The Colorado Buffaloes will be returning to the unfriendly confines of the McKale Center. They haven’t been there since last January when Sabatino’s perfect hair hit an imperfect buzzer beater. And that’s the last of our monitor mentions (not). But ultimately that just adds to the lore of this budding rivalry. Did you know that the average score – since both were Pac-12 teams – is 69-66, Arizona? They’ve split all six meetings. This, is a rivalry whether you want to admit it or not.
And therefore I go to the enemy – once again – to gain insights into the program that plays its games in a Keg and encourages its fans to blackout. Here is the roll call:
- Jason Gilligan – Here is your new barometer for statistical analysis. I don’t write anything about an advanced stat before running it past JG (contributes to All Buffs)
- James Lucas – Admin at All Buffs and resident oil connoisseur. But oil is irrelevant to the fact that he is, first and foremost, a Colorado Basketball fan (aka, football didn’t lure him into the black and gold). Not a lot of those.
- Ben Burrows – Author, editor, brilliant mind behind Rumblin’ Buff – The Rumblings of Deranged Buffalo. He knows all about Buffs and Beer.
I always appreciate these guys’ insights and know you will, too. What’s more, I can’t wait to absorb the 2/22 tilt in Boulder with these guys. While my family and some of my best friends go to my ex-girlfriends’ wedding, I’ll be in The Keg.
Just try, give me something, about Spencer Dinwiddie and then we’ll drop it because otherwise it’s detrimental.
Jason: I miss him and I hope I never see him in a CU uniform again. I hope he gets healthy quickly, gets drafted in the first round and fulfills his childhood dream of playing in the NBA.
James: There are no words for how bad I feel for that kid. Well, not in English. They may have one in German, but the loose translation of it to English is “fastidious burrow”.
Ben: There are no words, at least ones worth putting to paper, that can adequately describe my feelings when I saw Spencer Dinwiddie collapse in Seattle. I was stunned into numbness. It struck me to my very core. Surely, much of that is borne out of, what you termed, the ‘selfish joy’ of getting to watch the young man ply his trade on the hardwood, but it goes deeper than that. I feel for him. It’s genuine heartbreak. With the understanding that Dinwiddie is an honestly good kid who worked extremely hard to get where he is today, to see him reduced to tears for playing the game he loves… it’s hard to comprehend. With the diagnosis now official, at least there’s finally some direction to the story. Spencer is done for the year, and, now after a successful surgery, will be able to focus on his recovery. As with all things in life, the narrative doesn’t end, it just transforms. He will be back, and we will all get to share in that ‘selfish joy’ once again, whether here or in the NBA.
Most important player: Askia Booker, Josh Scott, other?
Jason: Booker, CU needs Booker to play well to win; he has the ability to shoot CU out of games. Scott is clearly the best player on the team right now, but Ski is more important in my opinion because of the way he can negatively impact the game.
James: Gotta be Ski. Josh is our best player now, but Ski is the heart of the team. And watching him the last two games has been incredible. Re-enforces the belief that some had that a lot of his “wildness” on the court was due to the fact that he had Spencer to keep it calm. Now that Spencer’s gone and Ski runs the team, he’s been an efficiency machine. As Ski goes, so go the Buffs. Meanwhile, Josh just dropped another 19 & 8.
Ben: Tough one. Both are vital to the Buffs without Dinwiddie, and both have stepped up in his absence (Scott – 39 points, 16 rebounds last weekend; Booker – 34/8/8; combined – 61% from the field). Both are team leaders, and a quiet night from either severely limits Colorado’s ceiling. In reality, the answer is Scott, if only because there are few players in the conference that can actually guard him. He demands a double-team on the block, which opens up opportunities for others, and his 15-18 foot jumpers make him a very difficult assignment. Askia’s transition into a more efficient player will be very important, but the offense (and, to an extent, defense) now runs through Jelly. It must be said, however, that they can’t do it alone. Just look at last Thursday’s game against UCLA. The pair had a fantastic game (40 points combined), but CU rarely threatened in the second half. The culprit was the 16 point, 13 turnover, 22% shooting effort from the rest of the roster. Whether it be Xavier Johnson, Jaron Hopkins, or the rare assertive offensive night from Wes Gordon, someone else has to contribute for CU to compete.
Last season, when Colorado was outdueling Arizona, they shot exceptionally well from deep. This season the Buffs once again aren’t the greatest three point shooting team (31% ranking 287th nationally, 11th in the conference). Are there any deep threats or does Colorado really just need to cross its fingers when it’s time for bombs away?
