Set Your TiVo: New Year’s Weekend EditionPosted by Brian Otskey on December 30th, 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.
A quality Friday night Big East game leads us into a Saturday full of terrific matchups. There are a couple good games on Sunday, but if you’re going to watch any basketball around the New Year’s holiday, make sure you are in front of a television on Saturday.
West Virginia @ Seton Hall – 9:00 PM EST Friday on ESPN2 (***)
- Since losing at Mississippi State four weeks ago, West Virginia has reeled off six wins in seven tries with the only loss coming in overtime to a top 10 Baylor squad. The Mountaineers have an imposing trio of Kevin Jones, Truck Bryant and Deniz Kilicli but the timely contributions of freshmen such as Jabarie Hinds, Gary Browne, and Aaron Brown have pushed West Virginia over the top in a few of these close games. Bob Huggins runs the vast majority of his offensive sets through Bryant and Jones with Kilicli chipping in as well. West Virginia is not a good outside shooting team but it should be able to take advantage of Seton Hall’s interior defense, rated #258 in two-point percentage.
- Seton Hall ran out to a hot 11-1 start but the reality check came at the hands of Fab Melo and top-ranked Syracuse on Wednesday night. Melo blocked 10 Pirate shots in the blowout win, a game that got out of hand shortly after the opening tip for Seton Hall. Kevin Willard’s team needs to rebound in a big way tonight, the second of three difficult games to open their Big East schedule. Going up against Jones, Herb Pope has to stay on the floor and play a strong game. After a strong start to his season, Pope has averaged only 8.7 PPG over his last three outings. If he doesn’t get well into double figures, Seton Hall will have a hard time winning. Jordan Theodore needs to be a pass-first point guard in this game rather than a guy who shoots 15+ times. Getting Pope, Fuquan Edwin and three point specialist Aaron Cosby involved will be important for the senior Pirate point guard.
- It’s likely that Pope/Jones and Bryant/Theodore cancel each other out meaning the game will be decided by the supporting casts. Kilicli could be that guy for West Virginia while Seton Hall will look to Edwin and/or Cosby to make a winning impact. Edwin had an awful game against Syracuse but he should rebound nicely in front of the home folks and a less imposing front line. These teams have played five overtime games between them and another could be in the offing here. West Virginia is probably the better team but the Hall playing at home evens this contest up. Neither team shoots the ball well from the charity stripe but it’s something that just may decide this game.
#10 Louisville @ #3 Kentucky – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)
- Kentucky has blasted every inferior team it has played this season but the Wildcats have played closer games against Kansas, North Carolina and Indiana. Louisville is the fourth good team Kentucky will see so far, and given the passion in this rivalry, another relatively close game should be expected. The Wildcats are the better team but you can throw rankings and records out in rivalries as bitter as this one. Kentucky must use its superior offensive talent to its advantage, namely Terrence Jones and Doron Lamb. Louisville is highly vulnerable to the deep shot making Lamb a key player. Jones is the best player on the floor and needs to use his versatility to rack up fouls on Louisville’s interior players or step out and knock down a deep ball. Six Kentucky players average double figures and Louisville just can’t match the Wildcats offensively.
- Where Rick Pitino’s team can match Kentucky is on the defensive end. Louisville’s game plan has to be intense full court defense, making Marquis Teague work for every dribble and every pass. Teague averages 3.2 turnovers per game and Louisville is one of the better teams in the nation at forcing turnovers. Offensively, this is not a typical Pitino team. Louisville doesn’t shoot the three-ball well but Gorgui Dieng, Russ Smith and Kyle Kuric can put the ball in the basket. Unfortunately for the Cardinals, they don’t do it consistently enough to be an offensive force as a team. Peyton Siva has to be the catalyst in this game. The quick Louisville point guard has good vision but must cut down on turnovers. If Kentucky is getting runouts, it’s lights out for Louisville.
- It’ll be hard for Louisville to score points on the road against the elite Kentucky defense but the Cardinals can force turnovers and get easy buckets. Both coaches don’t mind speeding up the game but that would favor John Calipari in this particular matchup. Pitino has to design a game plan that adeptly probes the Kentucky defense and gets quality shots. Siva is the key to execute that, plus the Cardinals must crash the boards and get second chance opportunities. That’s easier said than done against Jones and Anthony Davis. Davis has the potential to neutralize Dieng and anyone else who dares enter the paint for Louisville. The Cardinals will defend but they simply lack the offensive firepower needed to win this game at Rupp. We would be surprised if Kentucky loses at home for the first time under Calipari but this will be a fun game to watch regardless.
