ATB: Power Conference Round Up – All Leagues Now in Tournament Action, Big East Works Overtime

Posted by EJacoby on March 9th, 2012

Tonight’s Lede. Thursday was a transition night during Championship Week from small-conference finishes to power league beginnings. Most mid-major tournaments are now completed, as the automatic bids came flying in over the past five days. Check our Bracket Prep posts to get the scoop on all of the lesser-known teams that have qualified for the Big Dance and will fill out the lower seeds in the bracket. But Thursday night included no tournament finals and instead was a jam-packed day of mostly power league teams dueling to keep their seasons alive, work their way off the ‘bubble,’ or jockey for NCAA Tournament seeding. There were also a few other smaller league tournaments that produced notable results as well. If you missed anything (with 49 games, you probably did), we’ve got you covered…

Your Watercooler Moment. Cincinnati Spectacle – Bearcats Victorious in Double-Overtime

Cincinnati is All Smiles After Thursday's Clutch OT Victory (AP Photo)

The Big East Tournament has been catching some flak for the fairly boring games taking place during the nightcaps on ESPN, but the NYC tourney produced fantastic results during the afternoon on Thursday. Following a hard-fought game between Connecticut and Syracuse, the Bearcats and Hoyas did battle for 40+ minutes, extending all the way into two overtimes in what looked like could have been an even longer game. Georgetown led for most of regulation in the game, but Cincy stormed back in the second half with a strong defensive effort and plenty of big plays, many by the veteran forward Yancy Gates. Although being played at a low-scoring, slow pace, this game was full of clutch shots and crisp basketball plays at the end of regulation and both overtimes. In order to extend the game both times, Georgetown needed to make shots on a final possession while down by two points. First, Otto Porter tied the game in regulation and then it was Henry Sims in the first overtime with a beautiful swooping layup as time expired. But in double-OT, the Hoyas were down two once again with the ball and this time went for the win. Sims’ three-pointer wouldn’t go down and the Bearcats were victorious behind Gates’ 23 points and eight boards. They move on to play Syracuse tomorrow in the Big East semifinals.

Tonight’s Quick Hits

  • Marshall and Tulsa Play Three! If you thought the Cincinnati-Georgetown game was crazy, you’ll want to hear about this one in Conference USA. Marshall was the lower-seeded team and had played yesterday but is probably the more talented squad than Tulsa, who was higher-seeded thanks to a better record in the C-USA season by one game. These two teams did not want to go home empty handed, as they combined to score 205 points in 55 total minutes of play. In three overtimes, Marshall star DeAndre Kane went for a career-high 40 points including nearly all of the big plays down the stretch of the extra sessions. Kane also piled up seven rebounds, three assists, and three steals and played all but one minute of the entire game. Four Tulsa players scored at least 14 points and the Golden Hurricane led by at least three points in all three overtimes, but they could not contain the Thundering Herd’s desperate comeback efforts that resulted in the win from sheer passion and effort. Marshall lives to play another day, but who knows how much it has left in the tank for Friday.
  • Jamaal Franklin For the Win. San Diego State struggled to put away pesky Boise State in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament, but the Aztecs happen to have the conference Player of the Year who’s made great plays all season long. Franklin had 19 points in the game but it was his incredible long-range heave at the buzzer that stole the show and won the game for SDSU. Head coach Steve Fisher described this final play call as, “Give him [Franklin] the ball and let him make a play.” Check out the footage below.

