Set Your TiVo: 02.24.12 – 02.26.12Posted by Brian Otskey on February 24th, 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.
Somewhat unbelievably, the second-to-last regular season Saturday is upon us. Plenty of big time and bubble games are on the schedule as the stretch run really heats up.
#3 Missouri @ #4 Kansas – 4:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (*****)
- The final Border War game promises to be another terrific display of basketball between two top five teams that really don’t care for one another. Missouri won the first meeting between these teams, but to do it again it will have to defend at a higher level. Both teams shot over 50% at Mizzou Arena three weeks ago, but Kansas has been the better defensive team all season long. Now playing at home in virtually impenetrable Allen Fieldhouse, the Jayhawks have to like their chances in this one. Kansas has a huge rebounding and size advantage in the paint with Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey going up against Ricardo Ratliffe. While Ratliffe is a great finisher around the bucket, he was held to six points in the first meeting, limited by foul trouble in only 20 minutes of action. Kansas can neutralize Ratliffe and force Missouri to make shots. Missouri hit 10 threes in the first meeting, led by Marcus Denmon’s six. Kansas will have to tighten up a three point defense that ranks #173 nationally in order to prevent that from happening again.
- Denmon’s 29-point effort against Kansas on February 4 lifted him out of a slump and his high level of play has continued since then. Denmon and Kim English have to make shots or else Kansas will have a significant edge in this game. The Jayhawks should be dominant inside with Robinson going against Ratliffe with Withey by his side. Kansas is one of the best teams in the nation in two point percentage. Defensively, Bill Self has to be worried about the three point line. While Kansas is a very efficient defensive team, they can be beaten from the arc. Missouri is certainly a team capable of doing that as it moves the ball well and has a multitude of deep threats lining the perimeter. Frank Haith needs a good game at point guard out of Phil Pressey, otherwise Robinson and Tyshawn Taylor could take over the game quickly as they did against Baylor at the Phog. Taylor has had an outstanding senior season but is vulnerable to turnovers. Look for Missouri to target him defensively in order to prevent him from getting into a rhythm and setting up the Jayhawk offense.
- The big question mark here is can Missouri defend at a high level against an elite opponent on the road? The Tigers are last in the Big 12 in three point defense and their overall efficiency rating leaves a lot to be desired. Kansas is going to get its points inside but is not a particularly great outside shooting team. However, Taylor poses a big threat and must be held in check if Missouri is going to beat Kansas in a place where almost nobody wins. Until proven otherwise, we can’t pick against the Jayhawks in such an emotionally charged game as this one.
#2 Syracuse @ Connecticut – 9:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (****)
- Syracuse has played a number of close games of late but has managed to survive all of them. The Orange will be tested again on the road by a Connecticut team that needs a big win and actually matches up pretty well with the Orange. Syracuse shot 59% in the first meeting between these teams, a game where UConn hung around for a while before Syracuse went on a huge run to close the game out. Syracuse was 10-16 from three point land in that game, something the Orange normally don’t do very well. Syracuse isn’t a great three point shooting team but that’s where Connecticut is most vulnerable defensively. As most Connecticut teams are, the Huskies are outstanding when it comes to defending the paint. That’s not the case on the perimeter though and it’s certainly something Jim Boeheim will let his team know about. Still, Syracuse can’t get away from its bread and butter: transition points and interior scoring. Dion Waiters was a spark in the first game with UConn and the Orange will need him again this time around.
- Connecticut has to be able to stop Syracuse inside if it is going to pull off the upset and punch its ticket to the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are probably in already but a win here would assure them of a spot in the big dance. The Orange get a ton of points in transition and in the paint but the Huskies boast one of the best interior defenses in the nation. If Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi can limit Fab Melo and Syracuse slashers like Kris Joseph and C.J. Fair, the Huskies may be on their way to a win. The key to beating Syracuse is to turn them into a jump shooting team and limit fast break points. Easier said than done but Connecticut has the personnel to do it. The Huskies should own the boards against an Orange team that ranks #337 in defensive rebounding percentage. That will allow Connecticut to control pace and get second chances on the offensive glass. The Huskies have always been a great offensive rebounding team and they will need another strong effort on the glass on Saturday night. Limiting the Syracuse transition game will be tougher. Connecticut turns the ball over too much and the Syracuse defense is fantastic at getting steals and forcing giveaways. If Shabazz Napier can’t handle the point with poise, Syracuse will run wild in transition.
- Napier called out his teammates after the loss to Marquette and responded by knocking down the game winning shot at Villanova on Monday. The Huskies will be in this game for the long haul if they play with better chemistry and a sense of purpose that has been missing for the better part of the year. Keeping Syracuse out of the lane and doing a good job on the perimeter defensively will allow the Huskies to win this game. They can’t allow Syracuse to shoot 59% again and expect to win, even at home. Connecticut will also have to make some threes and get balanced scoring across the board from guys like Napier, Jeremy Lamb and Ryan Boatright. One guy won’t be able to win it for Connecticut, it has to be all hands on deck against the deepest team in the country.
