Set Your Tivo: 03.12.11Posted by Brian Otskey on March 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.
When we’re this late into Championship Week, every game is dynamite and a must-see event. There are too many games to preview in their entirety so here are a handful you absolutely have to watch today. All rankings from RTC and all times Eastern.
ACC Semifinals (at Greensboro, NC): #5 Duke vs. Virginia Tech – 3:30 pm on ESPN (****)
With the status of Nolan Smith uncertain after suffering a toe injury yesterday (bad toes have killed the Blue Devils this year, right?), Virginia Tech can lock up a bid for certain with another win over Duke this afternoon. After a scintillating conclusion to their game against Florida State, one tenth of a second may be enough to vault this Hokies team into the Big Dance regardless of what happens today. If Smith can’t go, Kyle Singler and Seth Curry become Duke’s go-to players. Singler played like the guy we saw last year against Maryland yesterday, posting 29/9 on 10-15 FG, while Curry did a nice job filling in at the point after Smith left. Virginia Tech slowed the pace down in their win over Duke last month but more importantly committed only five turnovers in that game. The Hokies also held the Blue Devils to 20% shooting from three and owned the paint with Jeff Allen and Victor Davila combining for 29/25 in the win. To beat Duke for the second time, Seth Greenberg needs a similar game plan. If Duke can get out in transition, Virginia Tech’s limited depth will become a major concern, as will their propensity to turn the ball over. The Hokies are at their best playing in the half court where they work the ball inside to Allen and crash the glass, not when Malcolm Delaney is jacking up ill-advised deep shots leading to long rebounds and fast break points for the opponent. If Smith can’t go and Curry doesn’t make his teammates better, look for Virginia Tech to use a lot of zone (they might anyway) to force Duke into deep jumpers, especially Singler. He shot the ball poorly in the first meeting and was a big part of why Duke lost that game. A game like he had against Maryland will lead Duke to a win but Virginia Tech knows what is at stake and can definitely win this game if they stick to the blueprint we just outlined.
Ivy League Playoff (at New Haven, CT): Princeton vs. Harvard – 4 pm on ESPN3.com (*****)
It all comes down to this in the Ivy, one game to determine who represents the Ancient Eight in the NCAA Tournament next week. Princeton and Harvard finished tied at 12-2 and split the season series, each winning on the other’s home court. Today’s game will be played at Yale, roughly halfway between the two schools. Harvard is looking for their first ever Ivy title and first NCAA bid in over half a century with a win this afternoon while Princeton will make it back to the NCAA’s for the first time since 2004. Both teams play at the exact same tempo. 64.5 possessions per game, but one relies on defense and the other on offense to win games. Princeton leads the Ivy in most defensive categories while Harvard dominates on the offensive side of the ball, ranked first in the league in efficiency, two point percentage and three point percentage among others. Tommy Amaker’s team shoots the ball extremely well and made 60% of their shots in last week’s meeting in Cambridge. Kyle Casey had 24 points while point guard Brandyn Curry added 10 points and 10 assists in Harvard’s victory last Saturday and they’ll need more production out of that duo yet again today. Harvard does shoot a lot of threes but Princeton ranks tops in the Ivy in defending the triple at 30.3% in conference games. However, Harvard has attempted only 24 treys combined in the two games against Princeton this season (they average just over 18 per contest). The two main threats for the Crimson, Christian Webster starting and Laurent Rivard coming off the bench, average about 40% on the year from distance. Harvard is at their best when they work inside, ranked #12 nationally in two point percentage. Against a tall Tigers front line featuring six players 6’7 or taller, Harvard has to resist the urge to shoot over the defense from the perimeter. The Crimson must use the play making skills of Curry to work their way through Princeton’s defense and find open looks in the paint. The Tigers offense is, well, the Princeton offense. They shoot the ball very well too and will use a lot of screening and cutting to find open shots. Harvard was able to limit shooter Douglas Davis in the last meeting but Dan Mavraides went off for 25 points in the loss. Princeton needs to have a balanced attack with one or more shooters hot from the outside while Ian Hummer and Kareem Maddox work inside. The biggest Crimson defensive vulnerability is their three point defense, ranked sixth in league games and #286 overall. Harvard does a great job keeping opponents off the foul line so you have to make jump shots to beat them. If Princeton is hot from deep, it’ll be tough for the Crimson to pull out a win. However, this is really anybody’s game when you really look at this matchup. Harvard has done a pretty good job defending Princeton this season and another strong effort on that side of the ball could carry the Crimson into the NCAA Tournament.
