***** – 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.
A lot of the college basketball world was in action on Friday and we have just 27 games tipping off on New Year’s Day. However, a handful involve some pretty good teams. A number of games are on Sunday but not many happen to be compelling matchups. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
West Virginia @ Marquette – 11 am Saturday on ESPN2 (***)
An important game for both clubs, this one tips at a strange time (10 am local) on New Year’s Day. West Virginia suffered a surprising loss to St. John’s at home earlier this week and doesn’t look like a vintage Bob Huggins team. The Mountaineers have struggled a bit with defense and rebounding, two staples of Huggins’ coaching career. They rank just #278 in defensive rebounding percentage and aren’t as strong inside as they have been. West Virginia fouls a lot, leading to foul problems and many free throws for the opposition. Marquette will look to take advantage of that with their free throw rate against, ninth in the nation. Look for the Golden Eagles to have a significant edge at the line as a result. A big part of WVU’s struggles has been the reluctance of Kevin Jones and Deniz Kilicli to explode and become big time players. Jones is still a good player but he hasn’t improved to the point where most expected him to. One player who has is Casey Mitchell, averaging 17 PPG which leads the team. The Mountaineer offense is very efficient (#9 in the country) due to effective point guard play from Darryl Bryant. “Truck” sets the tone for a very good half court unit. West Virginia does rebound well on their end, resulting in a lot of second chance points, but their defense and rebounding on the other end of the floor has let them down. St. John’s put up 81 points against them, a stunning number for a team that isn’t considered an offensive powerhouse by any stretch. Marquette will look to push the ball and work it inside in order to get easier looks and be fouled. Buzz Williams has an undersized team but they do a great job of using their athleticism by getting in the paint and creating good looks. MU gets 62% of their points inside the arc and is #11 in the country in two point percentage. They have a good turnover margin as well and will look to get points in the paint through lots of transition opportunities. Jae Crowder has added another dimension to the Marquette attack, giving them a good scorer inside and out as well as a solid rebounder. He and Jimmy Butler will be key players for the home folks today. Perhaps the most encouraging sign for Williams is the play of Darius Johnson-Odom over the last two games. His struggles from three have been well documented this season but he’s hit seven of his last eleven trifectas. Keeping that hot shooting going will be tough against West Virginia’s #4 rated three point defense but you have to think DJO has some good vibes now. Marquette’s three point defense isn’t very good but they must try to contain Mitchell on the wing. This should be a fairly close game but we like the Golden Eagles to win at home. Nobody knows how the players will react to such an early start but Marquette is playing better right now and should take this one.
#16 Notre Dame @ #4 Syracuse – 3:30 pm Saturday on ESPNU (****)
This matchup has turned into a really good one with the surprising success of Notre Dame. The Fighting Irish picked Georgetown apart (no small feat) earlier this week and will look to grab a big time road win on Saturday afternoon. The keys here are Notre Dame’s rebounding and three point shooting. The Irish run a great offense at a relatively slow pace and will have to get comfortable in the half court against the Syracuse zone. If the three’s are not falling, this will be a long game for Mike Brey. However, we think they will and Notre Dame has an excellent chance to go into Syracuse and grab a win. Notre Dame is an experienced squad and knows what they need to do here. Tim Abromaitis and Ben Hansbrough will look to shoot over the 2-3 zone while Tyrone Nash will play a big role inside against Syracuse’s Rick Jackson. Nash is the best player in the country at drawing fouls, an important statistic against Jackson and Kris Joseph (52 points in his last two games) inside. If the Syracuse bigs are in foul trouble, Notre Dame has a tremendous chance to win. As a team, the Irish are one of the best at getting to the line and keeping their opponent off it. Their free throw rates are very good on both ends so Syracuse will have to get it done shooting the ball from the floor. That’ll be tough against a Notre Dame team coming off a tremendous defensive performance against the Hoyas. Each team takes good care of the ball so turnovers don’t figure to be a huge factor in this game. The rebounding battle may decide the outcome. Both teams do a nice job on the glass but Jim Boeheim has the best rebounder on the floor with Jackson in the middle. He averages 12 RPG and can single handedly carry the Orange to victory. Getting the ball to Jackson on offense falls to Scoop Jardine, a very good point guard averaging six assists per outing. This is a great matchup between two teams that should contend for a double-bye at the Big East Tournament in March. Syracuse will be favored and obviously has a good chance to win but we’re going to go out on a limb here and take the Irish in an upset on the road.