Set Your TiVo: 01.31.12Posted by bmulvihill on January 31st, 2012
Brendon Mulvihill is an RTC contributor. You can find him @themulv on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Conference battles are heating up across the country as we head into the last month of regular season play. A lot will happen from not till the beginning of March, so it’s more important than ever to get a glimpse of as many teams as you can before tourney time. Let’s take a look at tonight’s action.
#8 Michigan State at Illinois – 7:00PM EST on ESPN HD (****)
- As of Sunday, there are only three teams that rank in the top ten in KenPom’s adjusted offensive and defensive efficiency ratings – Kentucky, Syracuse, and Michigan State. In Big Ten play, Michigan State is lighting it up on the offensive end, ranking number one in both two-point and three-point shooting percentage. The Spartans face a true road test tonight against Illinois and it is on the road where Tom Izzo’s club still needs to prove itself. Michigan State is 2-2 on the road in conference and 4-4 on the season away from the Breslin Center. Michigan State has only allowed 5 teams to shoot over 50% eFG all season and each time it was on the road. They are 1-4 when a team goes over 50% eFG. Izzo and company has to play strong defense against 7’1” Illini center Meyers Leonard, who is hitting 60% of this two-point attempts. Derrick Nix and Adreian Payne are Michigan State’s tallest regulars at 6’9” and 6’10”, respectively. That’s a tough match-up for them individually, so look for the possible double team to prevent Leonard from taking over the game. If the Spartans get beat, it will be because the Illini two-pointed them to death.
- Illinois started the season off at a promising 10-0. They have since gone 5-6 and dropped their last three games and are in danger of dropping completely out of contention in the Big Ten. While Illinois has maintained its mediocre shooting in Big Ten play, their downfall has been an increase in turnovers and poor offensive rebounding. More turnovers and less second chance points equals empty possessions. For a team that has shot under 50% eFG in over half of its games, that’s a losing equation. However, the Illini has two saving graces on their side, they are playing at home where they are 11-1 (3-1) and they have the tallest guy on the court who happens to be very skilled. Illinois needs to feed the big man to have a chance in this one.
- The game hinges on Leonard’s ability to establish himself on the interior and Michigan State’s defensive strategy to deny him the ball. The winner of that chess match is likely to win the game. Also, keep a close eye on turnovers. Michigan State leads the Big Ten in steals, while Illinois gets the ball stolen more than anyone else in the league. Empty possessions for Bruce Weber’s squad will spell doom.
Kansas State at Iowa State – 9:00PM EST on FSN Midwest (****)
- This year’s Kansas State team must be very frustrating to Frank Martin because they are beating themselves. The Wildcats are turning the ball over on 24% of their possessions in conference play. You cannot win if you do not give yourself a chance to score. While their shooting percentages are less than desirable, they are grabbing almost 44% of their offensive rebounding opportunities, which is a huge number. These offensive rebounds result in a significant number of trips to the line. But again, Kansas State is beating itself by only hitting 65% of its free throw attempts. If the Wildcats could just reduce their turnover rate to 20% and hit 70% of their free throws, they could be one of the top teams in the country. Keep a close eye on both statistics in this game, as they will most certainly affect the outcome.
- Iowa State is coming off a spectacular upset of Kansas. However, it’s important to keep things perspective – their defense is a problem. The Cyclones create very few turnovers and allow teams to shoot almost 50% inside the arc. Going up against a team that rebounds the ball like Kansas State does, Fred Hoiberg and the gang must make interior defense a priority quickly. Additionally, while Iowa State is a solid shooting team from beyond the arc, they do not have the defense to withstand a poor night from outside. Kansas State brings a solid defense into Hilton Coliseum, so field goals will not come easy.
- Kansas State will win this game if they limit turnovers and hit free throws. Their physical play on the interior, particularly on the offensive end will give the Iowa State defense a difficult time. Kansas State is one of the better defenders of the three point shot in the country and Iowa State lives from downtown. Keep a close eye on how the perimeter battle plays out.
Other Games to Watch:
- Seton Hall at Marquette (8:00PM EST on Big East Network HD): Can Herb Pope turn things around to prevent the Pirate ship from sinking completely?
- Vanderbilt at Arkansas (9:00PM EST on ESPN HD): With the exception of a close loss against Mississippi State, Vanderbilt has been a different team with Festus Ezeli back in the line-up. Can they make a push in the SEC with a tough road test tonight?
**** – 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