Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, February 11, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Washington State Basketball Preview #2

The pregame notes tolled like the mourners' bells ahead of a funeral procession.  Xavier Johnson: out. Wes Gordon: out. Deleon Brown: out.  Bryce Peters: possibly out (though he would eventually suit up).  Over from the Washington locker room, in addition to the continuing absence of Malik Dime (who still found a way to participate), came the most damning bit of news.  Markelle Fultz: out. Before the ball had even been tipped, the two teams were down five key rotational figures and a whole hell of a lot of talent.

For Colorado, they were still trying to play past whatever off-court lunacy the fifth-year seniors had gotten themselves involved in.  While I had previously likened that effort to going into a fight with an arm tied behind your back, for UW to be without the services of the super-freshman Fultz, who sat with a sore knee, it was like entering a fight with an arm tied behind their back, a leg lopped off, and a viscous stab wound already in the gut. They simply did not have the capability, with Markelle out, to seriously challenge even the short-handed version of the Colorado Buffaloes that took the court.  In the end, the Buffs were able to leverage that talent gap, along with good ball movement and balanced play, into a blowout performance.  81-66, CU; now four wins in five games.
Fultz's absence changed the game before it even started.  From: Seattle Times
With all those talents resting on the bench, the resulting discordance in effort was as to be expected. The first half was awash with errors; chaotic play was the rule. There was a stretch at one point that featured four turnovers in 10 seconds, the rock flying back and forth like a ping-pong ball.  You know how in older versions of the 2k series of basketball games you could set the computer to play itself? An interesting simulation, sure, but the visual product was always fraught with janky movement and clipping issues to no end.  That's what it looked like I was watching early Thursday night -- glitchy, poorly-rendered basketball.

Lucky, then, that Washington clearly posed little threat.  What was true of UW with Fultz (they can't play defense) was still true without him, only now they couldn't score.  The Buffs put up 1.25 points per possession, shot 51% from the floor, and produced 48 points in the paint, even with only Tory Miller acting as a classic post presence.  Defensively, Colorado held their opponent to around 43% shooting, forced more turnovers (14) than they allowed assists (10), and stilted UW into long, listless possessions.  The second half was a white-wash. CU would only out-play their opponent by four points in the frame, but they never looked troubled.  Over the final 20 minutes, the Buffs committed just two turnovers, and got essentially whatever shot they wanted. The Huskies simply couldn't do anything that resembled what I would call 'competent basketball,' yet another reminder that, while they have a decent set of talent on the roster, it's a rotten product from the Apple State.
King had a monster game against the Huskies.  From: @CUBuffsMBB
The best individual performances on the night came from Derrick White and George King.  White went for 16/4/3 against zero turnovers, and chipped in this coast-to-coast drive into a dunk that made the Huskies look like runty pups.  King had one of his best single games of his collegiate career, going for 21/12, and playing active defense.  Past them, however, what most caught my eye was the play of two freshmen - Lucas Siewert and Bryce Peters.  With Johnson and Gordon out, they've been getting a number of extra minutes (Siewert, in fact, got 30 against UW).  They took advantage in this one, giving BuffNation a glimpse of seasons-yet-to-come by combining for 22/8/6.  Lucas was looking comfortable in the offense, really for the first time, firing off his jumper, understanding space and positioning, and taking advantage of what was available.  Bryce was similarly incredible, dishing out six assists, and repeatedly playing above the rim.  If Colorado continues to get these kinds of efforts from the pair of frosh, they'll be in great hands next winter.

Moving past the UW game, the Buffs look to continue their roll of late, seeking their fifth win in six games when the Washington State Cougars come to town on Sunday.  It's another good pickup opportunity for the Buffs, who are still behind the eight-ball when it comes to post-season positioning.  If dreams of the NIT are still alive, it's a game the Buffs had better win.


Hype Music for the Evening: "Mrs Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel

A little on the nose for the Cougars, don't you think?  The classic folk song from the masters of the art, Simon & Garfunkel, was prominently featured in The Graduate.  Yes, Mrs Robinson is trying to seduce you. Enjoy!


