Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Oregon Basketball Preview: Against Dana and his Amazing Revolving Door Roster

Not a lot of time for idle talk today, as I biffed the rough draft.  Straight to the action:

The Buffs are headed to Eugene for a tilt with a a well-funded rival. Tip-off from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene isn't until 9pm this evening, though.  Put on a coffee, 'cause this one is going late.  ESPNU has the sights and sounds, with 850 KOA the descriptions and Mark Johnson.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Looking back at this one, the last matchup between CU and Oregon may as well have come from a different century.  Back in the first week of conference play, 2014, CU was solidly in the top-25, playing some of the best basketball of the Tad Boyle era.  Their only losses were understandable ones to former Big XII rivals Baylor and Oklahoma State, notably away from Boulder.  While they weren't a perfect team, they were about the ideal of what this coaching staff strives for - defensive minded, smart in attack, and balanced.

In what was one of the premier games in the country that week, the normally defensive-minded Buffs got into a boat race with the previously undefeated, free scoring Ducks, much to the benefit of all 10,398 in attendance.  A thoroughly entertaining, engrossing game, CU crossed the finish line first, winners of a 100-91 final.  Yep, 100 to fucking 91; a far cry from that 48-47 snooze-fest from 2013. That's why the Oregon game is a bittersweet one to look back upon. It's the last time that team finished a home 40 minutes whole and healthy, and serves as a last glimpse at what could've been.
The Buffs were getting hot at a pretty good time.  Unfortunately, it wasn't to last. From: the BDC
While the final looks slightly lopsided, you have to remember that there were nine lead changes and six tie scores throughout proceedings.  Both teams, in fact, held second half leads of 10+ points.  This was a roller coaster of offensive brilliance, one that kept everyone guessing til the end.  It was two capable offensive teams lobbing hay-makers at each other for two halves with reckless abandon.  If you didn't find that entertaining, you need to find some other sport to follow.

For the #20 Buffaloes, knocking off the #10 Ducks at home was only an upset if you don't know what you're watching.  I cringed when the students started chanting 'O-VER-RA-TED' at the end, because it was Colorado who was underrated, or at least under-appreciated by the country at large.  That would change however, as the Buffs leaped into the top-15 after this result.
Get to the line; rinse, repeat.  From: the BDC
I said before the game that a key to victory for Colorado would be attacking the paint.  Oregon simply didn't have the interior size to match up against the Buffs, and it showed as CU scored 40 points in the paint, with another another 33 coming from the free throw line on 39 attempts.  While Oregon tried to halt the attacking Buffaloes with some zone out of halftime, CU eventually got their act together, and broke the Ducks inside.

Leading the way for Colorado was the dynamic guard duo of Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie.  The pair combined for 50 points, 32 in the second half, 11 rebounds, 11 assists, and 2 steals. Ski's individual line alone is highly impressive, overflowing with a 27/7/4 exclamation point against zero turnovers. Also starring was Josh Scott.  Quiet as ever, the double-double machine recorded his 5th straight by posting 15/14 with 4 blocks. The troika of talent was at the top of their respective games, and, damn, was it fun to watch.
Ski and Spencer were magnificent. From: the BDC
Off the cuff, you would expect a defensive performance that saw Colorado give up 91 points would be less that fulfilling. While I'm sure Coach Boyle will cringe at that number, it's actually not all that bad.  This was a high possession game played against the best offensive team in the country.  To expect CU to hold Oregon to 60-70 points was a pipe dream.  In that light, I actually thought the defensive effort was OK-ish.  The Ducks only shot a tick over 42% from the field, which is borderline acceptable.  The only problem was the 19 offensive rebounds allowed, way too many for a CU team that was once best in the nation in defensive rebounding rate.  Still, Oregon only turned those 19 into nine second-chance points, mitigating any potential damage.

Of course, this glimpse at the pinnacle of the sport was a fleeting one.  Within a week, the team was thrown off the rails by Dinwiddie's heartbreaking injury, while questions and doubt started to creep into the program. Regardless of how the future develops, however, we'll always have this game, this one perfect performance. I look back and smile, which is what this is all about.  Bravo!

