Set Your TiVo: 11.11.11Posted by Brian Otskey on November 11th, 2011
Brian Otskey is the Big East correspondent for RTC and a regular contributor. You can find him @botskey on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
We had a few games earlier in the week to whet our appetite but the main course of college basketball is served tonight. One hundred thirty-one games tip off this evening in what is really the true opening night of the season. Of course, the night is highlighted by the Carrier Classic in San Diego. Let’s get to it.
#1 North Carolina vs. Michigan State (at San Diego, CA) – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)
- The preseason #1 Tar Heels feature arguably the best front court in the nation with Tyler Zeller, John Henson and freshman James McAdoo. The length of the UNC front line, especially Henson, will make it incredibly difficult for Michigan State to score the basketball in the paint but the Tar Heels should also use their height as an advantage offensively. Michigan State will likely try to make this a half court game in order to limit Carolina’s transition attack. North Carolina did not shoot the ball particularly well last season so maximizing their chances inside could be advantageous if the Spartans successfully turn this into a slower-paced contest. Everyone knows Roy Williams likes to run (we’ll certainly see that) but UNC has the potential to thrive in the half court game with a good floor general in Kendall Marshall and an uber-talented front line that can score, rebound and block shots. They’re a tough matchup for anyone but especially a Michigan State team with an inexperienced and thin big man rotation.
- For Tom Izzo and Michigan State, Draymond Green may have to do it all. He’s a stat sheet stuffer extraordinaire but we expect Green to have a difficult time getting in the paint against the tall and patient Carolina defense. Green was only a 42.6% shooter from the floor last season, down significantly from his freshman and sophomore campaigns in East Lansing. As a senior, Green has to be the coach on the floor while simultaneously taking control of the game in order for State to have a chance. Valparaiso transfer Brandon Wood bolsters Izzo’s back court and he’ll have to be counted on right away to provide a spark from three-point land. Michigan State is not going to beat North Carolina inside or in transition so you have to figure it’ll be up to Green, Wood and Keith Appling to knock down shots from long range.
- The other aspect to this game, obviously, is the USS Carl Vinson itself. Neither team was a good jump shooting unit last year so the depth perception and sightlines of this unique venue could play a huge role. Even the elements, such as the slightest gust of wind, could be enough to alter a shot. North Carolina will run and look for easy baskets behind Marshall’s exquisite court vision and playmaking ability, a transition attack that may be fueled by Michigan State turnovers. The Spartans turned the ball over at an alarming rate last season, especially in the early months. If that continues, they don’t have a chance tonight. So many things have to go right for Michigan State to pull the upset but there are a lot of intangibles in play from the venue to the weather to the pressure of playing in such a setting and more. North Carolina should win, but regardless, this looks like a terrific way to open up the season.
Belmont @ #6 Duke – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)
- Despite its lofty ranking, this is a bit of a transition year for Duke. The Blue Devils lose their top three double-digit scorers and return a collection of players not used to being “the man” on a nightly basis. Seth Curry moves over to the point guard position while Mike Krzyzewski welcomes super scorer Austin Rivers and a talented freshmen class to Durham. There’s no question this Duke team will be able to score, but expect some early growing pains for Curry. It’s tough to replace players like Kyrie Irving and Nolan Smith but Curry will eventually be up to the job. However, the Blue Devils will experience some ups and downs if Curry doesn’t seamlessly transition into his new role, especially against an experienced team ball hawking for turnovers like Belmont. With Rivers and Andre Dawkins beside him and quality big men in the post, Curry doesn’t have to be a shoot-first point guard. For Duke to be successful tonight and this season, Curry has to be more of a true point guard able to set the table for others, protect the ball and shoot when the time is right. Against a deep Belmont team that returns nine of its top 11 scorers, Duke can’t afford to mess around and take this game lightly even on its home floor.
