Set Your TiVo: 01.13-01.15Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 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.
A couple of Mountain West battles highlight Saturday’s action but the big one is late Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten.
#14 Connecticut @ Notre Dame – 11:00 AM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
- Led by Andre Drummond’s 20/11 on 9-11 FG, Connecticut got back on track by defeating West Virginia on Monday night. To win on the road, the Huskies will need quality efforts from most of their roster. That starts with Shabazz Napier protecting the basketball. Jim Calhoun’s sophomore point guard sets the tone for this team, good or bad. Napier (and UConn as a whole) has struggled with turnovers, especially in Big East play. On the road against a team looking to make its mark in the middle of the conference, the Huskies have to do a better job handing the ball if they are to win this one. The more possessions UConn can earn by using its strong rebounding advantage while minimizing turnovers, the more opportunities there will be for talented players such as Drummond, Jeremy Lamb (25 points vs. WVU) and Ryan Boatright to score.
- Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually has an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. 37 at-large bids have to come from somewhere and the Fighting Irish are on the bubble according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This will be a tall order for Notre Dame, even at home. The Irish have won 29 consecutive home games but that will be tested mightily against the Huskies. The emergence of Jack Cooley in the paint could be the biggest reason why Notre Dame has a chance to upset UConn. Cooley has averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG over his last eight games, the latest Notre Dame big man to develop nicely under Mike Brey. However, Cooley will likely have a more difficult time against Connecticut’s stifling interior defense. The Huskies have always owned the paint under Calhoun and this year is no different. Notre Dame has to make outside shots in order to win because it can’t count on Cooley alone inside. Jerian Grant has turned into a consistent scorer but the Irish need a third option. Brey had hoped Scott Martin would be that guy but he has really struggled. However, Martin is impacting the game in other ways, rebounding well even when the shots aren’t falling. Notre Dame must try to get to the foul line as well. UConn historically doesn’t foul often so this could be difficult even at home.
- If Drummond plays like he did against West Virginia, the Huskies will be a strong favorite. UConn must rebound aggressively to counteract any turnover problems it may have. The Irish have struggled shooting the three ball this year and Connecticut ranks second in interior defense. If those statistics hold true, Notre Dame will have an incredibly difficult time scoring. The good news for the Irish? They have been the best team defending the triple in Big East play (20.9%). For UConn, it’s simple. Protect the ball, rebound, and defend the paint. If the Huskies do that, they will snap ND’s 29-game home winning streak. Easier said than done, of course.
New Mexico @ Wyoming – 3:30 PM EST Saturday on The Mtn. (***)
- Wyoming is 14-2 under first-year head coach Larry Shyatt but nobody has taken notice of the Cowboys. With a win over New Mexico on Saturday, Wyoming may finally raise some eyebrows. To do that, Shyatt’s team is going to have to win with its defense. The Cowboys struggle to score but Luke Martinez adds some pop from the three-point line. At 42.3% from deep, Martinez presents the biggest scoring threat for the Cowboys. Francisco Cruz complements Martinez at the guard position but Leonard Washington and Adam Waddell have to play well inside for Wyoming to be in this game. New Mexico has a big-time post threat in Drew Gordon and controlling him is paramount to the Cowboys’ chances. Wyoming is an experienced team (six seniors) and seems to be putting it together. Martinez is a pesky defender and will have to stop New Mexico’s Kendall Williams (21 points vs. North Dakota). With Williams running the point, the Lobos are third in the country in assists per field goals made. Wyoming must get a handle on Williams and prevent New Mexico from setting up its good half court offense.
- New Mexico has arguably the three best players on the floor with Williams, Gordon, and Tony Snell (45.1% 3pt FG) but it can’t go into this game taking it for granted. The Lobos have to make Wyoming go inside. The Cowboys shoot a lot of threes and New Mexico can’t afford for Martinez to get hot from deep, energizing what should be a fired up home crowd. Steve Alford has a better rebounding unit and must use it to put this game away on the road. Wyoming ranks #290 in offensive rebounding percentage so clearing the defensive glass and holding the Cowboys to one shot is very important for the Lobos. Offensively, New Mexico has to be balanced. With Williams playing efficiently, the Lobos will get plenty of open three point looks for Snell and solid interior play from Gordon.
- Winning on the road is never easy in conference but New Mexico is the better team. However, this is Wyoming’s best chance to get noticed and you can bet Shyatt will have his team ready to go. Should this game come down to the final possessions, each team is pretty good from the foul line. It’s hard to predict this game because Wyoming is pretty much an unknown despite its gaudy record. We are not sure which way this game will go but expect a great effort from the Cowboys on their home court in the Mountain West opener.
#12 UNLV @ San Diego State – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on NBC Sports Network (***)
- The Rebels have been magnificent this season and look to be the clear favorite in the Mountain West. To win on the road at San Diego State, UNLV must continue to do what it does best: push the pace and make threes. UNLV’s guards move the ball extremely well and with a huge post presence like Mike Moser and a big time deep threat in Chace Stanback, the Rebels have multiple offensive weapons. On paper this looks to be a very good match-up for Dave Rice’s team. However, conference road games are never easy, especially against a San Diego State team trying to prove its worth in the conference. Oscar Bellfield and Anthony Marshall will be responsible for keeping the quick pace for UNLV. San Diego State wants to keep this game in the 60’s while the Rebels want to push it up to the 80’s.