Big 12 Championship (at Kansas City, MO): #2 Kansas vs. #7 Texas – 6 pm on ESPN (*****)
It seems these teams have been on a collision course since Texas won at Allen Fieldhouse in January, destined to meet in the Big 12 final. They are no doubt the class of the conference and a #1 seed could be on the line here. Texas has six losses but they have an outside shot at getting back to the top line with a win here and some dominoes falling their way elsewhere. The obvious strength of this Texas team is defense, one that held Kansas to 35.9% shooting in their own building in that January game. The Longhorns overcame 15 turnovers in that game with their defense and rebounding, in addition to getting to the free throw line 31 times. Texas gets to the stripe on 44.2% of their possessions and must be aggressive from the opening tip tonight, even though their one main bugaboo is free throw shooting (64.2%). Kansas ranks in the top ten in both offensive and defensive efficiency but a poor defensive half (51 points against) doomed them against Texas the first time. The Longhorns are incredibly dangerous when Jordan Hamilton is on and the rest of the team can get to the rim. Kansas has to turn Texas into a jump shooting team and force them to make mid to long range shots and that starts with containing point guard Cory Joseph. The Canadian freshman can shoot it, drive or get the ball inside to Tristan Thompson with ease when he’s playing well so it’s important for Tyshawn Taylor and the other KU guards to have a good defensive game on the perimeter with active feet and hands. Texas doesn’t turn the ball over but the best way to beat them is to deny the ball from getting inside. Either the Kansas guards have to stop penetration or the big men have to front the post players and keep them from getting the ball in too close to the basket. Both teams are strong on the glass but Kansas actually has the better interior offense with Marcus Morris and company, including his brother. Marcus has had three double-doubles in a row but the long and talented Thompson is capable of containing him somewhat. He scored 16 points in the first meeting but was held to 6-17 FG, his worst shooting performance of the year by far for such a productive offensive player. Texas blocked nine shots in that game, including five courtesy of Thompson. The Morris twins were held to a combined 8-24 FG (33.3%) in that game, plus Joseph and Dogus Balbay did a great job defensively on the perimeter. Texas doesn’t blow you away offensively like Kansas can at times but they win games with their defense. The Longhorns must do that again if they hope to take down the Jayhawks for the second time and win the Big 12 tournament.
Mountain West Championship (at Las Vegas, NV): #8 San Diego State vs. #10 BYU – 7 pm on Versus (*****)
Part three between these teams is the biggest game yet with the Mountain West title and a high seed in the NCAA Tournament in play. What will Jimmer Fredette do coming off his best game of the season, a 52-point outburst against New Mexico last night in Vegas? Fredette was 22-37 (59.5%) from the floor and took only one free throw all night. San Diego State has been able to control the pace against the frenetic Cougars in both games this year but they just haven’t done enough offensively to break through. For the third time to be a charm for the Aztecs, they have to do the best they can on Jimmer while shutting down his supporting cast. Without Brandon Davies in the middle, BYU is short a body inside where San Diego State is at their best. San Diego State should be able to work in a half court setting and achieve quality looks for their big men, especially Kawhi Leonard, coming off an 18/8 game against UNLV last night. San Diego State shot 48.2% for the game with their trio of forwards combining for 43 points of their 74 points. Perhaps the most important player in this game for the Aztecs is D.J. Gay. He hit the game winner yesterday but has been a non-factor in both games against BYU this season. Gay is a combined 2-14 from the floor and has scored only eight points in the two games against the Cougars. With their point guard struggling and failing to set up the offense well against BYU, San Diego State did not crack the 40% mark in either game. The Aztecs can play all the defense they want but Fredette is going to get his points and Steve Fisher’s team has to make shots and score points eventually. San Diego State must take advantage of BYU’s front court situation and dominate the boards even more than they did in the first two meetings. That should be easier without Davies in the fold but the Aztecs still need to execute their game plan properly. We think this game will be closer than the first two but San Diego State needs more from Gay in order to finally knock off BYU this season.
Big East Championship (at New York, NY): #14 Louisville vs. #18 Connecticut – 9 pm on ESPN (*****)
You’d be hard pressed to find anyone out there who picked Louisville and Connecticut to meet in the Big East Championship Game back in November. Rick Pitino and Jim Calhoun have done absolutely marvelous jobs this season (not an overstatement) and have really improved their seeding for next week’s NCAA Tournament with their runs this week. The winner will be in even better shape when the brackets are announced tomorrow but a little business has to be taken care of first on the court in what should be a terrific game. Louisville won both meetings this year, a double OT win at UConn followed by a relatively stress-free win at the YUM! Center last month. Connecticut showed an ability to play effectively against a zone versus Syracuse last night, working the ball into the free throw line area and getting open looks on the wing or inside. The Huskies didn’t shoot all that well but they found their way to the free throw line and dominated the boards en route to the victory. Alex Oriakhi has been the difference maker this week and chipped in 15/11 in yesterday’s game. Freshman Jeremy Lamb also helped Kemba Walker, adding 11 points of his own. Walker stole the show yet again and he and his team will look to make history tonight by becoming the first team to win five games in five days at this event. The Huskies shot poorly in both games against Louisville this year so they must rebound well and not give the Cardinals extra chances as a result of turnovers. Louisville is second in the nation in defensive efficiency and forces turnovers at a good clip thanks to Pitino’s pressure defense. UConn’s strength is interior defense and offensive rebounding but they’re going to have to be able to stop Louisville’s three point shooters. The Cardinals made seven threes against Notre Dame last night and Kyle Kuric has been playing really well of late. Mike Marra is also capable of getting hot at any time (as we saw against Marquette), as is Preston Knowles. If one, two or all three shooters are clicking, Connecticut won’t have much of a chance. The Huskies did a nice job in Big East play against the trey, holding opponents to 31.6% shooting. They’re at 33.4% on the season but will probably have to hold Louisville to 30% or less to win. Their offensive spurts and defensive strength make Louisville so good with Pitino’s fingerprints all over this team. Mike Brey certainly had a great season but Pitino was robbed of the COY award given all he had to deal with this year. Aside from basketball concerns, there are some intangible issues for UConn tonight. It’s their fifth game in five days so fatigue could certainly become a factor, especially against a team that plays as hard and as quick as Louisville. Pitino will likely throw on the press for the majority of the game and that could wear the Huskies down. The other is the inexperience of the UConn youngsters, playing in their first ever Big East title game on Saturday night at MSG. How they react under this intense spotlight and pressure will be very important in this game. It will be tough for Louisville to beat Connecticut for the third time this season, especially with the masterful Calhoun on the sidelines, but Pitino is no slouch either and we think the Cardinals will take home the championship.