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Morning Five: 03.02.12 Edition

Posted by nvr1983 on March 2nd, 2012

  1. With all of the scandals in college sports that seem to occur without the schools suffering significant on-the-field repercussions it is sometimes hard to remember that sometimes programs actually do suffer. Such is the case for Binghamton as Pete Thamel notes. Thamel goes through the program’s decision to chase Division I glory and looks at the result for a program that earned a NCAA bid by winning the America East Tournament leading their fans to rush the court and our site to get its first on-air mention later that night on SportsCenter. This year, the students rushed the court again, but instead of doing it for a coveted NCAA bid it was for their first win of the year after losing their first 27 games.
  2. For college basketball fans, Perry Jones III is one of the most enigmatic players in the country. But as Jason King writes there is more to the Perry Jones story than just what you see on the court. King tells the fascinating story of Jones including his time bouncing between cheap hotels during his senior year of high school because his family could not afford a house. After reading this piece you may still struggle to understand Perry Jones the player, but you will have a greater appreciation of Perry Jones the person.
  3. No coach at a major program utilizes social media quite like John Calipari and his post on “The great myth of our program” is an excellent example. After taking some heat for being labeled as a “one-and-done factory” Calipari took to his blog on his personal site to defend his program and more importantly his kids. We are sure that fans of rival programs will inevitably find a few parts to take issue with, but Calipari’s ability to sell his program is phenomenal. If you want to know why he cleans up on the recruiting trail, you could do a lot worse than to start by reading this piece and getting a sense of how he promotes his program.
  4. In this week’s edition of his power rankings, Luke Winn takes a look at many of the statistics he has tracked all season giving a few interesting updates. However, the one statistic that he cites that is the most interesting to us is one regarding Kentucky and Marquis Teague that he mentioned in a post the day before. All season long, fans and analysts have pointed to Teague’s play as the key to Kentucky’s long-term success. Along with that there has been a sense Kentucky is at its best when they are using their athleticism and getting out and running rather than playing at a slower pace. So it would seem to make sense that Teague and Kentucky would be at their best when they got out and ran except that it does not appear to be the case for Teague. As Winn notes, an analysis done last year showed a similar trend for Brandon Knight so perhaps it is more a reflection of the team, position, and opposition, but it is something worth watching over the next month to see if the narrative fits reality.
  5. Most of the major recruits in the class of 2012 have already committed to their schools and fans of most teams will soon be looking forward to next season. Fans of course are asking the natural questions: what impact will these new faces have and how long will they stay? Drew Cannon of Basketball Prospectus takes a look at the latter by looking at the relationship between class rank and transfer rates. Looking at top 100 recruits from classes from 2002 to 2009, Cannon analyzes how long players who are on their team by the end of their freshmen year stay at the school. While there are a lot of factors involved in these decisions, it is interesting to look at the analysis and the accompanying chart to get a better sense of what you can expect.
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Night Line: Quincy Acy Keeps Baylor From Falling Apart

Posted by EJacoby on February 21st, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor for RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. Night Line will run on weeknights during the season, highlighting a major storyline development from that day’s games.

Since winning its first 17 games of the season, Baylor has struggled mightily against tougher competition and played mediocre .500 basketball in its past 10 games. Facing a 10-point halftime deficit on Monday night at Texas, it looked as if the Bears were going to drop another game and confirm beliefs that this team lacks the toughness to win big games. But forward Quincy Acy stopped the wheels from falling off, going for 14 of his 22 points in the second half and lifting his team to a 77-72 road win over the Longhorns. While Baylor has been unable to play to its potential in the Big 12, the senior Acy has displayed consistent 100% effort to ensure that his team cannot be counted out just yet. It remains to be seen if Baylor’s talented roster will ever produce elite results, but the leadership from Acy is there to prevent a complete meltdown from occurring.

Quincy Acy is the Heart and Soul of the Baylor Bears (US Presswire/B. Maloney)

From a pure talent perspective, Acy is not even one of the top two forwards on this Baylor team. Freshman Quincy Miller and sophomore Perry Jones III are both projected 2012 NBA Draft lottery picks, according to DraftExpress. While both players have tremendous upside as impact offensive players, both have also struggled to establish themselves as reliable players in difficult games. Miller was a complete non-factor on Monday and failed to score in 22 minutes, while Jones shot 3-14 for just 10 points and three rebounds in another disappointing effort. But team leader Acy was a man among boys in the paint, physically out-working and out-hustling everyone else on the floor for one of the best games of his career. He finished with 22 points and a career-high 16 rebounds to secure a big victory for the Bears that at least temporarily halts concerns that they could be in a major slide heading into the Big 12 Tournament.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.20.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 20th, 2012

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.