The Ducks in 2014-15 - 

The current version of the Ducks is no less offensive minded, and just as defensively suspect as last year. While the previous iteration, who made it to the Sweet Sixteen, was better at each phase, Oregon of the present is still a pretty damn good team... which is also pretty damn surprising.

See, this year's Ducks were supposed to suck, hard.  After years of letting his players run amok, Coach Dana Altman was finally having to deal with the consequences.  Not only was Oregon fighting to replace the assembled talent of graduating seniors Richard Amardi, Waverly Austin, Jason Calliste, Jonathan Loyd, and Mike Moser, but they were also paying for the fast-and-loose mentality of the underclassmen.  Damyean Dotson, Dominic Artis, and Brandon Austin were booted off the team, conveniently after they helped secure that trip to the Tournament's second weekend, for being the focus of a rape investigation.  Add to that the outward transfer of Ben Carter and A.J. Lapray, the non-arrival of recruits JaQuan Lyle and Ray Kasongo, and the pending shoplifting arrests of current players Elgin Cook and Jalil Abdul-Bassit, and the entire Oregon program seemed prime for implosion.
A window into a dark period of Oregon's hoops history...
Yet, weirdly, the destruction of Rome failed to be as violent or as lasting as advertised.  The Ducks, while flawed and largely inexperienced, have stayed together, posting a pretty solid resume in the process.  Sure, they've taken their share of lumps (like a 90-56 loss in Tucson), but they currently sit at 18-8 overall, 8-5 in the Pac-12, and have spent the year mostly defying expectations.  Awww, but I came for the train wreck.

Statistically, it's all down to their electrifying offensive attack.  Overall, Oregon is in the top-25 for points per game (76.8), averaging about 1.1 ppp, and can score with the best.  Yep, these guys still run like crazy, taking over 27% of all shots in transition, and generally keep heart rates up.  They're 31st in offensive pace, both through an aggressive turn on the break, and a quick trigger in the half-court.  Holistically, they are a balanced attack, scoring about 30% of points from deep, and 53% inside the arc (slightly above national averages), boiling down to the second best eFG in the Pac-12.  One area they do not excel, however, is getting to the free throw line. 344th national in attempt rate, they get less than 17% of all scoring from there. Really, they only have one player who makes getting to the stripe a part of his game, and it can hurt them in on the odd evening.  Still, when there, they make 76% of the time.
The Ducks got clipped by the Bruins this weekend, but have otherwise been enjoying a great season.
Unsurprisingly, considering the speedy mantra from their offense, opponents usually try to slow the ball down against them on their turn.  Defensive trips average about 18.5 seconds per, and are about the only thing that keeps the Ducks from being in the upper echelons for overall pace.  Much like last year, you can score against these guys; they give up solidly over 1.0 ppp, and are 300th overall for defensive scoring (allow about 71 points per game).  Part of the problem is they give opponents second chances.  They're not particularly strong on the glass (11th in the Pac-12 in defensive rate), and don't force many turnovers.  You get good, solid, repeated looks against Oregon.  For good teams, this can mean a lot of points.

The yin and yang of their style is telling in their results.  They score 80.5 points per game in wins, 69.5 per in losses.  Opponents produce 82.6 points per in wins, 66.4 in losses.  It's all or nothing, both ways, against the Ducks.  Let's see which side of the coin lands upwards tonight.

Star Players - 

While the roster juggled over the offseason, one force remained constant - senior guard Joseph Young.  As pure a scoring threat as you'll find in the country, last year's transfer sensation from Houston is a firecracker lead guard.  Nominally a point, the 6-2 Young is really a score-first handler, and only really has the '1' duties because there's no one on the roster capable of supplanting him (and he needs the ball in hand to operate). Like Ski Booker in a lot of ways, he's a volume producer.  If he's hot early, look out, 'cause you're in for a show.
Joe Young is a fantastic offensive talent.
As Joe goes, so do the Ducks.  He leads the team in minutes, scoring, and assists.  Despite taking a lot of shots (29% of all attempts while on the court), he's posted a Ortg over 113 and an eFG over 53%.  Joe can shoot (37% from three), is lightning quick on the perimeter, and causes major headaches for opposing defenses.  Oh, and if he gets to the line, it's as good as made (82-87 this year). Just hard to defend, and a tireless actor on the court, he's one of the best in the Pac-12. Whether you cheer for him or against him, Mighty Joe Young will give you your money's worth each and every night.

