Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, January 20, 2016

2015-16 CU vs Washington Basketball Preview #1: Andrew Andrews and the Fightin' Andrew Andrews

Another big game for the Buffs, with a win putting them on the front hoof for the first time since the start of conference play.  Not much else to it, straight to the action!


Hype Music for the Evening: "Party Hard" by Andrew W.K.

For CU's first taste of Andrew Andrews this season, I drag out this beastly anthem from another great (?) Andrew, Andrew W.K.  My favorite part?  The driving piano chord throughout the whole damn song.  Why is it there?  I don't know, but it's there to party, duh. Also, this image:



Tip off from the ice rink known as Alaska Airlines Arena is set for 8pm this evening.  Hec-Ed, as the facility is reverently known as in Seattle, had been a house of horrors for Colorado prior to last season.  They say it's a basketball arena, but, with the amount of visiting players slipping all over the place in every game played there, I really do think there's got to be an old hockey rink buried under there somewhere.

Anyways, coverage of the game can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 760AM.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

As battered and broken as CU appeared at times last season, they were nowhere near the plummeting depravity of the Washington Huskies.  By the time UW met the Buffs in Seattle on the regular season's final weekend, they were a broken, hopeless bunch, resigned to their fate, and eager to get to spring break. Colorado, in turn, took advantage, slamming home a resounding 64-47 win over a team once ranked as high as 13th in the AP poll.

Given injuries and attrition, UW had next to nothing available from the forward position for this game -- it was so bad that they even had to play woeful 7-foot Belgian center Gilles Dierickx 34 minutes.  Against that front court, having Josh Scott available (recovering bad back and all) is like playing with a cheat code.  The prized post, who was just then 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 their 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 that spread was only 22.
J40 had a huge game last spring in Hec-Ed.  From:
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.

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.
The defense swarmed from the outset.
Road dubs are like ambrosia in a desert, and this one, in a building they hadn't previously solved since the mid-50s, was a stunning discovery.  Caveats abound, however.  The Huskies, at the tail end of one of the most gut-wrenching spirals I've ever seen a team go through, had nothing left to give, even on home hardwood. They are a completely different team this winter, quite literally, and are in a much better position to defend Hec-Ed.  The Buffs had better bring their 'A' game with them this evening; if they're expecting what they got last March, they're in for a rude surprise.

The Huskies in 2015-16 - 

This past offseason was a roller coaster ride of roster insanity in Seattle.  The chaos started midseason, when the Upshaq, Robert Upshaw, was dismissed from the team (now in the D-League).  His eviction was damaging enough, leading to the loss of 11 of the team's final 13 games in 2015, but it was only the beginning.  Once the clock hit zero on the season, the defections really began in earnest.  Point guard Nigel Williams-Goss? Gone, transferred to instate rival Gonzaga.  Forward Jernard Jarreau?  Gone, transferred to Oklahoma State. Ridiculous center Gilles Dierickx?  Gone, transferred to Seattle Pacific. Reserves Quevyn Winters and Darin Johnson?  Gone, transferred to a D-III school and Cal State Northridge, respectively. Oh, and don't forget the scheduled losses of graduating seniors Mike Anderson and Shawn Kemp.  All told, the Huskies lost all but three scholarship players after last season. Yo.
Williams-Goss?  HE GONE! From: Sporting News
In response, they've gone young, adding eight freshmen and a JuCo transfer, and it has... kind of worked, actually.  They started the year in China with a win over Texas, and have only continued to impress since returning from Asia.  A few late slip-ups in non-con play notwithstanding (home losses to Oakland and Santa Barbara), they've been playing good, fast, entertaining basketball this year.  It's only gotten better in Pac-12 play, too, as they have raced out to a 4-1 start to the campaign.  They're the only Pac-12 team that can boast a win over USC and two road wins, after all, and lead the conference at the quarter pole.

