Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 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 power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)
The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.
Over the years, Jamie Dixon’s teams have been known for their aggressive man to man defense. Against the Huskies today, Dixon may drop back into a zone at times, although Connecticut ranks eighth in offensive rebounding percentage and could get some second chance opportunities, even against a Panthers team that can get after it on the glass. The Huskies score best on the break with Kemba Walker taking charge at the front of it. He’s had a sensational two games in New York, averaging 27 PPG on 18-33 FG. Despite his 31 points in that aforementioned first meeting, Pitt held Walker to 10-27 shooting and limited his teammates, effectively turning UConn into a one-man show. The Huskies have evolved since then and have cultivated more threats other than their most visible star. Look for Alex Oriakhi to play a big role in this game. He has the potential to offset Gary McGhee on the glass but must also give the Huskies an offensive option in the paint. Look for Pittsburgh to slow the tempo and keep the Huskies in the half court, but we feel UConn has an excellent chance to win this game. Pitt is a very good team but UConn is hot. We expect a very close game and a great start to a Thursday full of games.
Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #11 Syracuse @ #15 St. John’s – 2:30 pm on ESPN (****)
After a controversial (to say the least) ending against Rutgers yesterday, St. John’s moves on to face upstate rival Syracuse at Madison Square Garden. The Orange blasted the Johnnies in this building back in January, the only MSG loss for the Red Storm this season. These teams are similar in that they rely a lot on transition baskets and a zone defense. Syracuse has better perimeter talent and that’s part of the reason why they won so easily against the Red Storm last time, going 9-20 from deep in that game. St. John’s forced 20 turnovers but couldn’t stop the Orange inside either, as Rick Jackson and Kris Joseph combined for 30 points on 14-17 FG. St. John’s was stifled by the 2-3 Syracuse zone as Dwight Hardy went 4-15 from the floor, his dribble penetration cut off by the long, rangy Orange defenders. The game plan has to be the same for St. John’s, because that’s about all they can do. They’re not a good three point shooting team, and they know it, because they don’t take many, so they must find a way to get inside and score. Defensively, it has to get a whole lot better for them, as well. St. John’s has looked shaky in their past three games, losing at Seton Hall before struggling against USF and Rutgers. This team has relished the role of underdog all season long, but now they’re the hunted and you can bet Syracuse fans will fill up MSG eager to see their boys knock off the Red Storm yet again. There’s no doubt this game will be sold out, the question is who will pack in more fans. On the court, the Red Storm have to get back to basics, playing their stingy 2-3 matchup zone while creating turnovers and fast break points. The problem is that Syracuse is a better version of St. John’s (with more shooters) and the Johnnies will have to play one heck of a game to knock off the Orange. We like Syracuse in this one.
Pac 10 Quarterfinals (at Los Angeles, CA): California vs. USC – 3 pm on FSN (***)
These two clubs have quietly crept into the NCAA discussion, with Cal suddenly appearing on Joe Lunardi’s next four out last night. That means the Bears must make a run this week in LA in order to be considered for the Big Dance. USC won at Washington last week, catapulting them into the discussion, but needing more wins to secure their spot. The Trojans have a lot of talent, led by the inside-outside combo of Nikola Vucevic and Jio Fontan. Vucevic averages 18/10 and has recorded a stunning eight consecutive double-doubles dating back to February 10. The 6’10 forward can also step out and knock down a triple if given the opportunity. Fontan had 20 points in the Washington win and has done a great job running the USC offense during this stretch in which the Trojans have won five of their past six games. This is an elimination game, but the winner will obviously have the opportunity to continue making a late case at the Pac-10 tournament. The two teams split the regular season series, each winning on the other’s home floor. Freshman guard Allen Crabbe has been terrific this season and especially over the last three games, averaging 23 PPG on 11-18 three point FG. Crabbe missed the better part of a loss to Washington as well as the following two games (also losses) after suffering a concussion. Solid play from the Golden Bears in Los Angeles could bolster their case significantly, especially if the Selection Committee looks at the three losses without Crabbe in a favorable manner. Cal’s fast-paced offense is clicking now, and USC will have to defend and rebound well in order to slow them down. The Bears get almost a quarter of their points from the free throw line, ranking seventh nationally in free throw rate. However, Cal is the worst defensive team in the Pac 10 in conference games, ranking last in efficiency and three point defense, plus second to last in eFG% defense. Controlling pace and working the shot clock are vitally important for Fontan and USC to keep their NCAA hopes alive. That will likely force the Bears into numerous defensive breakdowns, allowing the Trojans to get easy buckets and put the lid on Cal’s transition game.
