Set Your Tivo: 03.07.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 7th, 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.
Four automatic bids will be handed out this evening in places stretching from Connecticut to Las Vegas. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Colonial Championship (at Richmond, VA): VCU vs. Old Dominion — 7 pm on ESPN (****)
Old Dominion looks like a safe bet even if they lose but VCU more than likely has to win this game to make the NCAA Tournament. The Rams and Monarchs split the season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. This game will be all about pace and one team’s strong defense against the other’s potent offense. If Old Dominion can keep this game in the half court, they can let their stellar two point defense and rebounding take over. The Monarch’s are the best offensive rebounding team in the country while VCU ranks #303 in defensive rebounding percentage. Old Dominion also ranks highly in defensive rebounding, placing them among the best overall rebounding teams in the nation, led by Frank Hassell, averaging just under 15/10 on the season. Over his last eight games, Hassell has been even better, averaging 19/10 down the stretch. Not coincidentally, the Monarchs have won all eight of those games and 12 of their past 13. ODU is #9 in two point defense but allows 36.9% three point shooting, #298 in America. That has been the bugaboo for Blaine Taylor’s group and the Rams are one team that can really take advantage of that. Four out of ten VCU field goals attempted are threes and they shoot it at a pretty good clip, 35.6% this season. However, that percentage drops to 33.7% when you look at CAA games only. The Rams must create offense through their defense by forcing turnovers. That will offset part of the rebounding edge ODU is almost sure to have. An energetic and aggressive defense can help push the pace and take Old Dominion out of its rhythm. The Monarchs struggle to shoot and score, relying on their defense and rebounding to win games most of the time. Shaka Smart should use some zone from time to time in order to force Old Dominion to make jump shots, something they don’t do well. Rebounding out of a zone is always difficult (especially against the #1 offensive rebounding squad) but we feel it’s worth the risk. VCU shouldn’t spend all game in a zone but mixing it up defensively will greatly help their cause. Old Dominion gets 57.5% of its points from two point range but they have a few threats from deep, most notably Kent Bazemore. He’s arguably their best three point shooter and also a terrific defender, ranked eighth nationally in steal percentage. The Rams shouldn’t have that much trouble answering Old Dominion from the arc considering they have a number of quality shooters, including Bradford Burgess (16/13 vs. George Mason yesterday), but they need to get some looks inside for Jamie Skeen. The Wake Forest transfer has had a terrific year in Richmond and is averaging 21.7 PPG over his last three. It’ll be tough to score against Old Dominion’s interior defense but Skeen should look to get to the free throw line where he’s a 73.7% shooter. VCU is a good free throw shooting team overall and they’ve made it to the line on 41.5% of their possessions in conference play. Foul trouble for Old Dominion would open up the interior a bit and allow the Rams to spread the floor easier. VCU had lost four of their last five games heading into the conference tournament but seems to have found new life just down the road from campus in Richmond. They’ll be slight underdogs tonight but this is anybody’s game. Old Dominion will likely win the rebounding battle but whoever controls the turnover margin and the tempo will likely win this game and clinch the automatic berth.
MAAC Championship (at Bridgeport, CT): Iona vs. St. Peter’s – 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
This is another game featuring teams with very different styles of play. Iona loves to get up and down the floor, scoring a lot of points, while St. Peter’s isn’t as talented and prefers a slow half court game. It’s going to be a battle of good offense versus good defense as Iona looks to beat the Peacocks for the third time this season. The Gaels are rated #23 in offensive efficiency while St. Peter’s checks in at #29 on the defensive end. In addition to that strong efficiency rating, St. Peter’s is #3 in eFG% defense at 42.5%. Only Texas and Florida State are better so that’s some pretty good company for John Dunne and his team. The Peacocks have the #2 two point defense, surrendering only 40.6% shooting all year inside the arc. That will be put to the test against Iona’s eighth rated two point offense (53.9%) led by Michael Glover. Averaging 18/10 a game, Glover shoots 59.8% from the floor and had 31/14 against Ryan Rossiter (the MAAC POY) and Siena on Saturday. If he felt he got snubbed, that performance had to feel good for Glover, who plays on a much better team and puts up similar numbers. Iona isn’t a one man show, however, as point guard Scott Machado and his back court teammates complete this talented roster. Machado is ranked #15 in assist rate among all D1 players and averages 7.4 APG. He had 12 assists against Rider yesterday as the Gaels blew them out by 24 points. Iona made 14-28 threes against the Broncs including 6-10 from Jermel Jenkins and 5-7 from Rashon Dwight, who tied a season-high with 19 points in the game. This Iona offense is no fluke, averaging 79.6 PPG. If they can keep the pace quick and force turnovers (St. Peter’s averages 15 per game), they should win this game fairly easily. However, St. Peter’s has some talented players of its own. The Peacocks average only 61.4 PPG but Ryan Bacon is a capable rebounder who can bang with Glover inside while Wesley Jenkins shoots 41.8% from three. Add in senior forward Jeron Belin (15.3 PPG over his last 11 games) and St. Peter’s has a team that can go toe to toe with Iona, provided they play their customary strong defense. Should this game come down to free throws, nobody really has an edge. Neither team shoots it well from the stripe overall but Iona’s Jenkins and Dwight are each over 75%. St. Peter’s Jenkins is at 74% while Nick Leon checks in at 84.3%. One interesting twist: The Jenkins players are not related but Wesley Jenkins is a cousin of Rashon Dwight so we’ll have a little family battle going on tonight as well. Iona has won nine straight and while St. Peter’s is certainly among the best mid-majors defensively, the Gaels probably have too much for them to handle with Glover being the difference maker.
