Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 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.
Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.
#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
- Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.
- Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
- Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.
#6 Baylor at #4 Missouri – 1:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com (****)
- Missouri beat Baylor the first time these teams met last month on the strength of Ricardo Ratliffe’s phenomenal play against Baylor’s imposing front line. Utilizing the oldest play in basketball, the pick and roll, Ratliffe sliced through Baylor’s defense with ease en route to an 11-14 shooting day. Missouri also forced 19 Baylor turnovers, six coming courtesy of Phil Pressey steals. Following a similar blueprint should get the Tigers another quality Big 12 win. However, Missouri is vulnerable on the defensive end. Despite boasting the nation’s #1 offensive efficiency, Missouri’s defense ranks #56, better than only three teams in Ken Pomeroy’s top 25. The Tigers allowed the Bears to shoot 57.1% in the first meeting in Waco. While Baylor has its own problems defensively, Missouri will keep the Bears in the game if it can’t defend at a higher level. Missouri is the worst team in Big 12 play at defending the three-pointer and that could come back to bit them with snipers like Brady Heslip and Pierre Jackson lurking on the perimeter. Missouri can certainly answer those players with the firepower of Marcus Denmon and Kim English but another high-scoring, close game could be in the cards on Saturday afternoon in Columbia.
- Baylor is just 4-3 since starting the season 17-0 with all three losses coming to Kansas (twice) and Missouri. The Bears must win this game if they want to keep any hopes of a Big 12 title alive. Baylor has been categorized as soft by many observers and with good reason. The Bears were out-rebounded in each loss and don’t appear ready for prime time. In Big 12 play, Baylor ranks ninth out of 10 teams in defensive rebounding percentage. That’s simply inexcusable for a team with so much talent and height in its front court. However, that perception can change in a big way with a win Saturday at Mizzou Arena. Baylor can certainly keep pace offensively with Missouri but it must use its obvious offensive rebounding advantage. If Baylor can’t do that, it will lose its fourth game to the Big 12 powers. Offensively, Jackson has to have a big game. Jackson must do four things: get good shots for his big men, Heslip, himself and limit turnovers. Jackson had 15 assists the first time these teams met so sharing the ball shouldn’t be a problem. While Baylor has an obvious height advantage inside with Perry Jones III and company, the Bears may be able to exploit Missouri’s #217 three-point percentage defense. Limiting turnovers might be his most important job though. Baylor has had turnover issues for the past few seasons and that can really hurt against Missouri. Although the Frank Haith-led Tigers aren’t playing at nearly the same pace as last season, Missouri still loves to create turnovers and score in transition.
- Baylor has played very well on the road this season, defeating the likes of Northwestern, BYU, and Kansas State while dispatching St. Mary’s, West Virginia, and Mississippi State on neutral floors. The Bears have also taken care of business away from home against the lesser teams in the Big 12 but flopped in their first road game against a member of the conference elite (Kansas). Baylor has the talent and style of play to avoid that fate against Missouri but the Bears must get tougher, rebound better and do an adequate job defensively in order to defeat the Tigers in their building.
#19 Wichita State at #15 Creighton – 5:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- Creighton’s high-powered offense was grounded to a halt in consecutive road losses to Northern Iowa and Evansville. Returning home to their faithful fans in Omaha, the Bluejays will look to get back on track against conference leader Wichita State. The Shockers hold a one game lead over the Bluejays heading into Saturday’s tilt but Creighton can tie them up and take control of the conference race with a win. CU won the first meeting in Wichita, a game where Doug McDermott was relatively ineffective (by his standards). Antoine Young led the Bluejays with 19 points but it was Creighton’s defense that won the game. Wichita State led by eight points at the half but scored only 22 after intermission. Creighton won that game and took control of the MVC race before ceding control back to Wichita with the two most recent losses. To win this game, Creighton needs a great performance out of McDermott and a strong defensive effort. On offense, Young and Grant Gibbs do a terrific job distributing the ball, averaging 10.1 assists combined. It helps when you have a guy like McDermott making 61.6% of his shots but Creighton, thanks to its primary ball handlers, assists on a remarkable 65.7% of its made field goals. That ball movement and scoring ability will be put to the test against Wichita State, the best defensive team in the Missouri Valley. Creighton will need balanced scoring from everyone, including Greg Echenique and Ethan Wragge. Echenique is a strong big man with major skills while Wragge is one of the most efficient players in the nation for the minutes he plays. Wragge averages only 16 minutes of action but makes 43% of his threes and is an extremely productive player for Greg McDermott.
