Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 21, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Oregon State Basketball Preview: Uncomfortable in Corvallis

Hoping to capitalize on a strong home effort against Stanford, Colorado headed to Eugene on Wednesday to take on the surprising Oregon Ducks.  It started off well enough, as the Buffs jumped out of the gate to an 11-4 lead, but a 24-4 UO run mid-way through the first half canceled that out in a heartbeat.  The culprit was sloppy play on both sides of the court, but the result was that CU headed into the first half down 17; their largest deficit at the break of the season.  In the second half, play was better.  They were able to chip away at the Ducks, at one point getting the margin down to five points with four minutes to play. Unfortunately, that first half performance proved too much to overcome, as the Buffs settled for a 73-60 loss.  Back under .500, *sigh*
Wide-eyed, the Buffs none-the-less struggled in Eugene.
What else can you say, the periodic scoring droughts are killing this team.  Long a feature of the #RollTad era, we've seen peak drought this winter, with the game in Oregon a prime example.  After taking that 11-4 lead at the 16:24 mark, notably on a Wes Gordon put-back, CU went the next seven and a half minutes without a field goal, missing layups and open looks aplenty before Gordon cracked the glass ceiling with a layup at 9:03.  The spell wasn't broken with that bucket, however, as the team would go another four minutes before yet another layup from Wes.  Still not finished, it was a further two minutes before the rest of the team decided to get into the action, when Xavier Johnson burst through with a layup at 2:40 on the clock. In total, CU players not named Wesley Gordon went 13 and a half minutes only scoring two damn points (free throws from Ski Booker).

Two thoughts: 1) Wes needs to be more aggressive offensively, 2) this magical vanishing offense has become a tired joke.  In total, CU posted an eFG of 24-fucking-percent in the first half, capped off with a 3-8 run from the line.  This coincided with them allowing the Ducks to shoot 59% from the field, as the focused effort on either end completely collapsed.  While the team played better over the final 20, there's just no coming back from that. As Coach Boyle said in the post-game:
“We’re having trouble putting the ball in the basket. When you do that, it’s tough, it just makes it really hard to win games... It’s hard to win even when you play well defensively because our margin for error is so small... We just couldn’t finish possessions by rebounding it and obviously we can’t put the ball in the basket. It’s unbelievable."
Repeated empty possessions allowed Joe Young to put this one out of reach.  From: Rivals.
Silver and Gold linings:
  • Wes Gordon, and his 6-7 shooting from the field.  The sophomore has been really efficient from the floor this season (116 Ortg), but his effort on offense comes and goes (possibly with the tide?).  In this game, he was on.
  • Josh Scott collected a career-high 17 rebounds to fuel the 19th double-double of his tenure in Boulder. Combined with Gordon, the front court pair collected 13 of CU's 20 offensive rebounds.
  • Ski cracked 20 points, again.  He needed 17 shots to get there, but was clutch from the line, going 10-12.  0-5 from three, however, and only handed out two assists.  I wonder how recovered he is from those hip pointers, as his jump shot isn't there right now.
  • CU played pretty good defense in the second half, holding the Ducks to 24% from the floor. Combined with a +8 rebound margin over the game, and you can see how Colorado was able to crawl back into this one.
Duck hunting difficulties behind them, the Buffs will look to end the road trip on a high point this evening as they shoot up I-5 to Corvallis. I'm almost frightened to see what this one will look like, as the Oregon State Beavers play some of the best zone defense in America.  The word of the day will be patience, as the painfully-slow Beavs look to lull opponents into slumber.  Conveniently, tip-off from Gill Coliseum is set for 9pm.  Won't need the melatonin tonight...

Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Oregon State has long been a team designed to frustrate Colorado, which is exactly what they did throughout CU's 64-58 win last January.  With their zone defense (interestingly enough, a 2-3, rather than the knuckleball 1-3-1 usually employed by departed head coach Craig Robinson) and occasional spates of press, the Beavers did a great job shackling the Buffs and their fast-break offense into uncomfortable half-court situations.  Far too often through the course of the game, CU would find themselves with a short shot clock, and little, if anything, moving towards the basket.  As a result, Colorado became perimeter-happy and passive for large stretches, settling for desperation heaves, rather than working for quality shots underneath. Wow, that just sounds really familiar...
Josh could've used the ball more, as usual.  From: the BDC
For a while, it looked like CU was going to get uglied into a second-straight home loss to OSU.  The Beavers controlled much of the first half, sustaining a lead through the first 10 minutes of play.  The insertion of Xavier Talton at the point, however, seemed to kickstart the Colorado offense, as the Sterling product sped right at the OSU zone.  From then on, it was CU's game to lose, and, while it may not have been pretty, they avoided that embarrassment.

