Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 13, 2016

2015-16 CU vs Washington Basketball Preview #2: It Was Lorenzo Romar Who Let the Dogs Out

There was a moment, late in the first overtime of Colorado's eventual 88-81, double-OT win over Washington State, that it dawned upon me that the Buffs might actually lose to the Cougars.  Even up to that point I was in denial; "No, certainly this is not real life.  Something will happen to forestall this crap," I thought.  "CU just can't lose to the worst damn team in the league!"  Then WSU guard Que Johnson hit his and-one layup, free throw combo to stake his team to a 77-74 lead with only 21 seconds to play.  Suddenly, the loss seemed very real, and very damning.  An empty, cold feeling only deepened when the teams traded free throws over the next 13 seconds of clock to leave the Buffs down 78-75 with just eight to play.  Sure, there was still hope, but it was no longer something that I could stomach to let live in my mind.

Then, George King went and did something ridiculous:

His shot came out of nowhere.  Every dribble to his right seemed to take him deeper and deeper into trouble against lanky Cougar forward Josh Hawkinson.  King was seemingly in no man's land, and was about to take the Buffs' post-season dreams down with him.  Even his release - off-balance, fading away - was awkwardly wrong.  Then the ball soared goalwards, and it was pure. Sure, Colorado would need to surge ahead in the second overtime, but that seemed mere formality at that point.  Win saved, season saved.

It was a moment of brilliant absurdity from an otherwise ugly, awful, forgettable game.  At home, against by far the worst team in the Pac-12, Colorado struggled for most of regulation, eschewing the attacking play that had served them well in the opening minutes for a stilted, conservative style that got them nothing but contested looks at the end of the shot clock. Further, injuries to Josh Scott (didn't suit up) and Tre'Shaun Fletcher (played, but eventually sat), along with foul trouble from starting point guard Dom Collier, left the Buffs with a six-man rotation late in the game.  As a result, Washington State shot an asinine 55% in regulation against CU, who, in turn, missed almost everything in the second half (33% shooting, 0-5 from deep). The team looked tired, out of ideas, and on the ropes.

The King shot, then, exists as a moment of salvation.  Colorado deserved to lose that game, and bathe in the wrath of everything that comes with losing to a team outside of the RPI top-180 on home hardwood.  King said no, however, leaping at a chance to take the team onto his shoulders at a time when others on the roster were looking to pass out of open attempts.  Before the game, I told friend of the blog @CUGoose that I looked at George the same way I used to view Askia Booker: a necessary evil.  Ride the Dragon, and all of that.  Someone has to take the shots, someone has to look to score when everything else has gone sideways.  With Ski now in the pro ranks, it might as well be the King. Wear your crown, kid.

So, with that mess in the rearview, it's all 'no harm, no foul.'  Those of us in attendance will remember the queasy feeling in our stomachs, but it'll all go down in history as just another win.  And, as always, a win is a win, and that's all I have to say about that.


Hype Music for the Evening: "Given to Fly" by Pearl Jam:

Pearl Jam is from Seattle.  So are the Huskies.  Whoa.

I've turned around on Pearl Jam in recent years. I remember growing up and not particularly liking them, or really any of the original 'grunge' groups (Nirvana, included).  With age, however, I've learned to appreciate them, to the point that I've routinely binged on PJ for the last four or so years.  This one, "Given to Fly," is one of my favorites.  Enjoy!