- Defensively, Creighton is very vulnerable to threes and Wichita State has three potent threats in Joe Ragland, Ben Smith and David Kyles. Those three players went a combined 5-21 (23.8%) from deep in the first meeting between these teams but average 40.4% combined on the season. Creighton has to do a solid job defensively in order to win this game because we’d bet Ragland, Smith and Kyles won’t shoot 24% from long range again. Gregg Marshall also has weapons in the form of Toure’ Murry and Garrett Stutz. Murry is the team’s leading scorer while Stutz is a seven-footer who can score, block shots, and rebound. Wichita State is deeper and more experienced with five seniors and a junior doing the vast majority of this team’s work. The Shockers’ offense ranks tenth in efficiency so you have two high octane offenses going at it in this one. The difference is defense and that’s where the Shockers hold a strong edge. That could be enough to carry them to a huge road victory.
- Creighton’s best defensive performance of the season was arguably the game against Wichita State. The Bluejays held the Shockers to 33.3% shooting and an anemic 19.2% from beyond the arc. Creighton has to have a similar effort this time in order to defeat a Wichita State team averaging 76.9 PPG since the last time these two teams got together. With three very winnable games remaining, the Bluejays control their destiny with a win here. All Creighton would need to do is remain tied with Wichita State in the standings over the final two weeks. Wichita State’s remaining schedule is tougher but the Shockers will hold a two game lead if they can win on Saturday in Omaha. Essentially, the winner of this game will be in prime position to win the MVC regular season title.
#9 Michigan State at #3 Ohio State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- It was surprising but the Buckeyes really struggled defensively at home against Purdue earlier this week. Ohio State’s defense remains #1 in efficiency but surrendered 84 points and a 133.3 efficiency rating to the Boilermakers on Tuesday night. Fluke game? Likely, but Ohio State needs to put it behind itself in a hurry. Michigan State can tie the Buckeyes in the standings with a victory here and Ohio State still has to go to East Lansing on the final day of the regular season. This is a matchup between two of the top five defenses in the nation and should be a typical Big Ten hard fought grinder. Ohio State will look to speed up the game and control tempo behind the reliable Aaron Craft, a master at defending and creating turnovers. Ohio State ranks ninth in defensive turnover percentage while Michigan State has struggled to keep control of the basketball, averaging 14 turnovers per game. Keith Appling and Draymond Green are Tom Izzo’s primary scorers and ball handlers but average over five turnovers a game between them. With Craft ball-hawking Appling, Green must be Michigan State’s primary threat. The Spartans have to score inside and go at Jared Sullinger, but Green can score from anywhere on the floor. With a weapon like that, Izzo’s team can keep Ohio State off balance defensively.
- While the Buckeyes should create plenty of turnovers, Michigan State can counter that with outstanding rebounding. The Spartans rank in the top ten in both offensive and defensive rebounding percentage, plus Ohio State is thin inside outside of Sullinger. While Sully will get most of Ohio State’s rebounds, Michigan State features the rebounding machine Green, Derrick Nix, and Adreian Payne inside. The Spartans can challenge Sullinger defensively with their front line and could get him in some early foul trouble as a result. If that happens, everything changes and this is anyone’s game. The Buckeyes don’t kill you from outside, relying heavily on Sullinger, William Buford and Deshaun Thomas to score inside the arc. Buford and Thomas are even more dangerous because they can knock down a timely triple if needed. Ohio State doesn’t shoot many threes but teams must still respect its outside shooting ability.
