Set Your Tivo: 03.09.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 9th, 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 auto-bids go out tonight, but a couple of interesting games from the Big East are also on the slate. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Big East Second Round (at New York, NY): #18 Connecticut vs. Georgetown – 12 pm on ESPN (***)
The Huskies drew a pretty good bracket by Big East standards, getting bottom feeder DePaul in the first round and a depleted Georgetown team this afternoon. Connecticut ended its winless drought in this tournament, blowing out DePaul yesterday for their first Big East Tournament win since 2005. Alex Oriakhi had 13 points and 19 rebounds, making his presence known at the start of the tournament after a regular season full of inconsistency. Kemba Walker added 26/7/5 as the Huskies cruised. Things get considerably tougher today against Georgetown, but the Hoyas are a reeling squad. They’ve lost four of their past five games, including a loss to UConn, and have not looked competitive since senior point guard Chris Wright went down with a broken hand. The Hoyas haven’t scored more than 51 points in three games without Wright and will have to play a strong defensive game if they want to knock off the Huskies.
Wright led Georgetown in the loss in Hartford last month while Walker went for 31/7/10 on that same night. Without Wright in the lineup, Georgetown’s offensive efficiency has fallen off a cliff. They’re at 114.2 for the season but are averaging only 82.1 in the games without their point guard. Austin Freeman has tried to do his part to make up for Wright’s absence, but he’s getting little help from his teammates.
The Huskies play strong defense, especially on the interior, and do a great job keeping opponents off the free throw line. John Thompson III elected not to go zone against UConn in the first meeting and paid for it. Will he change his mind this time around, even with Oriakhi showing what he’s raelly capable of on the glass in the last game? Georgetown got the first round bye but UConn is the better team right now. We’ll be surprised if the Hoyas can pull off a win here, even in the crazy month that is March.
NEC Championship (at Brooklyn, NY): Robert Morris @ Long Island – 7 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Robert Morris has reeled off eight straight NEC wins dating back to February 9 as they take to the road against Long Island in the conference championship game, looking to win their second consecutive auto bid away from home and third in three years. LIU is on an impressive streak of their own, winners their last 12 NEC games and 20 of their last 21 overall. The Blackbirds are a deep and talented team capable of scoring from almost anywhere on the floor. Their top two scorers are both forwards, giving them two versatile players who can rack up buckets in the paint and from mid-range, while four terrific three point shooters line the perimeter. LIU plays at the fourth fastest tempo in all of college basketball, attacking the rim in transition or making jump shots with regularity. The Blackbirds are second in the nation in free throw rate, plus they’re also #2 in defensive free throw rate. This terrific free throw margin is vitally important to their success and should help them against Robert Morris. The Colonials put their opponents on the line for 49.9% of their possessions, almost dead last in D-I. To win this game, Andy Toole and Robert Morris will have to slow the game down and make shots in the half court, in addition to rebounding and defending well. They are #1 in conference play in three point shooting, but will be facing LIU’s #1 rated three point defense tonight. Robert Morris doesn’t shoot the ball well for the most part although Coron Williams can really fill it up from deep in the absence of leading scorer Karon Abraham, lost for the season with a torn Achilles tendon back on February 19th. LIU is vulnerable inside, but Robert Morris doesn’t have the personnel to score inside against three 6’7 players on the Blackbird roster. LIU’s opponents get 60% of their points inside the arc but RMU shoots only 45% as a team from there. With leading scorers Julian Boyd and Jamal Olasewere at the forward positions, LIU has too much interior depth and rebounding for the Colonials to handle. Robert Morris did win at LIU this year, but that was over three months ago on December 2. They were without Abraham in that game, as well, and used a strong defensive performance along with ten triples to knock off the Blackbirds by one point. Long Island went 0-16 from three in the first half of that game and couldn’t recover, despite a big rally in the second half. The same game has to happen here for the Colonials to win again without their leading scorer.
