Set Your TiVo: 12.09.11 to 12.11.11Posted by Brian Otskey on December 9th, 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.
It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor’s Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]
#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)
- Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
- The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
- This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.
Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
- Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
- These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.
#19 UNLV @ #14 Wisconsin – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on Big Ten Network (****)
- Wisconsin will yet again try to impose its style of play on another up-tempo opponent, just as they did against North Carolina in Chapel Hill. However, the Badgers are facing a team that has already knocked off the powerhouse Tar Heels. Bo Ryan and his team boast the #1 defensive efficiency in the land and a top five defense in both two- and three-point percentages. The Badgers will slow the game down at every chance, trying to limit a UNLV team that thrives in transition. Playing at home, the formula is simple: make threes, rebound and play solid defense. It’s also important for Jordan Taylor to get back on track. The senior point guard is shooting only 39.6% from the floor and turned the ball over a shockingly high five times in a home loss to Marquette last week. Similar to UNLV, Marquette has quick guards. Dave Rice should be all over that game tape since he has two quick guards himself, Anthony Marshall and Justin Hawkins (3.9 steals between them), to throw at Taylor. Wisconsin will win if it stays deliberate and takes care of the ball, but some extra effort may be required to do that against a Runnin’ Rebel defense hunting for turnovers like sharks.
- Playing on the road, it won’t be easy for the Rebels to turn Wisconsin over or get them out of their rhythm. UNLV must be patient and stay grounded defensively for the entire shot clock while picking certain spots to try for turnovers. Offensively, UNLV has the chops to play a slower game. While the Rebels would love to run, they assist on a whopping 68.6% of made field goals (Marshall and Oscar Bellfield do a terrific job), showing they move the ball well while looking for a good shot. UNLV is quicker and more athletic than Wisconsin and the big key will be the play of Mike Moser inside. Moser has been nothing short of a beast in the first month of the season and he must continue dominating the paint in order for the Rebels to pull out a road win at the Kohl Center. Wisconsin rebounds pretty well so second-chance opportunities will be crucial to UNLV’s success. With Moser and Chace Stanback finding their way to the glass, the Rebels can bang with the Badgers and pick up the loose change around the basket.
- Both teams shoot a lot of three pointers but the Badgers have been flat out amazing from deep so far. Josh Gasser and Ben Brust are draining triples with regularity, plus UNLV allows opponents to shoot 37.2% from the arc (#267 nationally). Wisconsin has a clear edge on the perimeter so the only way for UNLV to win is to create turnovers, own the glass and dominate inside. While it may be able to do one or two of those, we don’t expect UNLV to be able to do all three on the road. The Rebels have struggled in two road games, winning in overtime at UC Santa Barbara before getting blown out by Joe Ragland’s three-point barrage at Wichita State. UNLV is better in the paint, has more depth overall and is 3-1 against Wisconsin since 2001, but the Badgers should be able to control the pace and own the great equalizer, the three-point line. This game should be close but expect Wisconsin to come out on top at home.
#2 Ohio State @ #13 Kansas – 3:15 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- There is one overriding factor heading into this game. Will Jared Sullinger, bothered by back spasms, be able to play? We’re going to assume the big fella will tough it out and give it a go but there’s certainly a possibility he won’t be in the lineup, changing the complexion of this matchup in a big way. With Sullinger playing, this will be an incredible battle in the paint between two likely All-Americans. Kansas’ Thomas Robinson (17.4 PPG, 12.0 RPG) may be the toughest big man Sully sees all year and this will come on the road in a game where he won’t be 100% healthy if he plays. With an improved Jeff Withey, Bill Self’s latest player to make a dramatic year-to-year jump, alongside Robinson, Ohio State has its hands full in the paint.
- To win, Kansas must protect the basketball. The Jayhawks turn the ball over 15 times per game, led by Tyshawn Taylor’s four. Coming off 22 turnovers in their last game, Kansas, and Taylor, specifically, now faces arguably the toughest on-ball defender in the game, Ohio State’s Aaron Craft. Picking up 2.9 steals per game while making you work hard on every possession, Craft is a defensive pest unlike any other. Given the statistics, don’t be surprised if Craft locks up Taylor for 40 minutes. If that happens, Kansas won’t be able to run its offensive sets and consequently won’t be able to win, even if Sullinger doesn’t play. Ohio State forces turnovers at the fourth-highest rate in the nation and that’s bad news for Kansas.
- Despite the statistics pointing against them, Kansas at home always has a chance to win this game. After all, games aren’t played on paper. Regardless of Sullinger’s status, Kansas has to do a great job defensively on William Buford and Deshaun Thomas. Craft can score but he’s a true point guard who sets up the offense and gets others involved. Those others, Buford and Thomas, are critical to Ohio State’s success. Buford is coming off a 1-7 FG performance against Texas-Pan American but the Buckeyes’ top two scorers after Sullinger have a height edge over their KU counterparts. Travis Releford, Elijah Johnson or Connor Teahan may be assigned that task, or Self could experiment with a zone to keep his front court out of foul trouble. This edge could be the difference in the game for Ohio State as we could easily see Buford and Thomas going off for 30+ points combined. Kansas obviously has a better chance if Sullinger doesn’t play but we’re going to give the Buckeyes the edge with or without their man in the middle.
