Bracket Prep: Louisville, New Mexico, Ohio, & Mississippi Valley State

Posted by EJacoby on March 11th, 2012

As we move through Championship Week, we’ll continue to bring you short reviews of each of the automatic qualifiers to help you fill out your bracket. In this post, we have your Big East, Mountain West, MAC, and SWAC conference champions. Here’s what you need to know about these recent bid winners.


Peyton Siva was Named Big East Tournament MVP (AP Photo/F. Franklin)

  • Big East Champion (26-9, 14-8)
  • RPI/Pomeroy/Sagarin = #18/#20/#18
  • Adjusted Scoring Margin = +11.5
  • Likely NCAA Seed: #4-#5

Three Bruce Pearls of Wisdom.

  1. Louisville might be one of the toughest teams in America to project for the NCAA Tournament, by virtue of the fact that they’ve had such a schizophrenic season full of ups and downs. After winning 11 games in a row to start the season, the Cardinals then dropped five of seven. Then, after going on another hot streak to win six Big East games in a row, Louisville dropped four of its final six regular season contests before its most recent four-game surge to win the Big East Tournament. So which team should we expect to show up next week? The story will be told in the type of opponent that Rick Pitino‘s team draws.
  2. Louisville has almost no offensive firepower to speak of — six players average between nine and 14 points per game, but they can’t shoot straight (48% from two; 31% from three) and have trouble avoiding long scoring droughts — rather, the Cardinals have won 26 games through its exceptionally tough defense (ranked #2 in defensive efficiency). They cause over 15 turnovers per game and force teams into tough shots both on the interior and beyond the three-point line. In the Cardinals’ last 10 games, their opponent has only reached 60 points three times. It’s somewhat instructive, though, that Louisville went 6-4 in those games because they broke the 60-point barrier only four times themselves.
  3. We’d suggest that you be careful in presuming that a Big East Tournament champion is poised to make a deep run in the NCAA Tournament just because they’re the Big East champion. Marquette was the only solid offensive team that the Cards defeated this week, and they’re likely to face teams that can really cause them some problems in the first two rounds. As a potential #4 or #5 seed, Louisville could be matched up against a dangerous team like Long Beach State (and Casper Ware) in the first game and a team like Creighton (and Doug McDermott) in the next round. While Pitino’s defense is likely to keep the Cards in either game, they’ll have significant trouble scoring enough points down the stretch to pull out a victory, while the other teams have players who can make plays. For that reason, this is a team that you’ll want to think carefully about putting deep into your bracket — the Cardinals can be successful playing other offensively-challenged teams, but those teams tend to not play very far into March and will be few and far between.

New Mexico

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Championship Saturday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Saturday night’s Mountain West Championship game between San Diego State and New Mexico provided plenty of great storylines: the two regular season co-champions meeting in a rubber match; the two-time defending tournament champion Aztecs against a Lobo team that hadn’t won this tournament since 2005, when Ritchie McKay was still the head coach; and the battle between the top two candidates for the conference Player of the Year, the winner, Jamaal Franklin and the jilted, Drew Gordon.

Gordon had made no bones about the fact all week that he felt he deserved the individual honor and that other awards, such as Defensive Player of the Year and Sixth-Man of the Year, should have wound up in Lobo hands, and he played with a chip on his shoulder all weekend, averaging 15.3 points and 10.7 boards in the tournament on his way to the Most Outstanding Player award. But the win on Saturday night was a total team affair. Tony Snell got things off on the right track, scoring the first five points of the game and turning in his third straight double-digit scoring game after slumping through February. Freshman point guard Hugh Greenwood continued his do-whatever-it-takes style and contributed ten boards and a couple threes. And bench players Phillip McDonald, Demetrius Walker, and Cameron Bairstow all made major contributions. McDonald, who has lost minutes this season as Snell and Walker have stepped up, came off the pine and had a three, an assist, a rebound and drew a charge, all in his first couple minutes of action. Bairstow battled on the boards and at one point scored six straight points for the Lobos. And Walker, despite not making a field goal, provided energy and hit clutch free throws down the stretch to preserve the victory.

