Cal vs. Colorado: Previewing The Upstart Buffs

I always wonder how the AP decides which unflattering pictures of coaches they decide to submit.

Colorado: contender or pretender?

CONTENDER! The Buffs have won six games in a row, including three straight conference games with double digit margins of victory. They dominated a pre-season contender in Washington

PRETENDER! Yeah, but the other two wins came over two of the worst teams in the conference, and prior to that win streak they lost by 11 points at home to Wyoming. That plus losses to Colorado St. and a not very good Maryland team means their best non-conference win was over Georgia in Boulder.

CONTENDER! Andre Roberson is one of the best rebounders in the country, a consistent shot-blocker, and a foul drawing machine.

PRETENDER! But Colorado lost their four leading scorers from last year. 75% of their scoring production, gone. Right now Alec Burks is averaging 12 minutes a game for the Jazz, and Corey Higgins earned a roster spot on the Bobcats. Only elite teams stay competitive after losing that much talent.

CONTENDER! Cal stayed competitive last year, why not Colorado this year?

As you can tell, I’m not entirely sure what to make of the Buffs. The results seemed decidedly unimpressive during the non-conference season. Colorado lost to the three best teams they played, and their biggest margin of victory over a Division 1 opponent was just 7 points over Fresno St. Then they thoroughly abused the Washington schools, moving to a surprise 3-0 in conference.

I think Cal fans should have some sympathy for a team that struggles to integrate key younger players into the rotation, only to turn it on in conference play. Cal’s job tonight is to help prove that Colorado’s quick start was more a function of playing at home.

Personnel

Starters
PG Sr. Nate Tomlinson 6’3’’
G Sr. Carlon Brown 6’5’’
G Fr. Spencer Dinwiddie 6’5’’
F So. Andre Roberson 6’7’’
F Sr. Austin Dufault 6’9’’

Not surprisingly for a team that lost four key players, Colorado isn’t especially deep this year, but none of their starters actually average more than 30 minutes per game. Tad Boyle does a good job of cycling his 8 main rotation players, and guard Askia Booker basically acts as a sixth starter. Shane Harris-Tunks is the first post off the bench, and you’ll see some Sabatino Chen at guard as well. Anybody else and that probably means injuries/foul trouble/blowout.

The other reason nobody averages more than 30 minutes/game is because Colorado is freakishly balanced. Five of the six main rotation players average between 14.1 and 8.8 points/game, and the sixth is point guard Nate Tomlinson, who leads the team in assists.

If you’re looking for a reason that Utah is a smoking crater and Colorado is a surprising 3-0, look no further than reigning Pac-12 player of the week and former Ute Carlon Brown. The rare player who transfers prior to his senior year at a program, Brown is now Colorado’s most important offensive player and best shooter. You don’t want to leave him alone behind the arc or he’ll do what he did against Washington and score 18 points on just six shots.

But the real star to the show is Roberson, who is probably the best rebounder in the conference despite his relative small stature as a forward. His offensive rebounding is absolutely key for Colorado’s offense, so if Cal can keep him off the boards it will go a long way towards victory.

Tempo Free Chart

Kenpom sez: Cal 73, Colorado 60, 88% confidence

Category Cal Rank Col Rank Advantage
Cal eFG% vs. Col Def eFG% 26 87 C
Cal Def eFG% vs. Col eFG% 75 68 -
Cal TO% vs. Col Def TO% 50 272 CCC
Cal Def TO% vs. Col TO% 210 198 Co
Cal OReb% vs. Col DReb% 111 104 -
Cal DReb% vs. Col OReb% 22 123 CC
Cal FTR vs. Col Opp FTR 226 61 CoCo
Cal Opp FTR vs. Col FTR 6 10 -
Cal AdjO vs. Col AdjD 22 115 Ca
Cal AdjD vs. Col AdjO 27 99 Ca

A strangely evenly matched game in a number of categories, the most important arguably Cal’s ability to avoid fouls against Colorado’s ability to draw them. Neither team is much for forcing turnovers, but Colorado is prone to coughing it up. I doubt Cal will force many, but maybe the Buffs will throw it away a few times to help us out.

Of course, just a day after writing a post about how it’s all about shooting for the Bears, we see a matchup that could be decided by rebounding. If either team can get traction on the offensive glass it could swing the game. For what it’s worth, I don’t think it’ll happen. BUT IT COULD!

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