Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, December 6, 2014

San Francisco Wrap and 2014-15 CU vs Georgia Basketball Preview

Something is up with the usually defensive-minded Buffaloes.  While defensive rates are (mostly) on par with what we've seen with in the #RollTad era, the on-court play has been strikingly inconsistent.  A new-found tendency to switch on screens has everyone in Black and Gold confused, leaving opponents bizarrely wide open, and the rim, oftentimes, unprotected.

This was on full display in the first half of Wednesday night's game with San Francisco, as CU's defense took on a Benny-Hill-ish tone.  Would-be defenders ran scrambling around, especially on transition, while numerous Dons got free releases to open space (including a number of runouts after missed shots, which nearly killed Tad). One possession even saw Josh Scott, Colorado's great post defender, lost (like a little puppy) some 30+ feet from the basket trying to defend a guard.  He looked as confused as those in the stands did. Capitalizing, San Fran would take the shambolic misadventures of the Buffs, and turn them into a 10-point lead at about the nine minute mark of the first half.
Tad was less than pleased with the defensive effort in the first half.  From: the BDC
Luckily for CU, this did not turn into a repeat of the Wyoming debacle.  After a pair of first half timeouts (a rarity for Coach Boyle), the Buffs did a better job sticking with their assigned Dons, at least to the point that the run of broken possessions stopped.  They started forcing some turnovers, too, scoring 29 points off of 18 TOs for the evening.  From then on, it was a matter of reclaiming normalcy via the offense, which the Buffs did, climbing back to within two points at the break.

In the second half, it was all about Askia Booker, who, if you're counting (and I am), has now produced three-straight efficient outings.  With Xavier Johnson out of the lineup with a hamstring tweak, CU needed someone to step up with the ball, and the lone scholarship senior was happy to oblige.  Booker would score 21 points on 8-12 shooting (5-6 from deep), leading the Buffs to a 72-55 win.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Colorado is unbeatable when Ski is going 5-6 from three point range.
#SkiSeason is starting to heat up!  From: the BDC
Certainly, lapses like the second half against Wyoming and the first half against San Francisco are concerning, but not all is bad.  One of the big keys coming into this season was sharing the basketball, and the Buffs have been pretty good through six games.  They're 112th in the nation in assist:field goal ratio, which is a massive improvement over the 247th the team posted a year ago.  Since the trip north, where they couldn't generate anything on offense, CU is actually assisting on 64% of their made baskets, which is unheard of from #TadBall.  A positive reaction to the Laramie nightmare.

Of course, that has all happened against some (mostly) underwhelming competition.  The lax portion of the schedule is about to come to an abrupt halt, however, as the team will now embark of their toughest pre-Hawai'i stretch.  First up: the Georgia Bulldogs, and the longest true road trip of the season.

Tip-off from Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA is set for 10AM MT tomorrow.  Coverage is on the SEC network, which will finally give me reason to tune into that channel.  Station #s: Dish - 404, DirecTV - 611, Comcast (Boulder) - 706.  For those who can't figure that mess out, or don't otherwise get any of those, the radio call will be on 760 KKZN.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last December, the Bulldogs came to town in what was the final non-conference tuneup for each team. The Buffs had to overcome a shaky defensive performance, which saw them allow 50% shooting and 24 layup attempts, by putting on an offensive show for the nearly 11,000 fans in attendance. CU would shoot 51% from the field themselves, including a nice 8-20 from beyond the arc, and a perfect 26-26 from the free throw line. In total, CU would score over 1.3 points per possession in the game, despite sacrificing a few scoring opportunities at the ends of each half, en route to a 84-70 blitz.
Josh Scott, and the rest of the starters, were nearly perfect on offense.  From: the BDC
It helps when every starter has a great game. All five for Colorado finished in double figure scoring, and the quintet combined to shoot 65% from the field, notching 73 of CU's 84 points. Askia Booker lead the way with 19 on 7-12 shooting. The best individual performance on the evening, however, came from Josh Scott, who tallied 14/13, completely owning the paint on both ends of the court. Without Josh's quiet dominance, the Buffs would've been in an uncomfortable situation.

On defense, the porous play was a direct result of a lack of focus and execution. The Buffs were clearly the better side from the tip, but it didn't seem to me that the team had their heads into stopping the Bulldogs. Much like what we saw this week against San Francisco, open back cuts and loose cutters were a clear sign of an unfocused effort.  They also grabbed an astonishingly high 40 points in the paint, which CU would be wise not to allow again.  Truly, the Buffs were lucky their offense was as good as it was.
Can Georgia carry over their string of layups from last winter?  From: the BDC
I don't know how many lessons from last year can be really be carried over.  Both teams were in tune-up mode at the time, whereas now they're in the meat of their non-conference schedules - prime resume building time.  Effort and focus, particularly defensively, should be completely different in the return game.

The Bulldogs in 2014-15 - 

Georgia has never been much of a basketball school (who but a few in the SEC are?), so a season like 2013-14, where they won 20 games, including 12 in conference play, stands as a solid year.  No, they didn't make it to the Tournament, but they're a program that seems to be on the cusp.

