Set Your TiVo: 12.02.11 – 12.04.11Posted by Brian Otskey on December 2nd, 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.
As we move into December, the first big Saturday of the year (highlighted by the battle in Lexington) is now upon us. Not to mention we get a nice preview of things to come on Friday evening.
#6 Florida @ #3 Syracuse – 7 PM EST Friday on ESPN (*****)
- Syracuse has three distinct advantages in this game despite playing a top ten opponent. One is home court, two is height, and three is depth. The Orange have taller players at every position, one through five, and Jim Boeheim can go a legitimate ten deep into his bench. Against a Florida team that will be without forward Erik Murphy, Syracuse may be able to overwhelm the guard-heavy Gators. The key for the Orange will be defense. The 2-3 zone creates a fantastic match-up given Florida’s preferred style of offense, shooting lots of threes. If the Orange can be active and extend the perimeter of the zone, Florida will have a tough time.
- The key for Florida is simple: make threes. To do that however, the Gators must establish Patric Young early and often. Playing without Murphy, Young is Florida’s only reliable post player. If he can’t get going, Syracuse won’t have to worry about extending the zone and leaving holes in the middle. If Young gets off to a fast start, the Orange will have to respect his presence by packing its defense in a bit more inside the arc. That will give Florida’s dynamic guards the opportunity to make shots. With Kenny Boynton and Mike Rosario both shooting almost 50% from deep and two other Gators lurking as potential snipers, Syracuse doesn’t want to be forced to do that.
- It’s always fun when a team that relies heavily on guards and the three point shot gets together with a team that plays almost exclusively zone. The Syracuse defense will tempt Florida to shoot the deep ball all night but Florida must work for open shots by establishing Young and some sort of an inside-out game. Keeping the zone off balance and moving the ball effectively are always keys to finding open shots. Defensively, Florida has to do better. Syracuse is much more efficient on that end of the floor while the Gators rank a pedestrian 52nd in the nation. Although three point shooting is the big key in this game, Florida’s defense could cost them in a tight game.
#20 Vanderbilt @ #9 Louisville – 9 PM EST Friday on ESPN (****)
- Louisville is a team that prides itself on defense, something that will be put to the test against Vanderbilt on Friday night. The Cardinals rank third nationally in defensive efficiency with no opponent cracking the 70-point mark in six games this season. Due to injuries, Rick Pitino is only playing seven guys regularly. With star Vanderbilt shooter John Jenkins getting most of his shots off screening action, expect Pitino to drill it into his players’ heads that they cannot afford to slip under screens. Vanderbilt is vulnerable without Festus Ezeli in the mix so expect a strong Louisville perimeter defense in this game with lots of Cardinals running at Jenkins all night long.
- If they lose tonight, the Commodores are looking at three losses in their first eight games, certainly not where most of their fans expected the team to be at this point. Vanderbilt dearly misses Ezeli on both ends of the floor but defense has again been a problem for Kevin Stallings. Vanderbilt ranks 81st in defensive efficiency and that’s just not going to get them to an elite level no matter how much talent they have offensively. Playing on the road against an intense and focused Louisville team, this game would be the perfect time for Vanderbilt to begin playing great defense. Of course, that’s easier said than done. Offensively they must share the ball more. Vanderbilt assists on only 49.2% of its made field goals signifying a lot of one-on-one play and lots of jump shots. That’s not a recipe to win on the road against a strong defensive team like Louisville. Jeffery Taylor must also be a big part of Vanderbilt’s offensive game plan. He can put some pressure on Louisville’s defense by opening up the floor and freeing up space for himself, Jenkins and others.
