Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, January 5, 2012

Washington Basketball Preview

Coach Boyle has dropped a quote throughout his CU tenure which I find very appropriate: "The price of poker has just gone up."

After a swing through the weakest portion of the schedule, it's now time to see exactly what kind of squad this year's BasketBuffs are.  While the Pac-12 is "down," with the notable exception of Utah, the conference is capable of, at the very least, effort on a nightly basis, and many squads have more than enough talent to make life difficult for the transitioning Buffs.  One such squad is tonight's opponent: the Washington Huskies, who happen to feature the best freshman player the Pac-12 has to offer.

Certainly, the price of poker has gone up, and CU's performance this evening will go a long way to telling how the rest of the season will play out.  With a win, the Buffs may shape up to be a .500 or better Pac-12 team, a loss will probably show the Buffs to be a 7-win or worse conference squad.

With that in mind, its massively important that a packed and feisty CEC greets the Buffs out of the tunnel this evening.  If you're in the area, or even if you're not, please make an effort to come support the Black and Gold.  The CEC needs to become a dreaded destination for the entire conference, and an easy way to set the tone is to pack the gym and root the Buffs on to victory.

Tip off is set for 7pm.  If you absolutely can't make it up to Boulder tonight, you can watch the proceedings on ROOT Sports.

Click below for the preview...

Opponents season so far -

If any team exhibits the roller coaster season that the Pac-12 is experiencing, it's Washington.  The Huskies were my sleeper pick to win the conference.  (I based this on them having one of the few home court advantages in the league, a stash of solid young talent, and a great head coach in Lorenzo Romar.)  To this point, they've rewarded my confidence with streaky play worthy of a conference currently searching for normalcy.

Overall, Washington stands at 8-5, with a 3-game win streak under their belt.  A 2-0 start to conference play may have righted the ship, but they have struggled mightily this season away from Seattle, losing all four games played, and scoring 10 points per game less than they do in the friendly confines of Alaska Airlines Arena.
Non-conference struggles behind them, a quick 2-0 start in conference play has Husky Nation in high spirits.
On any given night, this Husky squad is capable of taking Duke to the wire in Cameron Indoor, or losing at home to South Dakota State.  (If you had the Washington Huskies losing at home to the vaunted Jackrabbits of South Dakota State, then you need to move to Vegas right now... or you're a liar)  While they began conference play with a spritely 2-0 start over the Oregon schools, games like the SDSU game and an inability to win away from Seattle are putting a damper on what I think could still be a special season.
South Dakota State?  Really?
(Inconsistent starts, like the one experienced by the Huskies, are a major reason why the Pac-12 is seen as a 2-bid league right now; on par with leagues like the MAAC and the OVC.  Yuck.)

Statistically, the Huskies are a powerful offensive team, scoring over 80 points per game.  They play fast (19th in adjusted tempo) and are very efficient (38th) for a team with a few "rotten egg" games.  They boast an eFG of 53%, and shoot over 38% from behind the arc.  If there is a weakness, it's free throw shooting, where the Huskies shoot a very Buffs-like 63%.

On defense, they do a good job forcing missed shots (44% from inside the arc), allowing a strong group of front-line forwards to control the boards.  Overall, they rebound the basketball very well on both ends of the court, which allows them to control the pace of the game.

Coaching -

Lorenzo Romar is, without a doubt, one of the best coaches in the country.  The UW grad and 5-year NBA veteran has lead his alma mater ably for the past decade, making the Huskies into a regional powerhouse.  Six Tournament appearances, with only one first round exit, highlight his coaching profile, but he's also responsible for bringing UW their first outright conference title since the 50's, and forcing them into respectability.
Not a bad dancer, either
Through three career stops as a head coach, Coach Romar has amassed a sterling 296-194 career record, and has won two conference coach of the year awards.  I highly doubt Husky basketball would be anywhere without him; certainly not their current position as one of the premier programs on the Left Coast.

He's reportedly very content in Seattle, having passed up numerous other offers to remain on the Husky bench.  I'd expect him to remain in purple for years to come.

On a side note: unlike some coaches who have tried to deny the altitude effect, Coach Romar is no dummy.  He's lead teams into battle in the Rockies before, and he's played NBA games in Denver.  Rather than deny it, he's taking it in stride, joking about it, and planning for it.

Star Players -

The story here has to begin with freshman sensation Tony Wroten.  One of the best basketball players ever to come out of Seattle, the 6-5 Wroten was a vitally important recruit for Coach Romar's staff, and, so far, he's lived up to billing.  Dropping nearly 17/5 each night from the guard spot, he fills the stat sheet, and dominates the attention of almost every possession he's on the court for.
Wroten is the deserved focus of attention in Seattle.
Yes, the expected freshman follies are evident:  53% shooting from the line, over 4 turnovers per game, and a miserable 25% from behind the arc.  However, the young star makes up for this by drawing double teams, getting to the line, and grabbing a decent share of steals (1.6/game).  As Coach Boyle said, he's worth the price of admission, and I perceive him to be the best freshman in the conference.

I wonder if we'll get much of a chance to see him beyond this season.  If I had to guess, I'd say a stacked draft class may keep him Seattle for one more year.

Further down the roster, we find complimentary guards Terrance Ross and C.J. Wilcox, both capable of making life hell on those too focused on the young Wroten.  They combine to provide 30/9.5 per night, and help make the UW back-court one of the best on the West Coast.  They each have good size, and can do plenty of things with the ball in their hands.  The sophomore Wilcox is also the primary deep threat on the roster, shooting over 45% from 3, and is lights out from the line (92%).
Wilcox is deadly from range.
Leading the front-court corps is 7-foot junior center Aziz N'Diaye.  While not the most efficient offensive player, he's a great rebounder (over 8/game), and a general terror with the block (near 2 per night).  You can play Hack-a-Aziz late in ballgames, however, as the big fella only shoots 35% from the line.
N'Diaye will control the paint, whether we want him to or not.

Prediction -

I've waffled back and forth about this one.  I don't know if this is borne out of logic or love, but I think the Buffs will win tonight.  I can't help but note the Huskies struggles outside of Seattle, and the streaky play of youth can rear its head at odd moments.  That's more than enough to cause me to mark this game as "winnable."

The Huskies are a physically imposing team, running plenty of size and athleticism out onto the court.  In order for the Buffs to come out on top, CU has to keep up with the Huskies on the boards.  'Dre can't do it alone tonight, as UW has the size and athleticism to more than match-up with the conference's leading rebounder.

Freshman Phenom Tony Wroten gets all the press, but it's Wilcox who most worries me this evening.  CU hasn't had their porous perimeter defense exposed in a few games, and they're probably due for a butt whupping from an excellent outside shooter.  If he starts raining 3s, it's going to be a long night.

In the end, I figure this will be a very close game.  Since it's at home, and the first real conference test, I'll give the Buffs the slight nod.  I'm probably very wrong about this, but fuck it; I haven't played my tuba at a loss since I graduated, and I'm not about to start now.

CU 76 - UW 74



jgisland said...

I like the optimism. Not sure who guards Wroten tonight though?

RumblinBuff said...

Honestly, I originally had something where I openly pondered who would get saddled with guarding him. Since I figured he'd get his points regardless, I turned my focus onto Wilcox, who will knife our weak perimeter d.