Drew Gordon, New Mexico

Drew Gordon, The Tournament's Most Outstanding Player, Is Mobbed By New Mexico Fans

But more than anything else, this win was about the New Mexico defense. They held San Diego State to 0.86 points per possession (the number was quite a bit lower than that until Chase Tapley went nuts late) and at times in the second half just completely froze the Aztecs out in the paint. Kendall Williams took San Diego State point Xavier Thames completely out of rhythm and Snell helped frustrate James Rahon into an 0-for-8 shooting night. Franklin, meanwhile, was hounded into six-of-14 shooting and six turnovers. And, despite wrapping up their semifinal game late in the evening on Friday night, the Lobos never showed fatigue and kept competing (and hard) right to the final whistle. They were consistently first to loose balls and always scrapping and making multiple attempts at rebounds.

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Mountain West Tournament Diary: Semifinal Friday

Posted by AMurawa on March 10th, 2012

Less than two minutes into the nightcap on semifinal Friday night, New Mexico found itself in a hole, down 12-0 to UNLV on the Rebels’ home court, a place where UNLV had not lost since last year’s Mountain West Tournament. Not only were they clicking on all cylinders (they had gotten threes from Chace Stanback and Anthony Marshall and a couple of old-fashioned three-point plays from Oscar Bellfield), but the Lobos looked awful, struggling to do simple things like catch the ball. But the Lobos responded. “They gave us a good punch in the face right there to start the game,” said head coach Steve Alford. “But there’s a lot of game left.  They scored 17 points in the first three minutes of the half, then only scored 17 points the last 17 minutes of the half.  After that initial barrage of points, we settled down and played extremely good defense.” The Lobos packed their defense in, dared the Rebels to hit threes against them, and that dare paid off. UNLV started three-for-three from deep in the first four minutes, then made just five of their 21 attempts over the final 36 minutes. UNM didn’t try to force anything defensively (in fact, they forced just three turnovers on the night), but made the Rebels have to score over them.

Demetrius Walker, New Mexico

Demetrius Walker Helped The Lobos Climb Out Of An Early Hole (AP)

More importantly, however, the Lobos dominated the Rebels inside. Led by RTC MW Player of the Year Drew Gordon (who hit eight of 10 field goal attempts on his way to 19 points and 13 boards), New Mexico grabbed 85% of their defensive rebound opportunities and 26.9% on the offensive end, while outscoring the Rebels in the paint, 30-18. Senior Brice Massamba was generally solid for UNLV, scoring six points and adding nine rebounds before fouling out after 34 minutes, but the rest of their frontcourt was largely absent. Mike Moser had solid stretches at the start and at the end of the game, but was largely invisible in the middle three-quarters of the game, winding up with just three rebounds and 11 points on 5-of-15 shooting. Senior Chace Stanback hit a three on the first offensive possession of each half, but beyond that produced almost literally nothing (one point, one rebound and one assist the rest of the game), a concern as the Rebels head to the NCAA Tournament next week.

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Checking In On… The Mountain West

Posted by AMurawa on February 28th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take


A Look Back

A week ago, we were all but ready to hand New Mexico the regular season title and the #1 seed in the Mountain West tournament. Two road losses later, the Lobos have given back their two-game lead and with two conference games remaining on everybody’s schedule, we have five teams within two games of the first place. But, primarily, we are back to where we were after the first run through the conference: three teams (New Mexico, San Diego State and UNLV) tied atop the conference standings, each looking like a good team, but none looking great.

Still, despite the tumult at the top of the conference, all three of those teams look like absolute locks to earn an invitation to the NCAA Tournament (and pretty good seeds at that). UNLV leads the way with an RPI of 11, while SDSU and UNM are among a bunch of MW teams with RPIs in the late 20s or early 30s. The big question in the conference revolves around the third of those teams, Colorado State, which sits ahead of the other two with an RPI of 27 (SDSU is at 28, UNM at 34).

