Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 7, 2013

2013 Oregon Basketball Preview #1

I'm really excited about this one.  All three matchups with Oregon last season were fun in their own way, and these two seem to bring the best out of each other.  Further, both squads need to rebound from painful losses last week.  While the Buffs were flailing for buckets in SLC, the Ducks were getting humbled in NorCal.  

Oregon needs this win to recapture momentum in the conference title race once thought to be a mortal lock.  CU needs this win to rebound after the embarrassing defeat to the lowly Utes, and re-state their claim to a spot in the Tournament.  Like two wild animals backed into a corner of their own making, I expect both the Buffs and Ducks to come out swinging.  As a result, I expect a good game from wire to wire.

The Buffs just lost a game we didn't expect, let's see if they can win a game we don't expect.  Tip-off from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene, OR is scheduled for 8pm MT this evening.  Coverage can be found on ESPNU, or with Mark Johnson on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

In light of the dreary performance against Utah in the first round of last season's Pac-12 tournament, I didn't think the Buffs had a hope in hell of beating a surging Oregon squad in Los Angeles.  The Ducks had won 6 of 7 to close out the year, including a convincing victory over CU in the season's final week, and all signs seemingly pointed to a second-round exit for the Buffs.

Undeterred, the Buffs took a lead into half, and were playing more than capably against a team many had picked as a dark horse title contender.  A 14-3 Oregon run after the 8-min timeout, however, had the Ducks poised to win headed into the game's final 90 seconds.  It looked as if the upset was going to slip through CU's grasp.
Brown's timely second half performance carried CU in LA. From: the BDC
A spectacular reverse layup by Carlon Brown finally snapped the drought, and brought the Buffs within one  with just over a minute to play.  The Buffs now turned up the rebounding, grabbing three straight to give themselves multiple shots at the win.  After a Spencer Dinwiddie miss with 15 seconds on the clock, Andre Roberson grabbed his 10th rebound of the night, and put back a heavily contested layup to snatch a 63-62 lead.

Defense was now imperative.  With a spot in the conference semi-finals for the second consecutive year on the line, Tad Boyle tasked senior Nate Tomlinson with locking down the dynamic Devoe Joseph.  Nate stuck in his pocket, giving Joseph virtually no room to either see the rim or drive.  A desperation heave over Tomlinson's outstretched arms sailed well over the goal, and the Buffs sprinted in joy towards the locker room.  CU had pulled it off.
Two down, two to go.  From: the BDC
Throughout the game, the Buffs did an excellent job limiting looks from the outside, holding the Ducks to 4-22 shooting from deep. In addition, Oregon only managed to get to the line eight total times.  Both defensive efforts were essential as Oregon out-rebounded CU 42-29.

CU was lead by Carlon Brown, at this point well on his way to tournament MVP status.  The senior's 18 points, including 13 in the second half, were one of the main keys to victory.

In the memory of that surprising upset in LA, maybe history can repeat itself this evening...

Opponent's season so far - 

The Ducks were the talk of the Pac-12 after a 7-0 start to conference play.  That run included eye-opening wins over Arizona and @UCLA.  Considering that Oregon doesn't have to play return games with either of those presumed conference front-runners, the general consensus became that they were about to walk away with the conference title.
Oregon got a big win in Los Angeles.
Then, as is often the case, things got a little weird in San Francisco.  Beginning with an embarrassing thumping at the hands of Stanford, and concluding with a shocking stumble against Cal, Oregon suffered a halting two-game setback last weekend.  The sweep in NorCal cost them 10 spots in the AP poll, and gave their season outlook an unexpected scare.  Suddenly, that assumed stroll to the conference title is in serious doubt.

I don't think Oregon was ever going to be a true top-4 seed come March, but the team acted like they saw the White Elephant in San Fran.  Tonight's game will go a long way in telling how tough this team really is.
Epic sad face is epic.
On offense, they're a mostly solid bunch.  Recent turnover issues aside (I'll get to them in a second), the Ducks are in the nation's top-third in efficiency, relying on excellent work inside the arc to grind down opponents.  Guards get the ball inside, allowing competent forwards to go to town, and slashing guards make penetration the focus, rather than the kick-out.  Not a group to hit a bunch of threes as a result; as a team they only shoot 33% from deep, and are 303rd in the nation in three point distribution.  They also love to spread the ball around, with five players averaging double-digits, but none more 12 per game.

Defensively, they're one of the best groups around, holding opponents to just over .87 ppp.  That success is built primarily around their excellent defensive rebounding percentage (73.2%), allowing them to limit second chances, and keep teams from getting to the line.  They're top-20 in keeping opponents off the offensive glass.  If CU manages to find any second chances, they have to capitalize.

Ephemera -

There are two different Oregons.  One with freshman point guard Dominic Artis, and one without.  This evening, the Buffs will probably see the latter this evening.

