Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Washington Basketball Preview #1

The Huskies, I would have you know, are quantitatively a worse basketball team than Colorado. UW is simply not good in 2016-17. The raw stats, their win/loss profile, and the efficiencies would tell you as much. We can argue qualitative dichotomies, but, on paper, this is the worst team CU will have faced since before conference play started (yeah, I'll take ASU over them, come at me).  That does not mean, however, that this will be a cake walk.  The Buffs, as we are all acutely aware, are locked in a death spiral with their own demons at the moment, so what comparative analysis there is will be more guess work than science.  I am venturing into the unknown today; the shady areas of the map yet to be filled in.  My way of telling you, I have no idea what's about to happen.


Hype Music for the evening: "Dazed and Confused" by Led Zeppelin

0-5 is a rough way to start anything.  It has certainly left me off-kilter, stumbling around dazed and confused, if you will.  Hey, look, Zep has something named just like that!  Of course, Led Zeppelin 'borrowed' the song from the original author, Jake Holmes.  That Zep version, however, the closer of side one from their titular first album, is so iconic, so towering, that it's hard to come to grips with the fact that they ripped it off.  Oh, well.  Enjoy!


Tip-off from the ice-rink known as Hec Edundson Pavillion is set for 9pm MT this evening. Televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with the radio call on 760 AM.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Last February, in front of a nice home crowd (but essentially no students), the Colorado Buffaloes were facing an uphill battle against the Washington Huskies.  Josh Scott, the superlative senior power forward, was still out with an ankle injury.  Without him the team was facing the same UW bunch that cracked them by 12 points in the first meeting last season, and were just 38 hours removed from a double-overtime struggle with the worst team in the Pac-12.  In that light, there were a lot of justifiably nervous faces in the stands just before tip; even yours truly was predicting doom.  Then, the ball went up, and all that garbage faded away. From the opening seconds to the final horn, Colorado came to play, exhibiting gritty, intense basketball throughout.  While the final ticks of the clock got a little nervy, with a number of mistakes putting the team on the verge of blowing a much-needed win, the Buffs held true, and walked away with a vital 81-80 victory.
Wes Gordon was nasty under the glass.  From: the BDC
For a moment, it seemed like the game would finish in a nauseating case of deja vu.  If you can remember back to the 2014-15 season, UW came to Boulder and stole away with a last-second victory thanks to an Andrew Andrews buzzer-beater.  Down just a single point with the ball and eight seconds to play on Saturday, Andrews and the Huskies seemed to be in position for a gut-wrenching repeat performance.  He took the in-bounds on the wing, dribbled left to the elbow, stepped-back to create separation from Xavier Talton and Wes Gordon (who, weirdly, stepped off the trap), and... missed.  It was almost an exact replica of the action from the game in '15; he just shot from the opposite elbow and bricked it long.  It was stunning.  Given the time and circumstance, I would've put a lot of money on the veteran heart of the Washington attack cashing that shot, but it wasn't to be. Feel free to thank the basketball deity of your choice.

But, while the Buffs were lucky to watch Andrews' shot sail wide, they were not merely lucky to enter this one in the left-hand column. No, they earned this win through a foundation built on rebounds.  Lots and lots of rebounds.  Even without the great Scott, CU wrecked the Huskies on the boards, grabbing a total of 55 off the glass, 20 of which were offensive, to forge a +20 advantage in the rebounding battle. It was with activity, determination, and hustle that they proceeded to out-work their purple-clad opponents under the basket, fueling a number of key put-backs and second chances. Wes Gordon and George King lead the charge here, each in double figures for a combined total of 23.
Turnovers nearly cost Colorado the win.  From:
Even with that rebounding advantage, however, the Buffs still struggled to put the game to bed. Leading by as many as 17, Colorado would give all their gains back in the second half, mostly thanks to an unending series of turnovers.  UW would turn the shocking total of 22 turned into 27 points, eating into CU's ability to win the game.  But, despite the uneasiness in holding onto the basketball, those rebounds held true.  It's a lesson the current team would be wise to heed: clean the glass, survive the scare.

