Set Your TiVo: 02.17.12 – 02.19.12Posted by Brian Otskey on February 17th, 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.
While BracketBusters is always solid, the overall slate over the next few days is full of good, but not great, games. Still, tune in to these games as conference races head down the stretch and the NCAA Tournament field begins to take shape.
#13 St. Mary’s at #24 Murray State – 6:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- Since losing to Tennessee State, Murray State has rebounded with two wins over Austin Peay and Southeast Missouri State. On Saturday night the Racers will get their chance to show the nation they are for real. Playing at home in front of a juiced up crowd on national television, there is no excuse for Murray State to come out anything less than fired up. The three point line is this team’s best friend on both ends of the floor and it will be important against St. Mary’s. Murray State shoots 41% from deep (#8 nationally) and defends the arc very well. Against a St. Mary’s team that ranks a putrid #305 against the triple, that’s a huge advantage for the Racers at home. Steve Prohm should do everything in his power to ensure Isaiah Canaan (47.3%) and Donte Poole(39.3%) get quality shots from the arc against the porous Gaels’ defense. Defensively, the Racers must lock down the arc as they usually do. St. Mary’s shoots a lot of threes and while they don’t make a great percentage they do get just a shade under 30% of their total points from the arc.
- St. Mary’s has lost two of its last three games after starting the season 22-2. The Gaels are still a likely NCAA Tournament team, but a win here would ensure their place in the field of 68 for sure. In order to win on the road in a tough environment against a good team, St. Mary’s must use its edge on the offensive glass, make threes and get to the foul line. With strong rebounders like Rob Jones and Brad Waldow, St. Mary’s has a clear size edge over Murray State. Only Ivan Aska and Ed Daniel see significant minutes for the Racers inside, two of only three players on the roster who are at least 6’7” tall. While the Gaels have a huge edge inside, they’re going to have to overcome Murray State’s strong perimeter defense. Matthew Dellavedova and Clint Steindl are going to have to hit threes for Randy Bennett’s team to come out on top. Thirdly, St. Mary’s should look to take advantage of a Murray State defense that ranks in the bottom half of Division I in defensive free throw rate. The Gaels get to the line fairly well and make 71.9% of their free throws. It’s so important to control tempo and keep the crowd out of the game and getting to the charity stripe while controlling the boards definitely helps in achieving that goal.
- This should be a very close game but the edge has to go to the home team. St. Mary’s is struggling a bit right now and Murray State seems to have righted the ship since suffering its first loss. One concern for the Racers is their turnovers (14 per game). If Murray State controls the ball, plays well on the perimeter and gets to the free throw line at its usual clip, this will be the Racers’ game to lose.
#6 Ohio State at #15 Michigan – 9 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- The Buckeyes are tied with Michigan State and lead Michigan by a game in the Big Ten standings heading into this game. Given its loss to Michigan State last week, Ohio State needs this game to give itself a chance of winning the league, provided the Spartans don’t slip up. Playing against Michigan gives the Buckeyes a few overwhelming advantages, especially interior play and rebounding. Ohio State is incredibly strong inside with Jared Sullinger, who should be able to score against Jordan Morgan and a very thin Michigan front court. Additionally, Ohio State should be able to dominate the glass against the Wolverines. Michigan shoots plenty of threes and lacks a strong interior presence so, as you might expect, rebounds are hard to come by for John Beilein’s squad. The problem for Ohio State will be containing Michigan’s back court.
- The Wolverines, led by Trey Burke, Tim Hardaway Jr., Stu Douglass and Zack Novak, shoot a ton of threes and usually make quite a few. That’s what they are going to have to do in order to knock off the Buckeyes. Michigan was just 8 of 25 from beyond the arc in the first meeting between these teams on January 29. Michigan received little scoring from players not named Burke and Hardaway, including a goose egg out of Novak. That figures to chance at the Crisler Center. As expected, Michigan was crushed on the glass as well (38-29). Michigan’s back court is very good but it’s going to have to come up with a special effort in order to beat Ohio State.
- If Michigan isn’t hitting threes there will be a lot of one shot and done possessions for the Wolverines. They’ll be going up against the nation’s #1 defense so that is a possibility. That defense is led by point guard Aaron Craft and his ability to create turnovers. Keep an eye on that as he guards the Michigan ball handlers in this game. Michigan likely won’t be able to stop Sullinger inside but its defense on William Buford could be very important in this game. Buford is Ohio State’s main offensive threat outside of Sullinger and shutting him down could be the key to a Michigan upset. While Michigan could certainly win this game, Ohio State has shown great poise and toughness on the road. The Buckeyes have lost three times away from home but one was without Sullinger (Kansas) and one was when an Illinois player (Brandon Paul) singlehandedly won the game for the Illini. In their other road loss, the Buckeyes went toe-to-toe with Indiana before falling late. This one will be terrific with ESPN College Game Day in the house but we will give Ohio State the edge.
