Set Your Tivo: 03.08.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 8th, 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.
Only two games affect the bubble tonight, but four of the five listed here are for auto-bids or will go towards deciding one. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Princeton @ Pennsylvania – 7 pm on ESPN3.com (***)
The formula for Princeton is simple: win tonight and beat Harvard in a playoff on Saturday (4 pm at Yale) to earn the Ivy League’s automatic bid. Should the Tigers lose tonight, Harvard will claim the title and earn a spot in the NCAA Tournament.
Pennsylvania gave Princeton all it could handle in New Jersey on February 8 before falling by three points in overtime. The Quakers shoot the ball well but leave a lot to be desired on the defensive end. By contrast, Princeton is the best defensive team in the Ivy and leads the league in rebounding percentage during conference play. The Tigers focus little effort in offensive rebounding, but they rank sixth nationally in clearing the defensive boards. Against a Penn team ranked #332 in offensive rebounding percentage, Princeton should be able to take control and keep the Quakers from getting second chance opportunities. The Tiger defense, however, wasn’t up to par on Saturday at Harvard. Princeton allowed the Crimson to shoot 60% from the floor and let a 25-point effort from Dan Mavraides go to waste. Defense has to be a concern again tonight against a Penn team that shoots 37.4% from deep and has four main scoring threats led by junior guard Zack Rosen. Rosen has drained 9-14 from three point range over his past four games but was held in check in the first meeting at Princeton last month. Tyler Bernardini has averaged 15.5 PPG over his last six heading into this game for Penn, and he stands 6’6, making him a tough player to guard on the perimeter. The Quakers aren’t known for their defense, but have managed to hold 16 of their 27 opponents under 70 points, going 12-4 in those games. This rivalry dates back to 1903 with Penn holding a 122-101 edge. The Quakers are the only Ivy League team with a winning record against Princeton in its history. Even though Penn is just 13-14, this will not be an easy game for Princeton. Expect a close one here, especially with the Ivy title hanging in the balance.
Sun Belt Championship (at Hot Springs, AR): North Texas vs. Arkansas-Little Rock – 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Everyone knows about Tristan Thompson at Texas but did you know there’s another Tristan Thompson in the same state leading his team to success? This Thompson is a senior guard leading the Mean Green of North Texas to the Sun Belt Championship game. Thompson has averaged 26.7 PPG in the Sun Belt Tournament and has his team one win away from the Dance. A 40.5% three-point shooter, Thompson leads his team in scoring and combines with Dominique Johnson and Josh White to form a potent three point lineup. However, they don’t shoot many threes, averaging just under 15 per game. North Texas ranks #66 in three point shooting but gets to the line better than anyone in the nation (51.2% of their possessions!). In fact, Thompson attempted 20 free throws himself — and made all of them — in a 36-point effort against Florida Atlantic on Saturday. With George Odufuwa inside averaging 11/10, this is a strong offensive team. As you might imagine, defense has been their problem. They prefer a fast pace and rank #301 in defensive efficiency, among the worst in the Sun Belt. This team really excels inside the arc where they get to the stripe and finish at the rim. This game, in all honesty, will probably come down to control of the pace. Arkansas-Little Rock plays at a slower tempo, protects the ball very well and runs its offense with one eye on the three point line. The Trojans are awful inside, near the bottom of D1 in two point percentage. They rank ninth nationally in three point percentage, though, at 40.5% as a team. They also have three very capable shooters with leading scorer Solomon Bozema the best of them at 47% from distance. Matt Mouzy and Daylon Guy also contribute from the three point arc and North Texas will have to do a good job keeping them in check if they hope to win. The Mean Green swept the season series, including a three point win on the Trojans’ home floor to close the regular season last week. Arkansas-Little Rock will have the crowd advantage since they’re playing an hour down the road from campus, but they need to establish their pace early and stick with it. If North Texas can get up and down the floor, the Mean Green will probably win.
