RTC Conference Primers: #1 – Big East Conference

Posted by Brian Goodman on November 14th, 2011

Brian Otskey is the RTC correspondent for the Big East. You can find him on Twitter @botskey.

Reader’s Take I

 

Top Storylines

  • The Realignment Circus Continues: The latest blow to the Big East came just recently as West Virginia was accepted into the Big 12. That leaves the Big East with 13 basketball schools remaining and a handful of others (football schools) desperately trying to flee the sinking ship. Commissioner John Marinatto has said he is committed to holding Syracuse, Pittsburgh and West Virginia to the 27-month notice provision in the conference’s bylaws but one has to wonder if a financial settlement will be worked out in order to expedite the transition and move the conference into rebuilding mode. It’s going to be quite awkward if these three schools remain in the league until 2014. All of the current Big East members should eventually find a stable home in one form or another, but the days of Big East basketball as we know it will soon come to an end. Enjoy the 2011-12 season because it just might be the last year of this remarkable 16-team behemoth.
  • How Many Bids This Year?: After sending a record 11 teams to the NCAA Tournament last year, can the Big East reach that mark again? That seems unlikely but you never know how things will truly play out. I’d say there are ten contenders for NCAA bids and to make 11 you would need all of those teams plus one of the three New York City-area schools to have a wildly successful year and snatch a bid. The Big East is quite possibly the best conference in the land yet again but 11 NCAA teams is far-fetched. Eight or nine bids this season would seem to be much more realistic.
  • Can Connecticut Repeat?: The technical answer is yes but it will be extremely tough to do. There’s a reason only two teams have gone back-to-back in the last 20 years. College basketball is as deep as ever in terms of talent and quality teams, plus there’s someone missing from last year’s Connecticut team. Kemba Walker is now in the NBA and, despite Jim Calhoun’s impressive recruiting haul, there is a major leadership void to be filled. This team is stocked with talent but Walker was a one-of-a-kind leader who took complete control in Maui and parlayed that into a way of life for the rest of the season. Jeremy Lamb figures to take control but remember how young this group is. They’ll get better as the season progresses and may even win the Big East but when the chips are down in the NCAA Tournament, they won’t be able to call on Kemba and that’s why I feel they will not repeat.

Calhoun Won't Have His Mr. Everything Around This Season

  • Cautious Optimism at Georgetown, Villanova and West Virginia: These traditional powers lose a lot of talent and figure to be lodged in the middle of the conference. All three programs return key cogs but the departures of Austin Freeman, Chris Wright, Corey Fisher, Corey Stokes, Antonio Pena, Casey Mitchell, John Flowers and Joe Mazzulla leave more questions than answers. These teams all need someone to step up and become a deep shooting threat while maintaining a low post presence. Guards win in college basketball but you also have to be able to rebound and score inside occasionally. Hollis Thompson, Mouphtaou Yarou and Deniz Kilicli must become better all-around post men if their respective teams hope to make the NCAA Tournament. At 6’7”, 205 lbs., Thompson isn’t one to bang with the big guys but he’s going to have to score in the paint at times. Each team has a nice recruiting class coming in, but it’s up to the returning players to make the ultimate difference.
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Conference Report Card: Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on April 19th, 2011

Brian Otskey is an RTC contributor. We will be publishing a series of conference report cards over the next week for conferences that got multiple NCAA bids to recap the conference, grade the teams, and look at the future for the conference.

Conference Recap

  • College basketball has never witnessed a season like this year’s Big East. The conference destroyed its own record of eight NCAA bids by placing 11 clubs in the Big Dance this year and also claimed the national champion with Connecticut, which spent most of the season in the middle of the pack in the Big East. The Huskies also gave the conference its first title since the Huskies last did the trick in 2004. While there was not a truly great team in the Big East (including Connecticut), the league was better than any other from top to bottom. Of the five teams that failed to make the NCAA Tournament, only South Florida and DePaul were truly uncompetitive. Rutgers showed signs of improvement while Seton Hall managed to win seven league games and gave some good teams a major scare in the process. Even Providence, which finished 4-14, knocked off Louisville and Villanova in consecutive games back in January. Despite the lackluster NCAA showing by most Big East members, it says here the conference boasted the best player in the nation (sorry, Jimmer) and a deserving national champion. Additionally, ten Big East teams were ranked in the AP Top 25 at some point this season. Say what you want about its postseason performance (it’s certainly fair to bash the league in that regard), but this was by far the best conference in the nation this year.