One bubble team looks to stop the bleeding just by getting any kind of win while another is in search of the quality win that could put it in the NCAA Tournament. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

Connecticut @ Villanova – 7:00 PM EST on ESPN (***)

  • It is not a good time to be a Connecticut fan. Jim Calhoun is out, the team is average, the chemistry is bad, and the program is facing an NCAA Tournament ban next season. Plus the women’s team lost for the first time in 99 games at home on Saturday! Shabazz Napier called out his teammates after Saturday’s loss to Marquette, UConn’s seventh in nine games. This team’s chemistry is as sour as an expired milk carton and it will take a major turnaround for the Huskies to pull out of this tailspin. To beat Villanova, Connecticut must use its terrific interior defense to make the Wildcats take deep shots. Villanova is not a good three-point shooting team and is highly inefficient overall on the offensive end. Starters Maalik Wayns and James Bell have been injured and it’s not known if they will play. Wayns is listed as questionable while Bell is doubtful. If neither plays, there is no excuse for Connecticut not to win this game. As long as the Huskies can shut down JayVaughn Pinkston and contain Dominic Cheek, they shouldwin. Of course with a team in a situation such as UConn’s, nothing is assured.

    Jim Calhoun Will Not Be Walking Through That Door

  • Villanova blew a 20-point lead and lost in overtime to Notre Dame on Saturday night. The Wildcats played without Wayns and Bell and their first half performance should be a warning shot for UConn. The Wildcats dominated Notre Dame in the first half before folding late. If Wayns can’t go, it will be up to Pinkston and Cheek to do most of the scoring. Pinkston has improved nicely as the year has gone on and Jay Wright isn’t giving up on his team. The Wildcats put a scare into Marquette and Notre Dame while picking up a handful of wins along the way. If Cheek is hitting from the outside, that’ll open things up for Pinkston inside. Pinkston can also stretch the defense and could be able to pull Andre Drummond and Alex Oriakhi away from the rim where they are vulnerable. Connecticut doesn’t defend the triple well but Villanova doesn’t exactly shoot it well either. If the Wildcats are to win, they’re going to have to make threes.
  • This is about as unpredictable of a game as we have had all year. Connecticut is the better team, but it certainly isn’t playing like it in 2012. The wildcard in this game is Wayns. If he can give it a go, Villanova will have a very good chance to win. If not, Pinkston, Cheek and company will have to duplicate the effort they put forth in the first half of the Notre Dame game and sustain it for 40 minutes. Picking the winner of this game is anyone’s guess.
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Should Meyers Leonard Go Pro After This Season?

Posted by Deepak Jayanti on February 16th, 2012

Uncertainty looms over Assembly Hall in Champaign nowadays as the Fighting Illini lost another game to Purdue on Wednesday night, their seventh loss out of eight games. Will the Illinois Athletic Director Mike Thomas get rid of Bruce Weber?  Will the Illini make the NCAA tournament?  These are legitimate questions on the minds of the Illini faithful but the biggest question is about their star center, Meyers Leonard’s future: will he come back for his junior season in Champaign? Let’s examine a few non-personal factors that might drive the sophomore’s decision regarding the NBA.