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6:30p MT on Sunday.  Televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

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

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Back in January, the games prior to Colorado's visit to the Cougars in Pullman had brought my mind back to the old days of #TheScript with the football program.  Night-in, night-out, the same bad things kept happening, with little-to-no explanation or reason.  Intensity and focus would falter in the second half, an opposing guard will go off beyond the arc, defense will exist in name only, a gut-wrenching gaffe will be made with the result on the line, and the opponent will go on a massive run to cancel out all the good the team could create.

That narrative only repeated itself against the Cougars.  Intensity and focus slips in the second half?  *check*, Cougars allowed to shoot 57% from the field in the second half.  Opposing guard going off?  *check* Something called 'Charles Callison' was allowed to put up 30 points on 16 shots.  Absent defense? *check*  WSU was 13-26 from deep, and put up 91 points just days after failing to crack 50 against Utah.  Gut-wrenching gaffe?  *check* You have your pick here -- a called timeout negating an open layup, or Colorado failing to secure a loose rebound in overtime. Massive run?  Half-mark here for the 13-4 run in the first half that got Callison going, and gave the Cougs their first lead.  #TheScript to near-perfection in a 91-89 overtime loss at Wazzou.
Charles Callison, really?  From:
This was the culmination of the ugly start to conference play. With the loss, the losing streak had been run to 0-7 against Pac-12 competition, dragging the once acceptable 10-3 overall record into a 10-10 parity that made me cringe.  That 0-7 start was bad enough for the program's worst opening act to conference play since 1992-93, when the Buffs launched into 8-straight losses against Big 8 competition.

By that point, Coach Boyle had grown entirely exhausted by the mounting losses, and knew exactly where to point the finger:
"Same old story. We let a team that's been struggling to score, that scored 47 points in this building two nights ago against Utah, hang 91 on us. … They made some tough shots, don't get me wrong. But our defense right now is not good enough to beat anybody in this league. It doesn't matter who we play, it doesn't matter where we play them." - link
The numbers certainly supported him here.  CU was 10th in the Pac-12 for conference-only defensive efficiency, giving up and adjusted 1.17 ppp, and 11th in three-point percentage defense.  While the rebounding was OK (2nd in offensive board rate, 5th in defensive), the defense had been atrocious, both to the naked eye and on the stat sheet.  The real cause of all the difficulty.
Buffs find a way to lose, again.  From: Seattle Times
Luckily, Colorado has, in many ways come to right the ship.  Since then, the Buffaloes have turned in their best defensive effort of the season (against Oregon), shaved about a tenth of a point of their defensive efficiency numbers, and largely looked more competent.  While still not the team I feel they could've been, CU has at least salvaged some pride defensively.  This coming fixture, then, is a good opportunity to test just how far they've come since the ugly start to 2017.  There's no reason for a repeat scoring outburst from either Callison or the Cougars; if Colorado can mute them, we'll know that they're back to, at a minimum, average defensive capability.

The Cougars since then - 

Stuck in the lower half of the Pac-12's brutal dichotomy this year (the top-six teams have a minimum of seven in-league wins, the bottom-six have a max of four), Washington State has been playing to expected form.  The win against Colorado, combined with earlier wins over UW and OSU and a more recent victory over ASU, makes them 4-1 against their fellow bottom-dwellers, while an ugly 0-7 against those from the upper-echelon.  That's not to say they haven't been close, however, to some breakthrough wins.  Just this past week, they nearly pulled off a major upset in Salt Lake City, storming back in the second half to take a brief lead before stumbling down the stretch to a 74-70 final.  In that way, you never quite know what you will get from the Cougars.  Sure, they'll push the Utes to the brink, nearly upset Cal, and play a credible game against USC, but they'll also get stomped by 30 at Stanford.  Weird.
WSU nearly shocked Utah in SLC this week.  From: the SL Trib
Similar to how I framed it in the first preview, their statistical profile certainly wouldn't engender you with much interest.  9th in the league in offensive efficiency, 11th in defensive, they're clearly a lesser team.  However, there's just something about these guys, that makes them a more competitive, feisty group of actors than, say, their regional neighbors in Seattle.  While UW has the flashy talent, the product from Wazzou seems to stick more.  Maybe it's that they're underappreciated, and come in under the radar on the scouting report, but they seem to take a number of teams by surprise.  They were within a bucket of Arizona in McKale until the under-eight, for Tad's sake!