- Louisville isn’t a team that scores a ton of points but they are going to come at Vanderbilt on every defensive possession with aggressive guards like Peyton Siva and a shot blocker in the middle in Gorgui Dieng. Vanderbilt has a propensity to turn the ball over and Louisville ranks 22nd in defensive turnover percentage. The Cardinals are the stronger and tougher team on the boards as well, especially without Ezeli in Vanderbilt’s lineup. The Commodores were out-rebounded 48-30 by Xavier the other night in addition to committing 18 turnovers. Vanderbilt’s defense wasn’t bad at all against the Musketeers but it still must get better if they’re going to turn the ball over and give up second chance points. The one area where Vanderbilt does have an advantage is height at every position except center. If their forwards or even center Josh Henderson can give them a boost of the bench, the Commodores may be in this game to the end. Vanderbilt is talented enough to win the game but, at this point, it isn’t a team doing the things necessary to win against high quality competition. With lackluster defense, no Ezeli, turnover problems and a painful rebounding margin, it may be asking too much for them to win tonight.
#4 North Carolina @ #1 Kentucky – Noon EST Saturday on CBS (*****)
- Kentucky and North Carolina are arguably the two most talented teams in the nation but the Wildcats can separate themselves in this game with toughness. In what will be a raucous atmosphere with well over 20,000 fans in attendance, Kentucky can use the crowd to its advantage and force North Carolina away from the paint and into quick, contested shots. Toughness has been North Carolina’s weakness so far and UK is the type of team that can exploit it to a great degree. John Calipari’s team ranks #1 in two-point defense and features the unique physical specimen that is Anthony Davis in its front court along with Terrence Jones and the versatile Michael Kidd-Gilchrist. Davis blocked eight shots against St. John’s on Thursday night and nearly had a triple-double. From what we’ve seen out of both teams so far, Kentucky’s front court has an edge defensively, offensively, and on the glass. John Henson and Tyler Zeller are obviously tremendous players but Kentucky might be the only team in the country that can match them pound for pound at the very worst. Right now, we’d take Kentucky’s front court.
- This is a difficult match-up for the Tar Heels to begin with and it is made even tougher with the questionable status of P.J. Hairston. Even if he plays, his sprained wrist may render him ineffective. Hairston has been UNC’s best three-point shooter to date and, although the Heels don’t shoot many, that’s something they’ll have to do in order to knock off Kentucky. If Hairston can’t go, Carolina has to make mid- to long-range jumpers in order to grab the road victory. Reggie Bullock will be important off the bench while Harrison Barnes has to shoot the ball with consistency. Too often, Barnes goes cold before awakening and trying to take over the game. He has to bring that intensity for all 40 minutes on Saturday afternoon.
- Kentucky has never lost at Rupp Arena under Calipari and to change that, North Carolina has to play its best game of the season. That means bringing a certain toughness on the defensive end and on the backboards that we have not seen to date. Zeller and Henson have the height advantage inside but Davis and Jones are more athletic and can neutralize them around the basket. If that occurs, UNC has to win the game with guard play and transition buckets. Despite having pure point guard Kendall Marshall at the point guard position, North Carolina isn’t deep. One thing to watch is who Roy Williams assigns Dexter Strickland to guard. Strickland locked down Wisconsin’s Jordan Taylor in the second half on Wednesday as the Tar Heels managed to hang on at home. Whether it’s Marquis Teague or Doron Lamb, Strickland has to lock down somebody for North Carolina to pull this one out. Until proven otherwise, Kentucky doesn’t lose at home and should win this game.
#23 Purdue @ #12 Xavier – 3 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)
- The Musketeers used a late surge to win on the road at Vanderbilt earlier this week and now must avoid a letdown against a Purdue team we feel is better than most think. Xavier dominated the glass against the Commodores and received timely scoring from Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons. Xavier lives and dies by these two guards but everyone on the team knows their role which lays the groundwork for good chemistry. Against the stout Purdue defense, Holloway, Lyons, and company have to display the toughness that allowed Xavier to beat Vanderbilt. In addition, Chris Mack’s team would be wise to use Travis Taylor and Kenny Frease a bit more. Minus Robbie Hummel, Purdue is young and thin up front. The more experienced Taylor and Frease should be able to exploit the Boilermakers in the paint.
