***** – 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.
Tonight’s slate is loaded with quality games, mostly from the ESPN Tip-Off Marathon. Rankings as per the latest RTC Top 25. All times eastern.
#21 Virginia Tech @ #3 Kansas State – 4 pm on ESPN (*****)
Seth Greenberg decided to beef up his non-conference schedule this year after being left out of the last few NCAA Tournaments and this may be his team’s toughest test. The Hokies enter the Octagon of Doom looking to make a statement and ease any NCAA bubble worries, at least temporarily. Most prognosticators say Virginia Tech will be a lot better than the bubble but that thought has to creep into the back of some fans’ minds at times. Led by Malcolm Delaney, four seniors return and all are starters. Kansas State has had some problems early on as coach Frank Martin benched senior Curtis Kelly against James Madison on Friday for not practicing with energy and needing to be a better teammate. His status for today’s game is unknown. Point guard is also a question for the Wildcats as Denis Clemente has moved on. All-American candidate Jacob Pullen can play the point but is better off the ball. K-State seemed to play point guard by committee in their first game as Pullen, Nick Russell, Rodney McGruder and Martavious Irving combined for all 14 of the team’s assists. Kansas State shot only 53% from the free throw line, a problem that plagued them all of last season. Both teams like to play fast but also can get after it defensively as each finished in the top 20 in defensive efficiency last season. Virginia Tech is not a particularly good shooting team so that could play right into the hands of an active Wildcat defense encouraged by their energized crowd. The Hokies may have an issue with depth, especially early in the season when they’re trying to establish a rotation. With J.T. Thompson lost for the season and Cadarian Raines still out with a foot injury, Greenberg is down to seven major contributors. He’ll need freshman Jarell Eddie and Erick Green to step up and become threats off the bench. Kansas State needs to protect the ball and defend well in order to win. Va Tech was fifth nationally in steals and 36th in turnover percentage last year so they’ll be ready to exploit the uncertain K-State point guard situation. Virginia Tech may not have enough shooting to win this one but if Kelly is out, the door will be open for the Hokies to grab an important road victory.
#3 Ohio State @ #8 Florida – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)
ESPN wants to open Louisville’s new arena in prime time but this is really the marquee game of the Tip-Off Marathon. It features a Florida team that returns all five starters and is the trendy pick to win the SEC East and possibly make the final four. Ohio State, a final four favorite, returns four starters of its own and adds super impact freshman Jared Sullinger in the paint. Thad Matta’s Buckeyes have a good blend of youth and experience and are incredibly deep as a result of their terrific recruiting class. If you like three pointers then this is your game. Florida loves to shoot the three and so does the Ohio State backcourt led by Jon Diebler. The Gators struggled a bit in their opening win over UNC-Wilmington as they allowed the Seahawks to shoot 48% from the floor. Florida only shot 32% from behind the arc and they’ll need to do better than that if they hope to beat Ohio State. They’re also going to need players to contribute off the bench because as good as their starters are, you can’t rely on five players to carry your team. Erik Murphy should be the best bet, though a talented group of freshman should see their minutes increase as they settle into their roles in Billy Donovan’s system. Donovan, a Rick Pitino disciple, plays an up-tempo system that emphasizes pressing and three point shooting. For Florida to execute the press properly, they need a fresh stream of bodies coming in and out of the game. While that’s not as important in a single game, depth issues will take their toll as the season moves along. Ohio State is absolutely loaded with a powerful backcourt, frontcourt and bench. Diebler can flat out stroke it from deep and guys like Dallas Lauderdale and David Lighty add toughness and experience to their rotation. Florida needs a good game from senior leader Chandler Parsons and they just can’t afford to have Kenny Boynton go without a three again as he did against UNCW. The Buckeyes throttled North Carolina A&T in their opener behind 24/8 from freshman DeShaun Thomas. Another solid game from him or another OSU freshman could push them to an impressive road victory in the hostile O-Dome. This will be an unbelievably competitive and hard fought game but Ohio State’s depth and talent advantage gives them a great shot to earn a road win that will help build their resume for a possible #1 seed.
#12 Butler @ Louisville – 8pm on ESPN (****)