Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 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.
Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.
#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)
- This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
- Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
- As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.
Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)
- You can bet this will be a physical affair. Bob Huggins faces his former school yet again with both teams coming into the game with some momentum. For the Mountaineers, they go as Truck Bryant goes. Bryant had 22 points against Marshall on Wednesday night but WVU has lost every game in which Bryant goes ice cold shooting the rock. With Kevin Jones on his side, Bryant has to be more of a distributor and not the prime scorer on this team. Against Cincinnati, the West Virginia point guard has to work the ball in the paint and make this game all about interior play and rebounding, not who shoots the ball the most from the arc. West Virginia is at its best when it gets buckets inside. With Cincinnati not rebounding the ball well in conference play, the Mountaineers may get ample second chance opportunities around the rim. Slowing the pace and working through Jones and Deniz Kilicli is very important for Huggins’ team.
- The Bearcats have turned their season around with a four guard look and the emergence of a fifth scorer. Jaquon Parker has been a huge lift for this Cincinnati team that featured four fairly reliable scorers but little, if any, depth after that. UC is shooting the ball well from deep but is actually struggling inside with only a 42% two-point percentage in Big East play. The Bearcats aren’t rebounding particularly well either but great guard play and a focus on limiting turnovers is allowing Cincinnati to win games. The Bearcats almost never turn the ball over and they’re able to squeeze extra possessions out of every game because of it. That said, Sean Kilpatrick, Parker and Dion Dixon must continue to shoot well against a West Virginia defense that can pick up the intensity and shut you down at a moment’s notice.
- Mick Cronin’s team has struggled inside but the presence of Yancy Gates is what keeps opponents from locking in defensively on Cincinnati’s guards. When the big man is playing well, Cincinnati can be even better. Gates is unafraid of contact and can be a beast when he goes hard. Motivation has been an issue but Gates may finally be on the same page as Cronin in his senior season, especially after learning a valuable lesson after the Xavier incident. Despite Cincinnati’s win at Connecticut earlier this week, we feel the Mountaineers have a slight edge in this one because of Jones and his team’s effort on the defensive side. However, the Bearcats can make quite a mark on the Big East if they are able to grab a second straight big time road win.
#22 Mississippi State @ Vanderbilt – 7:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- Despite not being ranked, Vanderbilt is arguably the better team. The Commodores have won eight straight games after going into Tuscaloosa and easily beating Alabama on Thursday night. Vandy also has a quality road win at Marquette under its belt and has picked it up on the defensive end with the return of Festus Ezeli. Although his statistics aren’t eye-popping, Ezeli adds a physical presence in the paint that makes opponents adjust their offensive game plan. Ezeli had 12 points and 10 rebounds in the Alabama game and looks to be coming around offensively as well. Against a Mississippi State defense that can be porous, Vanderbilt should have plenty of opportunities to score at home. John Jenkins and Jeffery Taylor do the bulk of the scoring for this team but Ezeli being back takes a lot of scoring pressure off the rest of the team, especially Lance Goulbourne. Goulbourne can now focus on what he does best and that’s rebounding. Against Mississippi State, Vandy is going to score points. It’s just a matter of controlling the glass and taking better care of the basketball. The Commodores did have 16 turnovers against Alabama.
- Mississippi State is an enigma. This team can look so good at times and so bad at others. Arnett Moultrie has been fantastic this season for Rick Stansbury but he needs a more consistent effort out of Renardo Sidney and Dee Bost. When Bost is on his game, the offense flows so much better for the Bulldogs. They’ll need that against a Vanderbilt defense rated first in efficiency in SEC play. The Commodores are allowing only 39.4% shooting from inside the arc in conference play, no doubt a result of Ezeli’s presence. If Bost’s cold outside shooting continues, the pressure will fall on Moultrie and Sidney to score inside. That’s not a good situation to be in on the road. Bost and Rodney Hood have to knock down jumpers in order to open up the paint a bit for Mississippi State’s two talented big men to go to work.
- In order to win on the road against a hot team, Mississippi State has to get better defensively. Vanderbilt has the best offensive and defensive efficiency rating in SEC games and the team is brimming with confidence after a rough start to the season. The Commodores have a clear edge on the perimeter with Jenkins shooting the triple but they can’t turn it over too much. If Vandy keeps control of the ball it should be able to shred the Mississippi State defense. Vanderbilt has been prone to subpar efforts this year but this looks like a different team at this point in the season. We’d be surprised if Mississippi State walked out of Nashville with a win.
A bunch of other games you should keep your eye on:
- Alabama @ #2 Kentucky (12 PM Saturday on CBS) – The Crimson Tide fell apart in a home loss to Vanderbilt on Thursday. Handing John Calipari his first loss at Rupp Arena will be a nearly impossible task for a team that can’t shoot from the outside and therefore will have to contend with Anthony Davis roaming the paint.
- Purdue @ #9 Michigan State (12 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Matt Painter’s team is quietly in the Big Ten race (who isn’t?) and a win here would erase the awful drubbing Purdue took at Penn State on January 5.
- Xavier @ Dayton (1 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – Xavier has won four straight games and sits atop the Atlantic 10 at 4-1. UD Arena is always a tough place to play and the 13-5 Flyers would take sole possession of first place with a victory here.
- #16 Michigan @ Arkansas (2 PM Saturday on CBS) – Not sure about you but we feel this has upset written all over it. The Razorbacks defend the three well and seem to be a different team at Bud Walton Arena.
- Florida State @ #8 Duke (4 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Can the Seminoles knock off Tobacco Road’s other power on the road? Not likely but a strong defensive effort will keep them in the game.
- #25 New Mexico @ #13 UNLV (10 PM Saturday on CBS Sports Network) – The Lobos missed a golden opportunity for a quality win at home Wednesday night after jumping out to a 10-0 lead against San Diego State. Tony Snell will have to play much better than he did against the Aztecs for New Mexico to steal this road win.
- Wisconsin @ Illinois (2 PM Sunday on Big Ten Network) – After a road stinker at Penn State late Thursday night, Illinois will need to bounce back in a big way against a Wisconsin team that can beat anyone if the threes are falling. The Badgers have won three straight after a three game losing streak that included two losses at the Kohl Center.
- Milwaukee @ Cleveland State (2 PM Sunday, local TV) – The Vikings can force a first place tie atop the Horizon with a home win over the Panthers. These are by far the two best teams in the league according to the Pomeroy ratings and this game could go a long way in determining who gets home court for the conference tournament.
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