***** – 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 2013
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game
Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor.
All eyes will be focused on the Big Apple this evening as four quality teams take center stage at Madison Square Garden in the 2010 Jimmy V. Classic. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
The Jimmy V is Outstanding This Year
#4 Kansas vs. #18 Memphis – 7 pm on ESPN (****)
This is quite an undercard but that’s why we love the Jimmy V. The classic 2008 championship game rematch happens for the second year in a row, this time in New York after playing in St. Louis last year. Memphis almost knocked off the powerhouse Jayhawks in the ‘Lou but fell short by two points. Kansas is just as good this year, but Memphis is better than they were. The young Tigers don’t have a true star yet, but Josh Pastner has a roster full of solid players who do a good, not great, job in most areas of the game. Combining all of that talent into an efficient unit has been a work in progress so far but you’d have to figure they’ll click at some point. Pastner faces a number of challenges in his first big test of the season under the bright lights of the big city and ESPN’s cameras. This should be an up-tempo game but Memphis doesn’t handle the ball very well. They average 16 turnovers per contest with Joe Jackson being the key culprit. The freshman point guard has a ton of talent but he’s just that: a freshman. With Jackson’s assist to turnover ratio at 1.19, Kansas has to be salivating at the prospect of quick transition buckets off turnovers tonight. Memphis is not a great three point shooting team and KU ranks second in the country in three point defense. Therefore the Tigers should be looking at their mid range game with Will Barton as well as in the paint with Wesley Witherspoon, shooting 61% on the year. The problem there is that Memphis doesn’t have a great rebounder to go up against Kansas’ Markieff Morris, plus the Tigers have little front court depth. Perhaps the best strategy is to go right at the Kansas bigs and get them in foul trouble. One thing Memphis does extremely well is get to the line. They rank #17 in free throw attempts per field goal attempts and shoot a respectable 73% from the line. In fact, Memphis gets 26% of their points from the stripe, attempting an average of 30 free throws per game. Aside from a bit of a slip up against UCLA, Kansas has looked outstanding. One story to watch is Jayhawk point guard Tyshawn Taylor returning to the New York area for the first time in a college game. Taylor played for Hall of Famer Bob Hurley Sr. at St. Anthony High School, right across the Hudson River in Jersey City, NJ. Taylor has been tremendous handling the ball for Bill Self, averaging almost seven assists a game with a 2.31 A/T ratio. We said Memphis should look to get Kansas in foul trouble but you can bet the Jayhawks will try to do the same on their end. If Marcus Morris can stretch the defense a bit, leaving brother Markieff to go one-on-one with the 6’9 Witherspoon, Memphis’ leading scorer may pick up a couple early fouls. Pastner may turn to Tarik Black or Angel Garcia to defend Markieff as Witherspoon is more of a face up player. Black played 27 minutes against Western Kentucky on Saturday, perhaps getting him prepared to face Kansas tonight. Kansas gets 60% of its production inside the arc and foul trouble for Memphis will only make it tougher for the Tigers to compete with the deep and talented Jayhawks. Memphis will hope to catch Kansas on another off-night defensively as UCLA and Arizona each put up over 75 points on KU, but the matchups really favor the Jayhawks in this game. We’d be surprised if Memphis won but this could be a close game for a while. In the end, expect Kansas to pull away and win by about ten points.
#6 Michigan State vs. #14 Syracuse – 9:30 pm on ESPN (*****)
As for the nightcap, what a matchup this is. Michigan State, tested three times already, faces a Syracuse team that hasn’t faced a top notch opponent but will be playing in front of what is sure to be a highly partisan crowd clad in Orange this evening. Syracuse is undefeated but they’ve struggled offensively. The Orange shoot just 43% as a team, second to last in the Big East. Syracuse’s strength is inside with Rick Jackson (13/12) and Kris Joseph (14/5) but they’ll face a Spartan defense that allows just 39% shooting inside the arc. That’s bad news for Syracuse, ranked #281 in three point shooting at just under 30%. The Orange must be able to score inside to win so they’ll need solid efforts from Jackson and Joseph along with Scoop Jardine driving and dishing. Jardine averages seven assists per game and has to create in order for poor-shooting Syracuse to get easy buckets. Defensively, Jim Boeheim’s patented 2-3 zone hasn’t been as airtight as last year’s edition. Syracuse defends the three well but opponents get 39% of their points from deep, probably because of the volume of shots put up trying to shoot over the top of the zone. The Spartans shoot 43% from three so look for that to be a key factor in this game. With Korie Lucious handling the point for the most part, Kalin Lucas had had more opportunities to shoot the three ball at the two guard position. Lucas is connecting at a 44% clip and Tom Izzo’s top four scorers are all threats from long range. Syracuse has to contain the three, otherwise they’ll have very little chance to win this game. The problem for Michigan State has been turnovers. They average 18 per game and 20 turnovers against Duke doomed them. Sparty let a huge opportunity against the Blue Devils slip by the wayside as they out-shot and out-rebounded Duke on their home floor. They had 21 giveaways against Bowling Green on Saturday and Izzo actually said his team is “tired” from all the tough games early on. Turnovers will only keep the Orange in the game, but Michigan State can use its rebounding prowess to their advantage. They’ll have an edge overall but specifically on the offensive boards. Izzo loves sending each player to the glass, one of his trademarks over the years. Syracuse is vulnerable on the glass in their zone, ranking just #154 in opponents offensive rebounding percentage. Michigan State should be able to work the ball into the free throw line and paint against the zone with their guards, enabling Draymond Green to go to work. The Orange defense is just #128 in defending the two and Green, at 6’6/235, can take advantage of that. Averaging 14/9/4 a game, the versatile junior will be a vital part of MSU’s offensive attack tonight. He’s also expanded his game this year, taking 24 three’s and hitting 54%, giving State yet another weapon on the wing. We don’t know if Izzo’s “tired” comment is an omen but Michigan State is the deeper team and should use that to its advantage. Syracuse will no doubt come out amped up in front of a big crowd at MSG but they have to shoot better than they have been if they hope to win. This game has the makings of a classic, especially if Syracuse is able to tap into the energy of the Garden crowd. Expect this game to come down to the last few possessions with free throws and coaching strategy playing a huge role. Neither team shoots it well from the line so this game won’t be decided until the buzzer sounds. It’s going to be a great night in New York.