Set Your TiVo: 12.16.11 to 12.18.11Posted by Brian Otskey on December 16th, 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.
With Dead Week mercifully over, we finally have some good games to enjoy this Saturday despite Sunday being a very slow day in the hoops world.
#6 Baylor @ BYU – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on BYU TV (****)
- The Bears have had difficulty on the road in past seasons but they already passed one important test, demolishing Northwestern in Chicago a couple weeks ago. This game, however, will be an even better measure to see where the highly-rated Bears are really at. The Marriott Center is a notoriously difficult place to play but Baylor has a clear talent edge in this game. BU welcomes Gary Franklin, now eligible after the first semester, to an already highly skilled roster. Franklin didn’t play all that well at California last season but he was a four star recruit out of high school. He should help the Bears out at the point guard position, a place where turnovers are still an issue. Baylor averages 16 turnovers a game and that will be dangerous playing on the road against a team like BYU that likes to push the pace. 5.8 of those 16 turnovers come from the point guard position so Scott Drew is hoping that Franklin can help handle the ball. How Franklin will fit in alongside Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton remains a question mark.
- BYU’s top six scorers are all 6’5” or taller, an important factor against the length and athleticism of Baylor’s front line. Noah Hartsock, Brandon Davies and Charles Abouo do the bulk of the damage for Dave Rose, as those three are his top scorers and rebounders. Hartsock in particular has been outstanding, scoring in double figures in every game thus far. All three will have to play well in order for BYU to pull the upset because Baylor’s front court is strong, deep and talented. With Quincy Acy blocking 3.3 shots a game, BYU’s big men should find it more difficult to score inside on Saturday. The Cougars have to get their outside game going as well. Baylor’s defense is very average against the three and BYU has three big deep threats, Abouo, Stephen Rogers and Brock Zylstra. Going up against the top-ranked interior defense in the nation, BYU needs its outside shots to fall in order to win. However, the Cougars can’t afford to settle for threes if they aren’t falling. They must get something going in the paint, even against such a strong defense, in order to balance out their offense.
- This is an important game for both clubs. Baylor has played only two teams of note so far while BYU’s best win is over a mediocre Oregon team. Baylor shoots well (49.1% FG) but the biggest difference this season has been its defense. The Bears allow only 33.3% shooting inside the arc and their defensive efficiency has been terrific. Both teams get most of their offense from their respective front courts but Baylor may have the ultimate edge with Cory Jefferson off the bench. He adds some scoring punch and, more importantly, rebounding and depth for the Bears. For the Cougars to win, they’ll have to force turnovers to get points in transition because it’ll be awfully tough to score inside in the half court. In addition to making its threes, BYU must rebound well and get to the line while putting the Baylor big men in foul trouble. However, BYU ranks #295 in free throw rate and Baylor doesn’t foul too often. Although BYU rarely loses at home, this is a game Baylor can win. There are some who still doubt the Bears but a win here would put them on their way towards legitimate national recognition.
Texas A&M vs. #10 Florida (at Sunrise, FL) – 2:30 PM EST Saturday on FSN (***)
- Florida’s top-rated offense will be put to the test against the stout Texas A&M defense. The Aggies have played a very poor schedule to date but they are #2 in eFG% defense and third in three point percentage defense (23.6%). That will be very important against a Florida team that loves the triple, getting 39.2% of its points from beyond the arc. Getting Brad Beal, Mike Rosario, Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton going early will be very important against Texas A&M’s stifling perimeter defense.
- Billy Kennedy’s team got a huge boost last week when Khris Middleton returned to the lineup. He scored 24 points in a win against Louisiana Monroe and will play a huge role in this game. Texas A&M really struggles to shoot and score so a guy as talented and versatile as Middleton is an incredibly important piece of the puzzle. The Aggies must protect the ball against Florida. If Texas A&M allows the Gators to get out in transition, the pace will quicken and Florida will simply outscore A&M. Florida controls the ball well so turnover margin could be a big factor. Texas A&M is almost exclusively an interior team, getting 64.8% of its scoring from two point range. In addition to that, the Aggies must rebound well. If they can’t control the boards, Florida will control the pace and win the game rather easily. The good news for A&M is that the Gators are much deeper in the back court than the front court. The Aggies have Middleton, Ray Turner and David Loubeau up front to take care of the work on the boards. Texas A&M should be able to score some points inside as well because Florida allows 67.2 PPG as a whole.
