Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 2, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Stanford Basketball Preview #1

Remember February 23rd, 2012?  That was the night Stanford walked into the Coors Events Center, and destroyed Colorado on their home floor, 74-50.  The Cardinal shot near-50% from the field that night, and was allowed to out-rebound CU 50-26. Let me say that again, FIFTY TO FUCKING TWENTY-SIX. It was a loss was so disheartening, so nausea-inducing, that my recap consisted of an Alf re-run and nothing else. I still feel justified.

The most interesting storyline to come out of that game, however, was not the rebounding margin (though those numbers still inflame).  Instead, it's the fact that Colorado hasn't lost to Stanford since. Go ahead, look it up.  6-0; three wins in Boulder, three wins on the Farm.  I'll call it divine retribution for the wanton pillaging that occurred five years ago.

The Buffs will certainly be eager to keep that streak alive this evening.  Coming off a homestand that served as a reset button for a season gone sour, any opportunity to extend the run of good feelings is welcome.  A trip to Maples Pavilion - a place where CU has had success - against a Stanford team that has proven to be inconsistent this season, is just such an opportunity.  Here's to hoping that CU can keep the mojo running, and steal out of Palo Alto with the win.


Hype Music for the Evening: "Fake Tales of San Francisco" by the Arctic Monkeys

We refer to Palo Alto as Bay Area, essentially San Francisco, but it's a relative world away from The City.  Somewhat like Fort Collins Kids claiming the cow-town up north is Denver-area. What a fitting song to tab for the evening, then; a story of people slinging lies about gigs they've never played, associations they should never be able to make, to play up an image.  Enjoy!


The late shift again; tip-off from Maples Pavilion is set for 9pm MT on Thursday. If you can afford to stay awake that late, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks.  The Radio call will be on 760AM.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Much of last season's narrative surrounded the ways the team was different from the 2014-15 version. A primary focus was on offense. In the previous ugly winter, the Buffaloes had been 33% shooters from three-point range, good for 204th nationally. What's more, that number was soft, and really dependent on whether or not Askia Booker was hitting or not. Last season, it was a completely different story, with CU knocking down nearly 40% of all three point attempts, making them one of the 25-best shooting clubs in the country.  What's more, lead by George King's insane 46% clip, the Buffs had number of versatile, talented long range assassins who were able to make opponents pay when they doubled the post, and it made them, overall, a competent offensive proposition only a year after they were one of the most frustrating offensive clubs I've ever seen.
Good.  From: the BDC
But, even as good as the Buffs had been hoisting the rock last year, they never approached the performance they displayed in their 91-75 home win over Stanford.  Shut the doors and turn off the lights when looking at the stat sheet, because CU's 13-19 shooting from three is decidedly NSFW. George King, Josh Fortune, et al were on fire, hitting almost every time they rose up.  I got caught up in it and was yelling 'GOOD' before the ball even left their fingers -- Prince knows what I'm talking about.  It was the difference in the game, too.  Think of it this way: if the Buffs were normally about 40% shooters from beyond the arc, then you would expect them to have hit about seven or eight threes in 19 attempts.  With CU winning by 16, those extra five or six threes made for the margin of victory.

This wasn't a perfect performance by any means, though.  Sure, the Cardinal were abysmal offensively in the first half, shooting under 30% from the floor, but they came alive in the second, and pushed CU possession-by-possession over the final 20 minutes.  Rosco Allen, looking to shake off the horrible things Wes Gordon did to him in Palo Alto earlier in the year, poured in 25/9.  Add to it Josh Scott feeling a little under the weather (still put up 14/8/4/3), and Colorado needed all that juice on the perimeter.
A little under the weather, Josh Scott still put up solid numbers.  From:
In addition to the shooting, CU paved over mistakes (15 turnovers, three straight missed 1-and-1s in the second half) by sharing the basketball and securing the rebounds.  In all, the Buffs handed out 21 assists on 27 made baskets, easily their best mark in Pac-12 play, while playing +8 on the glass.  It has always been hard to beat Colorado, especially at home, when they are making the extra pass, rebounding to their numbers, and holding opponents to under 40% shooting from the field.  Add in the three point barrage, and it becomes an impossible task.  By the end of the game, the 'Larry Bird All-Stars' were in, and the assembled crowd was hitting the parking lots early.