Jim Calhoun (left) and Kemba Walker will be inextricably linked to UConn's memorable NCAA Tournament run. (Reuters/Lucy Nicholson)

Team-by-Team (teams are in order of finish, but grades are based on performance vs. expectations):

  1. Pittsburgh (28-6, 15-3): The regular season was terrific once again for Jamie Dixon and the Panthers but, as has become common over the years, they fell short of their goal–getting to the Final Four. Pittsburgh lost four of their final eight games after starting the season 24-2. A mid-season injury to Ashton Gibbs was thought to bring them down a peg, but Pitt responded with wins at West Virginia and Villanova without him to quiet any doubters. That turned out to be their peak. Dixon did not really test his team out of conference except for two games at Madison Square Garden against Maryland and Texas back in November as part of the 2K Sports Coaches vs. Cancer event and a “home” game (in Pittsburgh) against Tennessee, which they lost. Looking back, one theory could be that an average non-conference schedule did not adequately prepare this team for the NCAA Tournament which is all about match-ups and teams you haven’t seen before from other leagues. While Big East coaches love to use the strength of the league as a crutch when questioned about a lack of non-conference heft to their schedule, I think this is a theory that has to be taken into consideration. Big East play is obviously rough and tumble every night but that can actually be a detriment come tournament time when games are officiated tighter and you don’t have as much time to prepare for an opponent who you likely don’t know very well, if at all. Pitt will lose Gilbert Brown, Brad Wanamaker, and Gary McGhee to graduation while Gibbs tests the NBA waters. I expect Gibbs to come back to join a very good recruiting class led by five-star forward Khem Birch. Despite the loss of three senior leaders, look for Pitt to be in the thick of the Big East race yet again next season. Dixon has established a culture of winning and I have learned never to doubt him after witnessing the 2009-10 campaign, a season that certified Dixon as one of the best basketball minds in the country. While this year was a great success during the regular season, Pitt’s inability to get to the Sweet Sixteen and eventually the Final Four renders this year a disappointment. GRADE: B- Read the rest of this entry »
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Set Your Tivo: 03.10.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 10th, 2011

***** – 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.

The power conferences take center stage on Thursday with quarterfinal matchups from New York to Kansas City to Los Angeles on the schedule. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

Big East Quarterfinals (at New York, NY): #3 Pittsburgh vs. #18 Connecticut – 12 pm on ESPN (****)

Dixon Will Have To Knock Off a Hot UConn Squad To Avoid Last Year's Fate

The double-bye was not kind to Pittsburgh last year, as they fell victim to Notre Dame on Thursday of last season’s conference tournament. They’ll look to avoid a similar fate today against a hot Connecticut team coming off two convincing wins in the first two rounds. These teams played way back on December 27 in the first Big East game of the year, a contest won by Pittsburgh, 78-63.

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Set Your Tivo: 03.05.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on March 5th, 2011

***** – 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.

The final Saturday of the regular season is also the best of the year. Epic would be one way to describe the schedule today. Bids will be clinched, bubbles will burst and conference titles will be decided. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#2 Kansas @ #21 Missouri in progress on CBS (****)

It's Title Time (Again) For Markieff and KU, Though We Don't Expect the Tigers To Go Quietly

The Jayhawks can clinch the Big 12 title with a win here or a Texas loss at Baylor this evening. Through Texas’ surge and preseason projections brandishing Kansas State and Baylor, we learned one thing in this conference in 2010-11: the conference title goes through Lawrence until proven otherwise. Missouri will be in the NCAA Tournament win or lose, but a win here would really improve their seeding and give them confidence heading into the postseason. The Tigers are a different team at home and should give KU all they’ve have in front of their raucous crowd and a national television audience, looking to complete their home slate undefeated. Kansas will need to protect the ball and dominate in the paint and on the glass in order to win on the road. Missouri’s preference for a quick pace means rebounding is a vulnerability, and the Morris twins should be able to pull down a lot of missed shots assuming they stay out of foul trouble.