Tip-off from the CEC is set for a very football-esque high noon today.  Coverage for those unable to bring themselves to Boulder on a beautiful (if foggy) Saturday morning 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've seen some interesting things from the Colorado Men's Basketball Team this year, some good, some bad (like Thursday night!). But nothing previously seen this season prepared me for what went down in the first half of the previous meeting between CU and the Washington Huskies.  It was next-level bad basketball, with the Buffs imploding, steadily, over the course of the final 10 minutes of the opening frame.  For the first half, they turned the ball over an astonishing 12 times, allowed 60% shooting from the field on defense, and let Washington own the paint, getting blocked and out-rebounded into submission.  While Colorado would bounce-back a bit, fighting down the final stretch of the evening to draw it close, the damage had been done in the first, and the Buffs took a solid 95-83 loss on the jaw in the Emerald City.
The look of horror and concern on Josh's face is appropriate.  From:
It didn't start out all that bad.  CU was mostly playing with Washington in the opening minutes, and even took a 17-15 lead into the second media time out.  Then, like a sprung trap, UW took off, racing their way out to an expansive lead that the Buffs never recovered from.  It was an 18-5 run over five in-game minutes, and it turned the table on the action.  Over that time frame, the Buffs committed six turnovers, missed a number of easy inside looks, and generally fed into the Husky run.  Colorado was, once again, the creators of their own demise.  It was really hard to watch, like some demon form of the 2014-15 team had reanimated inside the current roster, and was trying to force its way out. Call an exorcist!

All credit to Washington here, they pounced the second CU showed any weakness.  The young, athletic trio of Marquese Chriss, Dejounte Murray, and Malik Dime combined with the ever present scoring prowess of Andrew Andrews to pour down a torrent of points on the Buffs; the 95 allowed still a season high. Andrews, as expected, put up amazing numbers, nabbing 33 points, and shooting 16-17 from the free throw line.  What really stunned me, though, was UW's ability to crush CU in the trenches, swatting back 15 shots (seven from Dime alone), and out-rebounding the Buffs by five. That's just not what I expected from this matchup, with the Buffs one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and the Huskies one of the most indifferent.  It kept Colorado from finding any footing at Hec-Ed; not the first time.
That's... not a good look.  From: Yahoo Sports
There is something to be said about the way Colorado fought back in the second half.  They cut those turnovers down from 12 in the first half to only four more in the second, leading to 50 total points after the break, as a result.  Behind another 18/12 double-double from Josh Scott and 21 points on 6-7 three point shooting from Dom Coller, they chipped away at a lead that had ballooned to 22 early in the second frame, getting within seven in the final minutes.  At no point was it ever really threatening to UW, however, and the Buffs rather meekly stepped into the final margin of defeat.

The Huskies since then - 

Notably, since playing CU, UW has been involved in two of the better, more entertaining affairs of conference play.  Their tilts with Arizona (at home) and Utah (in SLC) over the past week were riveting exhibitions, true starlight contests in the heart of the Conference of Champions.  For the young Huskies, they were big tests of their true ability to compete for a top-four spot and a coveted bye in Vegas.  Unfortunately, both of those games, as entertaining as they were to watch as an outsider, go down as losses for those in purple.  Capping a 2-4 stretch since we last met, those losses also mean that Washington slipped into a three-way tie for the final bye-seed position with Utah and Colorado, and is fading fast.  Not good.
UW has struggled to keep their balance in recent weeks. From:
I don't necessarily hold it against them, though.  Outsiders, like myself, have been waiting all winter for UW to slip up, fully expecting the neophyte band of freshmen to crash and burn at the first sign of trouble. Really, in spite of the losses (all of them, understandably, to teams in the KenPom top-50), they are still in comfortable shape headed into the final stretch of regular season play, and, outside of a daunting trip to the Oregons, stand in pretty good position to stay in contention for a top-quarter finish. The Huskies are still a good, athletic, capable opponent, one who should scare anyone, home or away.

