Set Your TiVo: 02.29.12Posted by EJacoby on February 29th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
It’s another big Wednesday night in college hoops. Three bubble teams have home games against top 15 opponents, so we will see who really wants to earn their way into an at-large bid. Let’s jump into the breakdowns:
#8 Marquette at Cincinnati – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)
- Buzz Williams’ team continues to impress. Even a suspension of four of its best players for at least one half couldn’t stop Marquette from winning at West Virginia last Friday. Now the Golden Eagles will look to add another quality road win to an already sparkling resume. Jae Crowder’s campaign for Big East Player of the Year is gaining steam as he ranks in the top 10 in the conference in points per game (17.6), rebounds per game (7.7), steals per game (2.9), field-goal percentage (52.4%), and offensive rating (123.9). He and Darius Johnson-Odom are the most potent and consistent one-two punch in the league, and they both have versatile games that should thrive against the Cincinnati zone defense. Marquette leads the conference in scoring but must adapt to the Bearcat attack that plays at a slow pace and limits turnovers.
- The last time the Bearcats were on national television, they had another ranked Big East foe at home in what Rick Pitino called the best home court advantage his team had faced all season. Cincinnati will look to mimic that environment in this game, facing the high-flying Golden Eagles. To slow down Marquette, Cincinnati needs a big game from its veteran guards who can control pace and hit shots. As a team, the Bearcats commit just 9.6 turnovers per game, best in the conference, and they score 31.5% of their points from the three-point line. Dion Dixon, Cashmere Wright, and Sean Kilpatrick will win or lose this game for Cincy. It will be up to Yancy Gates to keep the Marquette defense honest inside as well as trying to shut down Crowder in the paint.
- This game is a pick’em in Vegas, which feels accurate. Cincinnati will be fired up on Senior Night and a win over a top 10 opponent will guarantee its entrance into the Big Dance, but Marquette has been simply fantastic in Big East play, winning 12 of its last 13 games in a variety of fashions. As a believer in this Bearcats team, I think they pull this one out and lock up a postseason bid.
#9 Ohio State at Northwestern – 8:30 PM ET on Big Ten Network (****)
- The Buckeyes are trending down and could use this win as a confidence boost and to give themselves a better chance to lock up a #2 NCAA Tournament seed. Their problem has been the lack of a dominant Jared Sullinger. The big man is averaging just 10.3 points and 6.7 rebounds in has past three games, which are stunningly low numbers for the consistent low-post machine. The last time he recorded a double-double (five games ago), he also had 10 turnovers. This should be a game that Sully can dominate inside against the Wildcats’ small front line. Also look for Deshaun Thomas to make his way inside more often rather than hovering around the perimeter, which he often does. Expect Aaron Craft to stick to Drew Crawford (16.1 PPG) like glue.
- It might all come down to this for Bill Carmody’s team. Northwestern has NEVER made the NCAA Tournament in program history, and the team is on the bubble once again. A victory over a top 10 opponent should do it for the Wildcats, so expect Northwestern to play with an incredible sense of urgency on this night. John Shurna (20.1 PPG) is already the leading scorer in program history but he has a chance for a signature game tonight to put himself in Wildcats lore. But just as important will be how Northwestern defends Sullinger inside with a lack of strong post defenders. No Wildcat averages more than 5.4 rebounds per game. Also, someone else needs to step up in the scoring department outside of Shurna and Drew Crawford (16.1 PPG). Reggie Hearn, and Dave Sobolewski, we are looking at you.
- Despite losing three of its last five games, Ohio State comes in as a strong favorite to win this game. Northwestern will not go down without a fight. I would not be shocked if the Wildcats put forth their best shooting night of the year in front of a raucous crowd in a must-win spot, but then again those atmospheres can make players jittery. It will be advantage Ohio State until the home team finds a way to contain Sullinger.
#14 UNLV at Colorado State – 10:00 PM ET on CBS Sports Network (****)
- The Runnin’ Rebels need this game if they want to win the Mountain West. Tied atop the league with San Diego State and New Mexico, UNLV has lost three straight road games but can make up for a season of road futility by getting this big win. The team speed of the Rebels will be on display against a Rams team that doesn’t mind playing at a fast pace (66.2 possessions per game). Expect Mike Moser, Chace Stanback, and company to be firing from the outside as the Rams’ opponents are averaging over 21 three-point attempts per game, second most in the Mountain West. The key will be how the Rebels defend a Rams squad with the highest free throw rate and second-highest field goal percentage in the conference.
- Colorado State is one of this year’s classic bubble teams with great computer numbers (#25 RPI, #6 SOS) but a lack of signature players or wins. Tonight could go a long way to changing that. The Rams’ play an eight-man rotation, the top seven of which are all upperclassmen. Pierce Hornung averages just 8.7 points per night but is a great contributor across the board, ranking in the top five in the Mountain West in rebounding (8.5 RPG), steals (1.8 SPG), and field-goal percentage (64.9%). The Rams need Wes Eikmeier to score better than he has recently, at just 9.6 points per game in his last three. In the six games prior, he was averaging 19 per night. Look for Colorado State to use its strong free-throw rate to get its opponent in foul trouble and make UNLV defend a lot of motion and drives to the basket.
- Colorado State simply needs this win or else it is likely toast. At just 6-6 in conference, the Rams will look much better with a top 20 win and an above .500 record if they can take this one. The Rebels are dying for a road win and come in as three-point favorites. Expect a tight one, but I think UNLV comes through here.
Other Games to Watch:
- South Florida at #22 Louisville, 7:00 PM ET on ESPN3.com – The bubbling Bulls can’t be expected to win this game, but a strong showing on the road would help its ‘eye’ test. A win could lock up a bid.
- Iowa State at #6 Missouri, 8:00 PM ET on ESPN3.com – Mizzou is a strong favorite but this is still a nice matchup between two strong Big 12 teams headed for the Big Dance. The Cyclones are coming off a surprising road win at Kansas State; can they make it two straight?
- Miami (FL) at NC State, 9:00 PM ET on ESPN3.com – It’s a bubble battle in the ACC that looks like a potential elimination game. Neither team can afford a loss at this point.
***** – 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