|White and the Buffaloes couldn't keep pace with the high-scoring Bruins. From: the Post|
In fact, I though CU played pretty well, even defensively. I know that sounds stupid, considering UCLA poured in 1.37 points per possession, and shot a vulgar 19-31 from three point range, but their shooters just refused to miss. Open shots, contested shots, it didn't mater; what they were putting up was going in the tin, no ifs ands or buts. Not much the Buffs could really do to stop it. That was certainly the case with Bryce Alford, who got 37 points on 9-14 shooting from deep. He was on true 'NBA Jam'-style fire Thursday night, and his points, particularly in the second half, bored into Colorado like an invasive beetle attacking local foliage. There was just no answer that could be effected. While Alford would finish a few percentage points below the shooting display from Brady Heslip in the 2012 NCAA Tournament (the Baylor guard got his nine makes from deep on 12 shots), it was just as impressive.
|CU did all they could to stop Bryce, he was just too good. From: USA Today.|
Beyond the minute distribution, I also liked the way the team took the ball at the Bruins, getting 38 free throw attempts. Further, they shot the ball about as well as I've seen all year, especially in the first half. Overall, Colorado did their best in trying to keep pace with the red-hot shooters in blue, putting up 1.17 points per possession. It was their best output since opening night against Sacramento State; it just wasn't good enough.
With that defeat in the rear view, attention now turns to USC. The Buffs need to find a way to stop this four-game slide before heading back out on the road. I think they have a good shot to do it Sunday night, they just need to execute. With that in mind, let's get this preview started.
Hype Music for the evening: "Signed, Sealed, Delivered I'm Yours" by Stevie Wonder
I've been in a Stevie mood this week. The Motown giant is one of the most iconic and influential US musicians from the 70s and 80s. This track, from 1970, was self-produced, and a #1 R&B hit. I actually had the privilege of seeing the man himself play this live in 2008, a highlight in my life. Enjoy!
Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6:30 on Sunday. There's snow in the forecast, so give yourself enough time to get to the stadium for the start. Televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
It was all going so well. The Colorado Buffaloes were playing good, if not great, basketball on the road against the USC Trojans last February, seemingly on track for a big win that would've propelled them into the top-four of the Pac-12 Conference. With nine minutes to play in the ballgame, a Wesley Gordon jumper had staked the Buffs to a 60-45 lead, a margin, surely, even Colorado could protect down the stretch. Unfortunately, the basketball gods turned a sour eye towards the faithful of BuffNation, and the Trojans started to mount a comeback. By the U8 timeout, the lead was down to 10; by the U4 it had shrunken to three. When a Jordan McLaughlin sank an open corner three with 2:55 left, it gave the Trojans the lead, and the Buffs were left to slump into a Tad Boyle timeout. Eventually CU would settle into a 79-72 loss, leaving me with just one reaction:
From a season of missed opportunities, this was the cornerstone of facepalm. It was the moment you knew Colorado had a serious problem holding leads in 2015-16, and not just a passing concern. It's incredible looking back, and considering the circumstance. According to KenPom, once Colorado took that 15-point lead, they had a 94% chance of winning the game. It took a concentrated effort of turnovers, missed front-ends, poor defense, and impotent guard play to spike that lead. If it didn't break my heart, I'd have been impressed by totality of suck on display down the stretch. After this, was the eventual collapse in the Dance to UConn really that much of a surprise?
The shocking second half slump aside, there were some positives to take from this game. Principally, it marked the healthy return of Josh Scott. Coming off the bench, Jelly put up a solid 17/3 in 23 minutes, showing off a number of deft and power moves around the rim that proved he was recovered from his ankle injury. Accompanying his performance, Wes Gordon stayed hot, putting up 13/7 and really powering the surge that built that fleeting lead. The problem was that their efforts in the paint were counteracted by some simply awful guard play. Dom Collier had one of his ugliest games in a CU uniform, turning the ball over six times and committing four fouls against just one rebound, with no points or assists to show for his 18 minutes. His fellow backcourt mates weren't all that much better, with George King matching Dom's turnover numbers (Colorado had 20 total) and Josh Fortune needing 11 shots to get to 10 points.
|That turned in a hurry. From: KenPom|
The Trojans in 2016-17 -
Coming from the expert precision and shooting touch of UCLA, playing these Trojans might seem like taking on an AAU side. That's the danger, though. While a decided step down from their travel partner, who can be considered a contender for both a conference title and the Final Four, USC is still a really good team.