Leonard Has A Tough Decision To Make At The End Of The Season

Why should he leave for the NBA 

  1. You can’t teach 7’1″.” – NBA scouts love to use that cliché. Leonard has all the physical tools to play the center position at the next level. He has shown that he can add muscle over the off-season (added 30 lbs) and certainly has the intensity to hang with the big guys on a nightly basis in the NBA. Averaging eight boards per game isn’t too shabby in the Big Ten, which is known for the physical brand of play. Defensively, he has been a highlight reel during the season as he has swatted balls into the second row of the sidelines, including a game-winning block against Northwestern on the road. Most of the NBA draft boards, such as have him slated as a potential lottery pick. The scouts will waste no time trying to convince him about going pro after the college season because they might have seen enough for somebody with his physical build. But that doesn’t necessarily mean he has reached his ceiling in the college game, or maybe he did under the current coach.
  2. Bruce Weber will coach Illinois in 2013 – Bruce Weber is not a bad coach because he understands the talented sophomore and his significance to the Illini offense. Even though Leonard could improve on his scoring average from this season of 13.2 points per game, he might have hit the ceiling in Weber’s system. True centers that have the skills to play with the back to their basket don’t shine under Weber’s offensive philosophy. The motion offense under Weber has been designed around guards who can shoot the deep ball. Illinois has been at the bottom of the league for years in terms of free throws per game (only 32.5% in 2012) because most of the offensive plays revolve around screens for the shooters rather than an attacking brand of basketball.  During their recent losing skid, Weber tries to commit to the big man over the first few minutes of the game but during the late minutes, most of the shots end up being away from the paint. Historically, centers that prefer to play in the post such as Shaun Pruitt have been frustrated in Weber’s system. Mike Davis and Mike Tisdale rarely played with their backs to the basket or in the paint because they relied heavily upon the 15-footer from the baseline coming off the pick-and-roll plays. Leonard’s offensive game is more than a baseline jumper or a post move – he is a monster when he attacks the hoop off the picks but Weber has not and will not be able to utilize him better next season unless he adjusts his system. If Leonard comes back for a third year with an improved game, the skills need to be utilized efficiently by the coach otherwise his draft stock won’t improve after another year in college.
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Checking In On… the Big 12 Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on February 13th, 2012

Steve Fetch is the RTC correspondent for the Big 12. You can also find his musings online at Rock Chalk Talk or on Twitter @fetch9.

Reader’s Take


The Week That Was

  • Baylor Drops From Contention: The Big 12 separated at the top this week as Baylor lost both to Kansas and Missouri. Perry Jones III, who is talked about as a probable lottery pick next June, disappeared this week, scoring five points on 1-8 shooting against Kansas and four points on 2-12 shooting against Missouri. Jones, like the rest of his teammates, has a ton of talent, but doesn’t appear to have the toughness necessary to compete at the highest level.
  • A Third Weapon for Kansas: When the weekly conference awards are announced, Jeff Withey may be the fourth different Kansas player to be named Big 12 Player of the Week this season. Withey had a career-high 25 points against Baylor on Wednesday and followed it up with a great game against Oklahoma State, with 18 points, 20 rebounds, and seven blocks in Lawrence on Saturday. Everyone knows what Thomas Robinson has done, and Tyshawn Taylor’s putting up solid lines lately, but Withey’s emergence gives Kansas maybe the best post combo in the country.
  • Red Raiders Hit The Win Column: The Red Raiders, who were 0-11 in conference play going into the weekend, got an early Valentine’s Day present, beating Oklahoma 65-47 at home. Javarez Willis scored 21 points and Robert Lewandowski had 16, but it was the Red Raiders’ defense that stole the show: Texas Tech held Oklahoma to just 0.73 points per possession and forced them to turn it over on a quarter of their possessions.

Kansas' Jeff Withey Builds A Case For Most Improved Player. (AP)

Power Rankings

  1. Missouri (23-2, 10-2): Missouri survived a scare on Monday when Oklahoma guard Steven Pledger’s three at the buzzer rimmed out (it didn’t stop him from celebrating a bit early, though). They’ll get the opportunity to avenge one of their conference losses this week when Oklahoma State comes to town. I’m assuming they’ll shoot a bit better than 48% from two and 21% from three in that one.
  2. Kansas (18-5, 8-2): It was a tale of two halves on Saturday, as Kansas completely destroyed Oklahoma State in the first half, jumping out to a 51-24 lead after 20 minutes. But they came out lethargic in the second and struggled with Oklahoma State’s press, turning it over regularly and getting outscored by 12. Kansas used its size advantage well that day, grabbing over half of its misses and limiting Oklahoma State to just a 13.2% offensive rebounding rate. The one negative for Kansas as of late has been their inability to take care of the ball: their turnover rate is sixth in the Big 12. Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your TiVo: 02.11.12 – 02.12.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 10th, 2012

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.