As we're all familiar with the impatience of youth, the trick for the Huskies and their freshmen is speed.  They play blazing fast basketball, spinning to damn near 80 possessions a contest, and completing their possessions in an average of only 13.5 seconds per.  That's ludicrous speed, fast enough to push your brains into your feet.  It's not just a quick trigger in halfcourt, either. 7th in percentage of shots taken in transition, UW looks to get out and run whenever they touch the ball, and it's been paying off for them.  Maybe not the most holistically efficient offense (120th nationally), they are, none-the-less, scoring tons of points (over 84 per game).  Didn't seem to matter in Tucson this past week, though, as the Wildcats stomped the wide-eyed freshmen to the tune of a 99-67 final, a game in which UW only managed nine fast break points.  As always, good defense can beat good offense.
A lot of smiles in Seattle to start Pac-12 play.  From: the Bend Bulletin
Speaking of defense, Washington doesn't really play any.  As prolific as they can be scoring the basketball, they can't seem to do a damn thing to prevent it.  They've been giving up over 91 points per game in conference play, and it's not a fluke.  UW surrenders an eFG near 53% to league opponents (42% from deep), and allows them to grab almost 40% of what misses remain as offensive boards.  They're worst in the league in putting guys on the line (everyone on the roster over 6-6 is getting at least six fouls called per 40 minutes played), and can flat get abused inside. Case-in-point, in their five losses, the Huskies are averaging allowing 42.4 points in the paint.  And then here come the Buffs, boasting a strong, scoring-focused frontcourt... So, how'ya doing, Josh Scott? Feel like putting up 30/15 tonight?

It all makes sense, doesn't it?  With a boatload of young pups running the show, they run like crazy and put up points.  But, without the experience, UW has yet to learn good team defensive fundamentals, and spend the rest of their time getting gashed and putting people on the line.  There's really no excuses here, Colorado needs to be able to score in bunches tonight.  Conversely, don't be surprised to see the Huskies set a faster pace, and make the defensive-minded Buffs look porous.  All signs point to a barn burner.

Star Players - 

Everything in purple begins and ends with one man: Andrew Andrews.  The lone veteran holdout from the summer of defection, Andrews anchors the attack, and plays the center of the show using the ball on 28% of all possessions.  BuffNation may remember the lead guard best as the one landing a dagger-blow final second shot in the CEC to steal a win away last January, but he has only continued to develop as a special, special talent in the interim.  He's averaging 21/6/5, and is one of the most prolific players in the country today.  Go ahead an ink him into your All-Pac-12 squad now, 'cause he's a lock.
A player with a game so nice they named him twice.  From: Fox Sports
A 6-2 senior guard from Portland, Andrews is the embodiment of the term 'bucket-getter.'  He's a fantastic shooter (40% on 100 three point attempts), and is one of the best in the country at getting to the line. A maestro of the cutting attack, the refs can't help but play their shrill tune when he makes a play for the basket. With a top-50 free throw rate, Andrew draws an average of 8.5 fouls per 40 minutes played, putting him on the line for a whipping total of 163 attempts through 17 games (most in D-1 ball).  Once there, he's an 83% shooter, and the points begin to compile.  All of it - the jump shots, the cuts to the basket, and the free throws - add up, and he has more games scoring over 30 points this season (four) than he does under 15 (three), as a result.  He may not be perfect, and is certainly only an above-average defender, but there isn't a better pure scorer in the conference.

He is coming off of a sprained ankle, suffered in McKale against the Wildcats (held to only nine points), but it didn't seem to phase him in dropping a fully 30 against Arizona State on Saturday. Cutting to the chase, Colorado has no one that can guard him straight-up this evening.  If your first instinct is to stick a rotation of the point guards on him, you might as well foul out Collier now.  The wings?  Andrews would drop 50 on George King without batting an eye, and Fortune would do only marginally better. Akyazili and Fletcher are probably the best bets, but Andrew will still score a ton on either.  Short of finding some leftover eligibility for Andre Roberson, he's going to get his, no doubt about it.  The point is, don't freak out when he's hitting every shot he takes.  The trick for Colorado is going to be taking his teammates out of the action, while owning everything within five feet.
Murray will be next up for scoring lead next winter.  From: UW Dawg Pound
Of that cadre, the next best player on the roster is probably freshman guard Dejounte Murray.  A hard worker, the 6-5 wing has been putting up nice 15/6/5 numbers in support of Andrews, lending credence to his status as a top-50 player and Mr. Basketball for Washington in the 2015 recruiting cycle.  Maybe not on the same level as LSU's Ben Simmons, but Murray is putting together a fantastic freshman season. He's capable of some big performances, as will be attested by his back-to-back 29 and 25 point efforts against USC and Washington State, but can flag a bit if his outside shooting scatters.  Look for him to continue to pair well with freshman point guard David Crisp into the future.