However, a closer look at the Rams find them sitting squarely on the bubble. They have a couple really good wins over SDSU and UNM, but those two games are the entirety of their positives. Beyond that they have some middling wins over RPI 51-100 teams and an unfortunate last second loss to Boise State (RPI 166) dragging them down. However, compare them to say, BYU, South Florida, Washington, or Arizona – all teams with whom the Rams are ostensibly competing for a spot, and CSU’s got a slightly better set of numbers going for them. See below, where we compare CSU to other bubble teams in record, RPI, strength of schedule, and record against various subsets of the RPI (with the best numbers in each column in bold). In RPI and SOS, the Rams have clearly better numbers than anybody else on this list, while their record against top-50 RPI teams is behind only Dayton and Saint Joseph’s here.

Team Record RPI SOS vs. RPI 1-25 vs. RPI 1-50 vs. RPI +100
Colorado State 16-10 26 5 0-3 2-5 10-2
Arizona 21-9 71 110 0-2 1-3 17-1
BYU 22-7 50 113 1-3 1-5 17-2
Dayton 18-10 60 54 2-0 3-3 10-3
Miami 17-10 47 38 2-4 2-7 13-0
Northwestern 17-11 40 10 1-6 2-9 11-0
Oregon 20-8 52 79 0-1 0-5 18-1
South Florida 17-11 45 30 0-5 1-7 12-3
St. Joseph’s 19-11 51 34 1-1 2-5 12-3
Washington 20-8 53 81 0-2 0-4 17-0


As for TCU, the team that is almost the hottest team in the conference, having won four of five including wins over Colorado State, UNLV and New Mexico, with only a last-second loss to Boise State as a recent blemish … they’re a good story, but even with four wins against top-50 RPI teams, they need to win the Mountain West Tournament to have a chance to go dancing.

Team of the Week

TCU – As mentioned above, the Horned Frogs are 4-1 in their last five games, with only a heartbreaking last-second loss to Boise State a week ago as a strike against them. This week, Jim Christian’s club went to Colorado Springs and, using an Amric Fields three-pointer with 18 seconds left, knocked off Air Force at Clune Arena. They followed that up by welcoming New Mexico into Fort Worth on Saturday and outfighting and outshooting the Lobos. Six different Frogs hit three-pointers, J.R. Cadot outworked Drew Gordon on the offensive glass and Hank Thorns dished out nine assists as TCU battled New Mexico to a draw on the boards and outgunned them from the field (they had a true shooting percentage of 63.1%). As a result, TCU sits just a game back of the three leaders in the conference and with a visit from SDSU scheduled for Saturday, they have a fighting chance of moving up the leaderboard even further.

Player of the Week

Jamaal Franklin, Sophomore, San Diego State – With apologies to TCU’s J.R. Cadot (15.5 PPG, 11.5 RPG), we are going to reward Franklin for his transcendent game while willing his Aztecs over CSU on Saturday night. In that game, Franklin went off for 31 points and 16 rebounds (the latter a new career high, the former tying a career high) and scored 13 of his team’s last 16 points, including going 8-of-8 from the free-throw line after the final media timeout. Coupled with a solid game earlier in the week when coming back from an ankle injury against Wyoming, Franklin, who averaged 21.5 points and 10.5 rebounds, earned the honor.

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Night Line: Meet New Mexico, the Mountain West’s Most Complete Team

Posted by EJacoby on February 16th, 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.

In a two-day span, the entire complexion of the Mountain West conference has changed. Those who don’t think that’s a big deal should consider that the MW is actually the fifth strongest league in the country according to cumulative conference RPI, ranking above both the Pac-12 (no surprise there) and the ACC. It appeared as if UNLV was the team to beat in this league, but a shocking loss to TCU on Tuesday night left the door open for the winner of Wednesday’s showdown between the other two top competitors to get a leg up in the race. New Mexico wound up victorious in this matchup, winning at Viejas Arena over No. 18 San Diego State to add a huge road win to its resume and move into sole possession of first place in the conference. The Lobos host UNLV at home this weekend in the final matchup between the Mountain West’s ‘big three’ teams, and a win in The Pit will make the title race theirs to lose. The only MW team of the three that’s not currently ranked in any top 25 poll, Steve Alford‘s squad may actually be the most complete team of the bunch.