#5 Michigan State at Purdue – 1:00 PM EST Sunday on CBS (***)
- As is customary this time of year, Tom Izzo’s Spartans appear to be getting better and better. Now tied atop the Big Ten with Ohio State, Michigan State has won six of its last seven games since losing a pair of road games in mid-January. The Spartans destroyed Purdue in their first meeting in East Lansing, but the Boilermakers are now a desperate team as they sit squarely on the NCAA bubble. Michigan State has a huge rebounding edge against the undersized Boilermakers and must use it early and often in order to set the tone on the road. That starts and ends with Draymond Green but interior players like Derrick Nix need to help out as well. Michigan State is very strong inside with the versatile Green but has good balance with capable outside shooters like Brandon Wood. Michigan State doesn’t shoot many threes but it will have to knock down a few in order to keep Purdue’s defense honest.
- Purdue is likely to get to 9-9 in the Big Ten at worst (home games coming up against Nebraska and Penn State), but the Boilermakers could really use a marquee win against a team like Michigan State to solidify their resume and vault them into the NCAA Tournament with room to spare. This is not a typical Matt Painter team on the defensive end as Purdue ranks tenth in Big Ten games in defensive efficiency. While Michigan State isn’t an offensive juggernaut, the Boilermakers can’t afford to be giving up easy buckets to a team that will grind you down and make you work on the offensive end. Purdue protects the basketball very well with Lewis Jackson’s terrific point guard play, but he will be pressured by the rugged Michigan State defense that is ranked third nationally. Purdue is the best team in the nation in terms of turnover percentage but must move the ball well in order to get quality shots. The Boilermakers have to be able to hit from deep in order to knock off top-five Michigan State. Ryne Smith and Robbie Hummel are Purdue’s biggest threats from deep and both need to be clicking for a team that really lacks scoring depth.
- Even though they’re home, this will be a very tough game for the Boilermakers to win. As we saw in Michigan State’s manhandling of Ohio State last week, the Spartans are so tough and physical on both ends of the floor. We’re not sure if this Purdue team can handle that for 40 minutes although playing in front of the partisan crowd at Mackey will give the Boilermakers a solid chance to add a big time win to their resume as we head down the stretch run.
Important bubble battles and a handful of other quality games:
- #12 Marquette at Connecticut (12 PM Saturday on ESPN) – The Huskies have lost six of their last eight games, but still hold solid computer numbers. A win over a quality Marquette team would push the Huskies back to .500 in Big East play and make it tougher to keep them out of the NCAA Tournament.
- #9 UNLV at New Mexico (1 PM Saturday on CBS, regional coverage) – New Mexico put on a show in Wednesday night’s impressive win at San Diego State and now returns home to the Pit for a monumental game with UNLV. Win this one and the Lobos will be two games clear of Vegas with only four to play.
- #17 Florida State at NC State (1 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – How will NC State respond after its epic collapse at Cameron Indoor Stadium on Thursday night? It’s anyone’s guess but the Wolfpack really need this game to get back on track and pick up a quality in the process.
- Kansas State at #11 Baylor (1:30 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – K-State missed a golden opportunity on Monday against Kansas and now faces road games at Baylor and Missouri. If the Wildcats don’t get one of these games, they will be 6-9 in conference with only three to play.
- Arizona at Washington (3 PM Saturday on FSN) – We are not quite sure how either of these teams are on the bubble (incredible lack of substance on each resume) but teams around the country are keeping them in it. We won’t call it one just yet but we may look back on this as an elimination game three weeks from now.
- Seton Hall at Cincinnati (4 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – Huge bubble battle in the Big East. These teams are close to each other on the S-curve, but each brings something different to the table. Seton Hall has won three in a row, righting the ship after six straight losses, and has very strong computer numbers. Cincinnati is the opposite and desperately needs a quality win. The Bearcats have an opportunity to play themselves in over their final five games but it has to start here.
- Nevada at Iona (4 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – An intriguing BracketBuster game between two teams that likely won’t receive at-large bids despite gaudy records. Nevada’s best win is at New Mexico State and it needs this game to have any chance of grabbing a bid should it fail to win the WAC Tournament. Iona has four bad losses on its resume despite a 21-6 overall record.
- Long Beach State at Creighton (10 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – Creighton shot a mind-blowing 78% from the floor for the game against Southern Illinois on Tuesday. The Bluejays will have to shoot well and play some defense against a Long Beach State team that hasn’t scored less than 71 points since January 5. The 49ers enter this BracketBuster game, perhaps the most entertaining of the day, on a 12-game winning streak.
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