#20 Wisconsin @ #8 Ohio State – 4:00 PM EST Sunday on CBS (***)
- This is a battle between the top two defenses in the nation according to the efficiency metrics. Wisconsin is coming off a disappointing loss at Iowa on Thursday night while the Buckeyes have gone just 3-2 since defeating the Badgers in Madison three weeks ago. To defeat Wisconsin again, Ohio State has to use its advantage inside and speed the game up. With Jared Sullinger roaming the paint, the Buckeyes have something Wisconsin can’t come close to matching. It was mind boggling to see Ohio State shoot so many jumpers against Michigan last week, a team that plays a very similar style to Wisconsin. If Ohio State follows that same game play, it will keep Wisconsin hanging around in a game it should win. Thad Matta must instruct his team to feed Sullinger early and often, forcing Wisconsin to adjust. Once that happens, looks could open up for William Buford and Deshaun Thomas. Thomas shot well in the first meeting with Wisconsin and a repeat performance should have the home standing Buckeyes well on their way to another win.
- The formula for Wisconsin is simple. Make threes. This team is over-reliant on the deep shot but that’s just the way it is for Bo Ryan’s club. The Badgers shot five of 27 in the first game against Ohio State and there’s just no way a team like Wisconsin is going to win a game against the Sullinger-led Buckeyes shooting like that. It will be another long afternoon if the Badgers fail to convert from the perimeter. Look for a lot of ball screening action and a lot of late shot clock attempts as Wisconsin attempts to minimize possessions and slow the pace, something it does better than any team in the country. Jordan Taylor is arguably the only player on Wisconsin who can create his own shot and he’ll have to be connecting in order for his team to pull the road upset. Wisconsin’s offense has struggled in Big Ten play so its best chance is to keep the game in the 50’s and hope to hit some big shots late. Defensively, letting Sullinger get his points may be the best course of action. Wisconsin couldn’t stop him in Madison but limiting the other Ohio State players could be the key to success for UW in this game.
- This will be a clean game with few turnovers and solid, fundamentally sound play from both teams. Wisconsin will be in the game if it can make threes but expect Aaron Craft to really pressure Taylor defensively making it that much harder for the Wisconsin point guard to set up his offense and convert in late clock situations. Even though Ohio State struggles to shoot from the outside, it would appear the Buckeyes have too many weapons for Wisconsin to overcome in Columbus. Unless the Badgers put up something like a 13-30 mark from deep, Ohio State should come out on top in this Sunday Big Ten tilt.
More solid games requiring your attention:
#10 Marquette @ West Virginia (9 PM Friday on ESPN) – The Mountaineers have lost six of their last eight games but can punch their NCAA ticket with a quality win over Marquette. Should West Virginia fail to win here, its game next Saturday at South Florida could be massive for both teams.
Vanderbilt @ #1 Kentucky (12 PM Saturday on CBS) – Vandy had its shot to knock off the Wildcats in Nashville earlier this month but couldn’t get the job done down the stretch. Beating UK at Rupp, where John Calipari has not lost as head coach, seems like a stretch.
Iowa State @ Kansas State (1:30 PM Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – Despite a 10-5 Big 12 record entering the game, Iowa State is not a sure-fire NCAA team just yet. With games against Missouri and Baylor remaining after this, a win here would give the Cyclones some insurance and likely put them in the field of 68.
#6 North Carolina @ Virginia (4 PM Saturday on ESPN) – The Cavaliers did not play well in a February 11 lost at UNC but get another chance on their home floor this time around. Despite a 21-6 record, Virginia’s profile is rather weak. A win against the Tar Heels would really help Virginia’s NCAA Tournament seeding.
Purdue @ #12 Michigan (6 PM Saturday on CBS/BTN) – Michigan has won four straight and five of six, playing its best basketball at the right time. If Purdue can’t get this win, the Boilermakers may be sitting right on the bubble in two weeks time.
Mississippi State @ Alabama (6 PM Saturday on ESPN) – Mississippi State has dropped four straight games and five of its last seven, plummeting towards the bubble in stunning fashion. If the Bulldogs can’t win this one on the road, the best they can do is finish 8-8 in the SEC. As for Alabama, the Crimson Tide reside firmly on the bubble but won a key game at Arkansas on Thursday. This is a huge game for SEC Tournament seeding and NCAA selection.
George Mason @ VCU (6 PM Saturday on ESPN2) – Mason won the first meeting on a wild Sherrod Wright triple at the buzzer but VCU will be looking to exact some revenge on its home floor. Really solid game in the Colonial.
Colorado State @ San Diego State (10 PM Saturday on The Mtn.) – It has been a rough last month or so for the Aztecs, losers in three of their last four games. San Diego State has lost four of seven games, a bad stretch started by a loss to Colorado State in Fort Collins. The Rams are banking on their strong computer numbers to keep them in the NCAA discussion but a solid road scalp like this would go a long way.
Cincinnati @ South Florida (12 PM Sunday on ESPN FullCourt/ESPN3.com) – Cincinnati is pretty much in the field after beating Louisville on Thursday but could ensure itself of a bid with a win here, while possibly knocking the Bulls out of the discussion. South Florida played very well in a Wednesday loss to Syracuse but it needs to win games against good teams. That has to start here.
#14 Florida State @ Miami (6 PM Sunday on ESPNU) – This is a huge opportunity for the Hurricanes to pick up a quality win while defeating a rival. Aside from a terrific win at Duke, Miami’s resume doesn’t show any other quality victories. That would change if the Hurricanes can knock off the Seminoles.
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