Jason: Booker is always a threat to shoot a lot, but not necessarily to make them, but CU’s got to hope for the best, there are no “shooters” on this team. It is interesting though that CU took 15% more than their average amount of shots from mid-range against USC; maybe they were just prepping for Arizona, because Arizona limits shots at the rim and from 3 and makes opponents shoot mid-range jumpers.
James: Do we count Beau Gamble who’s lighting teams up at a 40% clip? No? OK. Then no, we don’t have anyone and it’s prayer time. There’s always the hope that Ski gets hot from behind the arc, but we’re not going to be a bombs away squad.
Ben: Ski’s gonna Ski, and, while the erstwhile John McClane of the basketball world has calmed a bit in the wake of Spencer’s injury, he’s always weapons free from beyond the arc. Beyond Booker, however, three-point shooting is significantly less promising and consistent. ‘Big X’ Xavier Johnson is fantastic as a set-shooter, and, if he doesn’t have to move, can lob bombs from the top of the arc with accuracy. The problem is, he’s fallen in love with moving into his shot as of late, and he isn’t nearly as accurate off the dribble, or even just stepping into his attempt. As a result, he has lost 12 points off of his percentage from a year ago, making him decidedly less dangerous. I like ‘Little X’ Xavier Talton from range, but the numbers won’t help me. He’s got a compact, calm, repeatable mechanic that seems destined to become lethal. To date, however, he isn’t nearly consistent enough (7-32), which is very surprising. He should be more productive. Freshman (and Arizona local), Jaron Hopkins has made a couple of big shots this season, but is more of the spray-and-pray type. Sometimes I think he’d be better off closing his eyes when he heaves. If he’s making threes against you, just shrug your shoulders and move on.
But offense was never necessarily the way Colorado would won this game. Defense, as it were, is the crux of Tad Boyle’s success. Let’s start at the rim (I love analyzing shooting at the rim). Boyle made a point of protecting the rim and you, Jason, broke down Colorado’s rim protection. To note, the Buffs allow just a 51.9% FG% at the rim. Thirty-sixth best in the nation. How does Colorado do this? (NOTE: Arizona has the 3rd highest FG% at the rim: 76.7%)
Jason: CU doesn’t gamble on defense, they don’t deny passing lanes, they don’t deny the post, they just play solid man defense. So they don’t give up a lot of layups due to lobs into the post nor do they give up a lot of backdoor cuts (I see you Oregon). Guys are rarely out of position which makes protecting the rim much easier because there are actually guys between the ball and the rim…..
James: We don’t gamble. I wish we were a little more adventurous at times, but Tad has pretty much made it obvious that his plan is to line up against our opponents and say “we think our guys are better on D than yours are on O”.
Ben: Coach Boyle has instilled a paranoia in the team as regards to rim defense. They’d much rather give up numerous open and semi-open perimeter looks than give up even one layup attempt. As a result, the pack-line is well defended, and there are few opportunities for easy looks outside of transition. I should also mention that Coach Boyle’s recruiting philosophy plays a large part in this. He loves the ‘tweener’ athlete build, so if you’re 6-6 with good length and strong defensive habits, expect a call from Coach. The effect is that almost anyone in black and gold is comfortable defending in the post.
Tell me about the strengths of this front court. UNLV successfully used their front court strength to get the Wildcats uncomfortable and open some things up for shooters. The Rebels didn’t win but they got damn close. How might the CU collective do similarly?
Jason: I was cautiously optimistic about this game a couple of weeks ago, Arizona really only goes 7 guys deep and Spencer and Scott are two of the best in the Pac12 at drawing fouls and getting to the line. I think that’s a key to this game, if CU has any shot, they’ve got to get Scott the ball where he can hopefully be efficient and get the Arizona bigs into foul trouble.
James: We need Josh Scott to go beast mode. If he can get all 9 of your big men in foul trouble, we may have a chance on this one.
Ben: I cannot emphasize how good Josh Scott is becoming. Ask USC, eschewing a double-team of the Colorado Springs native is done at your own peril. The weight he put on over the offseason has paid off, allowing him to take more shots at the rim (20 points higher than his freshman campaign), and play more of a factor on defense and the boards. Compounding the issue, he’s becoming more comfortable with that 15-18 foot jumper, making him lethal from all areas of the court. Oh, and he also hits his free throws at a 83% clip. There’s a reason, after all, that he’s only finished two games with a sub-100 offensive rating this season. College defenders just don’t see a player of his skill set that often. Wes Gordon compliments him very well. He’s still very raw, but his defense alone makes him a worthwhile addition in the paint. He’s got hands of stone, but he gets those rocks on plenty of loose balls. Not much of an offensive piece yet, but he has shown flashes (13 points against Washington). Combined, they play very good defense around the rim, stretch would-be defenders to guard outside of their comfort zone, and rarely foul (both in the national top-500 in fouls called per 40 minutes). If Josh has a monster game, and Wes does his damage without the ball, CU could be alright.
