Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, January 2, 2014

2013-14 Oregon St Basketball Preview

The Buffs have a good chance this week to make some noise in the Denver sports market.  With the Broncos on the bye, the Avalanche mired in a slump, and the Nuggets doing... whatever it is the Nuggets do, there is a small gap in the calendar when CU can be the talk of the town.

It's time for Colorado to defend their top-25 ranking with authority, and make a statement to the causal sports fans in the area that they are worthy of the region's love.  This is a team that the entire state can be proud of, and they deserve the spotlight.  A pair of home wins to open conference play on a quiet post-holiday weekend should be enough to make a statement, and fix the Buffs in the collective sports consciousness of this metro area, if only for a little while.


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 8pm this evening.  For those unable to make it up to Boulder, televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Only four days after a humiliating home loss to the Beavers, the Buffs got a quick shot at revenge in the first round of the 2013 Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas.  Afforded a glimpse at what happens when you take an underachieving team lightly, they muddied up the game, turning the affair into an ugly slog in which OSU had little chance of doubling up their surprising effort from the previous weekend.  CU claimed a 74-68 win, and happily moved on to a quarterfinal matchup with the rival Arizona Wildcats.

The key difference between the regular season finale and the post-season opener was on the defensive side. With Andre Roberson back in the fold after his bout with mono, CU was better able to counter the Beavers' interior strength.  In Vegas, the forward trio of Joe Burton, Eric Moreland, and Devon Collier were held to only 11-23 shooting, well off their pace from the Boulder game (60% shooting).  They still got their points (31 combined), but the easy access to the rim was no longer there for OSU, which allowed CU to better defend the three-point line (OSU was 7-25 from deep in the Pac-12 tournament game).  Overall, the Beavers shot under 40%, CU out-rebounded them by seven, and TadBall reigned.
'Dre made a big difference in the rubber match.  From: the AP
Offensively, it was another trainwreck.  The Beavers, with their trap press and 1-3-1 zone, are like hitting against a knuckleball.  It's an awkward change of pace from conventional defenses, and it can completely disrupt your timing and execution, independent of your control.  Unless Colorado is getting out in transition to avoid the mess entirely, which they didn't in either game (eight fast break points between the two games), they're going to struggle scoring the ball. Accordingly, CU shot under 40% in each game.  The big difference the second go around was Colorado's ability to get to the free throw line.  After only getting to the line 11 times in Boulder, the Buffs shot 32 freebies in the rubber match, which was barely enough to turn the tables.

The thing to take away from last season's back-to-back meetings is that, with the awkward defensive setup, an under-achieving Beaver squad can jump up and bite just about any team, anywhere.  Even though CU is a more offensively capable squad this season, it still wouldn't surprise me to see them struggle against basketball's version of the knuckler.  The trick then will be attention to detail on defense, particularly in the paint to force the Beavers outside, and a dedication to getting to the free throw line to salvage points out of uncoordinated possessions.  A fifth-straight efficient game from Ski (over 40% shooting) wouldn't hurt, either.

Star players - 

The weird thing about the Beavers the last few seasons has been the large amount of quality star talent headlining their roster in each meeting.  Defying their record and standing, they often boast some of the best performers the conference has to offer.  It's no different this season.

If you aren't already familiar with the names Roberto Nelson and Devon Collier, you will be by the end of the game this evening.  The senior scoring duo just happens to be the 4th most prolific pair in the county, and are equally capable of dropping 20 points in any game, against any opponent.  Combined, they average nearly 40 points per game, and are the engine at the heart of the Beaver attack.
Roberto Nelson is a pure scorer.
Nelson is the more dangerous of the two.  A 6-4 senior out of Santa Barbara, CA, he brings a nice package of size, speed, and athleticism to the table.  When on the court, he's utilized on over a third of all possessions (8th nationally), and takes over 35% of OSU's shots (13th).  He even dishes out over four assists per contest.  He's the real deal, and on any other team in the conference, he would be a legitimate Pac-12 Player of the Year candidate.

The more efficient of the two, Collier will push Colorado inside.  A 6-8 senior forward from the Bronx, Collier, he shoots 65% from inside the arc, and has an eFG near 65%.  CU has been bruised in the paint in recent games, and Collier is talented enough to help the Beavers take similar advantage.
Collier has picked up some slack in the absence of Eric Moreland.
A third star, forward Eric Moreland, wasn't originally going to be in uniform this evening, having been suspended for 14 games at the start of the season for the always mysterious 'violation of team rules.'  (Collier was also caught up in the suspending frenzy, but only got one game for his trouble.)  Conveniently, however, CBS's Jon Rothstein reported last night that head coach Craig Robinson is lifting the remainder of the suspension just in time for tonight's game.  The 6-10 junior will be a powerful add to the roster, especially in light of the less-than-stellar rebounding rates OSU has been posting this season (217th in offensive rate, 290th in defensive).  Without Moreland, who posted better rebounding rates than even the great Andre Roberson did last season, the Beavers were going to be far less formidable.  With him suddenly back, Oregon State can match Colorado on the front line.  I wouldn't expect all that much from him immediately, but his presence alone hampered CU's offense in recent years.
Moreland is a defensive force.
Beyond the fearsome trio, the talent level falls off dramatically for the Beavers.   Angus Brandt is a serviceable center who shows flashes of greater capability, and Challe Barton is an interesting point guard who can bury the few shots he takes, but this is, decidedly the Nelson/Collier/Moreland show.

