Set Your TiVo: 01.27 – 01.29Posted by Brian Otskey on January 27th, 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.
There aren’t too many big time matchups on the schedule this weekend but it’s still a decent slate of games to keep you occupied.
Mississippi State @ #12 Florida – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (***)
- It has gone largely unnoticed but Florida has won six of its past seven games since losing at Rutgers in December. The Gators bring the top-rated offensive efficiency to the table and are a threat to win any game they play because of it. However, Billy Donovan’s team is thin up front and lacks the lockdown defense elite teams exhibit. Against Mississippi State, Florida could very have major problems dealing with the Bulldogs’ front line. Patric Young attempted double figure shots for only the fifth time this season against Mississippi on Thursday. Without a go-to guy in the post, Florida’s offense revolves around Erving Walker and Kenny Boynton with Brad Beal and forward Erik Murphy, a pick-and-pop specialist. Florida will attempt plenty of threes, connecting 40.7% of the time. Scoring from outside shouldn’t be a major problem against Mississippi State but stopping the Bulldogs inside will be.
- Rick Stansbury has a huge advantage in this game with Arnett Moultrie and Renardo Sidney in his frontcourt. Florida can’t match those two players and the Bulldogs should be pounding the ball inside all day long on Saturday. However, Dee Bost has to be able to create and get into the lane in order to get Moultrie and Sidney going early and often. If Bost isn’t able to penetrate Florida’s defense, the Gators can pack it in and dare Mississippi State to beat them from the outside. Of more concern to Stansbury has to be his defense. In SEC play, the Bulldogs are allowing opponents to shoot 43.4% from beyond the three point arc. If Florida shoots anywhere near that percentage, it’s likely going to be a long afternoon at the O-Dome for the visitors from Starkville.
- In order to steal an important road win, the Bulldogs have to rebound and score in the paint as well as in transition off long rebounds since neither team turns the ball over much. Fast break points will be at a premium in this game but whichever team wins that category will have an advantage. However, the most important part of Mississippi State’s game plan has to be defending the three point line. If the Bulldogs can’t, they won’t win in Gainesville. Even with all that said, this is a game Mississippi State can win with a strong effort. Florida needed a second half rally to defeat Ole Miss in its last game and it’s not out of the realm of possibility that Mississippi State could spring the upset.
- With the status of Ryan Boatright still uncertain, Connecticut might be as beatable as it will ever be. The Huskies have lost two straight games and four out of their past six, but one of the two wins over this swoon was over Notre Dame. Under Jim Calhoun, UConn has always exhibited elite interior defense and shot blocking without fouling. That hasn’t changed this year as the Huskies are #1 in two point percentage defense. The way to beat UConn is to make threes and that’s something Notre Dame can do very well when it gets hot as we saw against Syracuse. If Connecticut can defend the three point line better than it has for most of this year, it should be able to win a low possession game against the Fighting Irish. UConn is playing with one point guard right now, sophomore Shabazz Napier. He does everything for Calhoun offensively whether it’s making threes or penetrating and setting up others. Notre Dame will target him defensively so the Huskies’ other pieces, namely Jeremy Lamb, need to have a big game if Napier is struggling.
- Notre Dame comes into this game off two quality wins over Syracuse and on the road at Seton Hall. The Irish defense completely dismantled the Pirates on Wednesday night and they’ll hope to do the same on the road again. If Eric Atkins can defend Napier like he did Jordan Theodore, Notre Dame will have a very good chance at pulling the upset. Mike Brey will play his customary low-scoring, low-possession game and try to muck it up as much as possible. Notre Dame thrives in those types of environments because it can spring a couple of three pointers on you at a moment’s notice and take command of the game. Connecticut opponents get 37.2% of their scoring from beyond the arc so you know three point shooting will be vital for Notre Dame. In their loss to UConn earlier this season, the Irish shot 32% overall and six of 26 from deep. That’s not going to cut it, especially on the road. Facing an intimidating interior defense, it’ll be tough for Notre Dame to probe UConn and get good shots at the end of the shot clock.
- For Notre Dame to come out on top, it must get its inside-outside game working in order to move the ball well and find open looks late in the shot clock. Jack Cooley is going to be a key player in that regard, both offensively and on the boards. Cooley sets the tone for the Irish when he’s rebounding well, something that allows them to control tempo. Cooley had seven points and six rebounds in the first meeting between these teams but that likely won’t be enough on the road. He’s been playing well lately and another double-double from the junior forward may be necessary. Connecticut has the edge in talent and the match-ups appear to be favorable but Notre Dame has that funny thing called momentum on its side. UConn should win this one but it would be a massive win for the Irish, if they can get it, as they try to build an NCAA Tournament resume.