Colorado was lead by a combination of Josh Scott, Askia Booker, and Jaron Hopkins.  Scott, once again, proved to be be more than capable of banging with quality big men, as he dropped 13/10 while helping to hold OSU's heralded front line trio of Devon Collier, Angus Brandt, and Eric Moreland to only 14 combined points.  Booker didn't show the efficiency he had been in previous weeks, but collected four rebounds with as many steals and two assists to go along with his 13 points; another all-around performance from Colorado's bulldog two-guard.  Finally, Hopkins provided a much needed scoring spark off the bench, notching 13 points on 5-8 shooting.
Hopkins' aggressiveness served him well on Thursday.  From: the BDC
The word that has always come to my mind when playing Oregon State is 'uncomfortable.'  Through zones, presses, half court malaise, and over-coaching, they've long made a habit of serving as a negative reflection of their more high-flying brethren from Eugene.  Though the coaching staff has changed, along with many of the results, 'uncomfortable' still reins in Corvallis, and we should see plenty of it tonight.

The Beavers in 2014-15 - 

...zzzzzzz... ...zzzzzzZZZZZZZzzzzzz... Huh, wha... Oh, sorry, I must've fallen asleep watching the replay of OSU's last misadventure against Utah.  Played to 49 possessions, the Utes and Beavers finished a 47-37 dog of a game on Thursday that put the basketball consuming world to sleep.  Utah, who's just happy to beat you however you want to take it, was more than complicit, but this was the denouement of slow, stagnant basketball that OSU has been looking for all season.  Satisfyingly, they lost, most likely the result of divine retribution from the basketball Gods for forcing the air out of the ball.
No one wants to score, huh?
It's been a theme to Beaver basketball this winter:  play slow, play good defense, and hope the other team dozes off at some point.  Oregon State is 341st nationally in overall pace, playing most games under 60 possessions, and taking over 20 seconds per offensive trip.  They're in the bottom-15 nationally in percentage of shots in transition, and also just happen to be one of the more inefficient offensive clubs around.  There was a stretch last month where they played four-straight games in the 50s, and the Beavers have yet to crack 70 points scored in a league game.  Woof.

Of course, their saving grace has been their defense.  Currently rated #9 in the country by KenPom, they've held opponents this season to almost a flat .9 points per possession.  The Beavs use zone, pretty much universally, to stall opponents, and length and activity to force a turnover on nearly 24% of all possessions. To-date teams have posted a collective eFG of 44% against them, making the missed shot a hot topic of conversation in the Pacific Northwest.
Defense is all they have at OSU.
To a point, it's helped them collect wins.  Never really a threat for Tournament consideration, a 5-2 start to conference play, including a shock home win over Arizona (a game that featured the defending league champs shooting 4-17 from behind the arc), had them suddenly a national talking point.  Indeed, the Beavers are 15-1 this season when holding opponents under 40% from the floor. Their offensive transgressions, however, have caught up with them in recent weeks, as a 2-5 run (including that Utah loss, their first at home this campaign) has gotten OSU back to .500 in Pac-12 play.  Over that stretch, they've scored .83 points per possession, which is about all you really need to know.

That's why tonight scares me. We all know that CU, while not a team that necessarily plays slow, can end up staring blankly at a defense with absolutely no insight as to how to break it down.  With OSU showing no interest whatsoever in playing offense, there's a nightmare version of tonight's affair that could mean the end of the sport as we know it.  Imagine two teams just dribbling and brick-laying for 40 minutes, while the crowd, half-awake and confused, sits frozen in boredom watching the dullest game ever played.  Neither team gets out of the 30s after 39 possessions each, and the 'event' goes to overtime. I wouldn't even care who wins at that point, I'd just pray for death, or at least someone to come in and change the channel.  This is how the sport of basketball dies.
Really struggling to find a photo of them taking a jump shot...
Of course, this is just an absurd leap from the mind of a dissatisfied fan (Colorado will almost certainly try to speed things up this evening), but it brings me to a real point. In and of itself, just playing slow is not a criminal offense.  Wisconsin plays slow, and does a great job of it by making every possession count, leveraging scores to slowly grind opponents to dust.   I even understand why Princeton-style clubs play slow. It's for a purpose, looking for the perfect shot against better opponents, hoping efficiency can overcome talent.  Oregon State, however, with an offense so inexcusably inefficient, is just doing this out of perverse defensive pleasure.

