Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, January 27, 2016

2015-16 CU vs Stanford Basketball Preview #2: Deforestation Efforts

Not much to say into the lead-up for this one, straight to the action!


Hype Music for the Evening: "The Trees" by Rush

Rush is both underrated and overrated at the same time; an incredible feat of critical gymnastics. I present this song, from their sixth of 20 damn studio albums, because it's obligatory, considering the opponent. Enjoy!


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7pm this evening.  We need a huge crowd in the gym for this one.  Stanford has proven over the last few weeks to be a much stronger opponent than originally perceived, and a dollop of home cooking will be needed to help keep the Buffs from dropping a winnable home game. Coverage for those unable to attend can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on AM 760.

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

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

It was ugly.  It was highly stressful.  It caused a twitter meltdown.  But the one thing that Colorado's opening week battle with Stanford wasn't: a loss.

Looking to bounce back after a horrendous outing in Berkeley against the Cal Bears, a game where nothing went right, the Colorado Buffaloes took to the hardwood of Palo Alto in search of a 5th-straight win over Stanford. For a time, at least, everything was going swimmingly.  CU shot 50% from the field in the first half, held the Cardinal to just 28% from the same, and took a 10-point lead into the break.  It was a picture-perfect display of ball movement, quality shooting, defensive intensity, and one-sided rebounding that had the home team completely befuddled.  Stanford even tried to mix things up on defense -- they played a few versions of a 2-3 matchup zone, tried out some press, and tinkered with a double-team trap -- but CU was simply better over the opening 20 minutes.  The offensive mojo lost over the Christmas break was back!

Then, the second half started.  While the lead would quickly expand to a game-high 16 points, some cracks in the foundation began to show.  The shots that had been falling suddenly started drawing iron (32% from the field, 8.3% from deep).  The ball movement of the opening period devolved into stagnant passing around the perimeter (only three assists after the break).  The ancient bugaboo of wanton turnovers reared its head (10 turnovers in the final frame).  Accordingly, Stanford began to creep back into the proceedings.  That 16-point lead quickly became 11... 9... 7... 3... 1... what the hell?!  The lead was dwindling, and the Buffs had simply stopped scoring. All told, Colorado would collect only four points over the final 9:53 of the action, leading most in BuffNation to turn to Samuel L. Jackson for inspiration.
Say it with me: 'a win's a win.' From: the Ralphie Report.
But, and this is a testament to the grit and determination of the Buffaloes (at least on the defensive end), Stanford never earned a lead.  They came close, gave everyone a good scare, but the defense held.  The rebounding held.  #TadBall held. A Josh Scott layup with just under a minute to go scraped out some breathing room, and a lucky bounce in the corner allowed CU to muddle up the end-of-game dynamics enough to leave Stanford with only a half court chuck to steal the win. It went well wide (*whew*), and the Buffs claimed their 56-55 victory.

The tale of the tape was in the paint.  Down their primary reserve forward in Tory Miller, Coach Boyle was forced to shorten his bench, and wound up playing starting posts Wes Gordon and Josh Scott 71 out of 80 available minutes.  That, however, didn't seem to phase either of them, as the pair each produced a strong outing.  J40 posted a resounding 14/14/3/2 that left everyone wanting more (paint touches, that is), and Gordon played to 6/9 numbers, but completely canceled out Stanford's best offensive weapon, Rosco Allen (finished with 7 points on 2-10 shooting).  Behind the forwards, clearly relieved to no longer be matched up with Cal's extensive up-front corps, Colorado was +14 on the boards, and really stifled the Cardinal's offensive attack.
Wes Gordon and Josh Scott had to really battle in the paint.  From: Yahoo Sports.
On the offensive end, it was a tale of two halves.  In the first, behind Thomas Akyazili and his five assists (including a no-look beauty from five-feet), CU was in the chance-creating mode we had grown accustomed to over the first part of the season.  It looked great, it was wonderful, and it seemed like the Buffs were on their way to a blow-out win.  In the second, even Thomas slowed down, and movement stifled.  It didn't help that even good looks weren't falling for Colorado, and that they were missing what free throws they earned (2-5 over the final half), but static possessions begat turnovers far too often.  There was a lot of timidity on offense, and the whole thing looked a lot like last year.  It's in those times that you wish CU would look inside more, but that's not always easy, especially when the point guards are running scared from pressure defense, and were having trouble completing even the simple passes.

But, negativity aside, it was a road win, and nothing tastes as sweet as road dubs.  As we'll see, it even came at the expense of a team on the rise.  Stanford has played really solid, defensive-minded basketball over the interim weeks, and has joined Colorado in that six-way tie for third place.  Nothing to scoff at, that win is very important now (against a top-50 RPI team on the road), and a standout piece of the resume. Now, all that's left is to back it up with a defense of home turf.  We shall see...