- This match-up is a fantastic contrast of styles. Texas A&M plays at a slower pace, priding itself on defense, while getting the vast majority of its points in the paint. By contrast, Florida would prefer a quicker pace with lots of three pointers. The Aggies are clearly the better defensive team but this game may come down to the play of Patric Young in the paint. The Florida big man shoots 58.7% and will have to play well if the Gators’ threes aren’t falling against A&M’s strong perimeter defense. If the game is close, keep an eye on the foul line. Neither team shoots it well from the charity stripe but that would likely decide a close contest.
Memphis @ #11 Louisville – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (regional coverage) (****)
- This old Conference USA rivalry is finally renewed again as Louisville hosts a Memphis team coming off a home loss to upstart Murray State, the team that knocked Louisville out of last year’s NCAA Tournament. Memphis may actually be more talented than Louisville but the Cardinals play so much better as a unit, are home, and tout the #2 defense in the nation. Louisville has not played that well offensively but has excelled on the other end of the floor. The Cardinals two point defense is ranked third, plus they grab nine steals per game led by Peyton Siva’s 3.4.
- Memphis has done a much better job protecting the ball this season but the Tigers have to take that to the next level on the road against such a strong defensive team looking for steals at every opportunity. Turnovers will be huge because Memphis will likely have a difficult time scoring in the half court. Louisville’s defense is just too strong and you have to figure Pitino will key in on Will Barton, averaging 20/8 while scoring 22+ points in six of eight Memphis games. The Tigers have a major rebounding problem against Louisville, especially if Rakeem Buckles plays. Pitino said he may even start after coming back from a torn ACL last season. Buckles adds even more defensive toughness and rebounding to a team that’s already strong in both departments. Tarik Black has to have a terrific game in the paint for Memphis in order to combat Louisville’s interior strength.
- Rick Pitino is not used to seeing his teams shoot poorly from three point land but that’s what he’s facing with this year’s group. The Cardinals have to win this game with defense and rebounding, two areas where they have a major advantage. Louisville’s length up front could very well be the difference in the basketball game. Keep your eye on Kevin Ware for Louisville and Charles Carmouche and Ferrakohn Hall for Memphis. Ware and Hall are now eligible and should play while Carmouche has been reinstated according to Josh Pastner. Those three players will add some more depth to each side, especially for Memphis. Louisville has been dominant at home since their new building opened last year and they should be a comfortable favorite in this game as well.
#23 UNLV vs. #22 Illinois (at Chicago, IL) – 5:00 PM EST Saturday on Big Ten Network (***)
- Bruce Weber has his team off to a 10-0 start but the Fighting Illini will face their toughest opponent yet after playing a very soft schedule over the first month of the season. Illinois should take a page out of Wisconsin’s playbook from last week and slow the game down. UNLV thrives at a quick pace, something the Illini aren’t all that comfortable with. It has been proven time and time again that it is easier to slow a game down than to speed it up and that’s what Illinois will have to do in order to win. To control the pace of the game, Illinois has to limit turnovers and rebound well. Protecting the ball may not be as difficult a challenge as you might think but Illinois faces a very strong rebounder in Mike Moser. Illinois is not nearly as deep as UNLV up front so any kind of foul trouble for Tyler Griffey and Meyers Leonard could spell trouble for Weber’s team.
- The Runnin’ Rebels like to shoot the three and that’s what may win them this game. Illinois ranks #212 in three point percentage defense so you can bet Chace Stanback, Oscar Bellfield and Justin Hawkins are licking their chops. The Rebels have to make threes and rebound the basketball well if they want to overwhelm Illinois. Moser has to step up inside as well as he’s cooled off significantly after a red hot start to the season. Over his past three games, Moser is still rebounding well but only averaging 5.3 PPG. With Moser struggling, Dave Rice may have to ask Carlos Lopez to step in and provide quality minutes up front. Lopez had 11 points against UTEP on Wednesday night and a repeat performance would serve UNLV very well. Defensively, UNLV isn’t good at defending the three either. The Rebels have to do a better job there and prevent D.J. Richardson and Sam Maniscalco from knocking down a bunch of triples and taking control of the game.
- UNLV is better offensively but the Rebels are just 1-2 on the road with the one win coming in double overtime at UC Santa Barbara. This is effectively a road game, played on the “neutral” floor at the United Center. While Illinois does a good job on both sides of the ball in the paint, it is not loaded with lots of quality front court players. In fact, only Griffey and Leonard are reliable interior players for Weber’s team. If UNLV is to win this game, it will have to make threes and get Moser going again offensively. Making threes shouldn’t be a problem against Illinois’ defense but establishing Moser could be very tough against Leonard and Griffey. However, any kind of foul trouble for the Illinois big men could swing the momentum heavily in UNLV’s favor. Despite some shaky performances on the road, we feel UNLV is the better team and could easily win this. If the game was being played in Champaign, Illinois would have more of an edge.
