In the spirit of SB Nation brotherhood, I reached out to the fine folks at our Colorado site, Ralphie Report, to get some intel on UConn's first NCAA Tournament
Thanks to Sam Metivier for the answers!
So, are Buffs fans pumped to make a trip to Des Moines?
I don't know if anyone will ever get pumped to go to Iowa, but based on the massive amounts of fans traveling there, it's safe to say people are excited. There is precedent here, too. Back in the magical 2012 season (yes, a Round of 32 run is magical for us), fans turned up in droves to Albuquerque and filled the Pit with CU chants galore. There was a real home court advantage there.
What are the strengths of this Colorado team?
First off, Colorado relies on Josh Scott to generate points in the post. Scott is about as consistent as humanly possible and will always find a way to get at least 15 and 8, whether that's by dominating in the post or working his way to the foul line, where he's an excellent shooter.
Besides Scott, the Buffs generate offense with three-pointers, transition and tip-ins off offensive rebounding. CU always has at least three average-to-excellent shooters on the court at all times and they almost always have loads of space because of the attention Scott commands. Of all the shooters, George King (the Pac-12 Most Improved Player) and Josh Fortune (a transfer from PC) are the deadliest. Both are inconsistent, but when they're on, they can keep the Buffs in a game no matter how well anyone else doing.
The Buffs are perhaps the best rebounding team in the country. That's probably their biggest strength. As you will see on Thursday, Colorado is horrendous on two-point shots, but it doesn't matter much because of the offensive rebounding. Scott is one of the better offensive rebounders in the Pac-12, but he's only third best on the team. Wesley Gordon, CU's other starting big, is a monster on the boards. In one-possession games against Arizona and Washington, Gordon was a life saver on the glass. He had 15 combined offensive rebounds in those two games.Tory Miller, CU's backup big, is also terrific. He's a heart and hustle guy who plays with all the emotion in the world. This was frustrating when he literally bit an Air Force player in a game, but it's great when he's outworking everyone for a rebound or loose ball.
Are you dealing with any injuries right now?
Last year, Josh Scott missed several games with excruciating back issues. Luckily for the team and for his own sake, his back is 100%. Scott did deal with a sprained ankle this year and missed the home games against Washington and Washington State (which is why those games were close), but he's been fine since. Besides Scott, not one Buff has dealt with any injuries this season, which is kind of a miracle in itself.
CU's second best player from the past two seasons, Xavier Johnson, tore his Achilles tendon over the summer. He was considering returning a month or so ago, but opted to medical redshirt instead. Other than that, the Buffs have had injury luck.
Seems like Josh Scott is kind of a beast. How are the forward and centers as a group in the low post, offensively and defensively?
Yeah, Scott is a beast. As good as an offensive player as he is, he might be just as good of a defender. His best defensive strength is that he's excellent at contesting shots without sacrificing fouls or rebounding position. Scott can shut down the best of the best, Wesley Gordon is probably the defender between the two. He's similar to Scott in that he's able to contest and block shots without fouling. With more bounce and weakside positioning, Gordon is the more prolific of the two defenders. On offense, Gordon isn't very polished, but he's effective when posted up and he just good enough of a jump shot to warrant attention off the ball. Still, his best offensive skill is his rebounding, which generates put backs, close layups and second chance threes. Miller, the third forward, is still raw as an offensive player, but he can still do damage with his own put backs and dunks.
Point guard Dominique Collier leads the team with 2.7 assists per game but it looks like a few other guys who can dish it out too. Who are the team's primary offensive facilitators?
The weird thing about CU is that they don't seem to have any primary facilitators in the first place. CU uses Collier, Xavier Talton and Fortune interchangeably at the guard spots and each have a decent amount of playmaking and ball handling skill. Collier's 2.7 apg isn't entirely representative of his actual playmaking. When he's playing well, he can pick up five or so assists, but they're usually from transition instead of from set plays. When he's in a funk, he can go five games without an assist. Fortune loves trying to create for teammates, but he's too turnover prone for the Buffs to rely on him. Talton has the skills to be a playmaker, but he's too passive to do so.
CU's three-pointers usually come from inside-out and motion-type passes, but never from a consistent facilitator. The post ups are the same.
What would you say are the biggest weaknesses of the team?
Guard play on the offensive end is CU's biggest weakness by far. All the guards are good defenders and shooters, but they don't/can't do much else. As discussed earlier, none of the guards can really create offense themselves. That's a huge reason why CU has such poor 2-point shooting; there are really no easy layups created from anywhere besides post ups and transition play. Furthermore, every guard on the team struggles with turnovers. Fortune is notorious for collecting turnovers at the most unfortunate (pun intended) times. Collier, in the words of Jason Concepcion, "plays like he's high and missing a contact."
CU has blown at least four resume-building wins with turnovers. Against SMU in the Las Vegas Classic, CU had a late lead that they squandered with turnovers. Against Utah, Fortune had two turnovers in the final minute, including one that led to a game-winning layup for Utah. Colorado had over 20 turnovers in road losses to Oregon State and USC (CU was up 15 with 10 minutes to go), two games CU had every chance to win. CU has cleaned up a ton as of late, which is why they beat Arizona at home, nearly beat Utah in SLC, and almost beat Arizona again in the Pac-12 Tournament. Seriously, if CU didn't have such horrible turnover issues in the middle of the season, they would probably be something like 26-5 or 27-4. If CU is able to mitigate turnovers, they could make a run in the Tournament.
I don't mean to sound like a homer, but Colorado is really good when they aren't shooting themselves in the foot. I also think that CU is one of the most underrated teams in March, and no disrespect to UConn's terrific team, but I don't see why 75% of people are picking the Huskies.
We've been hearing a lot about this George King fellow, what can you tell us about him?
As weird as this team is, King is the King of the weirdos. When he was first recruited, every CU fan was excited about having another 6'7 wing from San Antonio (Andre Roberson was the other), but that excitement died down pretty quickly.
King was OK as a freshman and showed flashes, but everyone could tell he would take a lot of time to develop. Then Tad Boyle redshirted him for his sophomore. Besides growing a sweet high top fade, King must have spent endless hours working on his jump shot in that year.
Coming into this year, no one really knew what to think about King. With Fortune coming over from PC and Tre`Shaun Fletcher penciled into Xavier Johnson's spot, it was assumed King would be a 6th man who would contribute a decent amount. Little did we know that King was apparently the best shooter Colorado has had in Boyle's tenure here.
In addition to his shooting, King is quite good at creating good mid-range looks, which he knocks down more than not. As far as his shooting goes, he's just as capable of taking over a game as he is to lay an egg. That said, he loves big moments and big games, so I expect him to bring his A-game.