Plenty of top 25 games are on Saturday’s slate while conference races heat up and bubble teams look for key wins.

#20 Virginia at #5 North Carolina – 1:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN FullCourt/ (****)

  • Coming off the crushing home loss to Duke on Wednesday, how will the Tar Heels respond? Without P.J. Hairston (sore foot) in the lineup, things could get a little dicey for #5 UNC. Hairston’s absence severely limits Carolina’s already thin back court depth. This game is going to be all about pace. Virginia plays at one of the slowest paces in the nation while North Carolina is one of the fastest teams. Point guard Kendall Marshallhas to get his team running as much as they can but we’ve seen time and time again how it is much easier to slow a game down than it is to speed it up. Wisconsin did this effectively at the Dean Dome earlier this season and you’re going to see the same blueprint from Virginia. The Cavaliers do a great job defending the three-point arc so UNC will likely get almost all of its points from inside or the free throw line. The Tar Heels are among the bottom five teams in America in terms of threes attempted to begin with and get 61.8% of their points from two-point range on average. Marshall and his teammates must be able to penetrate and move the ball well against Virginia’s strong half court defense.

    How Will Marshall & The Tar Heels Respond To Tuesday's Last Second Loss?

  • Virginia’s biggest strengths are its defense and play of forward Mike Scott. At 60.3% from the field, Scott is among the best interior players in the nation, but will have to receive some help from a thin UVA front line in this game. Led by Tyler Zeller and John Henson, North Carolina has a ton of height up front that could give Scott a lot of problems. With Assane Sene still out with an ankle injury, the burden of helping Scott against UNC’s imposing front line falls to Akil Mitchell. His presence will be needed more on the defensive end to limit Zeller and Henson but Virginia is not going to win if Scott doesn’t score. Mitchell must be enough of a threat to prevent quick double teams on Scott, allowing him to maneuver around the UNC trees. Defensively, Virginia will look to pack its defense in and prevent Marshall from penetrating and dishing to Zeller and Henson. Making opponents take tough shots is something Virginia does really well and the Cavaliers will need to do it again. Harrison Barnes will likely oblige but Mitchell and Scott must force Zeller and Henson into shots outside the paint or falling away from the basket. If you allow those guys to receive the ball in the paint, you’re finished.
  • Even though Virginia will likely slow the game down to a pace of its liking, the Cavaliers still must score the basketball. Sammy Zeglinski is five for his last 19 from the floor over the past three games and Jontel Evans has to have a good game at the point guard position. Virginia can’t turn the ball over and fuel the Carolina transition attack. It would also help if Joe Harris was knocking down triples, especially if Zeglinski can’t get out of his funk. Keep an eye on rebounding. North Carolina did a great job against Duke, showing some toughness on the glass that we haven’t always seen this year. Virginia is fourth nationally in defensive rebounding percentage but the Cavs really struggle on the offensive end. If the shots aren’t falling, Virginia will have a lot of one and done possessions if it can’t do a better job on the offensive glass. Good rebounding also helps a team control tempo and that’s exactly what Virginia needs to do in order to win this game on the road.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.08.12 – Rivalry Week Headline Night

Posted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

Here we go, folks. Get ready for one of the very best nights of the college basketball regular season, including two 5-star showdowns. The best rivalry in the sport highlights this slate. We absolutely guarantee some great basketball tonight. Let’s get into the breakdowns:

#7 Kansas at #6 Baylor – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (*****)

Who's Going to Stop Thomas Robinson Tonight for Baylor? (AP Photo/L.G. Patterson)