Illinois @ Purdue – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- The Boilermakers got out of Iowa City with a win on Wednesday night and will look to move to 2-0 in Big Ten play at home against Illinois on Saturday. With Lewis Jackson running the point, Purdue does an outstanding job protecting the basketball. At only 10 turnovers per game, the Boilermakers keep themselves in games and run smart offense. Look for Jackson to set up Robbie Hummel and Ryne Smith from deep against an Illinois defense allowing 35.2% shooting from beyond the arc. Smith is a straight up sniper while Hummel has the versatility to score from anywhere on the floor. Hummel should be able to break free from Tyler Griffey and a big night could be in store for the Purdue senior.
- Illinois’ strength is rebounding and interior defense with sophomore center Meyers Leonard doing a big chunk of that work. Leonard has a size advantage against Purdue’s ultra-thin front court and should touch on most of Illinois’ possessions in order for the Illini to have a chance at a solid road win. The responsibility to get Leonard the ball falls on Sam Maniscalco and Brandon Paul. Maniscalco is a reliable, experienced ball handler but Paul can struggle with turnovers at times. Illinois can’t afford to turn the ball over in a raucous road environment given its relatively inefficient offense (#105).
- Purdue should have a significant edge in this game because it can defend, make threes and is playing at home. The Boilermakers shoot a good amount of threes and Illinois won’t be able to win the game if it can’t hold Purdue in check from beyond the arc. Bruce Weber’s club must get tougher on the perimeter while pounding the ball into Leonard on the low block. If Illinois can come up with one of its better defensive efforts of the season, it will have a chance to upset Purdue on its home floor.
#2 Ohio State @ #15 Indiana – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- Despite its lofty ranking, Ohio State is missing a big piece from last year’s team. The Buckeyes no longer have Jon Diebler to open up opposing defenses and it’s much easier for the opponent to pack it in and try to defend Jared Sullinger inside this season. William Buford (5-7 3pt FG vs. Northwestern) can be that guy but Ohio State is shooting only 34.1% from deep this season. That said, the Buckeyes are still phenomenal on both ends of the floor. Aaron Craft is an extension of Thad Matta on the court while Sullinger is the best big man in the game and Buford may be the most underrated player. However, Indiana plays solid defense and can turn Ohio State into a one-dimensional team on the road. The Buckeyes need to bring their A-game in order to win in a place Kentucky could not.
- The Hoosiers suffered their first loss at Michigan State earlier this week but should be undeterred coming back to Assembly Hall. Another incredible atmosphere will be in place, similar to the Kentucky game. With Christian Watford and Jordan Hulls each hitting over 50% from deep, Indiana is one of the best three point shooting teams in America. The Hoosiers should have a strong edge over Ohio State in that department so if Cody Zeller can contain Sullinger just a little bit, Indiana could easily pull another upset of an elite team. Offensively, Zeller has to touch the ball more. He’s making 65% of his shots and must demand the ball even against the stronger Sullinger. If Zeller can rack up a few early fouls on the Ohio State big man, Indiana will be in the driver’s seat.
- Tom Crean knows his team can win this game after the magical performance against Kentucky earlier this month. While Sullinger in the middle, Craft at the point and Buford on the wing tip the scales in Ohio State’s favor, Indiana may conjure up some more Assembly Hall magic and take this game. We’ll call the Hoosiers slight favorites at home against the #2 team in the land.
#21 Creighton @ Wichita State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)
- The Shockers have ripped off eight straight wins since losing a pair of games at the Puerto Rico Tip-Off in November. This is an important game for both teams, one that could have Missouri Valley Conference title implications. The Shockers are the more balanced team as they bring a strong defense to the table along with a quality offense. While Creighton has the best player on the floor in Doug McDermott, Wichita State does a terrific job defending the three and cleaning the glass. Against a Creighton team that shoots the eyes out of the basketball from deep, Wichita State’s three point defense will come in handy. The Shockers can score too, putting five players in double figures and averaging 80 PPG. Gregg Marshall’s team has settled in and is the favorite in the MVC.
- Creighton can win this game but it must put forth a defensive effort not seen to date against quality opposition. Against San Diego State, St. Joe’s, Northwestern and Missouri State, Creighton is averaging a defensive efficiency of 113.6. For some perspective, that would rank #340 out of 345 Division I teams. Greg McDermott simply can’t have another lackluster defensive effort on the road against a quality defensive team. Creighton won’t be able to win this game on offense alone.
