Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Oregon State Basketball Preview #2

While Colorado has largely righted their ship over the past three weeks, wining five of the last six they've played, Oregon State has continued to exist in a rut.  They still haven't won a conference game, and, I would argue, this visit from the Buffs is their last opportunity to snag one before the entire year passes them by.  I would be hard-pressed to bet on them against Utah or Oregon, even at home, or at either of the Bay Area schools next week, after all.  So, expect the hosts to come out with their best punch as they hope to forestall the ignominy of a winless campaign.

What's more, CU has usually struggled in their trips to Corvallis, coming in just 1-3 at Gill Coliseum since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 (6-1 against the Beavs everywhere else).  That one win was far from easy, too -- it took a 'perfect' night from Spencer Dinwiddie to steal away with the victory that day. So, while the team has been playing better as of late, this is not the kind of visit they can take for granted.  Expect some ugly weirdness as this one develops... yeah, but what else is new?


Hype Music for the Evening: State Anthem of the Soviet Union by Alexander Alexandrov (as performed in Rocky IV)

Russia back, y'all.  Since the great Bear, and its possible infiltration of our executive branch, seems to be dominating the conversation these days, what better way to celebrate than with the old Soviet National Anthem?  Putting aside politics, talk of totalitarian regimes, and bitter Cold War history, this is one hell of a tune.  Perfect for villains and heroes, alike.  Indeed, let them sing. Anyways, enjoy!


Tip-off from Gill Coliseum in Corvallis is set for 7pm MT on Thursday.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network, with the radio call on 760AM.

For reference, my preview from the first game against OSU this season can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

After their first seven tries against Pac-12 competition this season ended in failure, the Colorado Buffaloes finally entered a notch in the left-hand column with this 85-78 win over the Oregon State. Never mind that the performance itself was far from perfect.  Never mind that the Beavers were, and continue to be, one of the worst, most talent-starved teams in the nation. Any win at that point looked sweet.  I'll take my sundae with three cherries on top, if you don't mind.
Plenty of new faces in the starting lineup on Saturday.  From: the BDC
The biggest story to come out of this game, beyond the simple fact of the schneid-busting first league victory, was the starting lineup.  In an effort to send a message to his charges, Coach Boyle went with five new starters, all of them underclassmen who had previously been averaging fewer than 15 minutes per game.  When the names were first read out - Thomas Akyazili, Deleon Brown, Tory Miller, Bryce Peters, ad Lucas Siewert - most fans, myself included, thought it was error or awkward joke. None but Brown had started a game this season, how could this be?  But, no, Tad was serious:
"That move was more a way to honor and to reward the guys who come to practice every day and who don’t get the minutes or haven’t gotten the starts.[...]  Other guys have had their opportunities and I thought it was time for those guys who hadn’t to get their chance. [...] It’s not anything against the guys who have been starting but it was more because the guys who haven’t been starting deserved a chance, and I thought that they handled it well." -link
I'm not sure the unorthodox starting five paid huge dividends right away, with the Beavers sticking with Colorado, both off the opening tip and at the start of the second half, but the idea of a fresh look made a certain bit on sense.  The deck had been crying out for a re-shuffling since the start of 2017, and this dramatic lurch, with five fresh faces getting their names called to start the game, was a quick way to just accomplish that.
OSU still managed to make a game of it.  From: the BDC
Bryce Peters certainly seemed to answer the call.  In his first collegiate start, the spunky freshman combo guard went for 15/4/2 on 5-6 shooting.  While not the most effusive player in Colorado colors that evening, he was the most efficient, and really seemed to lead the charge with the reserves on the floor.  Since he will head the next generation, it was good to see him step up when called, and he has continued to do so over the three weeks after his spot start.

CU was led on the evening, however, by an otherwise normal starter: George King.  The junior scoring guard lit up the board with 24 points, most of it in the first half, fueling the Buffalo attack that boasted 52 points off the bench. His performance was highlighted by this thunderous tomahawk jam off a steal, which was one of the most exciting plays of the entire campaign. He would cool off in the final stretch into the halftime break, and some hasty shots darkened an otherwise brilliant evening. Still, this was just the latest in a string of games where we saw King return to the form of last season in a way Colorado had been desperate for.  At that point, he was the 16th-most efficient offensive performer in the Pac-12, with an ORtg near 120, an eFG over 61%, and a three-point rate of about 46%.  While he would cool off a bit in the Bay Area immediately after that home-stand, George has been playing some excellent basketball in 2017.
George King, y'all.  From: the BDC
While there were some strong individual performances, though, what we saw on the court from CU as a whole against the Beavers was far from beautiful basketball.  OSU was, and still is, a terrible basketball team, adrift without their full compliment of stars, and seemingly destined for worst-in-Power-5 status.  Yet, their offense, which struggles to walk and chew gum at the same time, was allowed to put up 1.15 points per possession, and their largest overall point total since a 93-90 home overtime loss to frickin' Savannah State. Drew Eubanks (27 points) and Stephen Thompson (26) were able to rip up the Buffs, with little to no defensive answer from those in white. Hell, the Beavs even out-rebounded CU.  If not for some head-scratchingly bad turnovers in the second half, they could've won this game!  Colorado has 'turned the season around' after this win, but it hardly stands has a happy statement on the eventual upturn in fortunes.  The Buffs will have to play much better in Corvallis this evening, if they want the good times to continue to roll.