  • Kansas has lost their last two road games at Iowa State and Missouri despite putting up a great fight in both efforts. Tonight is another opportunity to win a crucial conference road game against a team who they will be competing with for the Big 12 title. They will be looking for the season sweep of Baylor after already thrashing the Bears at home back on January 16. In order to do so, the play of Tyshawn Taylor might be the key. He’s been terrific recently at 18.5 points and 6.5 assists in those two road environments, but late-game turnovers continue to be his bugaboo. Eliminating a mistake or two at the end of the game can be the difference between a win and a loss, especially in this one with such physical front lines that may cancel each other out and leave the guards to decide this one. Along those lines, Thomas Robinson will be defended by any number of physical forwards, but that didn’t stop him from going for 27/14 in the first meeting. Nobody can shut him down when he is on. For Kansas to have an advantage, someone else needs to step up and make big shots, whether it is Conner Teahan, Travis Releford, or Elijah Johnson. They have lacked that unsung hero in road games thus far.
  • It doesn’t feel like Baylor is playing very well right now, yet their talent and depth has continued to carry them through the Big 12 slate with just two losses to top competition. Tonight is a must-win at home to avenge the earlier loss to Kansas and to keep themselves alive in the regular season title hunt. The Bears allow just 39.6% field-goal shooting on the season and will do everything in their power to contain Robinson from going off. Quincy Acy, a stellar defender (2.3 BPG), must have a great game in order to do that. Baylor has more overall scoring talent and will have the advantage if Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III just play to their abilities. At 1.12 points per possession during Big 12 play, Baylor leads the conference in offensive efficiency, but the Kansas defense is the best that they will face. Just like Kansas needs Taylor to step up late, pay attention to how Pierre Jackson performs in this game, the guard who has made nearly all of their big shots this season.
  • This game will be televised on the Deuce, but it’s just as spectacular of a matchup as the one being played simultaneously on ESPN. Baylor is just a two-point favorite at home, as we just don’t know exactly which Bears players will show up in big games. It seems like Kansas can be trusted to play well in this game, but do they have enough impact players to get the road win? I’m predicting a Baylor win by about four to six points as their pieces overwhelm Kansas by the end of the night.

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Set Your TiVo: 01.20 – 01.22

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 21st, 2012

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.

Cincinnati and Vanderbilt will look to keep rolling but a Big 12 clash highlights Saturday’s slate.

#5 Missouri @ #3 Baylor – 2:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPN (*****)

This Clash Between Big 12 Powers Offers a Contrast in Strengths

  • This game could really come down to which team imposes its will. For Missouri, it would love nothing more than to speed the game up, force turnovers and not let Baylor get set in its half court defense. Missouri’s strength is its guard play. Frank Haith employs a four-guard lineup and it has worked wonders this season. The Tigers have shot the ball very well this season and that’s going to have to continue on the road in Waco. Missouri has struggled against teams with bigger front lines so its guards must shoot well if penetration is cut off and Ricardo Ratliffe is limited inside by Baylor’s trees. Kim English, Michael Dixon and Marcus Denmon can flat out shoot the basketball and Haith will need all three contributing in order to beat Baylor. It will be a bonus if Ratliffe can get anything going inside but Mizzou’s guards must continue to make shots in a tough environment.
  • Baylor is the stronger team inside and Scott Drew knows it. Getting Perry Jones III to assert himself in the paint along with Quincy Acy could be the key for the Bears in this game. Baylor will have the home crowd and energy behind itself and capitalizing on that is going to be very important against a team that loves to speed you up and force turnovers. In order for Jones and Acy to get the ball, Baylor’s guard play must be up to the task. Missouri will pressure Pierre Jackson and A.J. Walton all game because the Tigers need to run up the turnovers and transition points in order to offset what should be a significant Baylor edge on the glass. If Baylor can slow the game down a bit, limit turnovers and get the ball inside, it should be on its way to a win. If Jones III and Acy are hot in the paint, that will open up Brady Heslip and Jackson from deep. Jackson does so much for this team with penetration, passing and shooting ability but Heslip is great spotting up or coming off a screen. Baylor has multiple weapons of varying height, something Missouri may have a very hard time dealing with.
  • As we said, Missouri must speed the game up and create turnovers against the turnover-prone Bears. Ratliffe is a very good post player but we’re not sure if he’s going to be able to score consistently as the only Mizzou big man against Baylor’s immense height in the paint. If Missouri can’t get anything inside it must knock down deep shots and get to the free throw line. The Tigers shoot 77.6% from the charity stripe and that could end up being their most efficient way of scoring against Baylor aside from the three ball. Baylor didn’t defend well against Kansas but Missouri was exposed in a tough environment at Kansas State. If Baylor is physical and sticks to the game plan of good half court offense, the Bears should win. Missouri should play better in its second time on the road against a very good team but you have to favor Baylor at home given the size mismatch.