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Checking in on… the Big East

Posted by Brian Goodman on March 2nd, 2011

Rob Dauster of Ballin’ Is A Habit is the RTC correspondent for the Big East Conference.

A Look Back

Players of the Week: Ben Hansbrough and Tim Abromaitis, Notre Dame: Ben Hansbrough was sensational this week. In three games, he averaged 27.7 points, 5.3 assists, and 3.3 rebounds per game. He shot 25-40 (62.5%) from the field, 12-20 from three (60%), and 21-25 (84%) from the line. Efficient much? Abromaitis was just as good. Prior to this week, Abro had scored 13 points just once since January 8. He scored at least 22 points in each games this week, averaging 26.7 PPG and 5.7 RPG. He shot 27-49 (55.1%) from the floor and 17-29 (58.6%) from three. When those two are clicking like that, the Irish are going to be very tough to beat.

Team of the Week: Louisville: The Cardinals just keep rolling along. After sweeping Rutgers and Pittsburgh this week, Louisville has now won three games in a row to move into a tie with St. John’s for third place in the conference standings. Finishing in the top four would give the Cardinals one of the double-byes in the Big East Tournament. The bad news? The Cardinals lost Rakeem Buckles for the season with a torn ACL in the win over Pitt.

Power Rankings (overall and conference records, and last week’s ranking in parentheses)

1. Pittsburgh (25-4, 13-3) (1)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. West Virginia 71-58, 2/27 @ Louisville 59-62 OT
This Week: 3/2 @ South Florida, 3/5 vs. Villanova

I’ve been saying it all season long — Pitt is susceptible to being upset when they are pressured. Ashton Gibbs, Brad Wanamaker, and Travon Woodall are all terrific basketball players, but none of them are what you would consider a great ball handler. It cost them against Louisville. But they were also hurt against the Cardinals with their inability to get to the offensive glass. The biggest reason Pitt is such an offensively efficient team is their ability to score on second and third shots.

2. Notre Dame (24-5, 13-4) (2)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Providence 94-93, 2/26 vs. Seton Hall 60-48, 2/28 vs. Villanova 93-72
This Week: 3/5 @ UConn

See the above “Player of the Week” feature to read about the surprise near the top of the standings.

3. Louisville (22-7, 11-5) (5)
Last Week: 2/22 @ Rutgers 55-37, 2/27 vs. Pitt 62-59 OT
This Week: 3/2 vs. Providence, 3/5 @ West Virginia

See this week’s “Team of the Week” to see what has the Cardinals rolling into March

4. St. John’s (19-9, 11-5) (4)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. DePaul 76-51, 2/26 @ Villanova 81-68
This Week: 3/3 @ Seton Hall, 3/5 vs. South Florida

The Johnnies just keep on winning. After knocking off Villanova on Saturday, their streak has been extended to seven consecutive wins in the Big East (seven of eight overall, as there was a trip to UCLA thrown in that mix). The catalyst has been Dwight Hardy, also known as the “Baddest Man on the Planet”, who is averaging 28.3 points per game over the last eight games to throw his name into the mix for Big East player of the year.

5. Syracuse (24-6, 11-6) (6)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Georgetown 58-51
This Week: 3/5 @ DePaul

Here’s my concern with Syracuse: they blew a big lead to Georgetown, who was without Chris Wright, and had to rely on Scoop Jardine to save the day. Scoop’s a good player, but he’s not exactly what I would term “consistent.” They got nothing from Kris Joseph or Brandon Triche in the game. Rick Jackson is a glorified glue guy (and I mean that as an enormous compliment). Road wins at Villanova and Georgetown will move you up in the Power Rankings, but I’m not buying this team in the long term.