The Beavers in 2013-14 - 

Playing to recent historical form, the Beavers have been wildly inconsistent this season.  They opened the campaign with an ugly home loss to guarantee-game fodder Coppin St before turning around a week later and beating historical power Maryland in College Park.  Such is life in Corvallis.

The Beavers are coming in off of near humiliation at the hands of tiny Quinnipiac.  The Bobcats were allowed to go on a 15-0 run to take a 50-47 lead midway through the second half.  Luckily for OSU (and the Pac-12), the Beavers managed to rebound, and blow past the MAAC side for an embarrassment-avoiding 76-68 win.  Not very impressive on the eve of conference action.
Most recently, the Beavers looked very shaky against Quinnipiac.
Surprisingly, despite playing their trap press and zone, they're only 205th in defensive turnover rate.  They've been playing 'the knuckleball defense' less and less the last few years, but, since it has been so effective against the Buffs in the past, expect to see it a lot tonight.  Along side of that, the really clamped down on transition buckets against CU last season.  The Buffs only got 16 combined transition points over 120 minutes of play against the Beavers in 2013, a number that needs to change for Colorado to meet expectations this evening.

Offensively, they're fast and efficient.  49th nationally in average possession length, and 76th in overall efficiency, expect them to push the ball into the hands of their big scorers.  Luckily for CU, their ability to score from beyond the arc has been severely limited in the wake of sharpshooter Ahmad Starks' transfer to Illinois.  This season, the Beavers are only getting 17% of their points from range, good for 332nd nationally. On the flip side, they're almost as good as CU at getting to the free throw line.  They're 19th nationally in free throw attempts to field goal attempts, leading me to suspect that the refs will play a big part in the proceedings.

Coaching - 

Yep, Craig Robinson is still there.  For how much longer, I'm not so sure, but I can confidently say he'll be there tonight.

Now in his sixth season as head Beaver, Robinson has scant few successes to show for his tenure at OSU. A lone 21-win season in '11-'12, which was only notable in that the Beavers underachieved at 21 wins, and three trips to the CBI (*ahem*) is all he has been able to produce.  Compare that to a 31-55 in-conference record, and you start to notice a problem.  Realize that that's the sum total of production despite rolling through talent like Jared Cunningham, Joe Burton, Eric Moreland, Devon Collier, and Roberto Nelson, and you'd have to be asleep at the wheel to not question why there hasn't been more noise coming out of the OSU program.
Time may be running out for Robinson.
The simple fact is that Oregon State should've been more successful the last few years, considering the amount of talent that has been on the roster.  At some point, Robinson is going to have to take the fall for all the underachieving, even at a program as traditionally unheralded as OSU.  Assuming another sub-.500 finish in conference, this could be his last stand with the Beavers.

It's in that light that I look at the sudden reinstatement of Moreland with raised eyebrows.  Robinson needs a successful conference campaign as a sign that the program is headed in the right direction, and it just seems all too convenient, particularly after a disappointing run through non-conference play that featured some shaky rebounding, that Moreland comes back just in the nick of time to start Pac-12 play.  Maybe this was always the plan, announce 14 games, but give the elite rebounder a chance to come back early, but it just strikes me as suspect.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 1-2.  Against the spread: 1-2.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +4 pts/gm)

Lines as of 12pm on Thursday: CU -12

Colorado has, unsurprisingly, struggled against the Beavers the last four times they've played them.  In the first in-conference meeting, back in 2012, CU ran the Beavers out of the gym.  OSU has shut transition down since then, forcing the Buffs into a half-court style that doesn't suit them.  Colorado is a much more capable offensive force this season, but still relies on the break to fuel their scoring fire.  It's imperative tonight that the Buffs find a way to get out in transition, to keep the 'knuckleball defense' from setting up.

The reinstatement of Moreland shakes things up a bit.  Rebounding was going to be a major area of disadvantage for the Beavers prior to the announcement.  As it is, I still like the Buffs, particularly because no one knows how many quality minutes we'll see from the OSU rebounding machine.  The knuckleball makes things ugly, but Colorado survives a light scare as they get to the line like they did in Vegas.

CU 75 - OSU 68


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