Steve Alford's Lobos are Rising to the Top of the Mountain West Conference (AP Photo/I. Brekken)

Wednesday night was a revenge victory for the Lobos, who were thoroughly beaten by San Diego State in Albuquerque back on January 18. New Mexico returned the favor by jumping out to an early lead and extending it to double digits in the second half to a point where the home team could not mount a big enough comeback. Shockingly, the Lobos got it done this time while seeing nothing from their top playmaking guard, Tony Snell, who was held scoreless in the game after he had only scored three points in their first matchup. But that’s what separated these two teams on this night — SDSU got virtually nothing from its top guard Chase Tapley, and the Aztec offense completely stalled for long stretches. New Mexico, meanwhile, was just fine without Snell as their other stars shined and a multitude of other players added important contributions. UNM certainly proved that they were the deeper and more complete team on Wednesday night.

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Set Your TiVo: 02.15.12

Posted by EJacoby on February 15th, 2012

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

It’s a national affair tonight, as two big games take place about 3,000 miles away, from Miami to San Diego. You’ll get to watch the Tar Heels play on the road against a hungry opponent and two of the top Mountain West teams line up looking to continue the streak of great games taking place in that conference race. Here’s the breakdown:

#7 North Carolina at Miami- 8:00 PM ET on ESPN (****)

Tyler Zeller is Running Full Speed Ahead as ACC Player of the Week Heading into Tonight (AP Photo/G. Broome)

  • If it wasn’t for the final four-minute collapse against Duke last week, this Tar Heels team would be rolling right now and in position to shoot for a #1 seed in the NCAA Tournament with a strong finish. Instead, they dropped that game at home and need to build momentum back up, as well as their overall profile. Many mock brackets have Carolina on the 3-line this week. A road win here at surging Miami will not be easy, but the Tar Heels should be able to get it done if they stick to their guns offensively. Both teams have big front lines that will match up one-on-one, but UNC has the better playmakers. Tyler Zeller has been awesome lately and should be able to use his agility against the thicker Reggie Johnson inside. If he draws Kenny Kadji, he will look to use his experienced post moves against the jumpy shot-blocker. Carolina has the size advantage on the wings and will need Reggie Bullock to step up offensively to take advantage. Harrison Barnes will be monitored closely by the U’s top wing defender Durand Scott, so watch how aggressive Barnes chooses to be. Defensively, UNC needs to stay out of foul trouble against an aggressive though not very efficient Miami attack.
  • A win tonight would all but lock up Miami’s status as an at-large entry to the NCAA Tournament, as they have a questionable overall profile but are certainly on the rise. To get this win, the Hurricanes need to play strong on the defensive end. They have the athletes in Kenny Kadji (1.8 BPG), Reggie Johnson (1.1 BPG), and Durand Scott (6’5” guard, 1.1 SPG) to make plays on that end. Freshman guard Shane Larkin averages 1.8 steals per night and will look to bother Kendall Marshall on the perimeter all night. On their own end, Miami has a balanced attack but must use better shot selection. They have four players in double-digit scoring but rank just sixth in the conference in offensive efficiency and seventh in field goal percentage. Making shots is their ticket to a serious shot at victory tonight.
  • UNC is a five-point favorite tonight, but Miami has the goods to take this upset if they can make shots on their home floor. A rocking crowd tonight would be a huge boost. I think Carolina presents too many problems on both ends of the floor and will walk away with a win tonight, though it should be tight.
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Checking In On… the Mountain West Conference

Posted by AMurawa on January 24th, 2012

Andrew Murawa is the RTC correspondent for the Mountain West and Pac-12 conferences.