6. Connecticut (21-7, 9-7) (7)
Last Week: 2/24 vs. Marquette 67-74 OT, 2/27 @ Cincinnati 67-59
This Week: 3/2 @ West Virginia, 3/5 vs. Notre Dame

I wrote an extensive post on the Huskies and their reliance on Kemba Walker‘s offensive output yesterday. Essentially, the key for UConn on the offensive end is to get movement going around Kemba. Defenses are going to collapse on him, but help defense is much tougher when the offensive players are moving without the ball. UConn struggles when they are reduced to standing around and watching Kemba try to score.

7. Georgetown (22-7, 10-7) (3)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Cincinnati 46-58, 2/26 vs. Syracuse 51-58
This Week: 3/5 @ Cincinnati

The Hoyas clearly still have fight in them, but without Chris Wright, this team is thoroughly mediocre. They simply don’t have enough offensive firepower. Wright is the Hoyas’ best playmaker and best creator. When he isn’t on the floor, Georgetown’s offense is no where near as dynamic or dangerous.

8. Villanova (21-8, 9-8) (8)
Last Week: 2/26 vs. St. John’s 68-81, 2/28 @ Notre Dame 72-93
This Week: 3/5 @ Pitt

Villanova is in a free fall. Honestly, I have no idea what to make of this team. They’ve lost five of seven and seven of 11. They certainly have talent on their roster, especially in the backcourt, but for the second straight season, the wheels have come off.

On the Bubble:

9. West Virginia (18-10, 9-7) (9)
Last Week: 2/24 @ Pitt 58-71, 2/27 @ Rutgers 65-54
This Week: 3/2 vs. UConn, 3/5 vs. Louisville

West Virginia probably isn’t in any danger of missing the NCAA Tournament, but if they lose to both UConn and Louisville this week, then bow out in the first round of the Big East Tournament, the committee is going to have to take a look.

10. Marquette (18-11, 9-7) (10)
Last Week: 2/24 @ UConn 74-67 OT, 2/27 vs. Providence 86-62
This Week: 3/2 vs. Cincinnati, 3/5 @ Seton Hall

Marquette’s win over the Huskies on Thursday all but sent Buzz Williams’ team to the NCAA Tournament. If they can close out against Cincy and Seton Hall, they will lock up their bid.

11. Cincinnati (22-7, 9-7) (11)
Last Week: 2/23 @ Georgetown 58-46, 2/27 vs. UConn 59-67
This Week: 3/2 @ Marquette, 3/5 vs. Georgetown

Cincinnati can probably feel a bit safer than Marquette at this point. They have fewer losses and a better RPI. But with Marquette and Georgetown on the schedule for this week, they need to play like they’re still trying to get in.

Off The Bubble:

12. Rutgers (14-15, 4-12) (12)
Last Week: 2/22 vs. Louisville 37-55, 2/27 vs. West Virginia 54-65
This Week: 3/2 @ DePaul, 3/5 @ Providence

13. Seton Hall (11-17, 5-11) (13)
Last Week: 2/26 @ Notre Dame 48-60
This Week: 3/3 vs. St. John’s, 3/5 vs. Marquette

14. Providence (14-15, 3-13) (14)
Last Week: 2/23 vs. Notre Dame 93-94, 2/27 @ Marquette 62-86
This Week: 3/2 @ Louisville, 3/5 vs. Rutgers

15. South Florida (8-21, 2-14) (15)
Last Week: 2/26 @ DePaul 86-76
This Week: 3/2 vs. Pitt, 3/5 @ St. John’s

16. DePaul (7-19, 1-13) (16)
Last Week: 2/23 @ St. John’s 51-76, 2/26 vs. South Florida 76-86
This Week: 3/2 vs. Florida, 3/5 @ Syracuse

A Look Ahead
There are some really important games down the stretch that will determine the seeding for the Big East tournament as well as seeding (and bids) for the NCAA Tournament. With five teams currently sitting with seven or eight losses in the 7-11 spots in the standings, the race will be on to see who gets those last two first-round byes.

