Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 9, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Washington Basketball Preview #2

The first re-match of the season!  I have always loved this aspect of conference play, where you get to see the same team for a second time.  What did you learn from the first meeting?  Who has improved since?  How have the narratives changed?  How big of an advantage is home court, really?  The second time around is always more intriguing than the first.  Can't wait!


Hype Music for the Evening: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by the Temptations

The last great hit from soul titans The Temptations, 'Papa' is an indulgent instrumental excursion interspersed by three lyrcial verses.  The groove is outstanding, the story emotionally powerful, and the composition of the disparate pieces is unparalleled.  Simply incredible.  Enjoy!


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 8pm Thursday evening.  Coverage for those unable to make it up to Boulder can be found on FS1.  The radio call is schedule for AM760.

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

Click below for the bag...

When last we met - 

It is what it is.  That's all I could really say after watching the Buffs blow a 17-point second half lead to eventually lose 85-83 in overtime to a dreadful Washington side.  If you were wondering, by chance, if things could've gotten any worse after an 0-5 start to conference play, the answer was an emphatic 'YES!'  The bridge to 0-7, this loss helped mark Colorado's worst start to conference play since I was in third grade.  It is what it is.
XJ's heroics were not enough in Seattle.  From:
I know I couldn't have been the only one at the half confident that the team in Black and Gold would find a way to spike their massive 15-point halftime lead.  Sure, others allowed themselves to get a little cocky, but there was nothing in me that felt that we were watching the exclamatory rout that the men on TV were describing.  Both teams were sloppy.  Both teams were showing their faults. Colorado was just scoring more points, that's all.  The missed three pointers that were knifing Washington (1-12 over the opening 20 minutes) weren't necessarily the result of perfect Colorado defense, just circumstantial misses from the home team against a zone. Block out the score, and I saw an otherwise even, chaotic affair headed into the break.

So, of course, after halftime that lead began to shrink in the most familiar of ways.  Defense slumped, shots were taken hastily, rebounding suffered.  Those Washington threes that were missed in the first half suddenly started going in (7-13 after the break).  Us veterans in the crowd had seen it all before, a carbon copy of those lost leads from a year ago.  I'll grant that the team showed good heart to fight off the demons and force overtime in the final minute, but the end of the game was simply boneheaded -- getting beaten back down the court for an open corner three.  The straw that broke the Buffalo's back, as it were.  Enough to make you wretch.
Fultz is an incredible talent.  From:
Sure, there are some bright spots here.  Xavier Johnson had the kind of game that will get mention by me in his senior profile, going for 24/11, and really pushing the Buffs in the final minutes of regulation and in overtime.  Derrick White also added a nice 23 points and eight assists to his totals, despite not getting a single call from the refs all night.  A hat-tip to Wes Gordon, as well, who provided five blocks, to go along with his 11 rebounds.  For those who like watching opponents get theirs, you also got to see 37 points of brilliance from Markelle Fultz.  Sloppiness aside, it was a fun game to watch, had I not been emotionally invested.

The problem, of course, is that I am emotionally invested, and that loss still stings some three weeks on.  In context, it was a result that meant relatively little -- the season was in free-fall long before this trip to Seattle.  Out of context, though, this is one that will linger in the back of my mind for some time.  Again, enough to make you wretch.

The Huskies since then - 

While Colorado was able to recover some in the wake of their trip to the State of Washington, and reel off a trio of wins elsewhere, the Huskies have not been so fortunate.  0-5 since the visit from CU, they've cratered into sole possession of 11th place in the Pac-12 (no one, it seems can out-suck the Oregon State Beavers this season).  Barring some sort of epic turnaround, all of the explosive talent at their disposal seems destined for a bottom-quarter finish, as a result.