Reader’s Take


A Look Back

  • Coming into the week, three Mountain West teams appeared in the RTC Top 25, but it was New Mexico, who was ranked #25, that had the biggest chance to make a splash, getting a crack at the other two teams: San Diego State at home and UNLV on the road. Following an 0-2 week, however, there are more questions than answers in Albuquerque, as the once impressive Lobo defense took a huge step back, allowing 1.25 points per possession in their two games this week.
  • In the wake of UNM’s failures, for the time being, it is a two-team race at the top, with San Diego State holding a slim edge on UNLV based on their home win over the Rebels in the conference opener. But, with both teams firmly in the top 25, the Aztecs and the Rebels look like sure bets to go dancing come March.
  • Back of the lead pack, we have Wyoming and Colorado State each sitting at 2-1 after the Cowboys handing the Rams their first conference loss in their first conference road game. Air Force and TCU each sit at 1-2, while Boise State has settled into the role of basement dweller.

Team of the Week

San Diego State  In order for one team to separate itself from the pack atop the conference, contenders for the conference title needed to be able to defend their home court and steal a win on the road against the other contenders. So far, Steve Fisher and the Aztecs are off to a great start. Not only did they open the conference season with a home win over UNLV and follow that up this Saturday with a workmanlike win over Air Force, they bisected those wins with an impressive road win at New Mexico, an outcome that not only served to improve the Aztecs to 3-0, but to kick the Lobos down a notch. Enough cannot be said about the job that Fisher has done with not only this program, but this specific team.

After losing the bulk of last year’s record-setting team, this year’s Aztecs haven’t slowed down, as junior guard Chase Tapley has taken the leap from role player to lead guard, Jamaal Franklin has emerged as a star in the making after playing a bit part last year and Xavier Thames came back from his transfer year in exile to prove his tremendous abilities. Throw in gritty contributions from guys like Tim Shelton (he of the five knee surgeries), DeShawn Stephens (playing just his third season of organized basketball), Garrett Green (a graduate transfer from LSU) and James Rahon (who struggled early with a lingering ankle injury and is just now hitting with consistency), and Fisher’s got a good thing going down on Montezuma Mesa.

Player and Newcomer of the Week

Leonard Washington, Wyoming

Leonard Washington Was A One-Man Wrecking Crew On The Glass For Wyoming This Week (photo credit: Andy Carpenean/WyoSports)

Leonard Washington, Jr., Wyoming – With apologies to UNLV’s Anthony Marshall, who also just killed it this week, we’ve got to give this one to Washington, who was a one-man wrecking crew for the Cowboys last weekend. Things started out innocently enough on Wednesday night, when Washington had 13 points, eight rebounds and three steals in a road win at Air Force, but digging a little bit deeper into those numbers showed a sign of things to come, as Washington alone grabbed 46.4% of all the potential Cowboy defensive rebounds. Saturday night against an undersized Colorado State team, Washington upped that number to 55.9% and added a personal 22.3% offensive rebound percentage – a number some entire teams in the league would consider a fine effort. Washington wound up with 32 points and 14 rebounds (both career highs) in a performance dominant enough to allow us to completely forget about the two banked-in threes near the end of the Cowboys’ 19-point win.

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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: 01.18.12

Posted by EJacoby on January 18th, 2012

Evan Jacoby is an RTC contributor and correspondent. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.

There are lots of good conference matchups tonight across the country. We will give you full breakdowns of the two best games to watch, including a big-time Big East matchup early in the evening. Check the comments section for other games to track tonight!

Cincinnati at #12 Connecticut – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (****)

Yancy Gates and UC Are Trending Up, Up, Up (AP)

