5-7 Arizona visits 6-6 Colorado tonight to finish out a Pac-12 road trip after a loss at Utah. These teams have been trending in opposite directions. The Wildcats are on a 6 game losing streak while Colorado has won 4 in a row. In their last meeting, in Tucson, the Wildcats got the 64-56 win.
Key Players for Colorado:
#25 McKinley Wright 6’0″ G (So.) 13.5 points per game, 5 assists, 4.9 rebounds
#1 Tyler Bey 6’7″ G/F (So.) 12.4 ppg, 9.2 rebounds
Key Players for Arizona:
#5 Brandon Randolph 6’6″ G (So.) 13.6 ppg, 3.6 rebounds
#4 Chase Jeter 6’10” C (Jr.) 11.6 ppg, 7 rebounds
Offense: Colorado’s offense runs through the dynamic sophomore point guard McKinley Wright. He’s the best pure point guard in the Pac-12 and has a knack for getting to the rack. Wright has an outstanding 62% 2-point field goal percentage. That is 6th in the Pac-12 and he is the only guard in the top 10–as 2-point % is usually dominated by “bigs” and inside players. The fact that the next shortest player in the top 10 is ASU’s Romello White, at 6’8″, shows just how exceptional McKinley is at finishing around the basket and among the trees. He has been hampered by a shoulder injury for most of the season and that’s been a lucky break for the rest of the Pac-12.
Tyler Bey is one of the most athletic players in the conference and is only .8 rebounds per game short of averaging a double-double. He is 3rd in the Pac-12 in total rebounds and averages 1.3 blocked shots per game.
The Buffaloes are 9th in the Pac-12 averaging 71.3 points per game. The Wildcats are right behind them in 10th place with a 70.9 ppg average. Overall the Buffs have not been a great 3-point shooting team. They are last in the league in 3-point percentage, 3-point attempts, and 3-point makes. Lucas Siewart, Shane Gatling, and Daylen Kountz are their best perimeter shooters. Siewart started out the season white-hot with a 49% 3-point average in non-conference play but has cooled off significantly and is averaging 33% from 3 in conference play.
Arizona’s leading scorer Brandon Randolph continues to struggle. He has scored only 2 points for two consecutive games and has a total of 10 points in his last 3 games with a 16% field goal percentage over those last 3 games. The Cats are in desperate need of offensive production and Randolph returning to form would go a long way towards getting this team back on track. Point guard Justin Coleman has been averaging 14 points per game since starting guard Brandon Williams was side-lined a few weeks ago. Williams is again expected not to play. The Wildcats continue to have the worst field goal percentage in the Pac-12 at 40%.
Defense: Both teams rely mainly on 1/2 court man-to-man defense. Of the two though, Colorado will be the one more willing and more likely to go zone as coach Tad Boyle has used a zone against Arizona in previous meetings. Colorado’s Tyler Bey is ranked #2 in the Pac-12 in defensive rating (which is an estimate of individual points allowed per 100 possessions) while the team is 3rd overall in conference allowing 69.5 points per game, compared to Arizona’s 73.8 points allowed per game.
Arizona has been struggling defensively as well. For the season they are allowing an average of 69.5 points per game. During this 6 game losing streak they are allowing 80.7 ppg. During this same stretch they have scored 67.5 ppg while averaging 72.5 ppg for the year. So this current losing streak has Arizona allowing 11 more points per game than average while scoring 5 less ppg than average.
Summary: It is no coincidence that (coming into this weekend’s games) the bottom 3 teams in the Pac-12 (Arizona, Washington St., and Cal) are the only teams shooting a worse field goal percentage on average than they’re allowing their opponents to shoot. Arizona currently shoots 40% from the field while their opponents shoot 48% in games against them. Basketball, reduced to its most simple form, is about putting the ball in the hole and preventing the other team from putting the ball in the hole. Arizona has struggled with both of these recently and any team that does will find itself on the wrong side of a streak. The Cats have had a better field goal percentage than their opponent only twice in Pac-12 play. Against Colorado and Cal. They won both those games.
I think we will see the Cats get back to basics tonight. The focus will be on defense and rebounding while shot selection will be emphasized on offense. Getting Chase Jeter and Brandon Randolph some early and good looks could help set the tone for this game. Checking McKinley Wright is gonna be a challenge for the Cats as defensive help and rotations will be tested time and time again.
Both teams have had injury/personnel issues this season and are playing with under-manned rosters. The middle of the Pac-12 is crowded and it appears that Washington will walk away with the regular season title. At this point, most of these teams are concerned only with finishing the season strong and putting together as close as is possible to a complete game with their focus on picking up some momentum going into the conference tournament.