Regardless, that porous defense is something you have to take advantage of, if you're Colorado.  There's little size in the backcourt, meaning the taller Buffalo guards need to take the action into the paint, and put diminutive defenders into awkward positions.  It's part of the reason the Cougars are giving up 55% of their points inside the arc against Pac-12 competition, after all, with all league opponents hitting over 57% of two-point attempts.  Apparently, there's no amount of Connor Clifford and Josh Hawkinson that can make up for three starting guards at 6-2 or under.
Guards like Ike Iroegbu just don't have enough help on the wing.  From: KREM
Offensively, WSU has proven incapable of grabbing any offensive rebounds. The Cougars are dead last, with a bullet, in the Pac-12 in offensive rebounding rate, hauling in just 18% of opps.  Colorado took advantage of this in Pullman, hauling in an 82% rate, and that trend has only continued in the interim.  This leaves the Cougs one-and-done in offensive trips far too often, which is not a winning formula.  The result of a lack of weak-side rebounding athleticism outside of Hawkinson, it really limits the efficacy of the pretty acceptable shooting rates the team has posted.  Damn, these guys need a capable swing forward in the worst way.

Why things could be different - 

I will state this with as much confidence as can possibly be collected: Charles Callison will not score 30 points on Sunday.  He can not.  The basketball gods simply won't allow it.  Callison had dropped a total of four points in the three games leading up to the previous meeting, and has averaged a solid, yet unassuming, 9.4 points per since. He's a 'solid' player, but not spectacular. Yet, his 30-burger eviscerated the Buffs in Pullman, setting the stage for the ultimate loss in overtime.  If he even approaches that count on Sunday, it will be a complete and total failure from the Buffaloes, from scouting to game plan to execution.
Charles-fucking-Callison is not going for 30 this time.  From: Scout.
Assuming Callison isn't going off, and that teammates like Ike Iroegbu aren't picking up the slack by exploding in their own frustrating display of shooting near-perfection, that will make the rebounding disparity all the more potent.  Colorado should own the glass against WSU on Sunday, just as they did in Pullman last month.  Only now, with a few more of those jumpers flying off the rim, it should help make a dent on the scoreboard.  If CU is grabbing over 80% of defensive opportunities, and the Cougars are under 45% from deep, it'll be a tough game for the Buffs to lose.

On that note, it will be interesting to see the return of Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon to the Colorado lineup.  Having missed the last two games over an undisclosed violation of team rules, the pair of fifth-year senior forwards will be looked to as a source of energy and active interior play, especially on the glass.  Do they hit the ground running?  How many minutes will they get? Freshmen like Lucas Siewert had started to come into their own in their absence; is there a regression elsewhere?  Does it affect the play the team had been getting from George King?  So many questions.

Prediction - 

My record this year: 7-5. Against the spread: 5-7. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -3.83 pt/gm)
Lines as of Saturday @ 8am - NO LINES POSTED YET

As I said, Callison going off, again, would almost shock me more than his performance in the first game.  I'm a little scared that Ike Iroegbu or Malachi Flynn could take his place as a CU-nemesis on the perimeter, but I think the Buffs will have learned their painful lesson from the first game.  Close-out aggressively, attack would-be shooters, allow no easy looks.  As such, I expect Colorado to be able to leverage big advantages on the glass and in the offensive paint, without the knife in the back from a red-hot outside shooter.

So, bucking my recent trend, I'll take the Buffs to both win and cover. I might adjust this, depending on the line when it's posted so I can take CU out-right, but I'm expecting about a 10-point win.

CU 81 - WSU 71


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