The Beavers since then - 

The three weeks between the first meeting of these two teams and now have not been kind to Oregon State.  Five more losses, none of them all that close, fill the gap.  Just five more drum beats on a winless slog that has most sensible State fans looking to the start of baseball season.  You can say they came close to Utah, sticking within eight points of the Utes in the Huntsman Center, and would you believe that the Beavers held a halftime lead over the vaunted Arizona Wildcats back on Groundhog Day?  The problem was that the inevitable never seemed that far around the corner in each game.  OSU only closed the gap against Utah late, and the 24-7 run by 'Zona to start the second half was as predictable as the sun rising in the east.  Nope, same old shit in Corvallis; the hateful coda following their most successful season in 26 years.
Some feisty-ness, but still no wins for the Beavers in 2017.  From: the Deseret News
What else can I really say?  These guys suck.  It's blunt, negative, and far from introspective analysis, but it's the truth.  How else can you account for Oregon State being the only Power 5 team in the country still without a league win?  It's not like the Pac-12 is a juggernaut this season, either.  With as soft as the back half of the conference has been, even 'bad' teams should've been able to luck into a win by now.  Nope, OSU stands alone at 0-13 in the Pac-12 (4-22 overall).

They have a built-in excuse, to be sure.  Star forward Tres Tinkle remains out, just the most notable in a string of injuries that has decimated the talent stores available for the club each and every night. The latest?  Center Gligorije Rakocevic has been in a sling this week after an injury sustained against UCLA last Sunday.  If he can't go, and there hasn't been any official word yet, the Beavers will be down to just seven full scholarship players against the Buffs.  No wonder they haven't been winning any games.
If Rakocevic is out tonight, the Beavers are down to just seven scholarship players.  From: the Register-Guard
It's to be expected, then, that the players are starting to look for the light at the end of the tunnel -- the offseason.  Starting forward Drew Eubanks admitted to Oregon Live that the season is 'wearing on us a little bit,' and freshman guard Kendal Manuel let slip 'Dang, this is a long season and it feels like it's not going to stop.'  Brighter days will eventually return to Corvallis, and I have no doubt that head coach Wayne Tinkle will get the ship righted as soon as is practically possible, but, for now. it's an ugly situation, and I feel for them.

Still, the game will be played, and Colorado better find a way to beat them.  With a wounded opponent like this, especially in their own gym, it'll be important that the Buffs take control of the game from the tip, and play well into and out of each stop in the action.  Don't give a downtrodden team a moment to catch their breath, and they'll fold like a deck of cards.  Not pretty, but it is what it is.

Why things could be different - 

Looking back to that unorthodox starting five Coach Boyle trotted out for the meeting back in January, it's interesting to see the effects.  His Royal Tadness was adamant in saying that the impetus behind the roster shuffle wasn't a punishment of the normal starters, but rather an opportunity for the reserves to step up.  Almost as a jolt to the system, reminding the subs that they need to contribute, too, on both ends of the court.  It was a 'reset' of the roster, and, in many ways, it's a move that has worked wonders.

I talked at length in my grab bag this week about how the defense has improved, and much of that has come as the result of the reserves being able to hold their own when the 'line-shift' second unit hits the floor.  These are no longer stretches where you have to hold your breath, the reserve five of Thomas Akyazili, Josh Fortune, Tory Miller, Bryce Peters, and Lucas Siewert have been just fine when left to their own devices, and each really stepped up in the two games when Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon were benched for a violation of team rules.  An increase in minutes has not harmed the team at all, in fact it has helped.
Now off the bench, Josh Fortune has been better.  From: the BDC
Part of the under-discussed nature of this has been the re-transition of Josh Fortune back into a bench role.  Simply, he was completely off his game as a starter this year.  Now, however, with his role re-focused as a sub, he's been much better, playing well defensively and contributing with good leadership in the second-unit offense.  Nothing explosive, but solid basketball.  His minutes have actually recovered a bit since his near DNP-CD performance against UCLA, and his turnovers are dramatically down.  You can see confidence returning with each spate of minutes, and teammates are starting to trust him to make good decisions again.  With Fortune and the reserves reliable for strong minutes off the bench, Colorado is in a much better position to out-last a team like Oregon State with a short roster.

Past the improved subs, I'm looking for CU to do a better job on the perimeter this time around against the Beavers, and for improvement on the glass, as well.  Players like Jaquori McLaughlin and Stephen Thompson went off from deep last month, and a little more care and attention paid to them on the outside will help limit the offensive opportunities.  On the glass, there's no reason the Buffs should be getting out-rebounded by this bunch.  Bottom-three in the league in both offensive and defensive rates, if CU doesn't out-rebound them this evening, especially if starting center Rakocevic is out injured, something is seriously wrong.  Improve those two areas, and there's not many logs left for the Beavers to build a victorious dam out of.


My record this year: 8-5. Against the spread: 6-7. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -5 pt/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 8am - CU -10.5, O/U 135

Note: for official purposes, please consider my official prediction ahead of the WSU game to have been adjusted to match the 12.5 point the Buffs were giving, as I said it would in the preview. Let's say, for arguments sake, an 84-71 prediction to align with the actual bet I made. The stats above reflect just that.

There's no reason Colorado should lose this one.  Even on the road, even against a team that sees this as their best remaining win opportunity, the Buffs are significantly more talented, in form, and deeper than Oregon State.  I just don't see a way for the Beavers to claim the win.  Sure, it'll get ugly and weird, as it is any time CU travels from home, but I'm still picking them to not only win, but cover as well. Give me the Buffs by a bunch.

CU 75 - OSU 62


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