Colorado’s game tonight against a finally ranked UCLA team is important not only because it is against a ranked opponent, but because the outcome will be indicative of what the Buff’s can expect the rest of the season. The Buffaloes will be playing without star guard Spencer Dinwiddie for the rest of the season after he tore his ACL in a blowout loss to Washington, and touted Freshman Tre’Shaun Fletcher is out as well now for 6-8 weeks with a knee injury. The loss of Dinwiddie in particular will be detrimental to Colorado’s Tournament aspirations. CU will have to adjust on both defense and offense as they have lost an elite perimeter defender who can also take over in crunch time. They will have to make adjustments quickly for tonight’s game against the #25 Bruins.
Here are Colorado’s keys to the game:
Defending the perimeter
Look for the Bruins to start their attack outside going in. The Buffaloes are playing minus Spencer Dinwiddie which means his defensive load will shift to Xavier Talton and a platoon of freshmen. UCLA features a deep and talented back court led by Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson, expect them to swing the ball patiently and pick their spots if the defense cracks. Buffaloes freshman Jaron Hopkins will be tested tonight against an elite UCLA offense in replacing Dinwiddie.
Askia Booker needs to score
Buff fans might look at this and say “of course he will” but with Dinwiddie out the Bruins are sure to pay close attention to Booker, and he will see double teams off the pick. Askia has averaged 19.25 ppg in the past four games and he will need to keep streaking tonight if the Buffs want any chance of winning. If Booker can go off it will also open up scoring opportunities for Josh Scott in the post where he is very efficient.
The Other Guys
Truthfully, without Dinwiddie the Bruins have a more talented team than the Buffs. Colorado’s chances of victory rely heavily upon the role players. Production out of Xavier Johnson, Wesley Gordon, and Xavier Talton will be key for CU to maintain its home dominance. More importantly, though, they must produce on offense. Tad Boyle will make sure the team plays strong defense and keep the scoring down, but the role players need to find ways to score for Colorado to keep it close.
Colorado 74 vs. UCLA 80
I just can’t see Colorado handling this UCLA team without Dinwiddie. The Bruins are just too deep and I’m not sure who on Colorado can guard Kyle Anderson. If Booker and Josh Scott play at the top of their games it will be close, but I see UCLA pulling it out in the end.
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To say I was disappointed in the Buffaloes following their recent loss to Oklahoma State would be an understatement. Apart from Colorado’s star players—Spencer Dinwiddie, Josh Scott, and Askia Booker—the team was unable to generate any offense. A fact exemplified by Xavier Johnson air balling an open three with time winding down. However, one strong positive to take is that despite the struggles of their young team CU only lost by five. Reader Steve Cain pointed out to me that “The game could have developed into the young Buffs wilting under the Cowboys defensive pressure, but they were able to continue to come back with resolve.” Alas, the pieces to my heart have been reassembled and it’s time to look ahead to the Buff’s next game against Georgia (6-4).
The Bulldogs have played 10 games thus far with seven coming at home and three being played at a neutral site—we will just refer to these three as road games though. At home Georgia is 6-1with the lone loss coming to a solid Georgia Tech team, meaning that they are winless when playing away from the Stegeman Coliseum.
Now I don’t claim any personal affiliation to the Georgia Bulldogs, and I would be a liar if I said I have watched even a minute of their basketball team, but a couple of red flags surround their 6-4 record. First, the combined record of the opponents they were victorious against is 29-44 with Gardner-Webb being the lone .500 team. Furthermore, their one quality opponent at home defeated them. Second, the combined record of their foes in the three away losses is a meager 17-16. This sounds okay except for the fact that one of those losses is to an 8-3 Nebraska team, meaning the other two losses—Davidson and Temple—are considered bad losses.
Colorado, on the other hand is 10-2 with their two losses both taking place on neutral sites and to ranked opponents. The Buff’s are a perfect 8-0 at home and there is no reason why they should lose this game. Spencer Dinwiddie is averaging 19.5 ppg and 5.3 apg in the last four games, while Josh Scott is averaging 13 ppg and 9 rpg in the same amount of time. The Buffaloes two most valuable players have been competing at a high level recently and there play should continue against a weaker Bulldogs team. If Askia Booker can get going like he did against Oklahoma State then this game may turn into a laugher quickly. Also, look for Wesley Gordon and Xavier Johnson to rebound from an abysmal 5 points on 2-9 shooting combined in the previous game.
Another aspect working in favor of the Buff’s is that Tad Boyle’s team is 24-10 following a defeat showing that he makes his team refocus after failure. Colorado will be looking to vent their frustrations from last week’s loss to Oklahoma State on the Bulldogs and I just don’t see Georgia holding up in a hostile Coors Event Center environment.