Unfortunately, a slow start to this season has left them stuck in the gate.  They don't have any 'bad' loses yet, but they haven't capitalized on resume-building opportunities like their opening road trip to Georgia Tech, or a pair of difficult games against Gonzaga and Minnesota in New York for the NIT tip-off.  It's hard, given the league they're in, to make it to the Dance without making a lot of waves before New Year's Day, and, at 4-3 on the year, they're already behind the 8-ball.  All that really means for tomorrow is that they're going to be desperate to claim the RPI-prize that CU brings with them; expect the 'Dawgs' best effort.
Slow starts in big games have been killing the Bulldogs.
This is a bunch that almost, universally, likes to play fast.  Their first four games were played to over 70 possessions, and they're averaging under 17 seconds per possession.   There's a double-edge to that sword, however.  In each of their three losses, slow starts have plagued them, as possessions have mounted without their offense really being in rhythm.  Against Tech, the 'Zags, and the Gophers, Georgia was down a combined 58-33 after the first 10 minutes; a collective hole that stood, as they lost those three by a combined 22 points.  The Buffs need to get off to a fast start if they hope to win tomorrow.

Offensively, they look to get the ball inside.  The Bulldogs are top-35 in percentage of shots at the rim, and make it work for themselves, hitting almost 55% of all two-point attempts.  That's good, because they've been an abysmal three-point shooting team.  Georgia is barely over the 30% Mendoza line from the arc, and are 343rd nationally in scoring rate from outside. Through six games, CU has been mostly abused from outside, so this may mean a break for the beleaguered perimeter 'D.'
Georgia needs a big win to beef up their resume.
On defense, they don't strike me as anything special.  Georgia defends the paint well, holding opponents to about 42% shooting inside, and secure about 73% of all rebounds, but they've yet to hold a program inside of KenPom's top-100 to less than one point per possession.  With a turnover rate in the 300s nationally, I also wouldn't expect to see the Buffs give up too many TOs.

Coaching - 

Coach Mark Fox continues his tenure in Athens.  The 21 wins earned a year ago got the 11-year vet a two-year contract extension.  Yes, Fox has only gotten the 'Dawgs into the NCAA Tournament once over his first five years at the school, but the program has been hammered by the early departure of some key talent, and he seems to be getting Georgia headed back in the right direction.
Fox has seen a lot of talent leave early for the NBA, and has only recently gotten the program back on its feet.
Going forward, the future appears bright. He'll lose a couple of key interior pieces, but has been recruiting well in recent years, and holds a pair of key commitments for the 2015 recruiting class.  It'll be hard for this program to crack the upper echelon of this league, but I'd be surprised if we don't see Georgia's name back in the Dance sometime soon.

Star Players - 

They go about eight deep, really more like seven, and spread the scoring around with four players averaging in double figures. As strong as Georgia's numbers are in the paint, I doubt it would surprise you to learn that the best of those is a forward.  That would be big, veteran post Marcus Thornton, who is going for 15/7 each night.  He proved to finally be healthy last season, leading to this one where he's playing great basketball.
Thornton is one of the best pure power forwards that CU will face this year.
At 6-8, 235, he's a big, solid challenge for the Buffs, both offensively and defensively.  A graduate student in his 5th year of collegiate basketball, Thornton is a grown man.  He's in the top-200 nationally for both rebound and block rate, and can be a bear to work against in the paint. Backing him up is former CU recruiting target Yante Maten.  The freshman keeps the size in the paint (6-8, 240), and is a good understudy for Thornton.

Working off of those two bigs is stretch-four Nemanja Djurisic.  Your traditional European big man, Djurisic loves to work out on the perimeter, and was the team's most efficient three-point shooter last winter.  He hasn't been able to find his stroke, yet (only 6-20 from outside), but is still a dangerous threat on the pick-and-pop.  If I remember correctly from last year, though, he's kind of a defensive liability...
Djurisic is a nice counter-point to Thornton.
In the back court, it's all about the combination of Kenny Gaines and Charles Mann, two of the SEC's best. Mann is probably their strongest point guard, both at attacking the rim (87% FT rate) and sharing the basketball (27 assists), but did not start in their last game at Chattanooga, instead, ceding those responsibilities to JJ Frazier.  That didn't seem to phase Mann, however, who still dropped 16 points and five dimes in 31 minutes.
Gaines and Mann are some of the South's best guards.
Gaines works off of Mann by using the disruption caused by Mann's dribble-drive success to his advantage; all 10 of his three-point makes this year have been assisted. Both are superb athletes, with good size, and generally work well with each other.

Prediction - 

Lines as of Saturday @ 4pm - Colorado +3

This is purely a guess.  At this point, I don't really have a feel for what Colorado team we'll see tomorrow morning, so consume with a grain of salt.  Whether Xavier Johnson plays or not will be huge.

Certainly, after Wednesday night, I expect a better defensive effort from the Buffs, and I'd bet the farm against CU repeating 1.3 ppp in the return road trip with the 'Dawgs. On the plus side, I like that Georgia plays fast, and that they aren't particularly strong from outside.  Really, the only place that opponents have hurt Colorado, consistently, this fall has been from the three-point arc.  If the Bulldogs continue to struggle from outside, it plays to CU's advantage.  While Georgia is a good team, they aren't isn't the awkward, eventually crippling contrast in styles that lead to the Wyoming implosion.

Still, it's a road game, Xavier Johnson's status is in the air, and I'm not sure that CU is where they need to be, defensively, to earn hard wins away from Boulder.  I just don't see a win coming tomorrow morning.

One other thing to look for is how often the Bulldogs are getting to the line.  CU is #5 team in all of basketball, in terms of limiting trips to the stripe.  Conversely, Georgia has a top-26 FTA/FGA ratio. Something is going to have to give, and the home whistle may have a large bearing on the proceedings. Should CU lose, I'd bet it's because of a late tilt in attempts from the line.

Georgia 67 - CU 60


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