***** – 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 tivobut 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.
Some folks may be going through college basketball withdrawal today as the Thanksgiving tournaments have ended and the action is extremely light tonight. Fear not however, great games make a comeback tomorrow. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
Virginia @ #16 Minnesota – 7 pm on ESPN2 (**)
Blake Hoffarber Has Been Up/Down This Season
Minnesota is still riding high after their tournament win in Puerto Rico as they open the ACC-Big Ten Challenge against the Virginia Cavaliers this evening. The Golden Gophers are dealing with some injuries tonight as starting point guard Al Nolen (foot) and Rodney Williams (ankle) are unlikely to play. Coach Tubby Smith still has plenty of weapons to turn to and may get Devoe Joseph back from suspension tonight. Smith has said he’s undecided but there’s a chance that Joseph could make his first appearance of the season against Virginia. The Cavaliers went 1-2 in Maui, defeating Oklahoma while losing to Washington and Wichita State. They’re 3-3 overall and are expected to finish near the bottom of the ACC this season. Tony Bennett’s team has been, well, unlike a typical Tony Bennett team so far. Virginia has struggled on the defensive end, ranking #135 in efficiency. They’ve given up an average of 70 PPG and are #330 in defensive effective FG%. UVA doesn’t force turnovers due to Bennett’s deliberate, slow pace and have been terrible at defending the three. Virginia is almost dead last in defensive three point percentage, allowing opponents to shoot 47% from behind the arc. As you might expect, Virginia’s opponents get the largest percentage of their points from the three point line, #1 in the nation. To put this in perspective, Bennett’s last team at Washington State (2008-09) finished #6 in the country in defensive efficiency. Minnesota will look to take advantage of this weakness with Blake Hoffarber, who broke out of his early slump with 24 points on 10-16 shooting against North Dakota State on Wednesday. With Nolen out and the status of Joseph still up in the air, Hoffarber is more than capable of running the offense (2.82 assist/turnover ratio). The Gophers should dominate this game in the low post with plenty of scoring and good rebounding behind Trevor Mbakwe (14/9, 69% FG) and Ralph Sampson III (13/7, 3 blocks), but Virginia has a star of its own in 6’8 Mike Scott. The senior forward is averaging 17/9, Virginia’s only player in double figures so far this season. He’ll have his hands full with Minnesota’s stellar frontcourt but the Cavaliers are counting on him to keep them competitive tonight. 6’9 Will Sherrill can stretch the defense and he’ll need to do a lot of that by pulling Mbakwe and Colton Iverson away from the basket where they can’t get into a comfort zone. Minnesota may struggle a bit to start the game with the uncertainty of their rotation but expect a steady diet of Hoffarber from deep along with dishes to Mbakwe and Sampson III. That will allow Minnesota to pull away and win this one comfortably.
USC @ TCU – 8 pm on The Mtn. (**)
This clash between Pac-10 and Mountain West schools features a USC team coming off a bad loss at Nebraska on Saturday and a TCU club playing second fiddle to the school’s football team in the hunt for a BCS national championship. Expect this to be a low scoring game as both teams struggle offensively, each ranking outside the top 100 in offensive efficiency. The Trojans are a much better defensive club, though you wouldn’t know it based on their performance against Nebraska (50% FG for the Cornhuskers). USC still ranks #29 in defensive efficiency and #7 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage, essentially controlling the defensive glass. Kevin O’Neill has two totally different players leading the team with his 5’7 point guard Maurice Jones (13/4/4) and 6’10 F/C Nikola Vucevic (16/11), each having a great start to the season. As you might imagine, Jones struggles shooting the trey due to his height. He still finds a way to score and get others involved making the freshman a nice piece to build around in the coming years. Vucevic is an experienced junior who teams with Alex Stepheson to create a better than average frontcourt. Stepheson, a transfer from North Carolina, had 14/9 against Nebraska and is shooting 56% from the floor this year. The Horned Frogs of TCU are led by another small point guard, 5’9 Hank Thorns. He’s averaging seven assists per game while grabbing four rebounds, pretty good for a guard of his height. TCU’s leading scorer is Ronnie Moss (16 PPG), a threat from behind the arc against a Trojan defense that ranks #237 against the trey. It’s been a struggle for TCU when it comes to rebounding the basketball as they’re really undersized. They’ve been outrebounded in all but two of their games, averaging only 31 RPG. TCU is #300 in offensive rebound percentage and #293 in two point percentage defense. Put those two stats together and you have a recipe ripe for putbacks for scores off missed shots. USC will look to take advantage of that behind Stepheson and Vucevic. The Trojans should get the ball inside early and often to utilize their size and rebounding strength in this matchup. The Trojans must get to the free throw line more often as they rank poorly in that area and only attempted two free throws against Nebraska. A more aggressive style would cure this problem but with a very slow tempo (#262), don’t expect that to change anytime soon. Well played games from Moss, Thorns or J.R. Cadot will keep TCU in this game to the end. USC is the better team but the Horned Frogs are at home so we see this as a toss-up game that may come down to the last few possessions.