Anne and Tony Joseph Director of Men's Basketball-ing - 

The big story in Stanford-land over the offseason was the firing of long-time head coach Johnny Dawkins (who now plies his trade at UCF with a 14-7 record and a 7-6 center named Tacko Fall), and the eventual hiring of former UAB head coach Jerod Haase.  Coach Dawkins will be missed in the Pac-12, not only because he was a nice person, but because he had built a shrine to mediocrity in Palo Alto (averaged an 8-10 conference record with just two winning records in eight seasons). His Cardinal teams were always good for average at best, consistently failing to capitalize on the talent at hand (and believe me, there was a bunch running through that program over the years). Regardless of how the new guy does, just the fact that he could improve things on the Farm makes him an upgrade over the 'malaise of meh' that Coach Dawkins had allowed to infest his program.
Say what you will, but the man looks like a frumpy accountant.  From: Getty
Attention then turns to what exactly Stanford has found in Coach Haase.  A meaty, Ed Helms-looking dude, Haase did good work with the Blazers in Birmingham. He took that program on a journey from also-ran status in the C-USA, through an NCAA Tournament appearance (and upset win over Iowa St), to an emergence as league champions in just four short years. Coupled with his KU pedigree, a decade of assistant coaching experience under Roy Williams in North Carolina, and NorCal roots (he's from the Lake Tahoe area), his profile seems to tick off all the boxes.  Time will tell, however, if he can leverage that resume into program-building skill at the Power-5 level.

The Cardinal in 2016-17 - 

To-date, Haase's charges have struggled to find consistent traction.  Stuck with a oppressive schedule in a year of transition (8 of 12 non-conference games were against teams from the KenPom top-150), they've had some successes (early wins over Harvard, Weber St, CSU, and Seton Hall) and few embarrassments (just one ugly loss, against ASU to start Pac-12 play).  But they also haven't really been able to claim a big win.  The neutral-site victory over the SHU Pirates aside, Stanford has been pummeled by the good teams they've played this year, losing the other nine games against top-100 competition by an average of 18 points.  For the record, Colorado still qualifies for top-100 status, according to KP.
Stanford has been knocked around by good teams like Kansas this season.  From:
Once they hit league competition, this meant a serious slide backwards for the Cardinal.  They would go on to lose their first four Pac-12 games by a combined 74 points.  A salvaging homestand against the Washingtons, and a box-checking win over the woeful OSU Beavers, righted the ship for a while, but successive blowouts to Oregon and Cal on the road have left them idling at 11-10 (3-6) as the Buffs come for a visit. Isolating their numbers in just league games, the reason for the slumping run in the Conference of Champions is obvious: offense.  Or, more to the point, piss-poor offense. Stanford is 11th in the league for offensive efficiency, including an ugly eFG of 46% (12th out of 12) and just 31% shooting from beyond the arc (same). Simply, they're struggling to score points, especially against teams with a pulse -- 79 ppg against teams from the bottom-half of the standings, just 58 per against teams from the top half.