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Morning Five: 02.28.11 Edition

Posted by jstevrtc on February 28th, 2011

The final M5 before we enter that magical month…

  1. Butler head coach Brad Stevens left his team’s win against Loyola (Ill.) on Saturday a little early due to a condition that blurred his vision badly enough to where he couldn’t even see the other end of the court. He was diagnosed with corneal edema, an entity for which there are many causes, most of them benign. Assistant coach Matthew Graves guided the Bulldogs for the final 22 minutes in that win on Saturday which clinched at least a share of the Horizon League regular season title. Stevens, vision restored, was back at practice on Sunday.
  2. Want to hear what Louisville fans are saying about the incident involving the cheerleader at the end of the Cardinals’ win over Pittsburgh on Sunday? Well, here you go [a warning: there is some explicit language used, including the header of that page]. Pitt’s Ashton Gibbs also had some thoughts on the game, one of which he shared with the world via Twitter. To his credit, soon after posting it, he took it down and apologized to Louisville and its fans.
  3. Unfortunately for U of L, the celebration of their victory over the Panthers and the laughter they shared at angry tweets was short-lived, when news arrived that Rakeem Buckles had torn his ACL in the first half. Sporting News‘ Mike DeCourcy has details on how unfair this is for the young man, and what the Cards have lost — right before Tournament time — as a result of the injury.
  4. Monmouth head coach Dave Calloway has been with that school in one capacity or another for 24 years. He was a player, then an assistant coach, then became head honcho in 1997. He took the program to three NCAA Tournaments — 2001, 2004, and a trip that included a play-in game win in 2006. After that, though, the Hawks endured five straight losing seasons and they won’t even play in the upcoming NEC Tournament. On Saturday, the school and Calloway parted ways. Brendan Prunty and Tom Luicci of New Jersey’s Star-Ledger explain Calloway’s disapointment in a story that includes several candid, honest statements from the dismissed coach.
  5. The unstoppable Luke Winn has an amazing summary of Saturday’s BYU vs San Diego State game, including insights into the minds and methods of the Aztecs’ student section, appropriately named The Show, in case you haven’t heard. A show, indeed. If you watched the game, you saw the kinds of taunts and, er, visuals that The Show employed to get the attention of Jimmer Fredette. If you thought those were…original, check out Winn’s story and find out what actually wasn’t approved — or at least couldn’t be brought into the arena — and how one SDSU fan finally got the attention of the POY candidate after the game. It makes The Jimmer’s performance all the more impressive.
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Set Your Tivo: 02.26-02.27

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 25th, 2011

***** – 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.

We are now only about two weeks away from Selection Sunday. Teams are locking up bids and others are hurting their chances down the stretch. It’s another big weekend in the college hoops world, headlined by a top ten battle in the Mountain West. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#20 Syracuse @ #11 Georgetown – 12 pm Saturday on CBS (****)

Coach Thompson and the Hoyas Will Likely Be Without Their Most Important Player on Saturday

The Orange will look to avenge another home defeat by winning on the road, this time in Washington, D.C. Here’s a quirky fact for you: Syracuse has lost to all three of its repeat opponents (Georgetown, Villanova and Seton Hall) at the Carrier Dome but a win on Saturday would give them wins in the home buildings of all three teams. That has become more likely in this one, after Chris Wright broke his hand in Wednesday’s loss to Cincinnati. As a talented senior point guard, Wright is Georgetown’s most indispensible player. He doesn’t wow you with his shooting but he passes the ball well and does an excellent job of running John Thompson III’s complex offensive sets.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.18-02.20

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 18th, 2011

***** – 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.

With only two weeks left in the regular season, it’s time for teams to make their moves. This weekend provides ample opportunities for some to do so. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

VCU @ Wichita State – 7 pm Friday on ESPN2 (***)

Skeen Leads VCU In Scoring (14.6 PPG), But Is Also Top Ten In the CAA In Rebounding (7.7 RPG) And PP40 (19.0)

This could very well prove to be an elimination game. VCU has lost two straight games at home and now has to venture out of conference on the road. Wichita State has lost three games at home already this season, however, and probably has to win out and make a run in the MVC Tournament in order to have a chance at a bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Shockers don’t have a win in the RPI top 50 and those three home losses are really holding them back. VCU was blasted on the boards by Old Dominion recently (40-21) and it’s going to be hard to avoid that again in this game. If the Rams can’t create extra possessions through turnovers, it’s going to be a very long night.