The balance of the roster is highlighted by a number of young, developing athletic forwards.  Matisse Thybulle, Marquese Chriss and Noah Dickerson, all freshmen, get the starts, and combine for 25/14. The 6-5 wing Thybulle is a good shooter, taking more than half of all his shots from range (and hitting at a 38% clip). Chriss has good length at 6-9, and is a decent rebounder, but really struggles with fouls. Dickerson, a big 6-8, 235 lbs post from Atlanta, is a decent defensive presence, but has a long way to go offensively. Backing them up is, *gasp*, not a freshman, but, instead 6-9 JuCo transfer Malik Dime.  You'll notice him right away with the high rising flat-top haricut, and, thankfully, the #10 jersey (strong marketing choice from the young man, that).  A great shot blocker (11.6% block rate), he's got length and a spring in his step. Overall, a strong forward corps, and one that will form the backbone of a really intriguing roster next winter.

Coaching - 

Lorenzo Romar, the dean of the Pac-12 coaching hegemony, was stuck looking to re-invent his entire roster entering this, his 14th year at UW. The whole situation reminds me of the 2006-07 Buffaloes, a team that ran out 10 freshmen a year after Ricardo Patton went for broke in pursuit of an NCAA bid and a new contract. That resulting disaster (7-20, *thumbs up*) was self-inflicted, though, whereas Coach Romar did not deserve the mass exodus after last season.  By all public accounts, he was blameless in the process, and there were obviously some cancerous growths hiding in the roster that needed to get removed, one way or the other. Further, unlike Coach Patton, Romar has seemed to welcome the opportunity to hit the reset button, and had the recruiting tools to do so with aplomb, hauling in a top-10 class when he really needed it. The resulting reinvention has been dramatically simple; he simply returned to his roots, releasing the hounds and looking to run on every possession. It has worked, so far, and he deserves all the credit for it.
Romar's reinvention proves his quality.  From: USA Today.
Up until now, I had been worrying about Romar's job security for some time.  He hasn't been to the Tournament since 2011, and had slumped to a trainwreck 11th place finish last year in Pac-12 play.  Yet, here he is, just one year later, with a slew of freshman and only one veteran performer leading the league three weeks in.  The point: Lorezo Romar can flat coach the hell out of a basketball team. *tips hat*

Prediction - 

My record on the year: 4-1. Against the spread: 2-2-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -3.6 pt/gm)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 8pm - CU +2, O/U 161

Wow, did I have that Oregon game read wrong.  Like, ass-backwards, doesn't-know-what-he's-doing wrong.  In light of that epic failure on the prediction front, I think it's a good opportunity to remind everyone that, like any sports prognosticator, I'm really just guessing here.  Take all of my picks with a big grain of salt.

For this one, I would anticipate another high scoring affair, similar to what we saw last Sunday against Oregon.  Up and down, lots of transition, and lots of big plays.  The key for Colorado will be owning the glass, scoring everything in the paint, and limiting everyone not named Andrews.  I don't think he could outscore CU all by himself, and the Buffs don't have a single stopper that can hold him back if he tried, so it'll be important to make sure no one else is lighting up the scoreboards (like Murray).

As we saw in the UW/Arizona game, great defense can stop good offense.  It helped that Andrews was held back by that bum ankle, but the point stands.  Stick to defensive #TadBall principles, own the glass, and you've got a great chance of making the freshman have to think a bit on offense.  Statistically, CU has been even better defensively this conference campaign than the Wildcats, so I give the Buffs a pretty good shot of pulling the road upset.  It would be huge, and it'll probably be a bat-shit kind of game, but I'm going to take Colorado to win outright.  J40 has a big night, the bench stays hot, and the Buffs sneak out of Seattle with another big road dub.

CU 87 - UW 83


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