Working off of Young on the wing is another veteran, 6-6 stretch forward Elgin Cook.  Equally adept at creating his own look, Cook brings a great offensive game to the table, and is usually Oregon's best option if Young is getting bracketed - he averages 13/6 each night, which is more than serviceable. Originally a transfer from Northwest Florida State, he brought a checkered past with him to Eugene, a history further spotted with the shoplifting arrest this summer. On the court though, the junior is integral to the Ducks' flight status, and they wouldn't be where they are today without him.  The potential matchup between Cook and Xavier Johnson should be fun.
Cook is another Duck with a strong offensive game.
The other player who was wrapped up in that shoplifting arrest, Jalil Abdul-Bassit, serves as the off-guard fulcrum between Young and Cook.  The senior from Alaska, via North Idaho College, is a great outside shooter (45% from three), and usually reaps his reward when opposing defenses collapse in on the activity created by the leading scorers.  Over 91% of his takes from three point range are assisted, meaning his looks are in-offense, and in-rhythm; no wonder he's making so many! Jalil's got to be licking his chops at the video of CU's lack-luster outside defense.

Yet another transfer, junior forward Dwayne Benjamin from Mt San Jacinto JC, supports the cause up front. Saddled with the 'Snoop Dogg' moniker from Bill Walton, the well coiffed Benjamin plays a stretch four position, much like Cook, and does a lot of the little things on the court.  While a brick layer at the line (44%), he otherwise likes to play above the rim.  Posting 8/5 each night, he fills his role well.
Beyond those vets, the roster gets young in a hurry.  Thankfully for Oregon, that hasn't necessarily been a problem, as their recruiting class has paid immediate dividends, allowing them to roll nine deep.  Of primary importance is freshman wing Dillon Brooks, who can score in bunches.  A 6-5 Canadian export, he's averaging 12 points per game this winter, and could be a pain in everyone's ass for years.  Up front, frosh forward Jordan Bell is a blocking machine.  Already the single-season record holder for send-backs in Eugene, the hyper-athletic shot-stuffer (top-20 block rate nationally) should flirt with some pretty interesting numbers as his career develops. Rounding out the main rotation are Ahmaad Rorie and Casey Benson. They're still coming into their own, but expect to see them for spells this evening.

Coaching - 

I'd like to reiterate my frustration with Dana Altman and his saving throw of a season. He faced a lot of scrutiny this summer, not only for allowing the accused rapists to play in the Tournament, but for keeping them on the team just long enough for their academic scores to apply to Oregon's APR scores.  While Coach Altman has plenty of excuses for the way that scenario went down, it smells extremely fishy; some Southwest Conference level shit.
The Teflon Don in Eugene survives.
It's not really a secret, but I'm not an Altman fan.  I don't like the way he builds a roster, the shady way he lets his players get away with everything, or the almost comical way players enter and exit his program like an hourly hotel.  He reeks of greasy cut corners in an old school, brazen sort of way.  I was really hoping he'd get shit-canned this summer as a result of his miss-deeds, but, as always, winning talks.

The thing is, Coach Boyle and crew have usually had his number.  The Buffs are 5-1 against Altman's Ducks since the conference move, including a delicious one-point win in Los Angeles on the way to the 2012 Pac-12 title.  It is what it is, *shrugs*.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 8-6. Against the spread: 8-6. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1.5 pts/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 7pm - CU +5.5

There's been a lot of talk this week about the return of the #TadBall focus on defense and rebounding.  It certainly worked against Stanford, where a renewed team approach based in the basics felled the Cardinal. The problem is, I just don't see it carrying over into a match with the high-flying Ducks.

I could see a path to victory if we get a repeat of 2013, one of the ugliest games I've ever seen.  If you keep the score down, these guys are vulnerable, and a game played in the 90-120 point range should be 'winnable.'  If Oregon gets off to a fast start, however, CU is in trouble, as they just won't be able to keep up with the Ducks' offensive pace.  I fully expect that reality to develop, and the Buffs to fall.

UO 71 - CU 60


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