I get the feeling that some college basketball coaches have completely forgotten that, at some point, YOU HAVE TO PUT FUCKING POINTS ON THE BOARD! At the end of the day, the whole reason basketball exists as currently constituted is to entertain, and, unless you're a drunken fool like Kevin O'Neill, there's nothing entertaining about a 49 possession game played in the 80s. There's a time and place for defense - certainly, as a CU fan, I understand that - but, please, for everyone's sake, someone score the damn ball.  Honestly, this turtling bullshit is ruining the sport. (*breathes deep*) OK, rant over.

Star Players - 

The headline grabber in Corvallis is JuCo transfer Gary Payton II.  The son the OSU legend, GP2 has stepped into his father's shoes, featuring as a defensive terror.  Originally tabbed 'the Mitten,' in reference to the elder Payton's 'Glove' nickname, Gary's mother would like everyone to know that her son is to be called 'the Thief' from here on out. ("Who wants to be a mitten? That is whack!")  With good reason, too, as the junior from Salt Lake CC is second nationally in steal rate (5.4%) with 77 total on the season (three per game).
GP2 has brought a familiar defensive energy with him to Corvallis.
Maybe 'Robin Hood' would be better, as he turns his thefts into points for the offensively-poor Beavers. With wing Victor Robbins still out after a DUI citation extended an already ongoing suspension, Gary's probably the best offensive piece on the team, leading the club in points with about 13 per game.  It doesn't just stop there, though, as the 6-3 junior also leads OSU in rebounding with nearly eight per.  All told, he paces the Beavs in three of the five major categories, and is in with a shout of the other two (.3 per game behind block leader Daniel Gomis, .6 back of Malcolm Duvivier in assists).  Not a one-man team, but Payton II is one of the most impactful incoming transfers in the recent history of the Pac-12.  Small wonder he's on the floor 91% of the time.

If GP2 isn't going to hurt you, it might be Langston Morris-Walker.  The 6-5 guard out of Berkeley had been on a tear, averaging 18/7 on their LA road trip, before getting muted by the Utes on Thursday (three points in 27 minutes).  As the lone returning starter from last season, much was expected of him coming into 2014-15. He has struggled with his shot (32% from three, 37% overall), though, and his dribble-drive comes and goes depending on the opponent.  Still, he brings good size from the wing, and is capable of more.
Morris-Walker shows flashes.
Supporting both in the backcourt in Malcolm Duvivier. The sophomore from Toronto has really struggled with his shooting this winter, posting an eFG under 40%.  He's a butcher from deep (27%), and his mid-range game has been a non-starter (22% on two-point jumpers).  With scoring in a funk, his primary value comes as a pass-first point guard, dishing out 3.6 assists per contest.

Up front, the team is lead by a pair of juniors, Jarmal Reid and Olaf Schaftenaar.  The 6-7 Reid from Georgia is a big, physical presence, but not one that especially scares.  Schafenaar, an import from the Netherlands, is what passes as a shooter on this team, hitting on 36% of three-point attempts.  But the stretch forward has struggled inside, only taking 16% of his shots at the rim.  Much like another Dutch import, Heineken, he pales is comparison to stronger domestic products.  Colorado craft, like Josh Scott and Wes Gordon, should have no issue with him.

Coaching - 

I don't want to put too much blame on new OSU head coach Wayne Tinkle for the dull, lifeless ball being played under his watch.  He inherited almost all of this roster from his predecessor, Coach Craig Robinson, and I'm sure he is just making his best attempt at chicken shit salad.  Still, the second winningest coach in Montana Grizzlies history has rarely pushed his teams to a fast pace, and looks to be a boring thorn in my side for years to come.
I think that vein on his left temple is about to burst...
For those of you who would rather not argue with results, please do note that he took the Griz to three Tournament appearances during his stint in Missoula.  But, don't come crying to me when the we see a repeat of this year in 2015-16, as the Beavers won't graduate a man this spring (zero seniors, not even a token walk-on).  Tinkle is building something in Corvallis - they're certainly quantitatively better at 16-10 - but they're going to have to go through some really numbing years to get to that something.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 9-6. Against the spread: 9-6. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1.27 pts/gm)

Lines as of Friday @ 7pm - CU +2

Oh my, will this one be ugly.  Neither team can score, and both look to get after you defensively.  Remember to pre-mute the television, because the rattle of the ball off the rim after missed shots will be cacophonous.

On the road, against a zone defense, I don't see any reason that we're going to see the Buffs turn around the offensive ship, and CU has continued to struggle when the score under one point per possession.  Against one of the best defenses in the West, that should be fatal. Just because I can't bring myself to predict a combined score under 95 points, I'll say, uncomfortably:

OSU 54 - CU 49


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