Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, March 7, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Washington State Basketball Preview #2 - The End of the Road

As battered and broken as CU has appeared at times this season, they're nowhere near the plummeting depravity of the Washington Huskies.  They proved that Thursday night with a resounding 64-47 win over a team once ranked as high as 13th in the AP poll.  What a difference a couple of months make!
CU was just too much for UW inside.
Given injuries and attrition, UW had next to nothing available from the forward position - they even had to play woeful 7-foot Belgian center Gilles Dierickx 34 minutes.  Against that front court, having Josh Scott available (bad back and all) is like playing with a cheat code.  The prized post, just now starting to regain his sea legs, went for 21/9 with two steals and a block in Seattle.  For much of the time, he was just toying with the Huskies, working off of Wes Gordon (three assists) to knife the zone defense.  Xavier Johnson would hit the paint in support, as well, chipping in 11/7 in 18 minutes.  All told, the Buffs would hold a 40-18 points-in-the-paint advantage.  Honestly, I'm surprised the spread was only 22.

The goings on up front made up for a lackluster game from Askia Booker.  The sparkplug struggled to fire against the Washington zone for the second time this season, finishing 2-10 from the floor with only five points.  With his dribble-drive cut off, he was reduced to being a simple jump shooter, and he just couldn't find a rhythm.  Luckily, Xavier Talton was hitting, collecting 10 points on 2-4 shooting from three, or CU wouldn't have gotten much from their guards.
The defense swarmed from the outset.
A special nod should be made towards the defensive effort put on display by Colorado.  They got physical with their downtrodden opponent, and rarely gave them a moment to breathe.  Overall, Washington was held to just over 30% shooting for the game, 8-31 in the first half.  Outside of a hot spell from Andrew Andrews to start the second frame, CU kept UW in containment, lancing any comeback opportunities before they could fester.


Attention now turns to Washington State and the regular season finale.  At this point, you may be asking: 'So, just what, exactly, is at stake this afternoon?' Well, the murky middle is as muddled as always in the Pac-12, with plenty still to be decided on the regular season's final day. For CU, they can finish anywhere from 8th to 10th.

Here's the standings as of this morning:
  • #5 - Stanford - 9-8 - @ Arizona
  • #6 - ASU - 8-9 - vs Cal 
  • #7 - OSU - 8-10 - No more games
  • #8 - Cal - 7-10 - @ ASU 
  • #9 - CU - 7-10 - @ WSU
  • #10 - WSU - 6-11 - vs CU 
Helpfully, Cal and Arizona State play their game before CU's, so we'll know the nitty-gritty by tip-off in Pullman. Assuming Stanford loses in Tucson, the Sun Devils are playing for 5th, as they would win any tie-breaker with the Cardinal.  A loss by the Devils, however, would make things significantly more interesting, with a four-way tie possible.

Given a three-way-tie with Cal and Oregon State, the Bears jump up to 6th, (thanks to a 2-1 record against the others), ASU 7th (their win over Arizona), and OSU 8th.  Should ASU lose, and CU beats Washington State this evening, then we have that damn four-way tie at 8-10.  Cal still has the advantage here, but OSU would jump up to 7th (their win over the Buffs helps), ASU 8th, and CU 9th.

If ASU avoids that mess by beating Cal and Colorado wins in Pullman, then Buffs finish in 8th (highest possible), as they would lose the direct tiebreaker with the Beavers. Should CU lose today, they'd slip to 10th, as they'd lose a direct tie-breaker with the Cougars - based on their win over Oregon in the most batshit insane game ever played, - and a potential multi-team tie-breaker with Cal and WSU.

Got all that? Good, because tip off from Beasley Coliseum is set for 4:30pm this afternoon. Televised 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 - 

I'll admit, I completely misread this one.  I thought the Cougars would be able to run and gun enough to stay win the Buffs over 40 minutes, but, in reality, they couldn't even make it five.  The CU offense - which had been struggling mightily, and was still without stars Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson - took full advantage of the leaky WSU rim defense, roaring out to their best overall performance of conference play. Busting a four-game losing streak, the Buffs won in blowout fashion, 90-58.
The Cougars had no answer for the Buffs' offense. From: the BDC
Colorado was simply on fire in the first meeting.  Against a Washington State team that takes the notion of defense as more of a 'guideline' than a commandment, they cruised into top gear, scoring seemingly at will.  For the game, CU would shoot 55% from the field, 50% from three, and score almost 1.3 points per possession.  Essentially everyone who saw the court had a great game, and a total of eight Buffs had at least as many points, including Askia Booker, who came off the bench (a disciplinary move) to notch 21 on 14 shots.

