***** – 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 college basketball world can relax a bit tonight after a full day of hoops yesterday. The action picks up in full force again on Thursday and Friday after two fairly interesting games this evening. All times eastern.
Murray State @ Mississippi – 8 pm on ESPN3.com/ESPN FullCourt (***)
The Racers of Murray State knocked off Vanderbilt in a memorable first round NCAA Tournament game last season so Mississippi better be on full alert tonight. Murray State is being talked about again as a possible mid-major surprise again in the tournament and why not? They return five of their seven top scorers from last year’s team that won 31 games and the Ohio Valley Conference. Murray State only lost by two to national runner-up Butler, certainly an impressive showing for a #13 seed. They also played a good California team tight on the road, falling by only five in their season opener last year. They are coming off a 50-39 victory over East Tennessee State on Monday night in which they held the Buccaneers to 33% from the floor and 10% from three. B.J. Jenkins led all scorers with 14 points and shot 3-4 from deep. The Rebels are 1-0 though they struggled a bit with Arkansas State in their season opener. Star senior Chris Warren is back and hopes to lead Ole Miss to the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2002. Gone from last year’s team, however, are Terrico White, Eniel Polynice and Murphy Holloway. Those three combined to average 34/16/6 for Andy Kennedy last season so players like Zach Graham and Terrance Henry are going to have to step into primary roles for the Rebels this year. Warren had to will his team to victory the other night by scoring 20 of his 26 points after halftime as Ole Miss was down eight at the break. Mississippi is not a particularly good defensive team while Murray State is just that. On offense it’s quite the opposite as Murray struggles to score and the Rebels rank #29 in offensive efficiency. Something has to give tonight and usually (but not always) defense wins out. Ole Miss is going to have to control the boards and minimize turnovers in order to win. The Racers were outrebounded by ETSU and generally are not that good on the glass. The Rebels need to exploit that advantage in order to create more possessions and therefore more opportunities to score. Conversely, Murray excels at creating turnovers which will get them some extra possessions that they may lose in the rebounding battle. The Racers were #16 in turnover percentage last year and currently lead the nation in that category so far this season. This game figures to be very close as the teams are opposites of each other and will try to go after each other’s weaknesses. Mississippi prefers to play with a fairly quick pace while Murray is content with a slow, grinding game. Whichever team imposes their style for the majority of the game stands a good chance of winning. We just might pick Murray State to come up with a nice road victory (and RPI booster) this evening.
Utah State @ BYU – 9 pm on The Mtn. (Mountain West Sports Network) (***)
This Game, Won by USU Last Year, is Always a War
If you look at the statistics on Ken Pomeroy’s site from last season, these two teams were remarkably similar. They were two of the top three 3-point shooting teams in the entire country last year and both were in the top 12 in effective field goal percentage as well. BYU also led the nation in free throw shooting while Utah State wasn’t far behind, ranking #12. Dave Rose leads his BYU team into another season of high expectations behind do-it-all player Jimmer Fredette. Fredette averaged 22 PPG last season leading the Cougars to a thrilling first round win over Florida in the NCAA Tournament. Key players Jackson Emery and Noah Hartsock also return for the men from Provo, Utah. The Aggies return two of their best players as well in Tai Wesley and Pooh Williams. Each team is 1-0 on the young season but Utah State struggled against another in-state rival over the weekend, Weber State. It is always difficult to win at the Marriott Center as the crowd is about as raucous as it gets in college basketball. They’ll most certainly be up and ready for this battle for the state of Utah. These two teams have played 226 times with BYU holding a 135-91 edge. However, Utah State won the last meeting on its home floor in Logan. Trying to contain Fredette will be paramount for the Aggies and coach Stew Morrill but hardly any team has been able to do that recently. Utah State did hold him to 5-15 shooting last year but he still managed to score 19 points. Expect a lot of threes to go up and to be made in this game tonight, though each team struggled mightily from the arc in their first game. When a lot of threes are attempted, long rebounds often result. BYU is not a good offensive rebounding team because of that so if Utah State can control the defensive boards they will have many more opportunities to score. The keys for the Aggies in last year’s win were getting to the line (+10 points there) and rebounding (+6). Everything else was fairly even and USU won by ten points, the margin from the foul line. BYU is favored at home, though only by six and a half points. We expect this to be a close game for 30 minutes with the Cougars gradually pulling away from the Aggies down the stretch. That isn’t to say Utah State can’t win (they certainly can), but winning on the road at BYU is something that rarely happens.