The Huskies in 2016-17 -

As stated in the intro, Washington is not a very good team.  Sure, there's some great talent on the roster, and they can play electrifying basketball when on their game, but the total package just doesn't set right, like a soufflĂ© ripped from the oven too soon.  Sound familiar?  I would hope so.  While the how and the why behind the proceeding is different for UW than it is for CU, the final product is the same: a team that is somehow lesser than the sum of its parts.  The Buffs, then, are facing a weird, twisted shadow of themselves this evening.  How about them apples?
Yale almost hung 100 on these guys.  From: the Seattle Times
Of course, it's not a clean parallel.  Washington, for instance, doesn't have a quality win on their 8-9 resume, their best coming, according to KenPom, against Western Michigan in Seattle.  That's their only win against a team in the KP top-200 this season, in fact, with the Broncos barely cracking in at #197.  Sure, the Huskies do get to claim the dignity of having already scratched out their first league win this year, thanks to a win over lowly Oregon State a few weeks back.  A solid one, too.  But UW has also lost to Washington State... and Stanford... oh, and who can forget the season opening home defeat to Yale.  That's right, they gave up 98, at home, to an Ivy League squad!  Woof, indeed.

Offensively, they're fine.  Good defensive teams like Oregon and Cal have kept them quiet this season, but take those two results out, and UW is averaging over 84 points per on an adjusted 1.11 ppp.  This is an upper-tier attack, one capable of knifing you up with quick trips (top-15 fastest offensive possessions in country) and attacks on the break (27% of shots taken in transition).  While the Huskies can be an outstanding three point shooting team (shoot 40% as a team), they don't take a lot of their attempts from deep (less than 30% of all shots taken), which strikes me as bizarre. Instead, they take an inordinate amount of mid-range jumpers, making them an efficiency nightmare.  The mid-to-outside shot disparity gives them a lot of opportunities to flex their strong offensive rebounding skills (top-25 nationally), but also earns them fewer points than they probably should be getting.  Still, a productive unit, and one that will probably score in bunches against the Buffs.
A win over a terrible OSU squad is all that separates UW from 0-5 status, as well.  From: USA Today
The real problems, however, are defensive.  Washington surrenders over 1.07 points per possession, which makes for a bottom-third rating on KP.  While they will use great athleticism to challenge shots (15% block rate) and deter attempts at the rim, everything else is a mess.  Opponents have been killing it from deep (39%), while getting a fair number of offensive boards (30% on opportunities). Anecdotally, the times I've watched them play, good teams have been getting the looks they want, which makes their win/loss line make a lot more sense.  Sort of a lesser version of what we saw against USC -- Washington has a lot of athleticism and eager shot blockers, but are vulnerable to teams who can work the perimeter.  Hopefully, Colorado can keep their hot streak from beyond the arc going.

Star Players - 

UW, of course, lost two star freshmen to the NBA draft after last season.  Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, both first rounders, played the one-and-done card, leaving the Huskies a little high and dry after a season spent building behind a whopping seven regular freshman contributors.  In Seattle, though, they don't re-build, they reload with blue-chip talent.  Enter: Markelle Fultz.  A phenom of a lead guard from Maryland, Fultz came cross-country to wear purple for what projects to be his only season of college basketball.
Fultz accounts for essentially half of UW's offensive production this year.  From: Fansided.
If this is the only go at D-I for young Markelle (and essentially all prognosticators have him down as a lottery pick come June), we're certainly getting a hell of a show.  A triple-double threat, he's averaging 22/6/6 this year, having played almost as many games with over 30 points (three) as he has under 20 (five).  An electric scorer, passer, and creator, the 6-4, 200 lbs guard is the central force at the heart of everything UW tries to do with the basketball (usage rate near 31%). I'm not kidding, he's taken 102 more shots this season than any teammate, and either scored or assisted on nearly 48% of the team's 503 total made field goals this season. But it's not ball-hoggery.  The team gives him such deference because he can do anything called for.  Shoot (41% from deep), attack the rim (109 free throw attempts this season), pass (three games of at least 10 dimes), and even rebound (over one offensive board per contest).  He earns what he gets on the stat sheet, and he makes the Huskies as good as they can be while he goes.  Expect him to be on the ball for most of the evening.

