Set Your TiVo: 12.23.11Posted by Brian Otskey on December 23rd, 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.
Las Vegas is the place to be on this Friday night before Christmas. Sin City hosts three quality basketball games at two different venues this evening .
California @ #20 UNLV – 5:00 PM EST on CBS Sports Network (****)
- Chace Stanback was simply fantastic for the Runnin’ Rebels on Monday against Louisiana-Monroe, scoring 29 points on 10-13 shooting (including 8-9 from downtown). UNLV needs its swingman to have another solid game against a very good California team. The Rebels play fast and shoot lots of threes but Mike Moser can have the biggest impact on the game in the post. When Moser is playing well, it’s so much easier for Dave Rice’s team to get open looks from deep. Playing that inside-outside game with good distributors at the guard position in Anthony Marshall and Oscar Bellfield, UNLV has no problem getting into an up-and-down game where it’s often easier for them to make shots in transition. The Rebels are a well-balanced team capable of hanging plenty of points on the opposition.
- California has been dealing with plenty of health issues recently. Senior leaders Jorge Gutierrez and Harper Kamp have been fighting illnesses while Richard Solomon is out with a stress fracture. Gutierrez and Kamp should play tonight and that will be important as the Golden Bears need to show poise in a tough environment on the road. Guards Gutierrez and Justin Cobbs need to play smart and control the tempo by protecting the ball and running efficient half court sets. Cobbs had 25 points on 10-12 FG against UC Santa Barbara on Monday for the 10-2 Golden Bears. California doesn’t shoot many threes but Allen Crabbe is a big time deep threat for Mike Montgomery. The budding sophomore hits on 45.8% of his triples and represents a major threat to a UNLV defense ranked #205 against the three-ball.
- Cal’s two losses have come against the better teams on its schedule. This is another chance for the Golden Bears to prove they’re the best team in a watered down Pac-12, something they’ve yet to do in convincing fashion. California has a strong interior defense led by Kamp and freshman David Kravish, although the absence of Solomon could cause problems if Cal’s big men get in foul trouble. Cal needs to control the backboards against Moser and company. If Gutierrez and Cobbs can control tempo, Cal will have a good chance to pull off the road victory. One area to watch is if Cal can keep UNLV off the foul line. The Golden Bears have the #4 defensive free throw rate, an important statistic against a Rebels team that shoots 73.4% from the stripe. With all of that being said however, it’s hard to predict a Golden Bears victory in what should be a raucous Thomas and Mack Center. California hasn’t proven it can win a big game yet and until they do, UNLV has to be the choice.
#5 Baylor vs. West Virginia (at Las Vegas, NV) – 9:00 PM EST on ESPN (****)
- Baylor’s impressive win over St. Mary’s last night in Vegas moved the Bears to 11-0 on the season as they are looking like a legitimate top 10 team. This team is incredibly talented and will hold a significant edge over West Virginia on paper. Baylor’s strength is interior scoring and defense. West Virginia struggles mightily to shoot from the outside so the less-talented Mountaineers are going to have to score a lot in the paint against Baylor’s second-ranked interior defense. With Perry Jones III, Quincy Miller and Quincy Acy leading the way up front, that’s going to be a tough task for West Virginia, to say the least.
- Bob Huggins earned career win #700 last night against Missouri State but it wasn’t easy. Gary Browne hit a crazy three-pointer to send the game into overtime where the Mountaineers hung on for the win. In order to defeat Baylor, Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli have to have huge games inside. Jones has been terrific all season but Kilicli is inconsistent at times. He needs to use his left hand as an advantage, although Scott Drew would be crazy not to point out Kilicli’s dominant hand to his team after watching film. While West Virginia does not have the talent of Baylor, the Mountaineers possess the toughness needed to make this a game. Baylor was out-worked on the glass at BYU last week and Huggins teams always rebound the ball well. WVU needs to dominate the boards in order to get plenty of second chance points because it is not going to score very often in half court sets.
- Both teams average 15 turnovers per game. For West Virginia to win, it must have a significant edge in turnover margin as well as in rebounding. The Mountaineers have to force turnovers and grab rebounds in order to score some easy baskets given Baylor’s stifling front line. Defensively, Jones has to stay out of foul trouble and WVU can’t allow Brady Heslip to go off from deep. The Canadian shoots 45.5% from beyond the arc and can really light up the opposition. If this game comes down to free throws, Baylor has a significant edge. If the Mountaineers don’t play well above the level of play they’ve shown so far this season, it’ll be lights out for West Virginia.
St. Mary’s vs. Missouri State (at Las Vegas, NV) – 11:30 PM EST no ESPN3.com (***)
- The Gaels couldn’t muster enough offense to make Baylor sweat last night and were outclassed on the boards. St. Mary’s has the best defensive rebounding percentage in the country but Baylor was too tough for them inside. Against Missouri State, St. Mary’s should find success on the glass a bit easier. Rob Jones averages a double-double for Randy Bennett. At 6’6”/240 lbs, Jones is undersized height-wise but has a very strong body. He’s able to out-work taller players and the results have helped St. Mary’s to a 10-2 record. Offensively, the Gaels love the trifecta. St. Mary’s shoots about 24 threes per game on average with Clint Steindl representing the biggest threat at 43.9%. Almost everyone on the team can step out and knock down a triple so Paul Lusk’s team has to be on its toes defensively.
- Missouri State has a go-to guy in Kyle Weems but the senior swingman’s shooting numbers have taken a dive this season. Still, Weems averages 14.6/7.5, leading the Bears in both departments. Lusk’s defense is very strong inside, ranking #6 nationally in two point percentage against. While St. Mary’s shoots lots of threes, it also shoots a high percentage inside the arc. Stopping the Gaels from scoring there could be the key to a Missouri State win, provided the Bears put forth a respectable defensive effort on the arc. DePaul transfer Michael Bizoukas has done an admirable job running Missouri State’s offense, dishing out 6.2 APG. Bizoukas is not much of an offensive threat but he’s a good facilitator for this team’s offensive attack. 6’11” center Caleb Patterson is second on the team in scoring but he has to be more aggressive on the boards against Jones and St. Mary’s tonight.
- St. Mary’s should have a big rebounding advantage in this game. Missouri State has to force turnovers and keep the Gaels off the foul line in order to have a chance down the stretch. Missouri State’s free throw rates are awful, plus St. Mary’s shoots 72.6% from the charity stripe. The Bears can force turnovers, especially from Matthew Dellavedova (3.2 per game). Missouri State played well against a better team (West Virginia) last night and should do so again against St. Mary’s. However, the Bears are 0-4 against all the good teams they’ve played while going 7-0 against the rest of their schedule. This would be a good time for Missouri State to break through but St. Mary’s has to be considered the favorite in this match-up.
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