Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, March 2, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Stanford Basketball Preview #2

I want to provide a quick rundown of all the activity I'm going to have here on the Rumblings over the next 10 days.  Tomorrow I'll have my annual senior class retrospective up, with a Cal preview set for Saturday morning ahead of the regular season finale.  Monday, look for a quick review of the game against the Golden Bears (sorry, no Grab Bag), with my fifth annual Rumblin' Awards hitting the wires on Tuesday.  From there, look for daily dispatches from Las Vegas -- I'll be recapping the action from the Pac-12 Tournament, documenting which pep bands I really enjoyed, and sobbing over how my pocketbook is doing.  Lot of content to come, I hope you'll stay tuned to this little corner of teh interwebz.

For now, however, I have the game with Stanford firmly set in my sights.  Let's get it started!


Hype Music for the Evening: "Love Me Sexy" by Jackie Moon aka Will Ferrell

I have an unreasonable affinity for the movie 'Semi-Pro.'  A farcical tale of the final days of the ABA, it is, in my estimation, one of the best sports movies ever made -- I'm not kidding, I'm completely unreasonable on this topic.  This send-up of the soul anthems from the era, which features throughout the file, will stick with you, whether you like it or not.  Enjoy!


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening.  Coverage for those not heading up to Boulder can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on AM 760.

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

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

New coach, same result for the Stanford Cardinal against the Colorado Buffaloes: loss.  As has happened every time these two programs have met since February of 2012, the Buffs looked comfortable and composed against their red and white clad foes last month in Palo Alto. They controlled the glass, shared the basketball, and hit open jumpers, racing out ahead of the hosts at a pace the offensively challenged Cardinal couldn't hope to match.  By the end of the game, Stanford just looked out of gas, giving the Buffs an easy-ish ride to the finish of a solid 81-74 win.
Some weirdness aside, the Buffs were able to deftly slip past Stanford.  From: the AP
This was a different narrative from the shockwave Oregon win from earlier in the season.  Colorado didn't show the same defensive intensity they had displayed against the Ducks at home, and were much looser with the basketball (23 turnovers).  From a shot-making perspective, though, the Buffs were on their game.  CU was hitting 53% from the field, helped by 19 assists on 26 baskets.  It wasn't perfect offense, but it was effective.

The primary fuel for the performance, on both ends of the court, was provided in the form of Derrick White.  The D-II transfer was at his all-around best that night, putting up 19 points on just eight shots, to go along with eight boards, eight assists, four blocks, and a pair of steals.  He was clearly a step ahead of any Cardinal who dared try to keep him in check, blanketing the game with his skill, particularly in the second half.  Please excuse me, but I couldn't help but think back to the days when the great Spencer Dinwiddie used to do the same at the head of the Colorado attack -- White was that good on Thursday, and the key difference between winning and losing.

With the good, unfortunately, also came the bad: turnovers. Nearly a third of all Colorado possessions ended in one.  All 11 of the Buffs who saw action against the Cardinal committed at least one. Forwards Tory Miller and Wesley Gordon, the primary culprits, each had four to tie for the team lead.  The turnovers came in every imaginable shape: travels, wayward passes, offensive fouls, poor focus on the dribble; you name it.  Sloppy basketball to a 'T.'  Luckily, Stanford was incapable of making Colorado pay, as the Buffs kept canning shots whenever they managed to complete a possession.  I guess the basketball gods were asleep at the switch, with the game ending past 11pm, otherwise they would've dropped the hammer on CU for their malfeasance with the rock.
Good rebounding numbers made up for the turnovers.  From: the AP
Overall, though, a weird game, which is what I've come to expect in this series.  Beyond the turnovers, and the Cardinal's inability to turn them into meaningful offense at home, there was:
  • George King going all 21 of his minutes without scoring a point.
  • The first 10 minutes of the game going by largely unnoticed as the Pac-12 Network stuck with the double-OT Cal/Utah game
  • A foul being called on Deleon Brown for getting shoved in the back
  • The anemic-shooting Cardinal self-inflicting 19 three-point attempts
  • A kicked ball whistle late in the action when the ball touched no feet.  
Just some weird, wacky, wild stuff.  I'll assume peyote was involved.