Key Matchup: Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Charles Mann
This will perhaps be the most interesting matchup to watch all game. Charles Mann has played at a high level all season—even in defeat—and is averaging 13.4 ppg and 3.1 apg throughout the year. He also averages 1.3 steals per game and is proving to be a nice all around player. Mann will need to bring his A-game if Georgia expects to have a chance, and he will have to do it against one of the premier defensive guards in the country. What will make this matchup particularly interesting is that neither guard can rely on their height to be an advantage as both are around 6’5”-6’6”. I expect Dinwiddie will appear to be the better of the two, but these two measure up nicely and should provide the excitement in this game.
Prediction: Colorado 75 vs. Georgia 60
The Coors Event Center began buzzing early on Saturday as CU students filled their section with over 45 minutes until game time, eagerly anticipating the Buff’s basketball game against #6 Kansas. Many were aware of Colorado’s 19 game losing to Kansas, and the fans came fueled with energy. There was a relentless roar throughout the 40 minutes leaving all present with impaired hearing. The meager Kansas following that somehow managed to get tickets were dwarfed in a sea of black and gold, and were either silent or unheard for much of the game. And then–pandemonium as Askia Booker hit the game winning three pointer after a nifty euro-step to get the shot off. Fans stormed the court before officials could even review the play as it was apparent to all watching that the basket would be upheld. Athletes and students celebrated Colorado’s 75-72 victory over Kansas, you really had to be there.
A few key factors in the Buff’s victory:
Ben Mill’s to the rescue
That’s right, senior center Ben Mills–who has never averaged more than five minutes per game–was solid in relief for the injured Wesley Gordon. When Colorado needed a big man to deal with the bigs of Kansas, Mills stepped up with 10 great minutes in which he recorded 4 points and 3 rebounds while playing nice defense. He was a spark for crowd noise as many fans likely thought “If Ben Mills can play well against Kansas then surely we can win.”
Askia Booker’s confidence
Normally this trait for Booker is a cause for concern because he has been such an inconsistent shooter since last year’s Charleston Classic. Booker is a nice point guard when he is creating off the drive, but he is too streaky from out side. However, he hit the two biggest baskets of the game with a buzzer beater to give the Buffs a three point lead at half, and then the game winner. He lead Colorado in scoring and his fearlessness to shoot proved a positive for the Buffs on Saturday.
Xavier Johnson setting the tone
Honestly I don’t know if the first half goes in Colorado’s favor without Johnson’s monster dunk to start the scoring for CU. It appeared in the opening minutes that Colorado left their energy in the freezing cold, and the crowd became antsy about Kansas running away at the start. Xavier woke up the offense with a thunderous dunk that was also an and one, and hit a clutch three and pair of free throws late in the game to stave off a Kansas run. Johnson had key rebounds for the undersized Buff’s and was a large reason why Colorado out rebounded the Jayhawks. Without his 14 points, 6 rebounds, and 3 steals Colorado would have been on the other side of the win/loss column.
MVP of the game: Spencer Dinwiddie
This game was about defense, and the Colorado defense is spearheaded by Spencer Dinwiddie. Both teams played stout defense, and while one might argue that Booker’s offense was the difference, the offense ran through Dinwiddie. With 15 points and 7 assists the 6’6″ guard paced the offense until the Buff’s needed him to take over as time dwindled. Dinwiddie was clutch from the charity stripe down the stretch and his 8 free throws made in 10 attempts is really what prevented Kansas from regaining the lead late. He aggressively attacked the basket and the Jayhawks couldn’t handle him in transition.
So what happens now?
The Buffaloes can now expect to be ranked. In the first 10 games Colorado is 9-1 with the lone loss coming to a Baylor team currently ranked #20. CU has won two “true” road games against Air force and Colorado State, and important wins against Harvard, Wyoming, and #6 Kansas to compile a resume worthy of a top 25 ranking. Their nine game winning streak is one of the tops in the country and the perfect record on the road in that span is impressive.
Colorado has an important three game stretch coming up as they host Elon, #9 Oklahoma St., and Georgia. The stretch is important not only because of Oklahoma State and Marcus Smart coming to town, but because those are the only games they play in the next three weeks. Teams will be accruing wins faster than the Buffs can, so a loss could potentially ruin short term hopes for a ranking. Obviously a win against Oklahoma State is ideal, however, it is more necessary for CU to avoid losses to the lesser teams in Elon and Georgia. Expect Tad Boyle to use the week break between the three games to ensure no bad losses happen.
Saturday’s matchup between Colorado and Kansas featured two touted players, who are likely first round picks, going against each other. Spencer Dinwiddie led CU with 15 points and 7 assists while Andrew Wiggins led Kansas with 22 points and 5 rebounds. Both amassed these statistics despite being sidelined for large portions of the first half due to foul trouble. Both players took control of their teams down the stretch as Wiggins kept Kansas close while Dinwiddie poured in free throws to stymie a comeback victory. Both were clearly the best on their respective teams and the game was decided by who received better support.