Overall, Washington still plays incredibly quickly, letting the exuberance of youth push them to the second fastest offensive possessions in the country, and over 77 total possessions per contest.  In Pac-12 play, that speedy reputation has held up, and UW is, easily, the fastest team in the league games. This expedited pace helps make up for numbers that, when viewed holistically, don't look so impressive: 7th in offensive efficiency at an average 1.06 ppp clip.  That's not the end all, be all for them, though.  Sure, they have rough possessions, and play like freshmen are wont to do, but, given the extra volume of looks, they are able to throw raw numbers at the problem.  Even if they're less than efficient in doing so, leading the league in scoring (85.9 pts/g) is no small feat.
Blocking shots is serious business in Seattle. From:
The downside, of course, is that, given all those extra possessions, the opponents are scoring in bunches, as well.  Washington leads the league in points per in conference games, sure, but UW is also dead last in points allowed, surrendering 87.8 pts/g.  Those astute members of my readership will note that 87.7 is higher than 85.9, giving them a worrisome trade deficit (I think I jumped from math to economics there, but whatever). Add to it woes on the defensive glass (12th in the league), lingering foul trouble (four forwards average over five fouls per 40 minutes played), and shot percentage defense (10th on 3s, 9th on 2s), and their total defensive package is highly suspect, even for a team that likes to get up-and-down.  The saving grace, however, is their ability to block shots.  They're ravenous rim defenders, and come from all angles to erase would-be penetrators.  I guess, if you're going to have some cracks in the foundation, you might as well make up for them with a big dose of athleticism.

Why things could be different - 

Pretty much that entire paragraph above.  Any team that struggles defensively is vulnerable, especially away from home.  Even average offensive teams will have big scoring nights against the Huskies, and the Buffs, if they're hitting their jump shots, are well above average offensively.  Add to it the fact that Colorado is usually at their best when teams try to run at them in the rarefied air at 5,345 feet, and there's a lot of room for improvement from CU. While you never like to see teams come to Boulder and rip off 80+ points in regulation, it may be acceptable if the Buffs are running and scoring alongside. Cut out the turnovers and throw in the projected rebounding gap, and anything is possible.
With questions along the forward corps, CU needs players like Wes Gordon to stay hot.  From: the BDC
The problem becomes that Colorado could still be short Josh Scott and Tre'Shaun Fletcher, severely limiting their offensive capabilities.  As Rush the Court's Andrew Murawa pointed out Thursday night, CU is very dependent on J40's presence on the court to grease the skids (this goes for both ends of the court).  But, while Scott was sorely missed against the Cougars, Fletcher was as well.  We all know how good the Condor can be defensively, but Tre' is also a big cog in the offensive rotation, a piece that was notably absent when it came time to sit George King.  If both remain sidelined this afternoon, it could be very hard for the Buffs to keep up with the Huskies on the scoreboard, even with UW leaking like a sieve.

Finally, swing forward Marquese Chriss has been on fire, averaging 18/5 since tip of the first matchup. If UW gets increased production from the freshman, in addition to a plethora of points from Andrew Andrews and Dejounte Murray, then Colorado is in trouble... but that could all be offset by a favorable home whistle.  Andrews lives at the line, averaging more attempts per game than whole teams, and the rest of the young Huskies struggle with extended foul trouble.  If CU can get some whistles going their way (not a given, if the way teams are allowed to hammer Dom Collier in impunity is an indication), it may act as a safety net.

Prediction - 

My record on the year: 10-2. Against the spread: 6-5-1. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -0.0.8 pt/gm)

Lines as of Friday @ 8pm - CU -4, O/U 157.5

A quick note on the last game.  I had originally picked CU by 19, but, upon learning that Josh Scott wouldn't play, I changed that to CU by 10.  Since the final line ended up at CU -11 (posted late, for some reason), and the Buffs won by 7, I'm counting that as an ATS win. For the record, I did not bet real life money on the game.

After re-watching the first game, I just don't the way CU matches up with the Huskies.  The numbers make you think this should be a decent opponent for the team to line up against, but with all those long, athletic wings and forwards sprinting around, and a pair of lead/scoring guards as talented as any in the country on the roster, Washington just seems like the kind of team that can wreck CU in too many ways.

There is some room for error here.  Colorado could cut out the turnovers, lean on their defense, and own the glass in forging a path to victory, but I just don't see it.  Especially if Josh and Tre are still short of 100%, give me the Dawgs by a bunch.

UW 85 - CU 74


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