Hell, at one point this season, they were 14-0 and ranked solidly in the top-25 -- and not as a result of a Utah-style soft schedule, either. They recorded wins over good teams like SMU, Texas A&M, BYU, Montana, and Wyoming in non-conference play, and seemed poised for great things against the up-and-down Pac-12. The flip of the calendar has been far from kind to them, however. After a conference-play opening win over Oregon State, the Trojans were blown out of the water by the Ducks in Eugene. That defeat started a slide covering three of their last four, including a loss Thursday night to Utah in Salt Lake City. If that game is any indication, USC has completely lost their way. The Utes held them to 37% from the field, and all but one Trojan under double-figure scoring. After that, you can bet that USC will hit Boulder looking for redemption and a halt to their downturn.
|USC got themselves out to a roaring start this year. From: CBS Local.|
Defensively, the statistical picture isn't all that much different than that of UCLA. It's a top-third unit, nationally, but not anything I would consider 'elite.' Still, a number of good peripherals, particularly in how they limit free throws and challenge you with shot blockers in the paint. USC boasts both a block rate and free throw attempt to field goal attempt ratio in the national top-20. That tells me their defenders down low are legit, and that you have to work for what shots you get inside. The result, of course, is that most teams try to keep the ball on the perimeter, where the Trojans allow over 33% of scoring to come from. If Colorado can carry their shooting touch from Thursday night over, it should be enough to generate a winning-level of points against this crew.
|... as of late, though, they've been struggling. From: The State|
Star Players -
USC was hit hard by the attrition monster over the offseason. A promising 2015-16 roster that looked to feature nothing but returners was gutted when juniors Julian Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic decided to turn pro a year early (both went undrafted, and are currently playing in the D-League). The issue of their departure was only compounded when moody shooting specialist Katin Reinhardt decided to transfer to the third school of his college career, Marquette, back in April. Suddenly, what had projected to be a sleeper Elite Eight-type of roster loaded with seniors was knocked back several pegs. What was left in LA was dealt a further blow last month when elite swing forward Bennie Boatwright came up with a left knee injury. He was supposed to only be out six weeks, but seems to be set on a much longer rehabilitation, and does not project to play in Boulder.
|Youngsters like Aaron and Melton have been filling the gaps for USC. From: SBNation|
|McLaughlin is an expert creator. From: InsideSoCal|
|Metu has a nice future ahead of him. From: Scout|
Rounding out the probable starting five is junior wing Elijah Stewart. He's a striking three-point threat from behind the arc who likes to play off the disruption caused by McLaughlin and Melton. He's hitting 39% of his attempts from deep this winter, and is a nice complimentary piece, averaging 13/5 for the Trojans.
I'm surprised that head coach Andy Enfield couldn't keep his core of talent together for what could've been a special season in 2016-17. His style, what was once called 'Dunk City' at Florida Gulf Coast, is fun and exciting to play, leads to a lot of highlights, and translates to the professional ranks. It's a vision of success and entertainment that he should've been able to sell to the likes of Jacobs and Jovanovic, and one I'm surprised they would be eager to turn down. (Why Reinhardt left is much more about what's going on between the ears of Katin Reinhard, which is to say... *ahem*)
|Andy has had to wade into battle short a number of key pieces. From: USCTrojans.com|
My record this year: 3-1. Against the spread: 2-2. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -1 pt/gm)
Lines as of Saturday @ 8pm - CU -2, O/U 149.560.5
I think the Buffs have a good opportunity to take this one. USC is not an elite rebounding team, you can turn them into a jump-shooting bunch with a little defensive focus, and you can really hurt them on the scoreboard if you don't let their shot blockers get involved. These are all things CU can work with. More to the point, while the losses have continued to pile up for Colorado, I've liked what I've seen from the team more and more as the nights have past by. In my eyes, they're primed for a breakthrough. To that end, I think they come in with a good plan, execute, and earn a solid win on home hardwood against the Trojans.
CU 76 - USC 71
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE TROJANS!