The Cardinal since then - 

I look at the Cardinal today pretty much the same way I looked at them a month ago: with shrug and a head-bob.  This is a veteran-heavy team, not unlike Colorado, that has fallen shy of the mark for what 'could've been.'  Every now and then, though, there's a flash of substance, a hint of high-level quality.  There's some good pieces here, and they can play decent basketball!  But, for the most part, they're an incomplete bunch, incapable of anything significant past putting the scare into teams destined for better.
Stanford is closer, but still shy of success.  From: Scout
Case-in point, their last game, a nip-and-tuck two-point home loss to Oregon.  They put a very credible threat on the court for a team just, at the time, one game over .500, pushing the #6 Ducks to the brink.  Reid Travis pumped in 27/14, they out-rebounded UO by 12, and generally defended the arc well. In many respects, Stanford 'deserved to win.'  But, when it really mattered, the Cardinal just couldn't make the plays necessary to win.  Indeed, they shot themselves in the foot with painful turnovers, including one of their final possession with a chance to tie or take the lead, and a failed box-out on Oregon's final points.  A team, then, that hasn't quite learned how to win big games.

Overall, though, the Cardinal have been playing better as the weeks have gone on, and could be getting close to a late-season break-through.  Prior to the close loss to Oregon they had won three-of-five, and nearly punked Arizona in Tucson.  After all, while they are dealing with the transition of a first-year coaching staff, head coach Jerod Haase and Co. have been in place for nearly a year now, with 28 games under their belts. Maybe the message is finally starting to sink in, and we're getting a look at what Stanford will eventually become under the Haase regime.
Behind a healthy Reid Travis, the Cardinal are playing some good basketball right now.  From: USA Today
A big key here is an improvement in the offense.  Once one of the worst in the West, the Cardinal are putting up respectable efficiency numbers with the ball, scoring about 1.06 ppp since the first game between these two teams.  They do a great job of getting Travis enough touches to impact the action, and it's starting to show on the scoreboard.  Alongside good activity inside the arc, leading to both good looks at the basket and numerous trips to the free throw line, Reid's revived presence has the team playing some of their best basketball of the year.  In addition, defensively, Stanford has been doing a great job forcing turnovers, posting the #1 turnover rate in the Pac-12 since the start of conference play.  We saw that in the first game, with the Buffs both casually and recklessly giving the Cardinal the ball. If they had the offensive efficiency then that they do now, it's probably a different result...

How to keep things from being different - 

It'll be incumbent on Colorado, then, to limit Reid Travis' touches, both in quantity and quality, while cutting down on turnovers as much as possible.  I would argue this is a much-improved Stanford team over what we saw when these two last met.  With the Buffs starting to come down from the high of their early-February form, a 'similar' performance to the first game will probably only end in Colorado defeat.  CU played hide and seek that day, leveraging blitzing offensive efficiency (when they managed to complete possessions) to put up more points than Stanford was capable of replicating.  That won't be the case this time, and a further 23 turnovers would lead to a whole lot more than 23 points off of them tonight.
Gotta stay away from turnovers against this bunch.  From: CSN Bay Area
The real trick will be slowing down Travis, who has been on a roll since the Buffs held him to 9/5 in Maples.  He's been averaging 22/10 in the six interstitial games, having posted an Ortg over 100 in each.  Let there be no doubt as to his recovery from injury issues in January; he's back, and knifing Pac-12 defenses again.  Colorado has the pieces to wreak havoc with his game - agile forwards, and larger wings capable of fronting and playing with him in the paint - the key will be keeping him from obvious scoring situations.  Recover quickly from the show off the screen, bring help on the dribble-drive, keep him from establishing position on the attack-side, etc. Really, just show off the active, attentive defense that surfaced, ever so briefly, in the middle of the conference campaign.

Past just big Reid, CU also has to keep Marcus Sheffield from hurting them on the dribble-drive.  The young reserve sophomore seems to love playing against the Black and Gold, having averaged over 13 points against them over three games dating back to last year.  A month ago in Palo Alto, he used his length and precision off the bounce to catch the defense off-guard, getting to the lane and the line for 19 total points.  Sheffield, in the attack mode he's shown against Colorado, makes the Cardinal far less static with the basketball.  I prefer them to be static, lifeless, and milquetoast.  Shutdown Marcus, and they become an easier team to handle.

Prediction - 

My record this year: 10-6. Against the spread: 7-9. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -2.13 pt/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 8pm - CU -5.5, O/U 143

Games between the Buffs and Cardinal have typically been odd.  While victorious, the product from Colorado has usually been less than clean, and I never go into these meetings with a whole lot of confidence, even with the knowledge of a multiple-year winning-streak.  My mindset remains the same this morning.  CU should win, controlling the glass and cutting back on turnovers on their home floor, but I just don't feel good about it.  I'll take Colorado, but in a close one.

CU 73 - LSJU 70


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