but does an excellent job cleaning the defensive boards. Indiana State struggles on the offensive boards so the Sycamores will have to make shots often, likely limited to one shot per possession. The Bears won the league in the regular season and have more talent but funny things often happen in conference tournaments. They should win but this game could come down to the wire if some things bounce Indiana State’s way.
#10 Wisconsin @ #1 Ohio State – 4 pm on CBS (****)
The Buckeyes will be looking for some revenge when the Badgers visit Columbus this afternoon. As you know, Wisconsin handed Ohio State their first loss of the season last month in Madison. This game features the two most efficient offenses in America but you likely won’t see all that many points scored. Each team plays at a slower pace with Wisconsin being owners of the slowest tempo in all of D1 at 57.9 possessions per game. The Badgers do a tremendous job of ball protection, led by Jordan Taylor, and that will be very important on the road against a defense that loves to create turnovers. Taylor is coming off a 39-point game at Indiana on Thursday, including 7-8 FG from three point range. Of course, Taylor took over the first game with Ohio State, thrusting himself into Big Ten POY contention in the process. Both teams shot over 50% in that game but it was Taylor’s barrage of threes in the second half that tipped the scales in Wisconsin’s favor in an otherwise even and well played game. Look for Thad Matta to use defensive specialist Aaron Craft on Taylor but don’t be surprised if David Lighty is utilized on the Wisconsin point guard as well. Jared Sullinger had 19/12 in the first meeting and the Buckeyes would be wise to get him involved early and often. Establishing the freshman big man in the paint will open up shots on the perimeter for guys like Jon Diebler, coming off a sensational 10-12 FG from deep at Penn State last week. Ohio State didn’t depend on Sullinger in that game but he needs to play a big role today. By now, everyone knows what you’re going to get from Wisconsin: deliberate and patient offense with lots of screens and cuts, lots of threes attempted and very few turnovers. However, the Badgers are a very different team away from the Kohl Center. Ohio State must take advantage of the Badgers from deep where they rank #239 in defending the trey. They’ll be able to do that if they establish Sullinger right from the get go.