  • Cincinnati is an impressive 4-1 in true road games this season, including victories at Georgia, Pittsburgh, and Georgetown. They have played at an increasingly high level and are 9-1 since the brawl against Xavier that left several players suspended. At full strength now, the Bearcats will not be intimidated in Gampel Pavilion and will look to establish their physical defense early in the game. Mick Cronin’s team gives up just 58.8 points per game on the season and is strong with the ball, averaging a +5.5 in turnover margin. On the offensive end, Sean Kilpatrick has developed into a true scorer this season (16.2 PPG) and will look to establish an inside-out game with Yancy Gates (12.3 PPG, 8.9 RPG) to put the UConn defense in a difficult position. Establishing their brand of physical game early on will give Cincinnati a chance to win another big road game.
  • UConn has had their ups and downs this season, though the Huskies are still undefeated at home and have perhaps the most talented roster in the Big East. It’s looking like Ryan Boatright will not be available tonight as he’s being investigated by the NCAA, which could be a significant blow to the Huskies’ offense. The freshman, averaging about 10 points, three rebounds, and three assists per game, is adept at creating his own shot, but then again UConn has been dealing with suspensions and off-court issues all season and should be fine without him. Stud big man Andre Drummond continues to improve and gain confidence, averaging 15 points, 12 boards, and 2.5 blocks in his previous two games. Going inside early and often has been working for the Huskies, allowing Jeremy Lamb (17.9 PPG) to create his own shot without the defense keyed in on him all the time. Allowing just 36.8% field goal shooting in conference, UConn can match the defensive brand of basketball that Cincinnati brings to this game.
  • There are some great matchups to watch in this game, including Kilpatrick vs. Lamb on the wing as explosive scorers and Gates vs. Drummond inside as a clash of interior styles. Who wins tonight could come down to who is making the most shots, which seems obvious, but really applies here between two teams with similar physical defenses and offensive playmakers. Give Connecticut the advantage at home.
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Set Your TiVo: 01.13-01.15

Posted by Brian Otskey on January 13th, 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.

A couple of Mountain West battles highlight Saturday’s action but the big one is late Sunday afternoon in the Big Ten.

#14 Connecticut @ Notre Dame – 11:00 AM EST Saturday on ESPN2 (***)

  • Led by Andre Drummond’s 20/11 on 9-11 FG, Connecticut got back on track by defeating West Virginia on Monday night. To win on the road, the Huskies will need quality efforts from most of their roster. That starts with Shabazz Napier protecting the basketball. Jim Calhoun’s sophomore point guard sets the tone for this team, good or bad. Napier (and UConn as a whole) has struggled with turnovers, especially in Big East play. On the road against a team looking to make its mark in the middle of the conference, the Huskies have to do a better job handing the ball if they are to win this one. The more possessions UConn can earn by using its strong rebounding advantage while minimizing turnovers, the more opportunities there will be for talented players such as Drummond, Jeremy Lamb (25 points vs. WVU) and Ryan Boatright to score.

    Can Napier Step Up To Lead The Huskies?

  • Believe it or not, Notre Dame actually has an outside shot at the NCAA Tournament. 37 at-large bids have to come from somewhere and the Fighting Irish are on the bubble according to ESPN’s Joe Lunardi. This will be a tall order for Notre Dame, even at home. The Irish have won 29 consecutive home games but that will be tested mightily against the Huskies. The emergence of Jack Cooley in the paint could be the biggest reason why Notre Dame has a chance to upset UConn. Cooley has averaged 16.5 PPG and 9.7 RPG over his last eight games, the latest Notre Dame big man to develop nicely under Mike Brey. However, Cooley will likely have a more difficult time against Connecticut’s stifling interior defense. The Huskies have always owned the paint under Calhoun and this year is no different. Notre Dame has to make outside shots in order to win because it can’t count on Cooley alone inside. Jerian Grant has turned into a consistent scorer but the Irish need a third option. Brey had hoped Scott Martin would be that guy but he has really struggled. However, Martin is impacting the game in other ways, rebounding well even when the shots aren’t falling. Notre Dame must try to get to the foul line as well. UConn historically doesn’t foul often so this could be difficult even at home.
  • If Drummond plays like he did against West Virginia, the Huskies will be a strong favorite. UConn must rebound aggressively to counteract any turnover problems it may have. The Irish have struggled shooting the three ball this year and Connecticut ranks second in interior defense. If those statistics hold true, Notre Dame will have an incredibly difficult time scoring. The good news for the Irish? They have been the best team defending the triple in Big East play (20.9%). For UConn, it’s simple. Protect the ball, rebound, and defend the paint. If the Huskies do that, they will snap ND’s 29-game home winning streak. Easier said than done, of course.
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