Cincinnati @ West Virginia – 3:00 PM EST Saturday on ESPNU (****)

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Set Your TiVo: 01.16.12

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 16th, 2012

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.

The first official “Big Monday” of the year kicks off in a big way with four games on ESPN starting at 3:30 PM EST. We have previewed the two big ones below. Rankings are subject to change with a new RTC Top 25 coming out today.

#17 Louisville at #21 Marquette – 3:30 PM EST on ESPN (****)

  • Marquette has struggled in the first half of its last three games, but it should look to come out with great energy against Louisville, an old Conference USA rival that moved to the Big East with Marquette in 2005. The Golden Eagles have won two straight games with strong second half efforts, but the key in this game will be jumping on the Cardinals from the start. Marquette likely won’t be able to score easily against Louisville’s #12 defense but Marquette can create advantages in other areas. Look for Marquette to push the pace and try to score in transition. The Golden Eagles will likely be out-rebounded so a significant turnover margin in their favor could propel them to a lot of points in transition. Louisville ranks #224 in defensive free throw rate and Marquette shoots 70.5% from the charity stripe. Creating turnovers and getting to the line will take care of any disadvantage on the glass. Darius Johnson-Odom and Jae Crowder do the bulk of the offensive work for the home squad, which averages nine steals per game.
  • The Cardinals really struggle to shoot the basketball as they are ranked #137 in offensive efficiency. To win this game on the road, Louisville will have to put forth one of its best defensive efforts of the season along with crashing the offensive glass when it has the ball. With Gorgui Dieng inside and a number of guards that aren’t afraid to rebound, Rick Pitino’s team has the toughness needed to get second chances around the bucket. It would be nice for the Cardinals if Russ Smith had another game like the 25-point performance on Saturday against DePaul. Smith has been inconsistent, but when he scores he really goes off. A better offensive game from Peyton Sivawould significantly help Louisville’s chances as well. He hasn’t been all that impressive in Big East play, but a smart game from their point guard will make Louisville much tougher to beat. If the Cardinals aren’t turning the ball over, they can control the pace and make it harder for Marquette to score.

    Can Rick Pitino's Team Regroup After A Tough Stretch?

  • Louisville has won six of the past seven games in this series, but may be without its leading scorer, Kyle Kuric. He sprained an ankle last week in practice and his status is questionable for today’s game. If he plays, Louisville won’t have to rely as heavily on the Smith’s for offensive production. In addition to DJO and Crowder, Buzz Williams needs a third scorer to emerge on a consistent basis. Todd Mayo can be that guy, shooting 48% in Marquette’s wins and only 33% in its losses. When Mayo and/or Vander Blue are contributing, the Golden Eagles are one of the tougher teams in America to beat. A smart game plan by Louisville would be to go after those two defensively and try to prevent them from getting touches. Johnson-Odom and Crowder will get their points, but shutting down Marquette’s ancillary pieces is the key to beating them. Louisville was blown out at Providence last week but we expect a better showing this time. Marquette is the favorite, but Louisville could make this a very close game.
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