The Cardinal since then - 

Right off the top, Stanford has won three of succeeding five, including wins over Cal (when they still had Ty Wallace) and Oregon State on the road (impressive, that). The simplistic view is to note that the Cardinal has traded wins for victories each week, never winning or losing more than one in a row.  That's pretty good news for the Buffs, as their last game was a two-point home win over Arizona State, meaning that they're 'due' for a loss.  But, of course, reality doesn't work like that, and Stanford's alternating lifestyle is more a fluke of the schedule than anything else.
Stanford has claimed some surprising wins over the intervening weeks. From:
Statistically, they've continued to thrive on earning whistles, and taking trips to the line.  They lead the conference in free throw attempts per FGA and percentage of overall points earned from the stripe.  It's not a fluke, either, they've been doing this all season long, featuring in the top-5 nationally in both categories. Accordingly, since the CU game (where they got to the line 24 times), they've been averaging 30 attempts in their three wins, 19 in their two losses.  It's easy to see, then, that keeping them from taking too many free throws is key, and starts with defense on the edge.  CU has to constrict guards like Marcus Allen to shot attempts during live action.

If you're wondering, and you should be, star forward Reid Travis is still out, as he recovers from a leg injury. The Cardinal continues to miss a lot down low, as a result, and it's unsurprising that they've struggled offensively in Pac-12 play without the standout from Minneapolis.  After four weeks, Stanford stands dead last in offensive efficiency, eFG, and the other hardline metrics from the floor. Something you can't blame on Travis, though: they're shooting under 29% from three in league play.  They just don't have a lot of pure shooters on the roster (Rosco Allen being a notable exception).
Defense is the key to Stanford's success.  From:
So, how have the Cardinal with their weak-ass offense managed to win four games against the deepest conference in the country?  Well, take a look at their defense.  As we saw in Palo Alto, they'll switch things up and throw some trapping press at you.  This has enabled them to create turnovers on almost 22% of opponent possessions, resulting in a second-best in-league defensive efficiency of 1.01 ppp.  This has me worried.  Colorado basketball and turning the ball over goes together like peanut butter and jelly, and Stanford could make a lot of hay playing the entire game this evening the way they played the second half back in California.  They've also defended the three point line well, with a lot of length throughout their standard five, which takes away the biggest offensive weapon for the 2015-16 Buffs.  One glimmer of hope? While they close the lid on three point attempts, they're vulnerable inside, allowing 53% shooting all all two point attempts against Pac-12 opponents.  Essentially, Josh Scott has to not only play active, clean defense, but he has to lead the way offensively too.  So, nothing new.

Why things could be different - 

Simply, Rosco Allen.  While fellow forward Michael Humphrey had a huge game against CU, Wes Gordon and crew took Allen completely out of the game earlier this month, all but erasing Stanford's single-best standout performer.  He only scored seven points on 2-10 shooting that night, and played the empty shirt for whole stretches.  In the interim, however, he's shone brightly.  Tracking with the free throw numbers, in Pac-12 games the Cardinal has won, he has averaged 21 points per.  In league losses, just eight points per. While the presence of Wesley Gordon should be a constant, there's no doubt in my mind that Rosco will have a better game this evening.  Maybe not the 22/10 explosion seen in the win over Cal, but certainly better than the 7/1 put up in the first meeting.
Allen is a whole lot better offensively than he showed in the first game.  From: Stanford Athletics
I'm also worried about Marcus Allen.  While not a shooting threat, he wasn't able to take advantage of CU's suspect perimeter defense the way other lead Pac-12 guards have this season.  He only got to the line six times in the first meeting, well below his capabilities.  If he starts earning the cheap whistle tonight, things could get interesting.  The good news here?  He's an under-30% shooter from deep, making him susceptible to sagging defense.  Additionally, any gains made here probably come at the expense of Humphrey regressing to the mean.

One final thing to glean from the first game's stat sheet?  Stanford only shot 36% on two point attempts, an abysmally low total.  Part of this is their pedantic, one-dimensional offense sucking wind without anything from Rosco, but you can also chalk it up to the tandem of Wes Gordon and Josh Scott dictating things inside.  Take Humphrey out of the equation, and the Cardinal were only 7-27 from inside the arc.  Clog 'em up, keep them grinding.  Sure, by accident they'll get more in the paint this game, but I would think that's more indicative of the matchup than anything else.

Prediction - 

My record on the year: 5-2. Against the spread: 3-3-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +0.57 pt/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 8pm - CU -6.5, O/U 140

This is going to be a possession-by-possession, hand wringing/nail bitin' kind of evening.  Stanford is a gritty, nasty little team, one that is learning how to win ugly.  Assuming improvements from Rosco Allen (especially) and Marcus Allen, there's no reason to expect that they won't push CU to the limit tonight.  It's the Buffs at home, though, and that's supposed to be worth a 10+ point swing.  Cutting into the expected additions of Stanford's big two, that should be enough to keep Colorado playing winning basketball on home hardwood.

Essentially, I'll take Colorado to win, but not cover.

CU 65 - Stanford 61


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