None of the losses were particularly close, either.  Only one was by fewer than 10 points (against USC last week), with the quintet of setbacks coming by an average of over 18 points per.  The biggest villain over this stretch was UCLA, who stormed into Seattle last Saturday and put the 'Dawgs to heel by a whopping 41-points.  It was a complete and total rout, the kind you rarely see in conference play at this level. It wasn't a sudden margin or late run-up of the score.  No, the Bruins steadily built that advantage over 40 minutes, and earned the scoreline.
Despite the best efforts of Fultz, the Huskies have been getting rolled.  From: Scout
The culprit here, both in the UCLA game and the other five defeats since CU and UW last met, was something I talked about in my first preview back in January: defense.  The Huskies averaged surrendering near 90/game over that stretch, with a ppp around 1.17.  Opponents were hitting over 51% from the field over this period, as well.  That's... not good.  You can chalk some of it up to the continuing absence of explosive power forward Malik Dime, who has remained sidelined with that broken finger that kept him out of the first meeting, but this wasn't exactly a defensive dynamo before his injury, either.  Sure, UW will post the occasional highlight-reel block, or rip the odd silky steal (Matisse Thybulle...), but long-term, they struggle to stay in front of anyone.

It doesn't help here that the Huskies are dead-last in the league in defensive rebound rate.  Their athleticism does some wonder on the offensive end to prop up their numbers there, but, defensively, they stand alone, hauling in under 68% of all opps against Pac-12 competition.  This is worryingly bad, and a sign of a lack of intensity and will under the glass.  Noah Dickerson will get his, but everyone else will play scatter drill with the ball off the rim.  Colorado needs to find ways of exploiting this tonight, and earning second chances.
Dime has remained out, hurting the Washington defense.  From: the News Tribune 
Offensively, it continues to be the Markelle Fultz show with Washington.  The Wooden Award candidate, who ripped up CU in Seattle, has averaged near 24 points per game since the last meeting, and seems to be entering another level of activity and creativity with the basketball.  Whether he is engineering shots for himself or others, he is one of the more destructive forces in the collegiate game today.  As he goes, so do the Huskies.  By hook or by crook, the Buffs will be looking to slow him down.

Why things could be different -

I chuckled to myself while reading over my wrap-up of the first meeting up above.  Specifically calling out the performances of Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon, I talked up how the duo influenced the earlier affair, first propelling CU to the big early lead, then working to forestall the ultimate overtime disaster.  Their exploits then made a lot of sense; the pair of fifth-year senior forwards are perfect for this kind of matchup.  Their veteran presence in the paint can take advantage of the Dime-less Washington front-court; Johnson is able to operate almost freely underneath on the offensive end, and Gordon's athletic blocking skill helps erase would-be attackers who slip past the first line of defense.  I was hoping that they could do similar things this time around.

But, of course, they may not be available tonight for the rematch.  Coach Boyle is playing his cards tight to his chest, but he has made it very clear throughout the week that the seniors, who were suspended for Sunday's game against Cal, are still 'day-to-day,' and may be unavailable against the Huskies, as well.  We remain in the dark about their actual offense, but the practical reality is that Colorado will be dramatically short-handed should their absence continue.
Fultz remains the Husky to worry about.  From: USA Today
Beyond the status of the seniors, however, I'm also tracking how the Buffs do in their pursuit of containing Fultz.  Boyle talked at length Wednesday about the need to set a 15'-in perimeter against UW, both as a way to stop their forwards, but also to keep the great freshman from getting into the lane and creating.  If CU can keep Markelle to 'just,' say, 20 points, it'd be a huge win, and a step in the direction of putting the Buffs over the top.

Because, as we all well know, the margin between these two back in January was razor thin. Anything flipping back in the direction of Colorado could mean a different result.  That could include a more demure performance from Fultz, the effective return of the seniors, or even Derrick White getting a few extra calls from the home whistle.  Just a few extra percentage points here or there, and CU can reverse their fortunes in this rematch.

Prediction - 

My record this year: 6-5. Against the spread: 5-6. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -3.2 pt/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU - 7.5 O/U 159

We know Malik Dime will still be out, but the statuses of Johnson and Gordon frustratingly remain up in the air.  Without a definitive answer either way, I have to assume the worst, and say they'll sit another.  I still want to say Colorado will win, banking on home court advantage, but I'll hedge and call for a UW cover.

Fultz gets his, but it's not enough to paper over massive nights from Derrick White, George King, and *gasp* Josh Fortune (????).  Give me the Buffs in a tight one.

CU 81 - UW 77


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