The best performances, however, were the ones put in by Wes Gordon and Jaron Hopkins.  Wes finished up on a great homestand by chipping in 10/14/5/4/2.  (Just typing that line out makes me giggle.)  He paired particularly well with freshman center Tory Miller (10/7 by himself), helping the team own the paint.  Hopkins, who put together a string of solid-to-great performances in January, went for 13/6/4, hitting all but one of the five shots he took (making all three from behind the arc).  The 'Game Shooter' was alive and well. 
Wes Gordon just keeps getting better and better.  From: the BDC
In retrospect, the win had little lasting impact on the team's fortunes, but it's hard not to digest this result and feel quite satisfied. DaVonte Lacy, who torched CU in Boulder last winter, was muted to 12 points on 4-13 shooting, while Colorado held the Cougs to 38% shooting (25% from deep), and posted a +16 rebounding margin.

I guess it's best to take away the following: it's easy to score against terrible defenses.  If you come to Boulder unwilling to put in the effort to make Colorado work for their points, you're asking to get burned.  I still say that Washington State is a decent basketball club, certainly far better than they were a year ago. It's just, allowed to find their rhythm, CU will never lose in the CEC.  You have to make these guys think, make them put in effort on offense.  If you give them easy looks, open drives to the basket, and freed passing lanes, you're only asking for trouble.  That's exactly what WSU did in January, and they got thrown back down the mountain with a 32-point loss for their troubles.  What we find out today: how that translates at sea level.

The Cougars since then - 

Prior to the game in Boulder, the Cougars had been 3-3 in Pac-12 play.  Including that beatdown against the Buffs, they've been 3-9 since, failing to live up to much of the promise shown in their 3-1 start.  The problem has been, and will continue to be, defense.  They're dead last in the league in defensive efficiency (adj 1.14 ppp), and allow over 77 points per contest.  To steal a phrase used for UW by the Seattle Times' Bud Withers, they've built an autobahn to the rim for their opponents, one which CU was more than happy to use back in January.
Defense matters, dude.
Despite that negativity, however, I'm still sticking with my belief that the Cougars are a decent bunch. Remember, this is a team who beat Oregon earlier this year, and also claims scalps of Cal, Washington (when they were still coherent), Stanford, and ASU.  They even took UCLA and Utah to the brink over the last week before ultimately succumbing.  They are better than their record would indicate, and can scare even the best teams.  Fatally flawed, sure, but don't take them lightly.

Wazzou will scrap with you, believe that
Their biggest asset is getting to the line.  They lead the Pac-12 in FTA/FGA ratio, and score over 24% of all points from the stripe.  Given a home whistle and an obliging defense, they will make you sweat.  All five of their regular starters hit over 72% on freebies, including the freakish Josh Hawkinson (85%), who continues to average a 15/11 double-double, overall. 

Why things could be different - 

It all comes down to DaVonte Lacy.  Washington State's all-time three point shooting king struggled in Boulder, and is certainly capable of much more.  His 4-13 shooting performance from the first meeting (1-5 from deep) was his third-lowest floor percentage of conference play, and a repeat should not be expected.
Lacy, a definitive talent, will have a say in the return result
Should Lacy go off, and CU's shooting go cold, all of a sudden this matchup gets tighter, and the emotions of Senior Day come into play. The Cougars have won their home finale each of the last two years, and I would expect that Lacy would do everything in his power to make that three-for-three.  It's damn tough to beat a team on their home turf, especially when an outgoing player is playing his testament game.  Colorado showed that as much last week against ASU.

Prediction - 

 (My record on the season: 11-8. Against the spread: 11-8. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.05 pt/gm)

Lines as of Friday @ 8pm - CU -3.5, O/U 141.5

CU has rarely proven to be successful running outside of Boulder.  The results are usually ugly (see: the Oregon game), and the team just doesn't look comfortable.  Up at altitude, the team likes to trap and take advantage with quick counters.  I just don't see that strategy employed as often or as effectively where oxygen is more plentiful.  That trend will be put to the test tonight, however.

Washington State loves to play fast, and it will be easy for this game to slip into a track meet.  It'll be interesting to see how Coach Boyle takes to that whiff of octane.  The Cougars absolutely can't defend, so more opportunities against their defense is usually a good thing, but #TadBall is not meant to be played to 70 possessions.

Assuming the Buffs don't get too loose, I like their ability to close out the year with a win.  They counter WSU's great strength (getting to the line), and have proven to be capable of scoring against teams who can't defend.  It could get wild, but I'll take the Buffs to win.

CU 70 - WSU 65


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