The one-time CU recruiting target had been masterful in his freshman campaign, dropping 10/3/4 every night before a foot injury began costing him games.  More than that, his creative control of the offense seemed beyond his years, and even casual observers could see that he was a large part of the Ducks' fast start to conference play. 
The loss of Artis has really hurt.
Now without him over the last three games, the wheels are starting to fall off for Oregon. They're 1-2 since his injury, coughing up over 21 turnovers per game after averaging only 12.3 per in prior conference play.   Backup point guard Johnathan Lloyd is having problems adjusting to his new, super-sized role, and it has cost the Ducks their seemingly insurmountable Pac-12 lead.  A lot of that slump may have been compounded by road trip blues, but I think the stats speak for themselves.

Artis is still listed as doubtful for this weekend - walking around in a boot, rather than practicing - and I have become fairly confident that he won't play tonight.  With Artis out, it has to boost the Buffs' chances at the upset.  CU may not be a team capable of forcing too many miscues (264th in defensive TO%), but, if Oregon's just going to give them away...

Coaching - 

I continue to think highly of Coach Dana Altman.  He succeeded in creating a good program at Creighton, and continues to out-pace expectations in Eugene.  For the third straight season, the pre-season polls have under-valued his team's ability.  Picked 5th last year, they proved to be one of the toughest outs in the West, and finished in a 2nd-place tie with Arizona.  This season, picked 7th, he has them once again fighting for the conference lead.  Ball don't lie.
Altman's freakout after the game in the CEC last season was epic.  From: the BDC
He's done a great job luring transfers to Eugene to plug gaps in his roster. Last year it was Devoe Joseph who came in and made an immediate impact.  This season, it's Arsalan Kazemi.  Without either of these players, they're middle-of-the-pack teams on par with expectations.  Altman is never satisfied with the hand he's dealt, and is always looking for a way to shake things up.  Oregon keeps banking wins as a result.

Star Players - 

The Duck who scares me the most is transfer Arsalan KazemiComing from Rice, the 6-7 power forward from Iran was granted an immediate waiver to play this year without sitting out a transfer season.  Kazemi, in addition to USC's Omar Oraby, had claimed that racial discrimination was the cause of their exodus from Houston.  While typically not a reason for the NCAA to grant a transfer waiver, it is what it is. 
The big guy is easily one of the best rebounders in the country.
Cleared of distractions, Arsalan has been dominating in the post.  He holds the nation's best defensive rebounding percentage (29.3%), and essentially grabs anything that comes off the rim.  Watching him tangle with 'Dre will be fun.  He's also money in the paint (shooting 60% from inside the arc), and hits his free throws (70%).  Kazemi is just flat-out good.

E.J. Singler is the do-it-all forward at the heart of the Ducks roster.  The 6-6 senior's versatile skillset is a major component of what the Ducks do on offense.  A jack of all trades, master of none kind of guy, he averages 11/5/3/1 per game, and is Oregon's best outside shooter (35%).  For some reason, he cut his famously long hair. If it didn't work for Samson, I don't why Singler thought it would work for him.
He had the flowing locks going for him last season.  Why the change, E.J.?
Tony Woods is a beast inside.  Averaging 11/4, the 6-11 senior is heavily used when he's on the court to establish an offensive presence in the paint.  He only gets 21 minutes per game, but he makes the most of them as the Ducks use him on 24% of available possessions.  You have to be a man to guard him or keep him off the block.  I have a hard time believing that Josh Scott is ready for this guy defensively.

Daymean Dotson plays a more traditional two-guard role in Eugene.  As a freshman he leads the team in scoring with 11.4 per, but still has room to grow to reach the level Devoe Joseph was at filling that role last season.
CU will have a few more season to chase around Dotson.  The Freshman is already legit.
Johnathan Lloyd, as previously discussed, will be handling the point guard duties in Artis' stead.  The 5-8 junior has been known more for passing coming off the bench, but has promised to open it up a little more as a starter. As if the injury to Artis wasn't enough, Lloyd himself was hit with the injury bug during the Cal game, and is nursing a sore right thumb.  I bet he'll still start, but it's something to keep an eye on.

Prediction - 

With Artis probably still out, it's tempting to pick the Buffs to steal a win here. I also expect the team to be fired up in the wake of the Utah embarrassment, further adding to the 'upset' bandwagon.  However, I just can't overlook the road issues.  This is a completely different group in hostile environments, to the point that I almost don't recognize them.

Leaving out the Arizona game (It was an enigma, even outside of the finish.  I'm tossing it for arguments sake), CU is averaging under 57 points per true road game (.882 ppp), shooting 39% from the field while going 2-5 over those seven games.  Compare that to home/neutral records, where the Buffs score 77 ppg (1.094 ppp), shoot 54%, and are 12-1.

It is college basketball, afterall, and 18-22-yr olds are wont to wilt away from home (just ask Kansas), but that's on the absurd-ish side. As a result, regardless of how disoriented Oregon may be without their floor general, I can't predict a CU victory.

UO 64 - CU 57 (exact road averages for non-UofA games)


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