- Purdue has lost only once so far, a neutral court setback to Alabama two weeks ago. The Boilermakers are efficient on both ends of the floor, priding themselves on Matt Painter’s commitment to defense and Lewis Jackson’s ability to run the point and get the team into its offensive sets. At only nine turnovers per game, Purdue is #1 in the country in offensive turnover percentage (13.3%) allowing them many scoring opportunities and limiting the opponent in transition. Purdue’s three-point attack, led by Hummel and Ryne Smith, will be vital against the Musketeers. Purdue hoists plenty of threes, converting over 38% of the time. Holloway and Lyons are good defenders, but Hummel is a huge match-up problem for Xavier and could be the X-factor in this game.
- Xavier has played very well but we feel Purdue actually has an edge in this match-up. One area of concern for Xavier is the tendency of Holloway and Lyons to dominate the basketball and take bad shots at times. If Purdue can neutralize Taylor and Frease inside, Holloway in particular could get caught dribbling too much resulting in bad shots and turnovers. Coach Painter always seems to come up with a solid defensive strategy and you can bet he has been working on a great one since Purdue beat Miami on Wednesday night. Xavier should rightly be favored at home, but we think the Boilermakers just might pull this one out in the final minutes. Expect a well-played, thrilling game at the Cintas Center.
#19 Gonzaga @ Illinois – 3:15 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- This will be Gonzaga’s first true road game of the year and its first major test against a quality opponent. The Bulldogs pounded a Notre Dame team without Tim Abromaitis earlier this week but knocking off Illinois in Champaign will be a challenge, even in what is supposed to be a rebuilding year for the Illini. Freshman Kevin Pangos has been sensational for Gonzaga and must continue his hot outside shooting against an Illinois team with a strong defensive presence in the paint. Pangos and Gary Bell can do a lot of damage from deep and you can bet they will need to make some big shots on the road at Assembly Hall, a criminally underrated tough place to play. Defensively, Mark Few has to be concerned about his team’s three point defense. Gonzaga is giving up 39.1% shooting from the arc and that can’t happen if the Bulldogs expect to get a road win.
- Two guards lead Illinois in scoring but the big difference maker for this team is budding sophomore Meyers Leonard. The big man anchors the #6 two-point defense and blocks 3.1 shots per game. Leonard is getting it done offensively as well, making 57.1% of his field goals. Sam Maniscalco has been a terrific leader for Bruce Weber, something that Illinois sorely missed over the past four years. In addition to his leadership, the Bradley transfer has lit it up offensively in seven games including a 24-point effort at Maryland in Illinois’ last game. With Brandon Paul and D.J. Richardson joining Maniscalco in the back court, the Illini may actually have an edge over the Zags guards.
- This will be a fun game between two pretty good teams. Gonzaga may be better, but Illinois is flying under the radar at 7-0. If the Fighting Illini can grab a win on their home floor over a solid Zags team, you may see some buzz start to develop around this team. The big match-up to watch is in the middle between Gonzaga’s Robert Sacre and Leonard. It’s not often you see two seven-footers go at it but we will have just that on Saturday. Surprisingly, Gonzaga has struggled percentage-wise from two-point range. Gonzaga is deeper up front but if Leonard and Tyler Griffey can have good defensive games, the Bulldogs could be in trouble. Look for Elias Harris to be the X-factor. Griffey isn’t quick enough to stay with the versatile Harris (averaging a double-double in two career games against Illinois) and you could see him explode for a big day on the road. Gonzaga is the better team but we think Illinois has enough to take this one at home and put itself on the map in the Big Ten.
