Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 6, 2016

2015-16 CU vs Oregon State Basketball Preview #2: Will Anyone Besides GP2 Stand Up?

On the road against a top-20 team staking their claim for 'best-in-region' status, you can't rely on the refs, your opponent, or raw luck to help you succeed.  No, you have to help yourself to have any hope of competing.  Unfortunately, the Buffs did not help themselves Thursday night in Eugene, as they repeatedly shot themselves in the foot against the high-flying Ducks.  Turnovers?  Yep, 14 total, eight in the first half, turning into 21 points for Oregon.  Missed free throws?  Uh-huh, eight of 14 sent wide. Poor shooting on open looks? Sure, CU shot under 34% for the game, and 30% on three-point attempts.  All told, Colorado did not bring their A-game with them to the Pacific Northwest, and it showed throughout a perfunctory 76-56 loss to UO.
The Ducks swarmed an under-performing bunch of Buffaloes.  From: the Register Guard.
It was another case of a cold start, but, unlike the home game against Cal last weekend, there was no declarative answering run to shift the tide.  Through the first 12 minutes of the ballgame, CU had more turnovers (five) than field goals (three), and found themselves down 24-7 on the scoreboard, as a result.  They would counter here, though, and scored nine points in four possessions to claw back within 10, but any hopes of a lead-trimming run into the half were short-lived.  Oregon would respond, going on a 14-5 sprint into the break, which sealed the deal on a 19-point halftime advantage.  While Colorado would briefly compete midway through the second, cutting the deficit from a ballooned 22 down to 11, the Ducks eventually regained their footing, and the Buffs settled back into their 20-point margin of defeat.

I talked about Chris Boucher in my preview, and how his foul-limited 15 minutes of action in the Boulder leg artificially cut into Oregon's overall performance on the road.  Given a full 35-minutes in this one, he controlled much of the action.  Only seven points scored, but he also tallied 12 rebounds (helping UO trim CU's +14 rebounding margin in the first game down to only +4) and six blocks.  Josh Scott and Wes Gordon each seemed to fear Boucher's lurking athleticism, even when he was away from the play.  On a team of talented game changers, the JuCo transfer from tiny Northwest College in Wyoming may be the most unique.  Oregon needed him as Dillon Brooks struggled, again, with foul trouble against CU, fouling out with only 10 points and a single rebound.
Fortune and the Buffs struggled with the trapping zones and presses from Oregon.  From:
For the Buffs, Scott lead the way with 17/7.  George King was right behind him with 16 points, but needed 19 shots to get there.  Xavier Talton had an interesting game off the bench, recording five assists, but those were canceled out by another rough effort from Josh Fortune, who turned it over five times (please stop trying to dribble out of crap).  Overall, not a great effort from anyone in Black and Gold, certainly not what you would've liked to have seen in a game between the first- and second-place teams in the Pac-12.  The Ducks threw everything off with a combination of trapping press and switching half-court defense, and the Buffs just never got comfortable attacking it, as they had in Boulder.

Colorado will now look to regroup in Corvallis.  The goal of every road trip should be to at least get a split.  Well, that's still on the table.  It won't be easy, however.  The Beavers still boast the league's single best all-around talent in Gary Payton II, defend their home court like madmen, and are coming off a big, Tournament-chances-boosting win over Utah.  The Buffs are certainly capable of pulling off the upset, but will need to play very well in hostile territory to earn it.  Can they right the ship, and return home with the much-needed split in Oregon?  Dive into my preview to find out...


Hype Music for the Evening: "September" by Earth, Wind & Fire

Wednesday, Maurice White, a co-founder and lead singer of R&B super-group EWF, passed away. One of the most influential songwriters and performers of the 70s and 80s, he was a giant crossing multiple genres: R&B, Funk, Pop, Soul, and Jazz. In his honor, I present my favorite of the group's hits. Enjoy!


Tip-off from Gill Coliseum in Corvallis, OR is set for 6:30pm this evening.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call coming over on 850 KOA.