Furthermore, Arizona crushes the offensive glass (9th best nationally). How much of a concern is that for the Buffaloes considering they’re the 4th best defensive rebounding team in the country?
Jason: I want Arizona to crash the boards; this is the only way CU has a chance to pull off something improbable. CU’s defensive rebounding numbers are largely inflated because teams (USCB, Wyoming and Harvard) didn’t even try to go after offensive boards, instead sending defenders back on defense in order to keep CU out of transition. If Arizona goes after offensive boards, that means CU’s getting opportunities to get out on the break where they take the 17th most amount of initial FGA’s in transition (34.2%), please go after offensive boards.
James: Big concern. Our defensive numbers are slightly inflated because no one crashes the boards against us because they don’t want us to run. Arizona can crash and still get back. It’s going to be interesting to see how Sean handles this.
Ben: I’ll admit that some of CUs defensive rebounding numbers are skewed by non-conference games against teams who abandoned the glass almost entirely to cut off the Buffs in transition, but the Buffs are a very good rebounding team, even better than they were last season. ‘But, how can that be so,’ you ask, ‘didn’t they have the super-human rebounding machine, Andre Roberson, in ‘12-’13?’ Yes, ‘Dre was a monster with the ball in the air, but his brilliance allowed his teammates to sit back and enjoy the show. This year, it’s a team effort, and the rate is up about five points, as a result. Certainly, the Wildcats will be a challenge heretofore unseen on the glass. CU rebounded just fine against Kansas (another strong offensive rebounding team, held them to 8 offensive rebounds), however, giving me hope that the Buffs can continue to hold their own.
Did Askia Booker just take a jump shot? Sorry, I couldn’t tell. Maybe I’ll just check the monitors.
Jason: People lie whey they say “You’re not too bad for an Arizona fan”
James: “Hate” is a strong word. It also applies here.
Ben: You know, I’m honestly over the ‘Chen’ incident. We got our pound of flesh between the Valentine’s Day Massacre, Ed Rush getting fired, and Askia’s Miracle. It’s a sexy layer to the rivalry, but that’s all at this point.
What concerns you the most about this Wildcat team?
Jason: Arizona’s defense only allows 16.4% of shots in the half-court to come at the rim, CU takes 40.3% of their shots at the rim in the half-court offense. As I stated before, CU’s strength isn’t exactly its shooting, if CU can’t get to the rim it could be a very long night.
James: Everything. They’re #1 for a reason.
Ben: Defense. The Buffs can frequently struggle in the halfcourt, and when I see defensive numbers like a 41% eFG and an absurdly-low 18% of shots at the rim, I’m smelling a rough night for Colorado. If the threes don’t fall, and if CU gets nothing in transition, it will be a long night, regardless of what Ski and Josh manage.
And the big one: How does this game play out?
Jason: CU covers the spread and keeps it around 10 points in a game that was never as close as the final score indicates (largely b/c Miller feels sorry that CU’s missing Dinwiddie)
James: When Spencer went down, I said that you can’t really count the next 4 games and that our season starts over on 2/1 against Utah. Too many unknowns, players in roles they aren’t familiar with, uncertainty everywhere. I stand by that. Combine that with the fact that Arizona knows they’re on national TV and I don’t see them letting up. Zona rolls – in a game that will hopefully lay the groundwork for CU to get their revenge on 2/22.
Ben: Wallowing in the despair of the 40 hours between the UCLA and USC games last week, I feared that CU would struggle to crack 45 against the UofA and their vaunted defense. After the sunshine of the USC game cleared my mind of such depressive thoughts, I’ve since re-evaluated. Colorado’s offense isn’t broken, it’s just a re-work in progress. Sure, playing the #1 team in the land at their place isn’t the best time to further the educational process, but I no longer fear the epicly unwatchable. I still don’t see any chance that Colorado can steal away with a win, but I do expect them to push Arizona for stretches. The Buffs are their ‘kryptonite,’ after all. In the end, however, CU’s struggles in the half-court, the home crowd, and the still-developing rotation take their toll, and Colorado slips in the second half. UofA 70 – CU 55