#17 Marquette @ #7 Wisconsin – 4:30 PM EST Saturday on Big Ten Network (****)
- Under Bo Ryan, Wisconsin has been a model of efficiency. The Badgers proved that once again by nearly knocking off North Carolina in Chapel Hill on Wednesday. Clearly outclassed from a talent perspective, Ryan’s team did a magnificent job controlling the pace and came up just short. Wisconsin needs to do more of the same in this game against in-state rival Marquette. The Golden Eagles prefer the pace to be quicker and also run a highly efficient offensive system. Look for Jordan Taylor to set the tone as usual with Ben Brust providing a spark off the bench and Jared Berggren doing scoring from all kinds of places. Three-point defense was a major problem for Marquette last year, but they seemed to have improved this year albeit against very weak competition. Wisconsin gets 46.1% of its points from the arc and that game plan won’t change. The Badgers don’t hide anything so what you see is what you get.
- For Marquette to win in the black hole known as the Kohl Center, it needs to dominate inside. The Golden Eagles are not going to beat the Badgers at a three-point shooting contest and they are certainly not going to control pace if the North Carolina game was any indication. Marquette is #2 nationally in two-point percentage behind Jae Crowder and Darius Johnson-Odom and must use that to its advantage. However, Wisconsin allows only 34.5% shooting inside the arc, an incredibly low number. It’s going to be tough for the Golden Eagles to score inside but Johnson-Odom and Junior Cadougan have the ability to penetrate. This is going to be a low scoring game and we’re pretty sure Buzz Williams knows he has to win with defense. Marquette has limited opponents to 30.4% shooting from deep this season but, as we said, the competition hasn’t been stellar. This will be a huge test for Marquette in its first true road game of the season.
- Wisconsin holds a 5-4 edge in this series over the past nine years, but did lose at home in 2008. To steal a rare road win in Madison, Vander Blue seems like the guy who has to step up for the visitors. Blue started the season hot but did not play well in Marquette’s last two games. They have to get him going in order to have a good chance in this game. As great as they are, it’s hard to imagine Johnson-Odom and Crowder doing all the work for Marquette. Wisconsin’s style of play is so stubborn and efficient that it seems to be too difficult to beat in the friendly confines of the Kohl Center. Look for a very physical game with the Badgers prevailing.
#10 Baylor @ Northwestern – 4:00 PM EST Sunday on Big Ten Network (***)
- Playing your first true road game seems like a theme this week and the same is true for Baylor. The Bears are undoubtedly more talented than Northwestern, but the Wildcats are exactly the cerebral type of team that can frustrate Baylor. To earn a victory on the road, the Bears need to lock down Northwestern inside, push the pace, and get after it on the boards. Baylor has a distinct height and strength advantage but they must know when to pick their spots defensively. Northwestern uses plenty of screens and backdoor cuts to score points and we’re not sure Baylor is disciplined enough to handle it despite its immense size and talent in the front court. The good news for Baylor is Perry Jones III is back and Northwestern doesn’t play much defense. By controlling the glass, Baylor can push the ball up the floor and beat Northwestern easily in transition. If Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton handle the ball well (not a given), Baylor should win this game.
- Northwestern clearly has a problem dealing with the height and length of the Baylor front court but Drew Crawford and John Shurna pose a big versatility problem for the Bears. They can draw the bigger Baylor defenders out of the paint, opening it up for Bill Carmody’s Princeton system. The Wildcats simply do not turn the ball over so a respectable showing on the boards could lead to a win. Despite its size, Baylor is far from a defensive juggernaut. The Bears are highly vulnerable from the three-point line and that’s exactly where Northwestern has to excel in order to win. Shurna and Crawford will do their part but the Wildcats really need a third option to emerge against this talented Baylor team. Alex Marcotullio and Dave Sobolewski are probably the best bets to do that for Carmody’s team.
- Despite the clear talent edge, this won’t be an easy game for Baylor. Northwestern runs a disciplined, high scoring and efficient offense. The Wildcats won’t be afraid to go inside, especially if their three point shooting opens up the floor. Baylor needs to set the tone right from the start by getting out in transition and locking down the paint defensively. If the Bears can do that, they should win. However, this is a big game for Northwestern’s NCAA resume. Expect the undefeated Wildcats to be fired up at home as it is their only chance to get a quality non-conference win on their home floor.
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