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.
It is road test Saturday as Kentucky and Ohio State face strong tests in Bloomington and Lawrence while a fierce intra-city rivalry plays out on the hardwood in Cincinnati. Also, Duke faces a challenge from Washington at MSG while Wisconsin and Gonzaga look to get back on the right track on their home floors. [Editor’s Note: There will be no Set Your TiVo on Monday due to the barren nature of that night’s schedule as most schools transition into finals week. We will resume on Tuesday.]
#6 Duke vs. Washington (at New York, NY) – 12:00 PM EST Saturday on CBS (***)
- Duke returns to Madison Square Garden for the second time this year to take on a Washington team that also will be playing its second game in the building after a thrilling game against Marquette on Tuesday night. This game will be up-tempo and you can expect guard-heavy Duke to try to take advantage of Washington’s inability to defend the three-point shot. Seth Curry, Austin Rivers, Andre Dawkins and Ryan Kelly can all knock down the triple at a high rate and they’re the reasons why the Blue Devils rank #19 in that department. They’ll be shooting against a Huskies defense that ranks a paltry #262 (37.1%) against the trifecta. The Huskies used a zone at times against Marquette earlier this week. That may be effective at stopping Duke inside, but the Blue Devil guards can shoot right over it. If Lorenzo Romar goes man-to-man, his team will have to fight its way through the tremendous screening action that is a huge part of Duke’s offense, allowing shooters to get open with ease. If Duke knocks down its threes, it’ll be a long early afternoon for Washington.
- The defensive matchups don’t look good for Washington, so you would have to think the Huskies will need to put up a lot of points in order to win. They certainly can do that against Duke’s perimeter defense, but the key will be Terrence Ross and C.J. Wilcox making a bunch of threes to offset the barrage that may come from the Duke shooters. Washington has the height and athleticism necessary to neutralize and even take advantage of Duke in the paint with Aziz N’Diaye and Darnell Gant which will force the Blue Devils to make shots. Offensively, UW’s guards have to be able to penetrate to open up some outside shots while getting N’Diaye and Gant some easy buckets around the rim. That means Abdul Gaddy and (especially) Tony Wroten can’t turn the ball over. The freshman is certainly talented but he turns it over more than four times per game.
- This is a big chance for Washington (4-3) to snag a crucial victory with hardly anything of note left on its non-conference schedule. Washington must rebound the basketball and push the pace as much as possible. The Huskies do a very good job on the boards, outrebounding Duke by an average of 10 RPG coming into the game. The Huskies need to be tough around the basket on both ends of the floor and should not be afraid to foul Mason Plumlee when he receives the ball in the post. Plumlee is a 42.3% foul shooter and should be in for a battle around the basket. While Washington may not be able to defend the three-ball straight up, the Huskies’ length and athleticism has the potential to bother Duke’s guards. Rivers can break down a defense at will but Curry is susceptible to shaky ballhanding and turnovers. If Washington can rattle Curry and put points on the board, they’ll be in the game for the long haul. We’re looking for a closer than expected game but still have to favor the Blue Devils because of their three-point shooting and the partisan crowd sure to fill Madison Square Garden.
Cincinnati @ #7 Xavier – 12:30 PM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (****)
- The Crosstown Shootout is one of the perennially underrated rivalries in the game. While the teams aren’t always great, the basketball is intense between two schools that don’t particularly care for one another. Xavier is the better team but can’t afford to take the Bearcats lightly. The Musketeers needed second half rallies to defeat Vanderbilt and Purdue before going on the road and winning at Butler this past Wednesday. Tu Holloway and Mark Lyons do most of the work for this team but the X-men will need an interior presence against Cincinnati big man Yancy Gates. Gates is a load inside but Kenny Frease should be able to match up with him, at least on the defensive end. If Chris Mack’s squad can limit Gates, who is struggling with only 15 total points scored in his last two games, Xavier will be well on its way to a win at the Cintas Center.
- Cincinnati plays terrific defense but Mick Cronin’s team really struggles to score. The Bearcats have a stunning lack of depth for a team that is supposed to contend for an upper tier finish in the Big East. Since it is putting up only 64 PPG, Cincinnati has to win games with its defense. The good news is Sean Kilpatrick and Dion Dixon can hit from deep with some level of consistency but they’ll face their toughest test to date against a Xavier defense allowing only 25.5% shooting from the three-point line. If the shots don’t fall, Cincinnati doesn’t stand much of a chance, especially if Gates continues his lackluster play of late. To win, the Bearcats must shoot well but they also have to control the glass and the pace of the game. Holloway loves to push the ball, penetrate and get to the line where he’s an 86.2% shooter. He averages nearly ten free throw attempts per game and it’s vital that Cincinnati keep him off the charity stripe if it is to win.
- These teams are similar with regards to their defense and toughness but Xavier is a more talented and deeper version of Cincinnati. Playing in front of a raucous home crowd, it’s hard to see the Musketeers dropping this game. For the Bearcats to have a chance to pull it out, Gates has to be the player he was towards the end of last season when he was putting up 20+ points a night. In addition, Cashmere Wright can’t be turning the ball over at the rate (3.3 per game) he has so far this season. We may be making a mistake since it is a rivalry game, but Xavier by 10-15 points seems like a good bet.