Markelle even has a pair of decent stalwarts at his side.  David Crisp is a great point guard prospect in his own right, and the sophomore will be back to running the team once Fultz is moved on to bigger and brighter venues.  A local product from Tacoma, Crisp is getting near 14 points per game, and hands out whatever assists Fultz is too busy to claim for himself.  David has a nice jump shot, too, making him a deadly second option for Washington.  I also like sophomore power forward Noah Dickerson. Athletic and capable, he's has double-double potential every start, and posts outstanding defensive rebounding rates to go along with his 11 points per game.  He loves getting into passing lanes and collecting loose balls, as well.  He could have a huge game this evening.
Dickerson can pose a very difficult challenge in the paint.  From: USA Today
Past them, however, there's not much consistency.  It especially hurts that pogo stick power forward Malik Dime is out with a hand injury, as he can be a destructive shot blocker and active offensive rebounder.  The best of the rest is undoubtedly Matisse Thybulle, but I always get the feeling that the sophomore is playing under his potential.  The 6-5 wing is an active ball-hawk, having already recorded 35 steals, but he's nowhere to be seen on the glass, and doesn't assert himself nearly enough offensively.  Washington should be getting more from him.  We'll also see Dominic Green and Sam Timmins this evening.  Green is a shooter with size (6-6) coming off the bench.  Timmins, a big 6-11, 265 lbs freshman center from New Zealand who can work around the basket.  Neither, however, has really stepped up this season.

In the end, it's the Fultz show, co-starring Crisp, Dickerson, and ... others.  If CU can keep a lid on the star freshman - a big if, mind you - they will have a much easier go of it.

Coaching - 

Oh, Lorenzo Romar.  The dean of the Pac-12 coaching fraternity.  He's been in Seattle as long as I've been a CU basketball fanatic, first showing up on the Husky bench in 2002.  This 8-9 start, though, could not have been what he was looking for in season 15 of his tenure.  Washington has been utterly irrelevant since their 2012 league title, failing to finish with better than a 9-9 Pac-12 record in each and every one of the last four seasons, making this slumping campaign the latest in a trend, rather than an outlier.
How many years does Lorenzo Romar have on the Husky bench?  From: the News Tribune
The question then becomes, how many more opportunities is Coach Romar going to get with the Huskies before they decide to call it an era?  His longevity has certainly earned a long leash, and he continues to bring talent to both the program and the NBA.  But the returns on the record sheet are becoming lesser and lesser as the years pile up, and the league seems to have passed him by.  Local reporters, much like the old Facebook relationship status, say that the whole situation 'is complicated,' citing his strong recruiting skills.  But, if Lorenzo isn't going to do anything with those recruits once he gets them to Seattle, then what's the point?

Prediction - 

My record this year: 3-2. Against the spread: 2-3. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +0.8 pt/gm)
Lines as of Tuesday @ 8pm - CU +1, O/U 157

I have no idea.  Fultz will get his, that much I'm sure of.  I also think Dickerson will have a big game, and UW will put up a bunch of points.  Their defense, though, should not be that tough of a nut to crack without Dime lurking underneath, meaning Colorado should get their points, as well.  It's an absolute toss-up, hence why the spread is only one point.

Since CU is the only team in this game with any track record of defending, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt, but just barely.

CU 82 - UW 80


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