Set Your TiVo: 02.08.12 – Rivalry Week Headline NightPosted by EJacoby on February 8th, 2012
Evan Jacoby is a regular contributor to RTC. You can find him @evanjacoby on Twitter. See bottom of the post for the Official RTC Star System.
Here we go, folks. Get ready for one of the very best nights of the college basketball regular season, including two 5-star showdowns. The best rivalry in the sport highlights this slate. We absolutely guarantee some great basketball tonight. Let’s get into the breakdowns:
#7 Kansas at #6 Baylor – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN2 (*****)
- Kansas has lost their last two road games at Iowa State and Missouri despite putting up a great fight in both efforts. Tonight is another opportunity to win a crucial conference road game against a team who they will be competing with for the Big 12 title. They will be looking for the season sweep of Baylor after already thrashing the Bears at home back on January 16. In order to do so, the play of Tyshawn Taylor might be the key. He’s been terrific recently at 18.5 points and 6.5 assists in those two road environments, but late-game turnovers continue to be his bugaboo. Eliminating a mistake or two at the end of the game can be the difference between a win and a loss, especially in this one with such physical front lines that may cancel each other out and leave the guards to decide this one. Along those lines, Thomas Robinson will be defended by any number of physical forwards, but that didn’t stop him from going for 27/14 in the first meeting. Nobody can shut him down when he is on. For Kansas to have an advantage, someone else needs to step up and make big shots, whether it is Conner Teahan, Travis Releford, or Elijah Johnson. They have lacked that unsung hero in road games thus far.
- It doesn’t feel like Baylor is playing very well right now, yet their talent and depth has continued to carry them through the Big 12 slate with just two losses to top competition. Tonight is a must-win at home to avenge the earlier loss to Kansas and to keep themselves alive in the regular season title hunt. The Bears allow just 39.6% field-goal shooting on the season and will do everything in their power to contain Robinson from going off. Quincy Acy, a stellar defender (2.3 BPG), must have a great game in order to do that. Baylor has more overall scoring talent and will have the advantage if Quincy Miller and Perry Jones III just play to their abilities. At 1.12 points per possession during Big 12 play, Baylor leads the conference in offensive efficiency, but the Kansas defense is the best that they will face. Just like Kansas needs Taylor to step up late, pay attention to how Pierre Jackson performs in this game, the guard who has made nearly all of their big shots this season.
- This game will be televised on the Deuce, but it’s just as spectacular of a matchup as the one being played simultaneously on ESPN. Baylor is just a two-point favorite at home, as we just don’t know exactly which Bears players will show up in big games. It seems like Kansas can be trusted to play well in this game, but do they have enough impact players to get the road win? I’m predicting a Baylor win by about four to six points as their pieces overwhelm Kansas by the end of the night.
#10 Georgetown at #2 Syracuse – 7:00 PM ET on ESPN (****)
- John Thompson III’s team just keeps plugging along, coming off back-to-back convincing home victories. It’s time to take the show on the road to the Carrier Dome where the Hoyas were able to win last year for the first time in nine seasons. In order to make it two straight, Georgetown needs to take good shots against the 2-3 zone, something they are capable of with their patient offense. The team shoots 47.3% for the season while facing zone defenses, which is the best in the conference. The Cuse zone is a completely different animal though. Jason Clark (15.2 PPG) and Hollis Thompson (13.7) must knock down some shots from the outside, which both are very capable of doing, especially Thompson who shoots a conference-best 48% from deep. Another key will be limiting turnovers, as the Princeton-style offense calls for accountability on every cut and pass that can end up in turnovers against a great defense like the Orange’s. If the Hoyas, especially Henry Sims, are strong with the ball then they will stay in this game. Defensively, then, the key is to keep this to a half court game and make the Orange convert at a slower pace.