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

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Sometimes, the beautiful game of basketball is just plain ugly.  Such was the case the last time these two teams met, as the Colorado Buffaloes and Oregon State Beavers played discordant, arrhythmic hoops over the first 30 minutes of action.  At the time, I compared it to the metallic jingle-jangle of a fork left in an on-turned garbage disposal -- jarring, uncomfortable, and, ultimately, destructive.  There were turnovers, there were terrible shots, there were flat blown calls by the officials, and there were some truly questionable decisions by both coaching staffs.  CU had been seeming to get the best of the game into the under-12 second half media timeout, yet had squandered a number of medium-sized advantages, and headed to the bench down 38-37.  At this point, we all seemed doomed to a frustrating slog to the finish, with Colorado possibly spiking a precious home game.
Wes Gordon, yo!  From: the Ralphie Report
Then, the Buffs flipped a switch.  Just like that.  They came out of that media timeout firing on all cylinders, and jumped out to a 19-6 run over the next five minutes.  Overall, they would outscore the Beavers 34-16 over the final 11:44, dominating on both ends.  What had been ugly and uncomfortable suddenly became free-flowing and easy.  Where in previous games Colorado had struggled down the stretch, they soared in this one, and earned a very satisfying 71-54 win, in the process.

The key?  A very Tad Boyle-like double-scoop of defense and rebounding.  Lead by Wes Gordon, the Buffs were stifling on 'D,' holding State to under 30% shooting for the game, and controlled the glass throughout (+15 rebounding).  In what was his best game to-date in a CU uniform, Gordon put up 12/14, with seven of those boards coming on the offensive end, and a startling six blocks (where has that effort gone?).  He ripped up OSU inside, leaving a team who lives on shots at the rim with essentially nothing to show for it. Oh, sure, Gary Payton II got his, going for an incredible 26/15/3/3, but the Buffs all but snuffed out the rest of the visiting Beavers, holding GPII's teammates to 24% shooting from the floor and only 28 points overall.  In my preview I discussed how the son of the legend finally had some help this season, but Colorado all but erased that warning.
Josh Scott was the offensive fuel in this one.  From: the Post
On the offensive end it was Josh Scott (who else?) fueling CU, as the 'Big Fundamental' put up 25 on only 11 shots.  He would add 12 rebounds to make for his 9th double-double on the year, helping Gordon dominate the paint.  J40 was joined in double-figure scoring by Josh Fortune, who, quietly, had his first 'good' game since Christmas.

The Beavers since then - 

Oregon State has been in a funk since that night, and the Buffs put them there.  Starting with the previous game in Boulder, where everyone not named Gary Payton struggled, the Beavers had lost five of six prior to Thursday night.  None of the losses were really 'surprises' coming on the road against the Ski Schools and the Arizonas, and then at home against UCLA, but it was, nonetheless, a disappointing stretch for OSU.  What had been a quietly promising season, potentially one setting up for a call on Selection Sunday, suddenly spun out of control.
Oh, Jarmal.  Not a good look, dude.  From: USA Today.
The tale of the tape has been self-destruction.  Immediately after the loss in Boulder, the Beavs traveled to Salt Lake City, and seemed to be in control of their game with Utah.  They were up 11 at halftime, and GPII was getting plenty of support from role players like Stephen Thompson and Malcom Duvivier.  Then, the refs started getting involved.  All told, 24 fouls would be whistled on those in orange and black, against just 10 for the homestanding Utes.  It started to affect the Beavers, who got visibly frustrated, with their lead shrinking throughout the second half.  It culminated in forward Jarmal Reid losing his damn mind and tripping a ref (my guess: he took Jay-Z too literally), and Oregon State bowed out ungracefully, 59-53.