- Steve Fisher has done an incredible job keeping San Diego State relevant after losing a lot of talent. The Aztecs aren’t flashy, usually putting forth a take care of business, workmanlike effort every night out. Chase Tapley is their only bonafide deep threat but that’s something they are going to have to do against UNLV. The Rebels have a very strong interior defense anchored by Moser but they are vulnerable from the arc. A great game from Tapley will keep the Aztecs in the game until the end but he is going to need help from Jamaal Franklin, James Rahon, and Xavier Thames, now back from a sprained MCL that sidelined him for three games. San Diego State doesn’t shoot many threes but that’s something it may have to do in order to defeat the potent Rebels.
- Despite being home, we are not sure San Diego State is ready to win this type of game. The Aztecs have knocked off Arizona, Cal, and Long Beach State in San Diego but UNLV is a different animal. The match-ups are not good for San Diego State because of UNLV’s strong shooting and interior defense. We are not ruling it out but UNLV is for real and should be ready to win this game on the road.
#24 Alabama @ Mississippi State – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
- Mississippi State struggled to put Tennessee away on Thursday night and now has a quick turnaround at home against a hot Alabama team. Facing the challenge of Alabama’s intense defense, the Bulldogs need point guard Dee Bost to penetrate and move the ball well to set up good looks for his teammates. With Renardo Sidney and Arnett Moultrie inside, Mississippi State has the front court talent to compete with Alabama’s Tony Mitchell and JaMychal Green. The Bulldogs shoot 53.1% from two-point range and a strong effort in the paint would be well earned against the ‘Bama defense. If Alabama can shut down Bost’s driving ability, the Crimson Tide will be able to steal a road win.
- Moultrie is a pretty good defender, but Mississippi State’s greatest weakness is its overall defense. Everyone knows Alabama is dreadful from the three-point line but it should be able to score in the paint on Saturday. Mississippi State’s opponents get 60.5% of their points inside the arc and you know that’s where Alabama will spend the majority of its time. If the Bulldogs play a strong interior defensive game, they should be on their way to a win. Anthony Grant has a good point guard of his own in Trevor Releford, coming off a 20-point performance against LSU. As long as Releford gets the ball to Mitchell and Green without turning it over, the Crimson Tide will be in good shape.
- This is a very even game on paper, but Rick Stansbury may have the trump card. 6’8” freshman Rodney Hood. Hood is shooting the ball well and adds a fourth scorer to the Mississippi State lineup alongside Sidney, Bost and the double-double machine Moultrie. Grant will add some depth to his lineup with the return of concussion-plagued Andrew Steele but the Bulldogs have slightly more offensive talent than one-dimensional Alabama. Even so, the Crimson Tide’s effort on the defensive side of the ball will determine this one. If Alabama plays a great defensive game, they will earn a road win. If not, Mississippi State has one too many weapons on its home floor.
#6 Indiana @ #4 Ohio State – 4:30 PM EST Sunday on CBS (****)
- With two Big Ten losses already, Ohio State isn’t the dominant favorite most expected them to be in this conference. One of those losses was at Indiana but the Hoosiers are coming off a surprising home loss to Minnesota on Thursday. Ohio State should be a substantial favorite at home but it must protect the basketball and guard the three-point line. The Buckeyes turned it over 17 times in the first meeting with Indiana, plus the Hoosiers are the best three-point shooting team in the nation, led by Jordan Hulls’ 58% accuracy from deep. Jared Sullinger was in some foul trouble in Bloomington but he’s scored 49 points in his last two games and seems to be hitting his stride now that he’s healthy. Rebounding will be important for the Buckeyes. If Indiana can’t get second chance opportunities, it will have to have an outstanding shooting night against the top-ranked defense in the nation. Tom Crean does have Will Sheeheyback (5-7 FG vs. Minnesota) so that will add some scoring depth to his lineup.
- Indiana must improve its defense in order to come out of Columbus with a massive road win. Since Big Ten play began, Indiana has been the worst defensive team in the league. This team must defend the paint against Sullinger or else it will be a lost cause for the Hoosiers on the road. The Assembly Hall magic won’t be there to lift them up when adversity hits so they’ll have to persevere with defense. That seems unlikely given the statistics to date. Ohio State shoots 54.9% inside the arc but the Buckeyes can struggle from deep. However, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas do shoot the three ball fairly well. While Ohio State certainly isn’t as strong on the perimeter as last season, their #214 three-point ranking is a bit misleading.
- Indiana must play quality defense in order to have chance. Additionally, Indiana has to get Cody Zeller involved in the paint along with timely contributions from Victor Oladipo and Christian Watford. Oladipo had struggled coming into the Minnesota game but he did shoot 4 of 6 from the floor against the Golden Gophers. This is a battle between the #5 offense (Indiana) and the #1 defense (Ohio State). Playing at home, it’s hard to see Ohio State losing this game.
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