#2 Syracuse @ NC State – 6:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- While Syracuse is rated #1 in both the AP and ESPN/USA Today Coaches Polls, the Orange couldn’t quite crack the top spot here at RTC. Regardless, this is still a tremendously deep and talented team with national championship aspirations. Playing their first road game of the season will be a good test for the Orange as they head to Raleigh on Saturday. In fact, this is Syracuse’s first non-conference true road game in three years, the last coming at Memphis on December 20, 2008. To win on the road, Syracuse must keep doing what it does best: forcing turnovers, scoring in transition and defending. NC State is highly suspect defensively (71.4 PPG) so the Orange should be able to put up a lot of points. Dion Waiters has been a tremendous spark off the bench for Jim Boeheim’s team, one that goes a legitimate nine to ten deep at times. Syracuse is highly efficient on both ends of the floor and should even be able to score some points from the three point line against NC State’s #315-ranked three point defense despite its mediocre deep ball percentage.
- Syracuse is second in the country in defensive turnover percentage making it vital that NC State protect the ball on its home floor. Additionally, the Wolfpack have to control the boards if they have any hope of pulling the upset. Mark Gottfried has some size up front in C.J. Leslie and Richard Howell but Syracuse can match or exceed that with Rakeem Christmas and Fab Melo. NC State’s Scott Wood could be the X-factor in this game. Aside from him, the Wolfpack are atrocious shooting the three. As most folks know, opponents settle for a lot of triples against Syracuse’s 2-3 zone. However, Wood is 6’6” tall and has the length and talent to knock down plenty of trifectas. Wood is shooting an eye-popping 56.8% from deep this season and must find the range again on Saturday to give NC State a chance.
- The Wolfpack have improved this year under Gottfried but we’re afraid they don’t have enough interior scoring or three point shooting to defeat Syracuse. Boeheim will key in defensively on Wood, pretty much the only NC State player who can burn the Orange from deep. Syracuse is supremely confident in its interior defense to limit Howell, Leslie and DeShawn Painter in the paint. NC State has the potential to hang close for a while but expect the Orange to pull away late. Anything can happen in college basketball, especially when a team has the #1 target on its back, but one would think the Wolfpack just doesn’t have the quality defense and shot making ability needed to defeat the deep and talented Orange roster.
#21 Alabama vs. Kansas State (at Kansas City, MO) – 10:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (***)
- Kansas State will be the de-facto home team on Saturday night, playing at the Sprint Center in Kansas City. This is a game the Wildcats would love to have on this “neutral” floor, especially considering their double-overtime loss to West Virginia last week in Wichita. This is a game that will likely come down to interior play and Kansas State can certainly hold its own in the paint. Thomas Gipson and Jamar Samuels form a quality team in the post but Alabama puts forth its own in JaMychal Green and Tony Mitchell. The Wildcats must contain the Crimson Tide up front because Alabama will likely control the pace and get some points in transition. If Kansas State’s front court can’t out-perform Alabama’s, Anthony Grant’s team will be in prime winning position.
- As mentioned, Alabama’s strength is up front with Green and Mitchell. However, Kansas State has the edge in the back court with Will Spradling and Rodney McGruder. If those players are able to penetrate against Alabama’s strong defense, that will open up plenty of looks for the rest of the Kansas State roster. The most important thing for Frank Martin’s guards may be to get to the foul line. Alabama’s defensive free throw rate is not good and the Wildcats will need as many points as they can from the line. However, only Spradling is a consistent enough shooter from the charity stripe. Especially in a road environment, it is important that Alabama keep the KSU guards off the foul line. Grant doesn’t want fouls quickly racking up on his big men, an area where he has an advantage. The Crimson Tide can limit Kansas State in transition by rebounding well and limiting turnovers, in addition to forcing some of their own. Kansas State prefers to play at a quick pace but averages 15 turnovers per game. By contrast, Alabama is much more comfortable making this game a half court defensive struggle.
- Alabama has lost two of its past three games since starting the season 7-0. Getting a win here would be very important for the team’s confidence, as well as picking up a quality non-conference win away from home for its NCAA resume. Both teams are awful from the three point line so expect this game to be determined by defense and interior scoring. Both clubs play terrific defense and aren’t afraid to get on the floor and go after loose balls. We’re looking for a very close game that may come down to the final possession or two, similar to Kansas State’s game with West Virginia last week.
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