- As mentioned, Belmont returns nine of its top 11 players from a 30-win team. The Bruins won’t be afraid to play fast and you can bet they’ll be after Curry from the get-go, trying to force turnovers. In addition to thriving in transition, Belmont is a team that shoots the rock very well. Sharpshooter Jordan Campbell has moved on but the Bruins return leading scorer Ian Clark (42.9% 3pt FG) and a rotation that will easily go ten deep. Head coach Rick Byrd loves to maximize scoring opportunities through the fast break but the Bruins can also play a little defense. They ranked #23 in defensive efficiency last season, especially effective at creating turnovers and stopping teams from scoring inside. Against a Duke team with lots of height, Belmont’s Mitch Hedgepeth and Scott Saunders will need to have strong games against the Plumlee brothers (all three of them) and Ryan Kelly.
- Belmont has the size and strength to hang with Duke inside. This game could come down to transition opportunities and perimeter defense. Belmont must be able to contain Rivers and Curry while stopping the Duke transition game. They can do that with strong offensive rebounding, something they did very well in 2010-11. The Bruins can run with the Blue Devils but Belmont can’t turn the ball over too much and negate any advantage they may gain in fast break points. This is an experienced team with good chemistry going on the road against a powerhouse program that has won 86 consecutive home games against non-conference foes and 36 in a row overall at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Call us crazy but we feel Belmont has a puncher’s chance to snap those streaks. Duke is the better basketball team and should win the game but crazy things can happen early in the season.
Oregon @ #7 Vanderbilt – 10:00 PM EST on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
- Is this the year Vanderbilt breaks through and contends for a Final Four? That quest starts tonight for the Commodores, a team without starting center Festus Ezeli, out for up to two months with a knee injury. Without their man in the middle, Vanderbilt must rely on John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor to do the bulk of their scoring. While that’s not exactly a bad thing, the loss of Ezeli takes away an important dimension to the Commodore offense and robs them of one of the best shotblockers in the land. Jenkins, quite possibly the best pure shooter in the country, will likely face a lot of double teams from Dana Altman’s squad. This year, Jenkins has another weapon by his side in freshman Dai-Jon Parker. If Parker can relieve some of the pressure on Jenkins and knock down shots, Vanderbilt should get by Oregon and have a successful season. The questions for Vandy are its defense and end of game decision-making. They ranked #88 in defensive efficiency last year and must get better in that department while also protecting the ball at key times late in games. Brad Tinsley is a capable point guard but late game turnovers and poor decisions played a direct role in some losses last season.
- Oregon can stay in this game through three-point defense. Unfortunately for the Ducks, they allowed opponents to convert on 37% of their three-point attempts in 2010-11. That’s just not going to cut it tonight against a Vanderbilt team that can really stroke it. The Ducks have higher expectations this year due to the return of E.J. Singler, stud recruit Jabari Brown and a collection of transfers. Fitting all of these pieces into the puzzle will be Altman’s greatest challenge but he’s known as a smart tactician and should do a good enough job building this team’s chemistry. Against Vanderbilt, big men transfers Olu Ashaolu and Tony Woods could actually have an advantage over the Commodores in the paint. However, someone has to get them the ball. That responsibility will likely fall to sophomore Johnathan Loyd. He’ll have to step into the point guard role until Devoe Joseph becomes eligible later next month. Loyd played behind Malcolm Armstead last season but he’ll need to have a good game right off the bat on the road in order for Oregon to steal a win.
- The matchup of Singler against Taylor will be fun to watch but the Commodores may be too tough of an out on their home floor, even without Ezeli in the middle. It’s asking a lot for a team like Oregon to put all the pieces together flawlessly on the road in their first game of the season against a top ten opponent. The Ducks will have a better year this season than last but expecting a win at Vandy is not realistic at this point. Anything can happen but expect Vanderbilt to fill it up from deep and take this game. For folks with a keen eye, pay attention to how the Vandy defense works without Ezeli anchoring the paint. If Oregon’s guards can get into the paint with ease, that’s a bad sign for Kevin Stallings‘ team going forward.
The Official RTC Star System
***** – 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 2014
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game