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Previewing the Colorado Buffaloes

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Hmm, these previews are more fun to write when it’s a hate-able rival rather than a mildly respectable pseudo-enemy.

NCAA Basketball: Colorado at Arizona Casey Sapio-USA TODAY Sports

When: 800 pm PT
TV: ESPNU

Hey! A win! And good timing too, because the Bears are trudging through the always challenging trip through the mountains, where wins are as scarce as oxygen molecules.

Colorado, as is often the case, is 4-1 at home and 1-5 on the road. The inevitable gap between home and road performance for the Buffs has led to typically extreme results, like losing to Oregon State by 19 on the road and beating Arizona at home.

Colorado would have the worst offense in the conference were it not for our Bears, and if this game were at home I’d actually feel reasonably optimistic that Cal could win the game. But in Boulder expectations should be significantly tempered.

Roster

Starters

PG McKinley Wright - Excellent distributor should be a pass first point guard, but he takes and misses lots of shots.
G Namon Wright - Missed Colorado’s last game due to illness and thus is questionable. No relation to McKinley. Probably Colorado’s best slasher, a mediocre jump shooter thus far.
G George King - One of the best shooters in the conference, his rebounding as a small 4 allows Colorado to play small.
F - Tyler Bey - Freshman doesn’t let his size (6’7’’, 205) stop him from hitting the glass, getting shots off inside, and blocking shots. The guy most likely to put Marcus in foul trouble. Nominally listed as a guard/forward, but is 0-6 from three.
C Dallas Walton - Freshman 7 footer struggling badly to finish inside, but is unsurprisingly a shot block monster.

Bench

G Dominic Collier - Solid shooter has been red hot in conference play, but can’t really put it on the floor.
G Lazar Nikolic - Oft-used guard got the surprise start in Wright’s absence, but his stats barely register in his time on the court.
F Lucas Siewert - A stretch 5 back-up big, but CU takes a huge step back in the rebounding department when he’s on the floor.
G Deleon Brown - Turnover prone former starter has seen his minutes dive because he just hasn’t been able to shoot in Pac-12 play.
G/F D’Shawn Schwartz - Has actually been solid as a shooter/slasher wing. But he’s hardly getting minutes, which makes me think that his defense must be suspect because Colorado is starving for shot makers.

In terms of offensive threats, Colorado is six deep - assuming Namon Wright returns from illness. However, Tad Boyle plays nine or ten different players, and so Colorado will frequently put out lineups with multiple offensive black holes.

McKinley Wright is a pretty solid freshman distributor, and George King can go nuts from 3, but otherwise Colorado calls on a few average slasher/shooter types and then a whole bunch of bodies that just aren’t ready to play Pac-12 offense yet. Sound familiar?

The difference, of course, is that Colorado’s calling card is defense. More on that below

Statistical Preview

As you can see, there’s one huge challenge Cal would have to overcome to compete with Colorado - the Buffs are pretty good at holding you to one missed shot, and Cal misses plenty of shots regardless. Perhaps more concerning than anything else is that Cal’s best avenue for potential offense - 2nd chances - are Tad Boyle’s specialty.

On the bright side, CU isn’t interested in forcing turnovers, and Cal could manufacture points by getting to the line.

Keys to the game

Bother the freshman point guard and turn CU’s offense into a turnover parade.

Four times in Pac-12 play, Colorado has turned the ball over 23% of the time or higher and lost. Three of those opponents have defensive turnover percentages comparable to our Bears. The best way to win this game is to make it uuuuuugly.

Attack and get to the line

Like we mentioned above, Colorado doesn’t let you make shots and Cal isn’t good at that anyway. But the Bears have been pretty good at drawing fouls and getting to the line, and CU is foul prone. I know many dislike all-out-attack Don Coleman, but this game might be made for it. Let’s hope for another 50+ foul game! The best way to win this game is to make it uuuuuuugly.

Who wins when Cal misses a shot?

Colorado relies on the undersized George King and Tyler Bey to secure rebounds, and as skeptical as you might be about that plan, it’s working. Still, Cal is the best offensive rebounding team the Buffs have faced this year by far. Can the Buffs keep the Bears off the glass, and without fouling?

Our Computer Overlords Predict

Kenpom sez: Colorado 75, Cal 63, 15% chance of a Cal win

There’s a universe where Cal turns this game into a hideous defensive rock fight full of turnovers, bricks, and bodies flying after loose balls, leading to a team winning with somewhere around 65 points. And that team could be Cal! But Colorado cruising at altitude is the most likely outcome.