***** – 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.
Two clashes featuring SEC East schools headline tonight’s slate, plus we have a couple interesting west coast games later tonight. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.
#24 Vanderbilt @ #15 Missouri – 9 pm on ESPNU (****)
Vandy's Festus Ezeli is Playing Great This Year
Vanderbilt has flown under the radar for the most part but they’ve now been recognized and cracked our RTC Top 25 this week. Kevin Stallings seems to produce a solid program every year in Nashville, winning at least 20 games in five of the past seven seasons. Vandy is 7-1, their only loss coming by three to West Virginia in Puerto Rico. The Commodores knocked off North Carolina to finish third in that tournament, the first win in a five-game winning streak since the WVU game. Vanderbilt is a solid defensive club that also likes to play at a quick pace, something they’ll see a lot of from their opponent tonight. Missouri loves the pressure defense and fast pace, ranking #14 in tempo. Mizzou is a prolific offensive team because of all the extra possessions they create, averaging 85 PPG on 48% shooting. The Tigers love to force turnovers (#8 in defensive turnover percentage) and should get quite a few against a Vanderbilt team ranked #226 in turnover percentage, but defense has been a struggle for them. Missouri is ranked in the 200’s in effective field goal percentage against, three and two point defense as well as opponents free throws per field goals meaning they foul a lot. Mike Anderson’s team also gives the ball away an average of 15 times per contest, less than they force but still a cause for concern. Aside from the great game against Georgetown last week, Missouri hasn’t been tested by a strong opponent. They were down early against the Hoyas and it was interesting to look at the box score and see the minutes break down for the Mizzou players. Anderson stuck with his starters, playing them for 202 of the 225 (90%) available minutes in the game. While it’s inconclusive, that may have resulted in lots of tired legs towards the end of regulation and certainly in the overtime session. Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon anchor the Tiger back court. Dixon takes great care of the ball, averaging 2.56 assists for every turnover, and will match up against Brad Tinsley (9/5/5), also a good distributor. Denmon is Anderson’s biggest three point threat, hitting 56% of his treys this season. Denmon against Vanderbilt’s John Jenkins will be a great matchup to watch. Jenkins, one of the best three point shooters in the nation last season at 48%, struggled early but has hit 14-29 (48%) over his last four games, right on his number from last year. Overall he’s still at 38% but leads the team in scoring at 19 PPG. Jenkins struggled in Vandy’s last game against Belmont but expect him to be fired up and ready to go against a guy like Denmon. The Commodores need a good outing from Jenkins to be able to win but they also have a secondary deep threat in Jeffery Taylor, something Missouri doesn’t have at this time with their other shooters struggling a bit. As a team, Vanderbilt attempts an average of 21 three’s a game. Another great matchup will occur in the paint between Mizzou’s Ricardo Ratliffe and Vandy’s Festus Ezeli. Ezeli has three inches and 15 pounds on Ratliffe but the Missouri forward is more athletic and can move the Nigerian center around. Ezeli averages 13/8 on 67% FG while blocking two shots a game. Ratliffe will have his hands full but should be able to draw fouls with his superior athleticism. With Ezeli in the fold, Vanderbilt has a rebounding advantage and they do a great job keeping their opponents off the offensive boards. That’ll be important against a Missouri team that’s always looking for extra shots and possessions. Should this game come down to free throws, advantage Vandy. The Commodores shoot 76% from the line as a team led by Jenkins’ 91%. Vanderbilt can definitely win this game but it’ll be tough in the raucous environment of Mizzou Arena. While this game probably won’t be as good as the Mizzou/Georgetown game, expect a great one in Columbia this evening.
SEC/Big East Invitational: #21 Kentucky vs. #22 Notre Dame (in Louisville, KY) – 9:30 pm on ESPN (****)
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