Big 12 Quarterfinals (at Kansas City, MO): #21 Kansas State vs. Colorado – 3 pm on ESPN FullCourt (****)
The Buffaloes barely got by Iowa State yesterday, a loss that likely would have ended their NCAA Tournament dreams. 15 CU turnovers kept the Cyclones in the game but 29/15/6 from Alec Burks pushed Colorado into the quarterfinals. They’ll face a Kansas State team they’ve beaten twice, but also a team as hot as any in the nation right now. The Wildcats have won six straight games and eight of nine overall, the only loss coming to this very Colorado club. The Buffaloes swept Kansas State this season, but winning three games against the same opponent in one season is always tough, especially against a team playing this well. This will be a battle of great offense versus solid defense, and no opponent has scored more than 70 points against K-State since Iowa State put up 85 over a month ago. Colorado doesn’t shoot many threes but they rank #34 in the nation from deep, mostly due to Levi Knutson’s 48.9% success rate. The Buffaloes get 77% of their points inside the arc or from the foul line, a place where they shoot 78%, ranking them fifth in the country. Tad Boyle’s defense stepped up big time in the two previous wins over K-State, holding them to 39-109 FG (35.8%) combined. Defense has been a problem for Colorado all season, ranked near the bottom of the Big 12 in many defensive categories. The Buffaloes allow opponents to shoot 37.3% from three (37.7% in conference games) and that will be a major issue against Jacob Pullen and company. The Wildcats are #44 in three point percentage, getting almost 30% of their total points from behind the arc. CU also has to worry about rebounding, though they did a good job against Kansas State in the first two meetings. Frank Martin’s team ranks fourth nationally in offensive rebounding percentage and pulls down 38 RPG overall. As we always say, it’s incredibly difficult to beat a team three times. Colorado can certainly win this game, and will have all the motivation to do so with an NCAA bid on the line. However, Kansas State is so hot right now and the matchups are in their favor. Colorado will have to come up with another big time defensive effort to continue their campaign.
Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #4 Notre Dame vs. Cincinnati – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
It seems as if Notre Dame has gotten all the awards and hype this week in New York City and they haven’t even played a game yet. If the Fighting Irish aren’t careful, they’ll be headed for an early exit from the Big Apple. Cincinnati has been playing great basketball of late, winners in six of their past seven games. While Notre Dame has also been on a tear (winning 11 of 12), Cincinnati pushed the Irish to the limit in South Bend back in January before succumbing. The Bearcats are among the top defensive units in the Big East and even more dangerous when they combine that disciplined shot selection, as they did last night in a blowout win over South Florida. Yancy Gates led the way with 25 points on 10-11 FG in their 87-61 thrashing of the Bulls. Cincinnati is a bad matchup for Notre Dame because they play at a slower pace and are more physical than the Irish. They don’t have Notre Dame’s offense, but Cincinnati has a beast in the middle in Gates and a couple of capable wing players. Ben Hansbrough has to be on his game tonight because he’ll be counted on to break down Cincinnati’s defense off the dribble. The Bearcats rebound well and have won their last four games away from the Queen City. We’re going to call the upset and go with the Bearcats over the Irish in the Big East quarters tonight.
Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #14 Louisville vs. Marquette – 9:30 pm on ESPN (****)
Revenge is a powerful motivator in life and sports are no exception. Marquette will be looking to exact some of it on Louisville tonight. The Golden Eagles had an 18-point lead with less than six minutes remaining in the game at Louisville on January 15 before Preston Knowles got hot and led the Cardinals to one of the more stunning comebacks of the season in all of college basketball. MU knocked off West Virginia in the second round on Wednesday night on the strength of their defense, holding West Virginia to 25 points on 22.2% shooting in the second half. Junior Cadougan played his best game of the year for Marquette, scoring 15 points and dishing out five assists. Louisville is a team that lives and dies by the three, making perimeter defense paramount for Marquette to advance to the semifinals. They rank #240 in defending the three but held Louisville in check for the better part of the game the last time these teams met before collapsing down the stretch. Big games from Jae Crowder and Jimmy Butler will be needed for MU to advance, but this is a good matchup for them. Without Rakeem Buckles, out for the season with an ACL tear, Louisville isn’t as formidable inside. Terrence Jennings is a terrific defender but early foul trouble for him could really open up the middle for Marquette’s forwards to go to work.
Big 12 Quarterfinals (at Kansas City, MO): #25 Texas A&M vs. Missouri – 9:30 pm on ESPN2 (***)
Missouri staved off their fourth straight loss last night against lowly Texas Tech, a team playing with a lame duck coach. The Tigers managed to win by four points but gave up a concerning 84 points to an offense rated #93 in efficiency. Missouri’s defense held the Red Raiders to under 40% shooting but sent them to the line 36 times where Texas Tech made 31 to stay in the game. Mizzou has to concentrate on moving their feet instead of their hands on defense and limit the number of fouls against Texas A&M, a team ranked #23 in free throw rate. These teams played a classic game in College Station on January 15, a game won in overtime by the Aggies. That was a bit surprising, considering the pace each team prefers. A&M loves nothing more than a game in the 50s or 60s while Missouri likes to play as many possessions as possible in 40 minutes. Khris Middleton starred for the home club in that game but hasn’t had a performance nearly that good since then. If Texas A&M can control the pace and make some shots, they should win this game. They have a significant advantage up front and on the glass, plus they rank #40 in defending the three at 31.8%. That will be important against Marcus Denmon, shooting very well from deep while averaging 19.7 PPG over his last seven outings.
Pac 10 Quarterfinals (at Los Angeles, CA): Washington vs. Washington State – 11:30 pm on FSN (***)
If there was ever a team that’s done just enough to earn a bid and not looked very good doing it at all, Washington is that team. The Huskies are generally predicted to be in the NCAA Tournament but the suspension of Venoy Overton by coach Lorenzo Romar looms over this team heading into postseason play. Washington State finished the regular season at 9-9 after a devastating loss against UCLA on Saturday. They’ve had trouble of their own, as star Klay Thompson was suspended for that game after being cited for marijuana possession. The Cougars badly damaged their NCAA hopes with that loss but a new week in Los Angeles provides them with an opportunity to get back in the discussion. Thompson has been reinstated by Ken Bone and should be ready to go tonight. Wazzu won both regular season meetings between these teams, including a convincing win in Seattle a week and a half ago. Washington State has played excellent defense in both games against their in-state rivals, holding an offense that ranks ninth in efficiency to under 40% shooting in each game. Thompson has averaged 25.5 PPG against U-Dub this year while Washington has turned it over 40 times in two games, with Isaiah Thomas committing nine of those. The Huskies, while they are a good three point shooting team, cannot rely on the outside shot to beat Washington State. They must work inside against the Wazzu zone, looking for seams to exploit. Washington is talented inside and shoots 53% from two point range as a team in addition to ranking #16 in offensive rebounding percentage. Matthew Bryan-Amaning has gone 4-19 from the floor in the two meetings this year, and that has to change for Washington to win this game.