Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, January 20, 2012

Arizona Basketball Preview #1

So far, while each showcased different story arcs, the four home Pac-12 games have all featured the same ending: a double-digit Buffs victory.  So far, CU is holding conference opponents to 54 points per game (albeit assisted by the 33-point Utah effort), and paltry 35% shooting at 5,345 of Rocky Mountain high altitude.

Maybe there's something to this whole altitude thing.  Or maybe the Buffs are just a good basketball team.  I'm more apt to lean towards the latter, but I am also a little biased.

Regardless, those four wins are history now, and the beat rolls on. There's another chance to make a Pac-12 statement tipping-off Saturday afternoon, with the vaunted Arizona Wildcats coming to town.  Arizona is quietly putting together a decent season, and they are, as always, a marquee program with oodles of talent.  It's a very important game for the transitioning Buffs, and a win would do great things for CU's post-season hopes.

If you want to see the Buffs in person on Saturday, you'd better already have a ticket, 'cause word is the game is already sold out.  I hope to see the same number of students tomorrow afternoon as who packed the southeast corner of the CEC Thursday evening.  I have it on good authority that the good snow will be ready for skiing on Sunday, so leave the slopes to the tourists, and support your University tomorrow.

The game will tip off at 4pm, and will be broadcast on ROOT Sports.  Radio coverage is set for 850AM.

Click below for the preview...

Opponents season so far - 

The 2011-12 Wildcats would be getting a lot more pub if they could just figure out how to beat a good team. They're 0-5 against teams in the top-75 of Kenpom's rankings, and 3-6 against the top-100.  Those games are part of a typically strong non-conference slate this season, as they have faced "name" programs like St John's, San Diego St, Florida and Gonzaga.  While not overly successful against this stacked non-con slate, I would call them "battle-tested" at this point, and capable of wrecking havoc in a weak Pac-12.
They've played some of the best in the nation this season, but Arizona is still seeking that signature win.
Overall, they stand at 12-6 (4-2) this season, and, with memories of that opening night exhibition disaster behind them, the 'Cats headed towards some version of post-season play.  Not too bad for a team reeling from the early departure of Derrick Williams, last season's Pac-12 player of the year. 

They possess a solid offense and a superb defense, and have wound their way to #45 in Kenpom's national rankings, despite their failings against national powers.  Coming in off of a rough home-stand against the Oregon schools (1-1, with a 2-point home loss to Oregon, and a OT win over OSU), Arizona is looking for an eastern sweep to stay in the hunt for the top of the conference.

Above all else, Arizona is powered by their defense.  They hold opponents to an eFG of 45%, and keep 3-point shooters on lock-down, allowing only 27% shooting from deep.  For a team like Colorado, which needs made 3's to power the offense, this is especially worrying.
The 'Cats are Kenpom's 28th best defense in the nation.
On offense, they have a big problem with turnovers.  Prior to last night's game in Utah, they had been coughing the ball up over 15 times per contest.  They make up for these errors by hoisting up tons of 3-pointers, as they lead the conference in trey's attempted on the year.

In all honesty, the Buffs and Wildcats are pretty similar.  They're one and two in defensive efficiency in Pac-12 play, and both squads have a offensive efficiency around 105.  Hell, prior to last night, CU and Arizona sat right next to each other on the RPI charts at #63 and 64, respectively ('Zona has since slipped to #66).  With similar styles on both sides of the ball, and similar results on the season, this should make for a good game.

Coaching - 

With six and a half solid seasons under his belt, Coach Sean Miller has proven himself to be one of the more successful young coaches in the nation.  Five seasons with Xavier in the wake of Thad Matta saw Miller lead the Musketeers to four Tournament appearances, with deep runs in '08 and '09.  Getting the opportunity to head to a power-conference giant like Arizona, he jumped ship after the '09 season, and headed to Tucson.
Coach Miller has a bright future in Tucson.
With the Wildcats, he's proved to be a great recruiter ('Zona landed Rivals' #4 2011 class), and a very successful coach.  Last season, his second with Arizona, he lead Derrick Williams and the 'Cats to a 30-win season and an Elite-Eight berth.  Accordingly, he was named the Pac-10 coach of the year.

With the loss of Williams to the NBA's Timberwolves, there was always going to be some regression to the mean this season.  However, despite those losses to quality opponents, Miller has kept his young Wildcats afloat on the year, and I view them as one of the few teams capable of competing for the league crown.  With Miller's recruiting prowess, I would expect them to stay near the top of the Pac-12 for years to come

Star Players - 

While a strong freshmen class headlined the off-season in Tucson, the team's foundation is built upon three high profile upperclassmen who all showcase a true shooting percentage over 57%.

Senior Solomon Hill, a 6-6 junior out of LA, is the teams leading scorer and rebounder.  Dropping 12/8/3 each night, Hill is the player who has received the most attention in wake of Derrick William's departure.  He's a force on offense, and is the engine upon which the 'Cats are built.
Hill is a quality talent who will give the Buffs plenty of matchup problems.
Supporting Hill's efforts are two seniors.  Jesse Perry, a 6-7 senior from St Louis, is a slightly undersized power forward who has seen a big boost in minutes this season.  He can struggle a bit at the free throw line, and has been a little quiet recently, scoring in single-digits the past three games.  Kyle Fogg, a 6-3 senior from Brea, CA, is a dangerous outside outside shooter who takes more than half of his shots from behind the arc.  He hits them at a 43% clip.

The heralded freshman class is built around Nick Johnson and Josiah Turner.  The 6-3 Turner is an exciting option at the point, and should be a force in the Pac-12 next year after the senior's graduate.
Turner has the chance to be great in the future.

Prediction - 

This should be a close game.  Even Kenpom has this as a one-point affair.  With CU and Arizona so similar in performance on the season, I expect that his projection may very well be right.  Both teams share the ball very well, with no one player over 24% usage, and can go deep onto the bench and find some production.  While probably not as brutal as last season's series with KSU, I think the level of competition will be similar. 

The Buffs need this game to carry momentum into a great road win opportunity next week.  I think they'll get it, if only because the game is played in Boulder.  Arizona may have an athleticism advantage, but the game is at home, at altitude, and set before a packed CEC.

Bring the antacids, because this one's going to be close.

CU 68 - Arizona 66


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