- Syracuse looks to have their swagger back now that Fab Melo has returned from his three-game suspension. They did everything right in a 95-70 win over St. John’s and now return home looking to do the same. However, Georgetown is a much more difficult matchup for the zone to thrive against, and the Hoyas also often employ a zone defense themselves in hopes of slowing down opposing offenses. That said, Georgetown has been susceptible to some poor transition defense, and the Orange run some of their best offense against zones, like they did at St. John’s. The key may be the decision making of Scoop Jardine and Brandon Triche on the perimeter and if they are able to to penetrate to find good looks for their teammates. If they are not effective, Cuse has plenty of other options to turn to, but Jim Boeheim will feel most comfortable if his starting guards are on their game.
- The Orange are nine-point favorites tonight at home, where they have looked nearly untouchable while at full strength. Georgetown, however, has the kind of tough mentality and efficiency to their play that could give them a chance to hang in this game. These two longtime rivals could be meeting for one of the last times as conference foes with Syracuse’s impending departure to the ACC. Neither team will be focused on that, but it does set up to be another classic in front of a crowd of over 30,000 fans.
#12 Duke at #5 North Carolina – 9:00 PM ET on ESPN (*****)
- Millions of sports fans were busy picking up wings and putting together Super Bowl pools and probably missed that Duke lost a home game to unranked Miami on Sunday, something completely uncharacteristic of a Mike Krzyzewski team. But another un-Krzyzewksi-like maneuver would be to not show complete focus and preparedness for this rivalry game coming off a loss. So is this just a flawed Duke team, or will they bounce back as expected? Look to see how Duke’s guards defend Kendall Marshall as they need to pressure the ball and try to stop the facilitator from running sharp offense. Because of that expect to see some Tyler Thornton and Quinn Cook in this game for defensive purposes, but Duke also needs Seth Curry and Andre Dawkins to be hitting from the outside to establish that offensive threat so Coach K will look for the right guard combination. Meanwhile, Mason Plumlee needs to play his best game tonight. He’s been great against smaller front lines but he needs to find a way to score and defend against the NBA-talent forwards of Carolina. The only way Duke can win this game is if they defend at a high level, and that includes the perimeter, interior, and in transition.
- North Carolina is far from the finished product that Roy Williams would like to see, but they are certainly improving and playing like a national title contender recently. Harrison Barnes (17.3 PPG) lives for big games so look for him to step up right away and find shots. UNC wants to establish him and their front line of John Henson and Tyler Zeller early in the game to force Duke’s hand defensively to pick and choose what to focus on. Reggie Bullock has played terrific lock-down defense on opposing scorers, so look for him to be right up on Duke’s Austin Rivers all game. Carolina has been an offensive machine at home recently, so something will need to change if they are not going to win this game.
- The Tar Heels are six-point favorites in Chapel Hill, but this could get out of hand quickly if Duke is not bringing their A-plus defensive effort. Look for Coach K to have his guys ready, but they may not have the personnel this season to go in and beat UNC on the road. I’m predicting a convincing Carolina victory, but these games never seem to go as planned. Don’t be shocked if the Blue Devils are motivated and end up playing its best basketball of the season.
Other Games to Watch:
- Cincinnati at St. John’s, 7:00 PM ET on ESPNU – Must-win game for the Bearcats who suddenly find themselves squarely on the bubble despite a talented roster and a hot start to Big East play. Yours truly will be courtside for this one.
- Pittsburgh at South Florida, 7:00 PM ET on ESPN3.com – Can Pittsburgh win a fifth straight and continue their quest from 0-7 to an NCAA Tournament bid? This, too, might be a must-win game.
- Marshall at UCF, 7:00 PM ET – Two C-USA teams squarely on the bubble, both need this win, each has a fun player to watch in DeAndre Kane and Marcus Jordan, respectively.
- Saint Louis at Saint Joseph’s, 8:30 PM ET – Great A-10 matchup pits a top conference team against the second-tier Hawks who need this win at home.
- Notre Dame at West Virginia, 9:00 PM ET on ESPN U – Yet another nice Big East matchup. Surging Notre Dame has been knocking off foes left and right. Can they do it again to West Virginia, who can’t afford to lose 4 out of 5?
***** – 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 2014
* – don’t waste bandwidth (yours or the tivo’s) of any kind on this game