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Set Your Tivo: 02.11-02.13

Posted by Brian Otskey on February 11th, 2011

***** – 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.

So many games, so little time to talk about them. Here are the biggest games of the weekend and why you should pay attention to them. Fair warning: it’s a long list. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.

#12 Syracuse @ #19 Louisville – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (****)

The Cards Need Knowles To Catch Fire Over the Angry Syracuse Zone

With Rakeem Buckles and Gorgui Dieng practicing again for Louisville, the Cardinals are starting to get some of their depth back. Their status for this game is unknown but there’s a chance at least one of them will play. The Cardinals beat Syracuse twice last season and they’ll look to do it again in what is an important separation game for both teams. Only one game in the loss column separates third and eleventh place in the Big East with both of these teams in the thick of that jumbled mess.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.19.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 19th, 2011

***** – 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.

Three interesting contests headline tonight’s schedule, including NC State’s endeavor to pull a shocker of its own over now-#4 Duke. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#25 Cincinnati @ #16 Notre Dame – 7 pm on ESPN2 (****)

Abromaitis Plays the Most MPG for the Irish But Has Been Held Under His Season Average for Three Straight Games

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Set Your Tivo: 01.14-01.16

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 14th, 2011

***** – 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.

Another action-packed weekend awaits grateful hoop fans as we’re about two months away from March Madness. Conference play is really heating up and races are beginning to take shape. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#23 Vanderbilt @ Tennessee – 12 pm Saturday on ESPN (***)

Often Overlooked, Ezeli Is A Workhorse For the Commodores.

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Set Your Tivo: 01.12.11

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 12th, 2011

***** – 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.

We’re going to mix it up today with this feature. With so many good games tonight (one of the best nights of the season thus far) here are some quick hitters on 10 important games you should be following this evening, including the top five teams in the land all playing on the road. Additionally, key conference battles are on tap throughout the night. Enjoy it, folks. All rankings from RTC and all times eastern.

#2 Ohio State @ Michigan – 6:30 pm on Big Ten Network (***)

The Wolverines nearly knocked off Kansas on Sunday and they’ll get another crack at a top three team tonight when their rivals visit Ann Arbor. Michigan has to shoot the three well to win but that’ll be difficult against an Ohio State defense ranked in the top five in efficiency. Though Darius Morris (15.0 PPG, 7.0 APG) will try his best, Ohio State has too much talent and offensive firepower for Michigan to handle. Michigan needs their best defensive effort of the year combined with an off night for the Buckeyes in order to have a chance. John Beliein can rotate plenty of bodies on Jared Sullinger but that may be a futile effort against the uber-talented big man.

Sullinger, Lighty, and Co. Have Bucknuts Already Looking Forward to March (and April)

#5 Pittsburgh @ #19 Georgetown – 7 pm on ESPN (****)

The Hoyas are in serious danger of dropping to 1-4 in conference play as Pitt comes to DC. Georgetown hasn’t shot the ball well recently and has lost three of four as a result. The inconsistent play of point guard Chris Wright can certainly be blamed, but take a deeper look at the numbers. Georgetown’s defense is rated #61 in efficiency; not terrible, but it’s the lowest-rated Hoyas defense in six years (#66 in the ’04-’05 season). The Hoyas have given up 66.6 PPG, not a good number when your adjusted tempo is only 66.5 possessions and rated #228 in the country, indicating a slower pace. Georgetown’s dynamic guard trio has certainly struggled, a key reason why they’ve lost three of four, but the defense has also played a part and must get better. It’ll be put to the test against a Pitt offense rated the best in the land. The Panthers can punish you inside and out as well as on the glass. Yours truly has maintained for a while that this Pitt team is the best interior passing group in America and I see no reason to back off that statement. What Jamie Dixon has built in Pittsburgh year after year is quite remarkable but this may be his best offensive squad ever. The Panthers have played just one true road game all year (at Providence) but they’re experienced and so well-coached that it doesn’t figure to affect them all that much. Expect a desperate Georgetown team to come out ready to play, but we’ll take the Panthers here in a close one.

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