#1 Kentucky @ Indiana – 5:15 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- This will be Kentucky’s first true road game and what an incredible atmosphere it should be inside Assembly Hall. Indiana has the chance to be relevant this season for the first time in many years and a win over Kentucky would put the Hoosiers back on the national stage for good. Of course, beating UK is easier said than done. Kentucky has had one full week to prepare for this game since beating North Carolina last Saturday and has a clear frontcourt edge over its IU counterparts. While Tom Crean has Cody Zeller in the middle along with Christian Watford, John Calipari has Anthony Davis along with Terrence Jones and Michael Kidd-Gilchrist alongside him. While Zeller is tremendous, he may be severely limited by Davis, a shot-blocking demon. Kentucky has more pure talent than Indiana but you never know how a team that starts three freshmen and two sophomores will react in what will be a fantastic road setting.
- To win this game, Indiana has to come up with a herculean effort on the boards. Rebounding has to be a major concern for Crean given Kentucky’s 44 RPG average and incredible ability to block and alter shots. Kentucky ranks second in the nation when it comes to two-point percentage defense, meaning Indiana will have to establish its three-point shooting in order to open up the paint a bit. While they are totally different players, Indiana’s Jordan Hulls will have to play the role of North Carolina’s P.J. Hairston in order for the Hoosiers to have a legitimate chance. Hairston kept UNC in the game against the Wildcats last week with his splendid outside shooting and the 6’0” Hulls will have to do the same in this game. Indiana has impressive shooting numbers but a lot of that has been racked up against poor competition. Against the fourth-ranked overall defense in the land, those numbers will be put to the test right from the get-go.
- This is Crean’s best team since he set foot in Bloomington, but beating Kentucky will require a flawless effort for 40 minutes. Indiana is good but we’re not sure the Hoosiers are up to the challenge just yet against such a highly talented opponent. Indiana certainly has a chance because it has nothing to lose and will have an incredibly supportive crowd, but Kentucky is too good to lose on talent alone. If they are to win, the Hoosiers have to beat the Wildcats with intensity, focus and smart offense for the entire game. We’ll take Kentucky here but this will be a very fun game to watch given the circumstances in Bloomington.
Michigan State @ #25 Gonzaga – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- Mark Few has never been afraid to challenge his team out of conference and this year is no exception. Gonzaga just returned from Illinois and still has games remaining with Arizona and Xavier after this tilt with Michigan State. Back at home, Gonzaga needs to work on its defense. The Bulldogs surrendered 53.3% shooting to Illinois in a loss last week and has been terrible against the three, a disturbing trend over Few’s tenure in Spokane. Luckily for the Zags, Michigan State is making threes at only a 30.4% clip so far this season. If that continues, Gonzaga will knock off another quality opponent.
- Similar to Few, Tom Izzo has always scheduled up and this year hasn’t been any different. Michigan State has won seven consecutive games since opening up with back-to-back losses to North Carolina and Duke on neutral courts. The Spartans rank eighth in defensive efficiency and crash the offensive boards with success, two hallmarks of classic Izzo teams. Despite Gonzaga’s height, Michigan State has the edge on the glass in this game. If the Spartans, led by Draymond Green, hustle and work hard for position, they will come away with plenty of second chance opportunities, an important factor in winning on the road. Green does it all for the Spartans and will be matched up with Elias Harris in what should be a terrific battle between two highly talented forwards.
- Michigan State can definitely win this game. If the Spartans can establish the post early with Green and Adreian Payne, the perimeter will open up for Keith Appling, Brandon Wood and Travis Trice. While the Spartans haven’t shot it well from deep, playing Gonzaga and its lackluster three-point defense could be just what the doctor ordered. To do that however, MSU has to get it going in the paint right away. For Gonzaga, they need to get to the free throw line and force Michigan State into turnovers. The Bulldogs have a terrific free throw rate, getting to the stripe on over 50% of their possessions. Racking up fouls on Michigan State’s big men will open up the paint allowing Harris and Robert Sacre to go to work. The Spartans turn the ball over 15 times per game but simply can’t afford a number like that in a hostile environment far from home. Defensively, Michigan State has to locate Kevin Pangos and Gary Bell at all times, Gonzaga’s two biggest three-point threats. If the Zags are hitting from three-point land, Izzo will be forced to extend his defense thereby opening up holes for Gonzaga’s guards to penetrate and dish to the bigs. Expect a hard fought, competitive game that likely won’t get out of hand on either end. It’s tough to win on the road, especially in a place like the Kennel, but Michigan State has the talent and toughness to do it. However, we will give the edge to the home team in this contest.
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