Set Your TiVo: 01.09.12Posted by Brian Otskey on January 9th, 2012
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.
While Monday night isn’t an “official” ESPN Big Monday, we might as well call it that. Sean McDonough, Bill Raftery and Jay Bilas will be on the call in Hartford as the Big East takes center stage this evening.
West Virginia at #14 Connecticut – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN2 (****)
- It was a rough last week for Connecticut as the Huskies fell twice in the state of New Jersey, first at Seton Hall and then at Rutgers on Saturday. Returning to the XL Center in Hartford should give the team some confidence. Turnovers have been the big problem for UConn of late, especially on the most recent road trip. The Huskies committed 33 turnovers in their last two games with eight of those by Andre Drummond in the low post. The Connecticut offense can run smoothly with players like Drummond, Jeremy Lamb, Shabazz Napier, and Ryan Boatright, but the Huskies must limit turnovers against a West Virginia defense that can be taken advantage of in the paint. Jim Calhoun’s team usually plays well when it makes threes but tonight the focus should be inside. West Virginia allows opponents to shoot 48.3% inside the arc and you would think this is the perfect game to get Alex Oriakhiback on track. Using Boatright’s quickness, Napier’s passing ability, and Lamb’s versatility, the Huskies should be able to penetrate the West Virginia defense. Turnovers, of course, would limit that success.
- Aside from a loss at Seton Hall on December 30, West Virginia has been rolling. The Mountaineers beat Georgetown on Saturday and a win tonight would vault them into position for a run at the second spot in the Big East. The Mountaineers are also struggling with turnover issues as Bob Huggins has freshmen playing key roles. West Virginia plays so much better when it makes shots, but not necessarily from the outside. West Virginia’s biggest strength is Kevin Jones and Truck Bryant doing the bulk of the scoring with others chipping in from time to time. Jones had 22 and 16 against Georgetown while Bryant is averaging 27 PPG over his last two outings since a 3-16 shooting performance in the Seton Hall game. Not coincidentally, West Virginia won both teams with relative ease. West Virginia has to get Jones many touches but he’ll be facing his toughest test to date. Connecticut’s interior defense is solid as always, ranked #3 (37.6% against). If West Virginia can’t score inside, it won’t win this game. The Mountaineers have done a tremendous job getting to the foul line in Big East play but UConn historically doesn’t foul a lot with Calhoun at the helm. His big men are adept at blocking shots without breaking the plane of verticality and fouling. However, the Huskies have put opponents on the stripe at a higher than average clip in conference play.
- This game will be a war with two physical and talented teams going at it. You would expect nothing less in a Huggins-Calhoun match-up. Both teams will crash the offensive boards with incredible energy and whoever wins that battle may end up taking the game. West Virginia has better numbers when it comes to defensive rebounding but the Huskies have a great knack for getting second chance opportunities. Should this game come down to the wire, Connecticut has the advantage being at home with better free throw shooters (though not by much). Staying on that theme, look for Napier to try to get to the line often. When he does, Connecticut usually has success. When he doesn’t, it’s tougher for UConn to score in the half court. Based on the recent trends and statistics, some people may think West Virginia has the edge here. That wouldn’t be surprising but we’ll go with the home team in a close one.
Cincinnati at #11 Georgetown – 9:00 PM EST on ESPNU (***)
- The Hoyas had an 11-game winning streak snapped on Saturday afternoon in Morgantown, falling to West Virginia. They will look to get back to their winning ways by defeating a Cincinnati team that is back at full strength but coming off a stinging home loss to St. John’s. Jason Clark, Hollis Thompson (18 PPG last week), and Henry Sims are the principal players for Georgetown, but freshman Otto Porter has added a measure of toughness and rebounding to the team. The Hoyas have a more potent offense than Cincinnati but the Bearcats will try to make this an ugly, low-scoring game like Providence did against Georgetown over a week ago. Clark is the best scorer on the floor for either team and Georgetown should be able to win this game with a good game from its reliable senior and a strong effort on the offensive glass. Cincinnati ranks #265 in defensive rebounding percentage.
- As we said, Mick Cronin and Cincinnati will try to turn this game into a defensive grinder. Offensively, Sean Kilpatrick has to be on top of his game. He needed 21 shots to score 21 points against St. John’s and was a dismal 4-15 from deep in that game. Taking 15 three-pointers is not smart and Kilpatrick has to play more within himself if the Bearcats hope to win this one on the road. Getting Yancy Gates back into the offensive flow will help immensely as well. He has come off the bench in his two games back since the six-game suspension but hasn’t been a major factor. Offensively, Cronin needs Cashmere Wright to run the offense effectively against a strong Georgetown defense, rated in the top 15 in efficiency. The big question will be whether Cincinnati can score enough against Georgetown’s defense. The Bearcats attempt plenty of threes (mostly from Kilpatrick) so those shots are going to have to fall against the Hoyas’ #19 three-point defense.
- We are not sure that Cincinnati has the offense needed to win this game. However, Providence was able to slow the game down and make Georgetown struggle to get into an offensive flow. If the Friars can do it on the road, Cincinnati certainly can. One are of concern for the Bearcats is their two-point percentage (46.6%). That ranks in the bottom half of Division I but they are going to have to score inside if the threes are not falling. Jaquon Parker and Dion Dixon went a combined 0-15 from the floor against St. John’s and that simply can’t happen again. Keep a watchful eye on Georgetown’s ability to get to the foul line. The Hoyas shoot well (72.1%) from the stripe but Cincinnati ranks tenth nationally in defensive free throw rate. If the Bearcats play solid defense and keep the Hoyas off the charity stripe, they’ll be in this game. Georgetown should win this game but it is not automatic. This would be a huge road win for the Bearcats if they can get it.
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