If you can gloss over the offensive struggles, however, the defensive picture isn't all that bad. Boasting an overall efficiency in the top-35 nationally, they excel at crashing the glass (73% defensive rate) and causing turnovers (21% in league play).  This makes them a fast, aggressive team to play against, leaving opponents one-and-done if they don't strip them out-right.  The only problem here is that the aggressive style creates a lot of fouls, and a lot of opposing trips to the line (43.2 FTA/FGA ratio in Pac-12 games).  Shame, then, that Colorado continues to struggle from the stripe.
The roster is centered around the talent in the paint.  From: Stanford Athletics
Taking a step back, Stanford is a team that really focuses their attack inside the arc.  74% of all points scored from the field come from two-point range, with just 26% of all shots coming from deep.  It makes sense, as they have a deep corps of forwards.  Accordingly, this is where the Buffs could struggle against them -- defending from about 15-feet in.  Against Oregon, CU was in their comfort zone, defending a number of guards and an abrupt, if talented, pair of front-court players.  Not so this evening; Colorado will have to really defend inside if they want to win, and that includes mid-range jumpers.  Players like Wes Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Tory Miller are really going to get a workout.

Star Players - 

Other than the new-coach-smell, the roster itself is well-aged.  Yes, they lost versatile swing forward Rosco Allen to an early professional departure, but the rest of last year's team has returned.  The highlight here is power forward Reid Travis.  The 6-8 junior from Minneapolis is a maestro around the paint, capable of scoring a number of different ways on offense, and eating up boards on defense. Reid is also adept at earning trips to the line, claiming about seven whistles per 40 minutes played with a FTRate approaching 70%.  The only real knock with him, and it's a big one, is his health.  He missed nine games his freshman year (stress fracture), the final 22 games last season (stress reaction in his leg), and four of the last seven games in 2017 (shoulder). As a result, he's only ever played one game against Colorado, and he went scoreless in that one over 16 minutes. When available, though, he's a double-double threat, and one of the more unique talents in the conference.
You need extra eyes on Travis in the paint.  From: the AP
Pairing with Travis up front is another talented forward, Michael Humphrey.  Whereas the Buffs have scarcely seen Reid, they're pretty familiar with Michael.  Specifically, the 6-9 junior went for 19/8 against them in Boulder last season, nearly powering the Cardinal to a road upset.  This season, after a slow start, Humphrey has really come on against Pac-12 competition.  Over the last six, he's averaging 14/9, including a 27/14 monster against UCLA.  He's got a good mid-range look, a nose for rebounds, and an ability to block shots.  Solid, solid forward.

Elsewhere, the best of the backcourt includes 6-5 wing Dorian Pickens.  Averaging 12/4 this year, the 6-5 junior from Phoenix is not a dramatic scoring threat, but he can fill it up with smart, quality looks.  He's also the team's best three-point shooter, and the one guy you really need to pay attention to on the perimeter.  His partner on the wing, senior guard Marcus Allen, has been a bit of a disappointment, coming off a nice 11/4 campaign in 2015-16.  Down to just 5/2 this winter, he looks like a completely different player.
What happened to Marcus Allen?  From:
With Allen slumping, the wing on the rise is Georgia product Marcus Sheffield.  I loved the look of this kid as a freshman, and he's still impressing this season.  He's got good length, a good feel on the dribble-drive, and a capable profile. Give him another year, and he could burst onto the scene.  The point guard minutes rotate between Robert Cartwright and Christian Sanders.  The sophomore Cartwright will be the future of the offense, but, for now, Stanford isn't getting too much from either player.  We'll also see minutes from reserve forwards Josh Sharma and Grant Verhoeven.  Neither is the equal of Travis or Humphrey, but both provide solid depth up front, should either of the starters need a breather.

Prediction - 

My record this year: 5-4. Against the spread: 4-5. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.88 pt/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 8am - CU +2.5 O/U N/A

It's a different kind of challenge this evening.  With Coach Dawkins out of the picture, the reliable narrative of owning the gritty, physical battles against the Cardinal could be in jeopardy.  This is a Stanford bunch that will defend, will rebound, and will attack you inside the arc.  With the Buffs susceptible to such teams, I'm a little wary, even after the renaissance showing against Oregon.

As such, I'll take the Cardinal, but in a close one.

Stanford 65 - CU 61


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