- Wichita State has averaged 89.2 PPG over its last six games and, while they may not hit 90, a score in the 80’s is a definite possibility at home against the Creighton defense. The Bluejays are a good basketball team but until they prove they can defend, we can’t pick them to win a game like this in a hostile road environment.
#25 St. Louis @ New Mexico – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on The Mtn (***)
- Aside from a stunning loss to Loyola Marymount, St. Louis has rolled through an incredibly soft schedule. The Billikens’ first true test comes Saturday at the Pit, one of the toughest places to play in all of college basketball. Senior forward Brian Conklin leads St. Louis in scoring at 15 PPG but Rick Majerus’ team will have to disrupt the offensive flow of a New Mexico team that assists on a stunning 69.8% of its made field goals. You hear people say St. Louis doesn’t beat itself and they’re right. The Billikens are fundamentally sound and efficient on both ends. However, they have a hole to fill on the boards going up against New Mexico’s Drew Gordon. If the Lobos are earning extra possessions through exceptional rebounding, the pendulum swings in their direction.
- Steve Alford has a good thing going in Albuquerque as the Lobos should contend with UNLV for the Mountain West title. Disrupting St. Louis point guard Kwamain Mitchell needs to be a key part of Alford’s game plan. Kendall Williams can certainly do that but others need to help out. Offensively, Williams has to facilitate New Mexico’s strong three point attack. Led by Tony Snell, the Lobos shoot a robust 38.4% from deep on an average of nearly 20 attempts per game. Similarly, St. Louis also shoots plenty of threes and actually converts at a much better clip (43.7%). If New Mexico can’t stop Cody Ellis and Mitchell, St. Louis can win this game on the road.
- Both teams are rated in the top 15 nationally in defensive efficiency so you can expect a low scoring affair despite the three point prowess of both teams. With the rebounding of Gordon and the three point shooting of Snell, New Mexico has a very good chance to add a quality win to a resume with some decent (but nothing great) wins on it. St. Louis has played only two road games and none of them will be in an atmosphere like the Pit. This should be a very entertaining game with a slight edge towards the home standing Lobos.
Gonzaga @ #20 Xavier – 8:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- Hard times have hit Xavier since its brawl against Cincinnati. The Musketeers have lost three out of their four games since that day and now face a Gonzaga team heading in the opposite direction. The Zags have won five straight games since a pair of losses to Big Ten foes Illinois and Michigan State. Chris Mack has to get his team in the right frame of mind before entertaining a team as talented as Gonzaga. That starts on defense. Xavier is ranked ninth in three point percentage against, a very important statistic against a Gonzaga team that shoots the three fairly well and relies on it for a good chunk of its points. Perhaps Gonzaga’s biggest strength is getting to the charity stripe and outscoring opponents from the line. Xavier is an awful free throw shooting team so it will have to make shots in order to win. Tu Holloway can’t be forcing up shots all the time. He has to be in pass-first mode in this game, getting Kenny Frease and Mark Lyons involved early and often. Frease can do damage by scoring and racking up fouls on Gonzaga’s big men, something that will allow Xavier’s defense to key in stronger on Pangos and Gary Bell.
- Kevin Pangos continues to have an outstanding freshman season for Mark Few but the bigger development for Gonzaga may be Elias Harris’ emergence. He scored 25 points in a win over Arizona and is now averaging 13/8. If Harris can be a reliable scorer alongside Pangos and Robert Sacre, Gonzaga can do a lot of damage. Sacre has to be more consistent and that has to start in this game on the road. Sacre has averaged just 6.8 PPG over his last five, a disappointing number for a guy with talent. He may have issues scoring against Frease, another seven footer who’s strong and aggressive. To win on the road, Gonzaga has to make threes. They should anticipate Mack focusing his defense on Pangos and Bell so an offense full of strong cuts and lots of ball screening action could get the Bulldogs’ shooters free against Xavier’s defense.
- These teams stack up nicely against one another but Xavier should have the edge playing in the Cintas Center. Gonzaga won last year’s match-up out west but it’ll be hard to duplicate that on the road, even against a Xavier team that perhaps isn’t as strong as it was pre-Cincinnati brawl. The suspensions seemed to deflate this team even when Lyons and Holloway returned. This is a terrific opportunity for the Musketeers to get back on the right track against a quality opponent.
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