Horizon Championship (at Milwaukee, WI): Butler @ Milwaukee – 9 pm on ESPN (****)
The best game of the night is here in Milwaukee where you have Butler trying to win the Horizon League’s automatic bid and avoid the bubble while the homestanding Panthers are looking to complete one of the best stories of the season in college basketball. On January 21, Milwaukee was 9-11 overall and 4-5 in league play after scoring 43 points in a loss to Valparaiso. Coach Rob Jeter held a team meeting (with no assistant coaches in the room) until 3 AM according to reports and the team has been clicking ever since. The next day Milwaukee went out and beat Butler on the road in overtime, their second win over last year’s national runners-up this season. How fitting it would be if they were to bookend this remarkable run with victories over Butler. Since that game, the Panthers have lost only once (to non-league Buffalo). Butler is on a similar hot streak. Since an ugly loss at Youngstown State on February 3, Butler has reeled off eight straight league wins, including the win over Cleveland State in the semifinals on Saturday. The Bulldogs have found their defensive groove again, the key ingredient in their unforgettable run to last year’s national title game. Brad Stevens’ team has held opponents to an average of 59.8 PPG over this winning streak but they remain very much on the bubble if they end up needing an at-large bid. Butler is a much more efficient team than Milwaukee but the Panthers play faster and have a strong core of experienced players. Junior forward Tony Meier has played extremely well of late, averaging 20.3 PPG over his last three on the strength of 45% three point shooting over that stretch. Milwaukee has tremendous balance with Meier and Tone Boyle doing the damage from outside and Anthony Hill (22/7 last six games) tearing up the paint. Jeter also has a reliable point guard in junior Kaylon Williams. He’s averaged 11 APG in the two games against Butler this year and has been dropping dimes everywhere for most of the season, plus he chipped in 16 points in their last win over Valpo. Milwaukee gets to the line very well and Matt Howard has to stay out of foul trouble. He played great against the Panthers the last time these teams met but fouled out in only 24 minutes of play, his most recent disqualification this season. The battle between Howard and Hill, along with the play of Shelvin Mack, could determine this game. It’ll be interesting to see who Stevens places Ronald Nored on defensively. Nored is a stellar defender and could really be useful guarding Hill. If Butler can stop Hill from driving and setting up the Panther offense, they should have an edge. Nored could also guard Boyle and limit his three point chancess, so that’s definitely something to watch for when you tune in later tonight. It would be something else if Milwaukee can knock off Butler for the third time this season, but we feel they have an excellent chance to do it with all the momentum and the home court advantage. Both teams will play their hearts out for the title and you know Butler doesn’t want to sweat it out on Sunday. Expect a terrific game tonight, one that personifies what March is all about.
Summit Championship (at Sioux Falls, SD): Oakland vs. Oral Roberts – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Oakland has blitzed through the Summit League, losing only once since they fell at #1 Ohio State on December 23 in an obvious non-conference game. They swept Oral Roberts in the regular season and this game figures to be a high scoring affair. The Golden Grizzlies average 85 PPG and play at the #7 tempo in America. Oakland has a tremendous presence in the paint in Keith Benson, leading the team at almost 18 PPG and 10 RPG. Benson shoots 55% from the floor, part of an offense that ranks second in two point percentage. Oakland can also stroke it from deep, shooting 37.6% as a unit and attempting about 22 threes per game. Benson inside and Reggie Hamilton on the perimeter form one of the better inside-outside duos in mid-major basketball. Neither Oral Roberts nor Oakland is very good defensively, so this game will likely come down to which team shoots better. The Golden Eagles are not too shabby, themselves, averaging 75 PPG at a slower pace while shooting 51.8% inside the arc. Warren Niles is a major threat from deep while versatile leading scorer Dominique Morrison can score from almost anywhere. When you consider Oakland’s pace, the rebounding battle is fairly even on paper. Both teams figure to make a lot of shots and whoever controls the missed shots will be able to set the tempo and obviously get second chance opportunities. Benson will be a key player in that regard and Oral Roberts’ Damen Bell-Holter will have to come up big on the interior against the talented Oakland big man. Benson has fouled out four times and getting him in some early foul trouble would open up a lot inside for ORU and force Oakland more towards the perimeter on offense. This game is being played in South Dakota, basically as neutral as you can get. We feel Oakland is the better team but the Golden Eagles would love nothing more than to be the spoiler. We’ll take the Golden Grizzlies here.
Big East First Round (at New York, NY): Marquette vs. Providence – 9:30 pm on ESPNU (***)
At 18-13 (9-9), Marquette probably has to win this game to keep its NCAA hopes alive. A loss here would be their third in a row to close the season and leave a bad taste in the Selection Committee’s mouth. The Golden Eagles beat Providence by 24 points just nine days ago in Milwaukee but the pressure of March and the bright lights of New York City figure to make this one closer. Providence is playing for nothing but pride and you can bet Marshon Brooks wants to go out in a big way in front of a national audience at the Garden. The Friars had lost seven straight games before coming back to defeat Rutgers on Saturday and defense was a major problem for Keno Davis and his team during that losing streak. Providence allowed an average of 85.3 PPG during that stretch and still could only hold Rutgers to 74 points. That’s good news for Marquette and their strong offense, rated #14 in efficiency. Defense has been the problem for Buzz Williams as well, and that’s where they have to do better in order to win a few games in New York. MU is coming off an 85-72 loss at Seton Hall on Saturday, a game in which the Pirates shot 49% from the floor. Providence is not a good shooting team but they play at the fastest pace in the Big East, allowing them to mask some of their shortcomings. Marquette should win this game, but it’s always dangerous to play a team with nothing to lose when your season is on the line.