Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

2013-14 Washington State Basketball Preview #2

Offering a distraction from the chaos that is National Signing Day, the men's basketball team is back in action this evening to take on the Washington State Cougars.  It's an important game for CU, as they can no longer afford any hiccups against the softer-side of their schedule if they hope to make it to the post-season.  The final four weeks of the slate are a nightmare, and the Buffs need a perfect week against the Washingtons headed into that stretch.  On paper, they should be in a good spot to get just that, but you never know...

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7:30pm this evening.  Coverage can be found on Pac-12 networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview from the first game can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Over an uncomfortable, stress-inducing 45 minutes, the Washington State Cougars gave CU everything they wanted.  Even without their leading scorer, DaVonte Lacy, WSU harassed, bullied, and contained the #15 Buffaloes throughout regulation, and Colorado found themselves lucky to have survived into overtime. Luckily, a scare was the only thing delivered in Spokane, as CU found a way to claw past the upstart Cougars in the extra frame to claim a 71-70 victory.  As ugly as it was, the result remains Colorado's only road win in conference play.
Behind a dominating performance from Josh Scott, the Buffs were lucky to survive. From: the BDC
As usual, Coach Boyle was blunt in the post-game.  'I am not proud of this performance,' said the Colorado maestro, 'we let (WSU) dictate the tempo, we were soft defensively.'  Looking at the box score, it's no wonder Boyle was so disapproving.  CU allowed 13-23 shooting from beyond the arc, allowed a smaller, less athletically gifted team to match them on the boards, and watched as the Cougars passed all around them for 17 assists on 27 made baskets. Very un-Buff-like.

That perimeter defense was particularly atrocious.  Washington State is no where near a strong shooting club, but it's more than raw shooting luck that they were able to hit their shots at a 57% clip from deep. Switches and close-downs were slow, and the Cougars took advantage, especially the nearly anonymous Dexter Kernich-Drew, who was allowed to get red hot before any adjustments were made.  DKD finished with 24 points, mostly on 6-8 shooting from range, which is, by far, his career high.  Simply inexcusable.
Seriously, can someone please guard the shooter? From: the AP
This was also the game that sent BuffNation into a tizzy as it was played almost in its entirety without a starring performance from Spencer Dinwiddie.  The elite point guard didn't take a shot in the first half, and seemed completely out of sorts en route to a 6/2/2/2 night that felt worse than it really was.  Of course, I'd happily lob off my left arm to have even this muted performance from the injured team leader back in the fold on a nightly basis.  You don't know what you have until it's gone...

Thus, the lesson here is you cannot take any team lightly, because nothing, from the result of a game to the course of a season, is guaranteed.  CU did not step off the plane in Spokanne with the right mental attitude, and looked to coast to victory against the lowly Cougars.  Even as bad as WSU is, they're still a Pac-12 squad, and are capable of a winning effort if left to their own devices.  To survive tonight, Colorado needs to bring their best, regardless of what the scouting report says.  That means attention to detail on offense, full effort on the boards, and a defensive attack worthy of a team of their quality.  As always, whatever it takes.

Since then... - 

Washington State finally got on the board, claiming two Pac-12 victories over the past month.  The first, a 49-47 affront to basketball over the Utes, was the epitome of what you would expect from a WSU/Utah game.  There were only 57 possessions, fewer than 100 combined points scored, and neither team shot over 38% from the floor (zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz...).  Their second, and more impressive, conference win came last weekend against the in-state rival Washington Huskies.  The 72-67 victory was the byproduct of a monstrous 20/18 night from DJ Shelton, who punished the undersized Huskies.
Shelton was unstoppable last weekend.
While the Cougars have managed to claim a few happy days, they're still a woefully ugly team to watch. They play painfully slow on offense, taking near 23 seconds per trip in Pac-12 play, which is downright criminal.  Granted that they've been hampered by injuries, I honestly don't know what they're trying to accomplish with that pedestrian clip. They're the most inefficient bunch in the conference by a wide margin, scoring a paltry .845 adjusted points per possession since the start of 2014, which strongly hints that what they're doing isn't working. Combined with other league-worst rates like their 42.7 eFG and their laughable 37.5% shooting inside of the arc, it's, again, hard to fathom how CU played down to their level last month.

Defensively, things haven't been much better.  Only USC has allowed more points per possession since the start of Pac-12 play, which is telling in both cases.  The Cougar's problem continues to be shots at the rim, as they are one of the worst nationally in defending the paint (over 42% of opponent shots come at the rim). They've got the post presence to affect some of those shots, but there's only so much any front line can do when opposing teams are allowed nearly unfettered access to the most efficient shot in the game.  CU needs to be able to get to the rack this evening, if only because statistics demand it.

Why things could be different - 

The biggest difference between now and then is a matter of rosters - who will and who will not be playing tonight.  We all know that Spencer Dinwiddie and Tre'Shaun Fletcher are on the bench with injuries, but the Cougars are rejoicing over the return of leading scorer DaVonte Lacy.  The 6-4 junior guard had been out with a series of ailments, but, now back in the lineup, he adds a different dimension to their attack... by which I mean they now have one.

Most importantly, Lacy is a shooter that you need to guard across the perimeter.  Nearly 64% of his attempts this year have come from three, and he hits them at a decent clip, too (39%).  Considering the trouble CU had in Spokane with three pointers, the Buffs should be concerned.
Lacy makes the Cougars harder to defend, even if he isn't fully ready.
While Lacy is still getting back into the groove of things, he's already made an impact.  His first game back on the court was the win over Washington, and he played a big role.  While he only scored 10 points on 2-10 shooting, he made the Cougars much tougher to guard, and hit some big shots down the stretch.  If WSU wins this evening, it'll probably be because DaVonte stretched the defense into an uncomfortable position.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 9-3.  Against the spread: 6-6.  Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +2.58 pts/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 11pm - CU -10.5

Even with Lacy back, I find it hard to believe that WSU can come into the CEC and steal a win.  CU remains a strong team at home, and that, along with a renewed commitment to defense and rebounding, should be enough to see them past the woeful Cougars.  Still, I'm not ready to commit to the cover, so I'll say the final is within three possessions.

CU 67 - WSU 59


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