Texas travels to Colorado on Saturday to face the Buffaloes for the final Big 12 match-up between the two schools. Tip time is 3 pm central. Television is the Big 12 Network.
The No. 5 Texas Longhorns take their show on the road for the second Saturday in a row. The ‘Horns must play better in Boulder against the Colorado Buffaloes than they did last weekend in Lincoln against Nebraska or the result will be the same.
Texas enters the game at 24-4 overall, 12-1 in conference, and holding a one game lead over second place Kansas. Even though there are only three games left in the regular season, the ‘Horns still have a lot to play for: an outright conference title, a potential No. 1 seed in the NCAA tournament, and a possible Tulsa-San Antonio path to the Final Four.
For the Buffaloes, these final three games mean something entirely different. Colorado isn't playing for NCAA seeding and a protected seed; the Buffs are just looking to punch their dance ticket. At 17-11 overall and just 6-7 in the Big 12, Colorado would be on the outside looking in if the season ended today. Even with the weakness of the bubble and the extreme weakness in three other power conferences, the Buffs haven't done enough, yet, to warrant a bid.
However, Colorado is not without opportunities to impress, and their biggest one comes when the Longhorns roll into town. Yes, the Buffaloes already own two wins over Kansas State and a win over Missouri, but they have basically nothing of relevance in the non-conference and bad losses to Oklahoma, Harvard, and San Francisco. CU has already missed other opportunities for a signature win as they fell to Texas A&M in overtime and then were embarrassed in Lawrence against the Jayhawks just last week. Without a win over Texas and probably two more wins to close the season over Iowa State and Nebraska, it is hard to see Colorado in the NCAA tournament.
After the jump, let's take a closer look at how Texas can avoid another road failure against another team with it's back against the wall.
Colorado is 13-2 at home and the Coors Events Center is already sold out. The altitude, the fans, and the desperate position that Colorado currently finds itself in all lead me to believe this game will be closer than it appears on paper.
The CU offense is perimeter oriented and led by a trio of guards. Sophomore Alec Burks is a future NBA lottery pick, who leads the Buffs in scoring and at 6-6 is second on the team in rebounding. Like Jordan Hamilton, Burks is a match-up problem for most college small forwards. He can score from behind the arc but is more comfortable with his mid-range game and in the paint. Burks uses his body well, gets to the line at an exceptional clip, and can even score on the low block. I'd expect Cory Joseph to draw this defensive assignment with Dogus Balbay taking a turn as well.
The second piece of the CU attack is senior Cory Higgins. If Burks isn't taking the shot, Higgins probably is. Cory also would prefer to score from inside the arc or from the free throw stripe but can knock down the open three-pointer too. Higgins shoots 90% from the foul line and gets their nearly as often as does Burks.
The final perimeter threat is senior Levi Knutson. He is more of a catch-and-shoot scorer and the team's best three-pointer shooter at 48%. Knutson also shoots the ball at a high rate from inside the arc and from the foul line (89%). Texas is better off running Levi off his spot and forcing him to put the ball on the floor than letting him fire off threes.
Nate Tomlinson is the point guard but nowhere near as important to CU's attack as are the other three guards. Expect to see Knutson on the floor as much as, if not more than Tomlinson.
The CU frontline consists of 6-7 senior Marcus Relphorde, 6-7 freshman Andre Roberson, and 6-9 junior Austin Dufault. Relphorde averages double digits in scoring and can pop a perimeter jumper but is not a good rebounder. Roberson is the best rebounder of the group and a solid contributor in the paint. Dufault is neither a scorer nor a solid rebounder but provides CU with their biggest defensive body. As solid as the Colorado backcourt is, their front line can be exploited.
Keys to the Game:
- Play Defense Without Fouling: Burks and Higgins will both have size advantages on the Texas guards and are outstanding at drawing contact and getting to the line. Once there, they convert as well. Texas doesn't have the depth-in the backcourt or in the frontcourt-to get into foul trouble. With the suspension of Alexis Wangmene, the only real big off the bench is Matt Hill. The Texas guards must do a good job of keeping Burks and Higgins in front of them and not putting the Texas frontcourt in position to help, and potentially foul, on dribble drives. Texas can live with Burks and Higgins taking mid-range jumpers but will die if either consistently gets to the line. I don't see Texas winning this game without Tristan Thompson on the floor and the only way he isn't on the floor and dominating the paint is if he's in foul trouble.
- Dominate the Glass and Second Chance Points: As mentioned above, Colorado does not present a big frontcourt. The Buffs are a good offensive rebounding team but only a average one on the defensive glass. Tristan Thompson, Jordan Hamilton, and Gary Johnson should be able to secure 10+ offensive rebounds and score 15+ second chance points. I expect this game to be played mostly in the half court. If that is the case and the Texas defense shows up to play and limits dribble penetration, unlike vs. Nebraska, second chance points could be the difference between at 1 pt game and another double digit victory.
- Attack Inside-Out Offensively: Starters vs. Starters, CU has a clear advantage at the guard spots but Texas has an even bigger advantage at the forward spots. Thompson, especially, and even Johnson should be able to do work against the Colorado bigs. If Texas can attack inside-out and keep TT and Gary on the floor and out of foul trouble, I think we'll be fine. However, if Texas isn't able to exploit our interior advantage because we get into foul trouble or Dogus's man is doubling the post effectively, then this will be a 40 minute game. Higgins and Burks are too skilled and should be able to keep the game tight.
Prediction: Texas has trouble with the size of the CU guards and gets into some foul trouble. Thompson dominates when he's on the floor and Joseph and Hamilton are rewarded with some open looks as Colorado consistently double teams the post. This game goes down to the final minute with Texas winning 67-65 on the strength of second chance buckets.
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