#19 Michigan @ #4 Ohio State – 1:00 PM EST Sunday on CBS (****)
- Ohio State hasn’t lost a home game in nearly two years and the loss to Illinois over two weeks ago seems to have served as a wakeup call for the Buckeyes. No such call will be needed on Sunday against rival Michigan. The Buckeyes have a pretty big talent edge in this game and will use their top-ranked defense to turn Michigan into a one-dimensional team. While Jared Sullinger is not an elite post defender, the Wolverines will rarely look inside to Jordan Morgan. Instead, Michigan will attempt many three pointers, the area where Thad Matta will look to focus his defense. Ohio State allows 31.6% shooting to opponents from behind the arc but Michigan is capable of getting hot and knocking down plenty of triples. To prevent that, the Buckeyes will extend their defense and look for turnovers, in addition to putting Aaron Craft on freshman Trey Burke.
- Quite simply, Michigan has to make threes in order to have a chance. Everyone knows that coming in so John Beilein may want to look to someone else to maybe get going inside or slashing through the Ohio State defense. That someone may be Evan Smotrycz. The Massachusetts native scored 10 points in the road win at Purdue earlier this week and has the body necessary to maneuver against the physical Buckeye defense. If Smotrycz can get on the board early, that will open up some open looks for Michigan’s shooters as Ohio State will have to respect Smotrycz’s penetration. In the end though, the Wolverines have to make shots and defend at a level better than they’ve exhibited in Big Ten play. Michigan ranks ninth out of 12 Big Ten teams in eFG% against in conference play.
- Another area of concern is rebounding. Because they shoot so many threes that lead to long rebounds, Michigan is a poor offensive rebounding team. The Wolverines do a nice job on the defensive glass but going up against Sullinger and company is another challenge. Michigan hasn’t shot the three ball well in Big Ten play (30.6%) but that must change on Sunday if the Wolverines are going to get out of Columbus with a rare road win on Ohio State’s home court.
Don’t miss these games either:
- Harvard @ Yale (7 PM Friday) – The Ivy League is a one-bid league regardless of what Harvard does. The Crimson do not want to fall one game back by losing a game at fellow early conference leader Yale.
- #22 West Virginia @ #2 Syracuse (1 PM Saturday on ESPNU) – Syracuse responded very well to its first loss at Cincinnati on Monday night. The Orange will look to continue their winning ways against a West Virginia team that really struggles to shoot from outside and is coming off an ugly loss at St. John’s.
- #5 Kansas @ Iowa State (2 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Hilton Magic again? It’s possible. Kansas struggled with Texas and Texas A&M since beating Baylor and Hilton Coliseum is always a tough place to play. The Cyclones are trying to mount a charge at the NCAA Tournament and a win here would be a big piece of that puzzle.
- St. Louis @ Massachusetts (2 PM Saturday on CSN New England/CSS) – These teams are among the log jam at the top of the Atlantic 10. UMass has surprised many observers this year under fourth year head coach Derek Kellogg.
- Middle Tennessee @ Vanderbilt (2 PM Saturday) – This is a massive opportunity for the Blue Raiders, winners of 11 straight games and owners of the fifth-ranked eFG% defense. Vanderbilt will definitely have its hands full in this one and may very well get beat by a hungry team looking for respect.
- Southern Mississippi @ Central Florida (7 PM Saturday on CSS) – If you’re looking for some clarity in Conference USA, this game may help.
- Louisville @ Seton Hall (8 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – The Pirates are in a free fall, losers of three straight since starting the season 15-2. The loser of this mentor (Rick Pitino) vs. protégé (Kevin Willard) game will drop under .500 in Big East play. Louisville has won three of its past four games since losing four of five.
- #20 Virginia @ NC State (8 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – Both teams are one game behind the ACC leaders in the loss column, each a pleasant surprise this season. The Cavaliers fended off Boston College’s upset bid while NC State was blown out at North Carolina on Thursday. If the Wolfpack want to make the NCAA’s, they need to win games like this.
- #16 St. Mary’s @ BYU (9 PM Saturday on ESPNU) – The Gaels sit undefeated atop the WCC but trips to the Marriott Center are never easy, especially with BYU in its first season as a WCC member. St. Mary’s has won 10 straight games, including a 98-82 victory over BYU in Moraga on December 29.
- Stanford @ California (8:30 PM Sunday on FSN) – The basketball version of the Big Game actually has some implications. While the Pac-12 has been brutal, the Cardinal trails the first place Golden Bears by just one game heading into this meeting.
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