While no one else has been getting in physical altercations with game officials, you look at box scores from games like their home defeat to UCLA (12-24 from the free throw line) and the 86-68 blowout loss against ASU in Tempe (where they played next to no defense), and you see a young team being forced to deal with the harsh realities of conference play.  Their lone win over the stretch, surprisingly against a very strong USC squad, was simply a case of Payton playing out of his mind (22/15/8/4), and the Trojans going ice cold from the field on the road.  Other than that, it has been a bad month of basketball for the Beavers, and they were more than happy to see the calendar flipped to February.
After a rough February, Payton and the Beavs came up with a good response against Utah.  From: 
This past week, with Jarmal Reid back in the fold off the bench having served his four-game suspension, they took on a surging Utah squad, and seemed to get their legs back under them.  Utah had been dominating the second half, surging out to a 10-point lead with under eight minutes to play before Thompson decided he'd had enough, and sparked up for all 13 of his points.  In one of the craziest finishes I've seen this season, the Beavers would go on to win it at the line, salvaging, for the moment, their flagging Tournament hopes.

But really, even with the new life afforded by a dramatic home victory over a conference heavyweight, the Beavers are long-shots to make the Dance.  Five of their remaining eight games are on the road, and their statistical profile is solidly in the bottom-third of the conference.  9th in offensive efficiency and 8th in defensive across Pac-12 competition, they're not, holistically, a very daunting proposition.  While they've been very good with the basketball, both holding onto it and forcing turnovers (boosted by some insane steal splits), they struggle in almost every other category. Probably the most concerning, if I were an Oregon State fan, would be their defensive lapses.  If they don't rip-and-run, conference opponents are dominating them inside, converting on 54% of all attempts inside the arc.  They're also dead last in both getting to the line (34% FTA:FGA ratio) and converting from it (63% from the stripe).

Why things could be different - 

But, while the Beavers have been struggling, they do still boast one of the best all-around talents in the entire country, Gary Payton II, who can hurt you in every single aspect of the game.  An elite defender, a surprisingly strong rebounder (standing only at 6-3), a soaring sharer of the ball, and a excellent bucket-getter, Payton is destined for the next level.  He can single-handedly dictate the pace and timbre of the game.  If he gets any help this evening, another standout performance from the senior could be the difference.

More to the point, I think he will get that needed support this time around.  The 24% shooting his teammates put up in Boulder was an outlier.  On home hardwood, there's no reason to suspect strong offensive freshmen like Tres Tinkle, Stephen Thompson, and Drew Eubanks won't have an improved say on the result.  Those three combined for 18 points on 7-26 shooting in the first leg, a good 11 total points and 18 percentage points under their season averages.  Even with the Buffs staying strong defensively, some basic regression to the mean is due here.
Expect a better showing from Tinkle and the other OSU freshmen tonight.  From: USA Today.
Further, Wes Gordon dominated that game in Boulder, but has been an inconsistent factor since. Gordon can be a dynamic, game-defining piece for the Buffs, but has also shown a tendency to flat disappear from games.  Take, for example, his efforts Thursday night in Eugene.  Wes failed to score, and barely registered on the defensive and rebounding ends, allowing Boucher to dictate the proceedings in the paint.  To ask for a repeat of the overall result in Boulder, you'd also have to expect a exclamatory repeat from Wes, and I just don't see it coming.

Finally, CU continues to struggle offensively away from home in league play.  With five road games under their belt, the Buffs are only averaging 37% from the floor (31% from three-point range) and 67 points scored per.  The biggest difference is seen behind the arc, where the Buffs are 19 percentage points under their home numbers (50% from three at home, yo).  Assuming those struggles hold, it'll be very difficult for Colorado to break away tonight.

Prediction -

My record on the year: 8-2. Against the spread: 4-5-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -0.5 pt/gm)

Lines as of Friday @ 5pm - CU +2, O/U 143

To win, the Buffs will have to do exactly what they accomplished in Boulder.  Share the basketball, dominate the action in the paint, and take every 50-50 rebound.  Unfortunately, I just don't see a repeat of their +15 performance on the boards, and I wouldn't expect a sudden Wes Gordon revival, either. There was a lot of weirdness in the margins that first time out against OSU, and regression can be a bitch.

Overall, I expect another ugly game, but, this time, without the late, game-clinching run from the Buffs.  Payton will still get his, and should easily be the best player on the court, while, unlike the first game, actually get support from his freshmen compatriots.  In the end, Oregon State gets a few lucky bounces late, and CU drops another one away from home.

OSU 64 - CU 61


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