Big Sky Championship (at Greeley, CO): Montana @ Northern Colorado – 9 pm on ESPN2 (***)
These two teams split the season series with each winning a low-scoring affair on their home floor. The rubber match will be at Northern Colorado with an NCAA bid on the line. Montana won this tournament last season and will have to control the pace of this game through their defense, ranked #14 in eFG% against. The Bears’ Devon Beitzel, the Big Sky MVP, leads Northern Colorado’s strong three point offense, ranked in the top 25 nationally at 38.9%. Beitzel averages 21 PPG and leads a core of four players certainly capable of drilling threes. The senior guard out of Lafayette, CO has scored 30+ points twice in the last month and hasn’t been below 20 points since he scored 15 against Portland State on February 5. Stopping him has to be at the top of Montana’s game plan, but they were unable to do so in the previous two meetings. In their win at home, the Grizzlies were able to hold Northern Colorado to an astounding 23.3% shooting for the game, with Beitzel scoring 22 points on a tasty 8-17 FG. The rest of the Bears team was 6-43 (14%) from the floor in that game and three Bears starters didn’t even make a shot. If Montana can drag Northern Colorado into a similar style of game, they’ll have a chance to win this one on the road. The Grizzlies’ strength is inside, with 6’11 Brian Qvale and 7’0 Derek Selvig. They account for 25.4/13.9 a game, combined with Qvale making 62.7% of his shots overall. The Bears have a few 6’8 players inside but they can’t match Montana’s height in the paint. Consequently, the Grizzlies are in the top 25 in both two point offense and defense while they struggle from the outside. Even with all that height, Montana is not a great rebounding team. The Bears actually have better rebounding percentages but this game will likely be determined by who controls the pace and which team can utilize its strengths better. Northern Colorado point guard Elliott Lloyd has to push the pace a bit while protecting the ball, and attempt to remove the Grizzlies from their rhythm. Montana is the #1 three point defense in Big Sky games at 32.3% and they’ll have to shut down the Bears again, a team that shoots almost 21 threes per game. Montana must run their offense in the half court through their big men while limiting turnovers and rebounding well. Considering what’s on the line, this will likely be a close game — neither of the previous two meetings was close, but we’re going to say the third time is a charm, and that this one will be a jewel.
Big East Second Round (at New York, NY): #20 West Virginia vs. Marquette – 9:30 pm on ESPN (****)
A lot of people are saying Marquette clinched a bid last night, coasting to a win over a Providence team that plays as bad a brand of defense as you’ll ever see. While the Warriors/Golden Eagles (we can’t give up “Warriors”) likely did just that, Marquette can punch their ticket with absolute certainty by knocking off West Virginia tonight. These teams last met in Milwaukee on New Year’s Day, resulting a five point Marquette victory. That loss dropped the Mountaineers to 0-2 in Big East play but they’ve won 12 of their 18 games since then, including three in a row coming into this week. This is yet another game where pace is a major factor, with WVU preferring to grind it out with tough physical defense in the half court and Marquette running their efficient offense while getting out in transition. The Golden Eagles (grrr) have scored under 70 points only once in their last six games, specifically in that home loss to Cincinnati last week. West Virginia is a similar team to Cincinnati, crashing the offensive glass and defending hard for 40 minutes. The Mountaineers did not defend well in the first meeting, however, allowing Jae Crowder to score 29 points on 12-14 FG, his best performance of the season. Crowder has struggled recently but is a strong threat against a team like West Virginia with his ability to score inside and out, subsequently stretching the defense and opening up looks for others. Jimmy Butler is a similar player and a real warrior for Buzz Williams. The senior forward almost had a triple-double against Providence last night, going for 19/10/8. He’s scored in double figures in all but one game this season and had a season-high 30 points against Cincinnati last week. Butler and Crowder have to be active tonight against West Virginia’s strong defense. WVU ranks fifth nationally in defending the three, tops in the Big East. Marquette has good outside shooters, but they’re at their best when Butler, Crowder and guard Darius Johnson-Odom can get into the middle of a defense and pull up, pass, drive, or get to the line. Marquette cannot be passive tonight. They can’t sit back and get caught in a half court game against West Virginia, because the Mountaineers will grind their way into creating defensive breakdowns. Joe Mazzulla and Truck Bryant need to do a good job protecting the basketball against Marquette’s pressure. If they can get by the MU front line, passing lanes and seams usually open up in the Golden Eagle defense. Kevin Jones can also spread the floor if he gets hot, which will make it easier for others to score and for the Mountaineers to grab offensive rebounds. Marquette looks really good when their offense is clicking and they’re getting out on the break, but they just cannot afford to play this game in the half court. West Virginia is not a team that scores a lot of points or shoots the lights out, so they likely won’t win a game in the 70’s or higher. If WVU keeps this game in the 50’s or 60’s, they’ll advance to Thursday.