- Michigan State is the deeper team and could cause some matchup problems. Buford and/or Thomas will be forced to guard an interior player in Thad Matta’s man-to-man defense. Could Matta go zone at times? Ohio State plays terrific man-to-man but it wouldn’t surprise us if Matta goes there at times, especially if Sullinger picks up some early fouls. Green is a matchup nightmare in any defense and will be tough for Ohio State to guard in any defensive game plan. Although Purdue lost in Columbus on Tuesday, that game could inspire confidence in Ohio State’s opponents. The Buckeyes are no longer invincible at Value City Arena and you know an Izzo team will come out with a ton of energy and determination on the road. Sullinger is the best player on the floor but Green gives the Spartans a chance.
Don’t forget about these important games either, many featuring bubble teams:
Louisville at West Virginia (12 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Louisville is back on track, winners of five straight. The Mountaineers are heading the opposite direction, losers in four of its past five games. With a difficult remaining schedule, West Virginia might have to get this win in order to avoid slipping towards the bubble.
Connecticut at #2 Syracuse (1 PM Saturday on CBS) – Speaking of Big East bubble teams, the Huskies are quickly headed there. A stunning win here would get UConn back on track, but the Huskies’ recent play doesn’t exactly inspire much confidence.
Miami at #14 Florida State (1 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – This would be the scalp win that could push the Hurricanes into the NCAA Tournament, against their rival no less. Miami is 6-3 in the ACC heading into this game, winners of five straight since a 1-3 conference start. Wins at Duke and FSU and a winning ACC record would be hard for the Selection Committee to deny.
Kansas State at Texas (2 PM Saturday on ESPN) – This is a huge game. Texas is clinging to life at 5-6 in conference and is in major need of wins. Four of the Longhorns’ final six games are on the road so this is essentially a must-win. For K-State, they face the gauntlet of home against Kansas, at Baylor, and at Missouri next. The Wildcats could quickly fall to 6-9 in league play if they can’t beat Texas on Saturday.
Cincinnati at #17 Marquette (3 PM Saturday on ESPNU) – Don’t let Cincinnati’s 7-4 Big East record fool you. With an RPI of 86, the Bearcats need quality wins in a hurry. Cincinnati has wins at Georgetown and Connecticut but a horrid non-conference SOS is dragging them down. With three winnable home games coming up, a win over Marquette could put Cincinnati in the NCAA Tournament.
#15 San Diego State at #12 UNLV (4 PM Saturday on NBC Sports Network) – Mountain West supremacy is on the line here. The Aztecs won the first meeting between these two teams in San Diego and can take firm control of the conference title race with a win in Vegas. SDSU leads the Rebels by a game heading into this one.
#1 Kentucky at Vanderbilt (9 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Vanderbilt remains in solid position for the NCAA Tournament thanks to its #4 SOS and improved play in conference. This is a huge opportunity for the Commodores to improve their seeding and create a buffer between them and teams like Mississippi State and Alabama heading down the stretch.
Xavier at Temple (9 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – Four teams are within a game of each other at the top of the A-10 with Temple leading the way. Xavier is among three teams a half game back and could really enhance its NCAA standing with a win on the road. The Musketeers are just 8-8 since the brawl with Cincinnati.
Illinois at #21 Michigan (1 PM Sunday on CBS) – With a tough schedule remaining and an RPI of 42, Illinois is in major trouble. The Illini have lost five of six since knocking off Ohio State and still have to go to Ohio State and Wisconsin after this meeting. Bruce Weber needs a win in the worst way.
Northwestern at Purdue (6 PM Sunday on Big Ten Network) – Bubble elimination game? Maybe, but it’s still too early to say that with conviction. With four of its final seven on the road, Northwestern has to come up with some wins to make its first ever NCAA Tournament. Winning here would be a good start. Purdue has lost six of nine since starting the season 12-3.
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