WCC Championship (at Las Vegas, NV): Gonzaga vs. St. Mary’s – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
There have been a number of great games played over the years between these two top dogs in the WCC but this is the biggest one to date. They split the season series but the winner of the rubber match goes dancing while the loser will have to sweat it out on Sunday and hope there aren’t many bid stealers out there. Gonzaga has won eight games in a row coming into tonight, including their gritty overtime win at St. Mary’s last month. Mark Few has to be proud of his defense which has gotten a lot better through the year, now ranked #24 in efficiency. This defensive surged fueled Gonzaga’s late run and now puts them just one win away from a stress-free Selection Show. However, their defense will have to come up big one more time to make that happen. Most folks know the story with these two teams. Gonzaga has to take advantage of their size and depth inside while St. Mary’s has to hit shots to win. That hasn’t been a problem for the most part as the Gaels are ranked #3 in eFG%. When some people think of St. Mary’s, they think of Mickey McConnell and Matthew Dellavedova making jump shots. While that’s true, the Gaels actually rank #5 in two point percentage thanks to a number of forwards with high percentages, along with the guards finishing in transition. Gonzaga ranks seventh in the nation in two point defense (42%) and will need more of the same tonight. Rob Jones has been a catalyst for most of this season and he had two great games against Gonzaga this year, going for 15/13 in Spokane and 21/5 in Moraga. Elias Harris has done the same for Gonzaga, averaging 17.5 points in the two games against the Gaels this season. He’s played very well recently but Steven Gray has been slumping at the same time. Gray hasn’t shot better than 50% from the floor in any game since a 5-9 FG performance at Portland on February 3. In fact, his best shooting performance was a 4-10 FG effort against Santa Clara 18 days ago. His turnovers have dropped significantly but Gray has to shoot the ball better for Gonzaga to do well tonight and possibly in the NCAA Tournament. While Gonzaga a great defensive team inside the arc, neither team is good at defending the trey. If that continues, the Bulldogs will have major issues against the Gaels’ three point attack. In addition to McConnell, Dellavedova and Jones, St. Mary’s has two other players capable of making a triple with regularity, including Stephen Holt. The freshman guard has made six of his last nine threes over two games, averaging 15.5 PPG in the process. If this continues, Gonzaga may get shot out of the gym like they did in last year’s WCC title game. The Zags must limit their turnovers and rebound the ball, in addition to defending the three point line. Over the last few years, the Bulldogs have had success in this rivalry when they pound the ball inside and dominate the glass. That has to be Few’s recipe tonight, otherwise St. Mary’s will probably win. Gonzaga is the hotter team right now but struggled a bit against San Francisco last night. This game could either be very close or a St. Mary’s blowout like last year. We’ll take the Zags by a deuce but a different result would not be surprising at all.
SoCon Championship (at Chattanooga, TN): Wofford vs. Charleston – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
It seems that every team featured here tonight (with the possible exception of St. Peter’s) is capable of winning in the NCAA Tournament and these two teams are no exception. Both clubs are solid offensively and each has a star player. Senior forward Noah Dahlman has torn up the Southern Conference in the paint over his four years in Spartanburg while Andrew Goudelock has done the same for Charleston, mostly from the perimeter. Both players will look to go out on a high note and lead their team into the NCAA Tournament with a win tonight. Charleston and Wofford are both strong offensive teams but the Cougars swept the season series in convincing fashion, winning a close one at Wofford and blowing out the Terriers in Charleston. However, Jeremy Simmons is injured and out for the season for Charleston, a big blow in the paint for Bobby Cremins. Simmons is a big body that could have defended Dahlman but now the onus is on Trent Wiedeman, a freshman forward who’s actually stepped up quite well in Simmons’ absence. At 6’8/240, he could pose a problem for Dahlman defensively. However, the Wofford star is a savvy and experienced player and should still be able to get his points. The Terriers are #1 in the conference in offensive rebounding percentage and without Simmons in the lineup, Charleston may find it difficult to rebound. As a team, Wofford is not deep but they are among the most experienced teams in the nation. Mike Young has only four players on his roster that aren’t juniors or seniors and they don’t see much action at all. Only one, sophomore Nathan Parker, has seen any consistent playing time but he’s not a major contributor to Wofford’s success although he did have 7/7 against Western Carolina yesterday. Charleston ranks third in two point percentage but a lot of that was due to Simmons and his 61.7% shooting. Even so, the Terriers allow opponents to shoot 49.1% inside the arc (#239) so there will be opportunities for the Cougars to score in the paint. Charleston shoots many more threes than Wofford but the Terriers are sixth in the nation in three point percentage at 40.6%. Neither team is very good defending the triple overall but Wofford has held opponents to 30.7% from deep in Southern Conference action. That will be very important against Goudelock, coming off a 31-point game against Furman, and Andrew Lawrence, Charleston’s best three point shooters. Cameron Rundles, Dahlman’s fellow senior also from Minnesota, is one of Wofford’s best three point shooters and second leading scorer. At 40.8% on the year, he teams with Kevin Giltner to provide the Terriers with two strong deep threats. Rundles and Giltner combine for just under two thirds of Wofford’s total three point attempts and have to be at the top of Charleston’s defensive game plan, along with Dahlman inside. One area of concern for the Cougars is their awful free throw rate, second to last in D1. They shoot well from the line when they get there but they’re going to have to make shots to win if they can’t get to the stripe. If Goudelock is off just a bit, Wofford could be looking at a win. With Simmons out, a strong defensive game from the Terriers, along with their usual offense from Dahlman and company, may be enough to vault them into the NCAA Tournament. It’s always hard to beat a team three times in one season so we’ll pick the Terriers to repeat as Southern Conference tournament champions.