The 9-3 Colorado Buffaloes visit Tucson tonight to face the 9-4 Arizona Wildcats. Both teams have had more than a week off to prepare for this game and the beginning of Pac-12 conference play.
#25 McKinley Wright IV 6’0″ G (So.)
#0 Shane Gatling 6’1″ G (Jr.)
#5 D’Shawn Schwartz 6’7″ G (So.)
#1 Tyler Bey 6’7″ G (So.)
#23 Lucas Siewart 6’10” F (Jr.)
Off The Bench: #21 Evan Battey 6’8″ F (Fr.), #14 Deleon Brown 6’4″ G (Jr.), #13 Namon Wright 6’5″ G (Sr.), #2 Daylen Kountz 6’4″ G (Fr.)
Offense: Colorado comes into this game averaging just under 80 points per game to Arizona’s 74. In their last 3 games, however, their highest point total was 68. They will run a lot of perimeter slip screens as well as the usual Pick & Roll sets. In recent games they ran quite a bit of “Horns” offense. This set is used in the NBA quite a bit. McKinley Wright will have the ball up top and both Forwards will be on either side of the lane, elbow extended, up towards the 3 point line with the other 2 guards down in the corners. McKinley can choose to screen or pass to either side and the offense can take on a few different looks from there depending on whether he passes or uses the screen. If they don’t get a look off that they will usually just fall into a basic Pick & Roll offense. Often times as they make their way down the court Siewart will look to run to the middle of the lane and use his body to seal the defender then turn and post for a quick hitter right near the basket.
Wright IV, Siewart, and Bey are the leading scorers for this team but they have great offensive balance with 7 players averaging 7 points or more per game. McKinley Wright is the key to this offense and keeping him in check will be a challenge for Arizona’s guards. He has a lot of freedom in this offense and though he is not a big guard he will back down his defender and look to post every now and then.
Siewart has started the season on fire averaging almost 50% from 3 and only Shane Gatling has attempted more 3’s so far this year. Namon Wright is shooting right at 40% and, so far, D’Shawn Schwartz is having a down season from 3, shooting only 25%. As a Freshman last year he shot 38% with 1.5 attempts per game.
Defense: The Buffaloes rely mainly on a 1/2 court man-to-man defense. They will at times play a soft full court man and even some zone here and there. We may see a repeat of last year and see the Buffs use a 2-3 zone tonight. Arizona is only shooting 33% from 3 this year and their offensive rebounding has been pretty much non-existent coming in at 293rd in the NCAA. Colorado has a slight size advantage but these teams seem to matchup pretty well overall as both rely heavily on their guards.
Strengths: This is a long and athletic team with good depth. McKinley Wright creates a mismatch for most teams in the Pac-12. He’s not unstoppable and doesn’t shoot the 3 particularly well but he seems to be able to create offense at will. Keeping him from getting in the lane for a shot or pass off for an open look will be Arizona’s biggest challenge. Tyler Bey is one of the most athletic players in the Pac12 and is by far this team’s best rebounder averaging 9 per game which is 1 rebound per game short of averaging a double-double. Evan Battey off the bench will give Colorado some extra size inside and could cause problems for Arizona’s interior defense. Siewert has become the old faithful of the Buffs as he has played consistently well all season. Finally, they have great depth as they have 9 players averaging 10 or more minutes per game so far this year.
Weaknesses: Colorado is coming off a Holiday tournament in Hawaii where they looked out of sync and erratic. They didn’t play particularly well and their defense was susceptible to being beat back door and off of dribble penetration. This could very well have been the result of playing 3 games in 4 days in Hawaii including a game on Christmas Day. Now that all that is behind them and conference play is starting we shouldn’t expect them to underperform again any time soon. They, like Arizona, have been only a decent 3 point shooting team this year.
As good as McKinley is there are times when he seems to try and do too much. He can force things at times and play erratically. But he has a really good team around him and once he settles in to the game he is as dangerous as any guard in the Pac12.
Summary: The Buffaloes lost Dallas Walton–their 7 foot sophomore center–early this year to his third ACL injury. With Walton (no relation to Bill, unfortunately) the case could’ve easily been made for Colorado being the best team in the Pac12 and a lock for the NCAA tournament. His size and ability are irreplaceable and we can’t help but feel for this young man and the Colorado Buffaloes basketball family as well.
We are all excited now that conference play is starting as teams, by now, usually have their rosters and depth-charts straightened out. These early conference games seem to provide good indicators of how well a team is (or isn’t) coming together. Coleman, Williams, Randolph, and Jeter are the 4 Horsemen for the Cats this year and have been by far their best and most reliable players. Rounding out the rest of the roster and getting consistent production from players like Luther, Akot, Smith, and Lee will be very important to Arizona’s success this year. Those 8 players seem to be locked into a rotation that Coach Miller will use the rest of this season. Defense has always been Miller’s calling card and despite having what Cat’s fans would consider a “down” year so far this Arizona team is performing at a level slightly higher than it might first appear.
Arizona is 9-4. Last year they were 10-3 at this time. They are averaging this year 11 points less per game but are also allowing 6 less points per game. Here are some more key per game stats and averages to compare from this year to last year after 13 games:
Last Year: This Year:
52% FG 45% FG
39% 3 32% 3P
15.6 Assists 12.1 Assists
11.7 Turnovers 11.6 Turnovers
8.5 Offensive Rebound 7.4 Offensive Rebounds
34.6 Total Rebounds 32.4 Total Rebounds
7.8 Opponent’s Off Reb 8.5 Opponent’s Off Reb
26 Opponent Total Reb 31.8 Opponent Total Reb
22 Free Throw Attempts 20 Free Throw Attempts
The numbers are not that far off. Two things stand out: First, this team has not shot the ball nearly as well as it did last year. Better shot selection and running the offense better will go a long way to improving that. And second, this is a team that has been beaten up lately with criticism of giving up too many offensive rebounds yet they are not even allowing, on average, 1 more offensive rebound given up per game than they were last year at this point! And that’s without DeAndre Ayton eating up space in the middle! Also, defensively, teams are only shooting 28% from 3 against them. That ranks 21st in the NCAA and suggests that either the Cats have been playing some terrible 3-point shooting teams or that they are doing a great job at contesting the 3’s being taken.
This should be a very competitive game and a great way to kick off conference play for both teams. The Pac12 is wide open this year for whichever team wants to come along and take the lead. It’s gonna be another fun conference year and now we can settle in and enjoy the process of watching these teams grow and finding out who can make it into March.