Last year, this first weekend game would not have been possible. You see, you aren't allowed to play conference mates this early in the tournament. But thanks to the first great upheaval in conference and all the fun we had 2 summers ago, the Buffs are no longer friendly neighbors. They are now just one of those teams that is on way too late at night on Fox Sports.
In Colorado's first season out west, Tad Boyle got his guys to go 11-7 in conference, but more importantly, they went on a 4-game rampage through the conference tournament and got the auto-bid for the Pac-12 conference. This is Boyle's second season at Colorado, and his second 20 win season there. This is his first NCAA tournament appearance as a head coach, and he has his Buffaloes playing their best basketball of the year at the perfect time.
This is a very different team than the one that Baylor saw last year. Alec Burks is now an NBA shooting guard and Cory Higgins is no longer around to help carry the load. In fact, the only starters remaining for the Buffaloes from that game last year is Austin Dufault and Nate Tomlinson. The only other player still on the team to score for the Buffs in that game is Andre Roberson.
Roberson is their best all around player. He is a 6-7 wing/forward that averages a double double every game (11.6 points, 11.2 rebounds). He also leads the team in blocks with 1.9 per game. He starts at the power forward spot for the Buffaloes and gives them excellent athleticism.
Starting alongside Roberson is Austin Dufault. He is a solid post defender, and is great at fighting for position on defense. Offensively however, he is a stretch power forward, who will knock down 3's if you leave him open. The Buffaloes were not a great 3-point shooting team for the whole year (34.8% overall, 149th in NCAA), but shot very well against UNLV Thursday night making 7 of 12. Dufault led them with 3-4 shooting and scored 14 points.
Colorado won this year behind their defense. They are not a great shooting team. They really struggled all over the court, and were not very efficient on that end of the court. The Buffaloes only averaged .994 points per possession (compared to 1.080 points for the Bears). What they were though was patient. They are good at working the clock for a good look and will get to the free throw line a ton. In the UNLV game, they got to the line 27 times, but they hit just 17 of them.
Keys to the Game:
1. Defend without fouling
As I mentioned earlier, the Buffaloes live at the free throw line. Robertson and Spencer Dinwidde do an excellent job of getting to the FT line. The Buffaloes don't make a ton of them though. Despite having 84 shots from the charity stripe than the Bears, they made only 17 more. If the Bears do foul, there are some people to send to the line.
Robertson is a below average free throw shooter, hitting just 60% of his shots. Dufault is better but still pretty average at just 68%. We do not want to foul Dinwiddie, who is over 81%, but he missed a few against UNLV and is just a freshman.
2. Speed up the game
The Buffaloes have a young and old back court. They start two seniors but one of them is in there first year at Colorado. They start a freshman in Dinwiddie but their first guard off the bench is Askia Booker. One senior and three first year players at Colorado. They also really like to slow the game down and limit possessions.
The only average 52 shots per game (109th in the country) while the Bears average 56 shots per game (26th). We need to get the Buffaloes going faster than they want to. During conference play, they were just 3-3 when they got more than 55 shots up.
The best team they played all year was probably Wichita State on a neutral court in Puerto Rico. The Shockers got up 60 shots,pushed the tempo, and won 67-58. Baylor needs 60 shots and hopefully can speed up Colorado to about 55.
3. Win the turnover game
The Buffaloes reacted terribly to the full court press that UNLV showed late in the game that cut the lead from 20 to 3. They had 23 turnovers during the game and averaged 13 per game. Along with speeding up the game, the Bears have to force Colorado to get uncomfortable and turn the ball over. They were not good at protected the ball this year. No one player really dominates the ball for them, so their turnovers were spread out.
Both teams average more than 13 turnovers per game, however Colorado commits a turnover on 18.5% of their possessions. During the conference tournament, they did a great job of minimizing those turnovers (over last 3 games, just 12.8%). If the Bears can speed the game up, hopefully they can force a higher percentage like UNLV did.
4. Win the rebounding battle
The Buffaloes were the fourth best defensive rebounding team in the country this year, getting 26.2 per game. The Bears were 37th at 24.2 per game. However, the Bears grabbed a much better rebound rate, ranking 40th in the country versus 111th for Colorado. Rebound rate is an estimate of the percentage of missed shots a team rebounds.
On the year, Baylor grabbed 37% of the chances they had on offense compared to just 27.3% for Colorado. On defense, the Bears grabbed 69.3% versus 73.4% for the Buffaloes. The Bears should be able to out rebound Colorado and hopefully can get to +6 at least. Perry Jones III did a great job against SDSU on the glass, hopefully he can continue that effort.
5. Move the ball
The Bears only got 9 assists against SDSU. That is not a good thing to see if you are looking for the Bears offense at its best. The Bears are at their best when the ball is moving and they are making the extra pass. Too many times Thursday night did we settle for a one-on-one play or a pick and roll that did not get everyone involved.
The Bears need to move the ball, and Pierre Jackson needs to lead that charge. He only got 2 assists against the Jackrabbits. If Baylor can get to 16 assists, they will have the ball movement to get better looks and easier baskets.
Colorado is an 11 seed for a reason. They were very shaky for most of the year and have some puzzling losses but man have they turned it on of late. They have won 5 in a row now (after dropping their last two regular season games to Oregon and Oregon State). They are playing good basketball. However, the Bears are a better team, and this is a good match up for them. We should be able to get out into the open court and get some easy buckets when Colorado starts throwing it away. This tournament is really starting to look like 2 years ago. Bears win 71-62.