Colorado will face another Big 12 opponent on a neutral court tonight when they take on No. 7 Oklahoma St. in Las Vegas at the MGM Grand. The Cowboys are better than Baylor, who gave the Buffaloes their only loss of the season, and at this point, are the best team in the Big 12. Most of that is because of Marcus Smart. The sophomore is arguably the best player in the country and the main reason that Oklahoma St. possesses the sixth most efficient offense in the country, according to KenPom. At 10-1, Oklahoma St. has the same record as Colorado with their only loss coming against Memphis. The Buffaloes won't have an environment like the Coors Event Center to fuel them, but Wesley Gordon is scheduled to play, and at full strength, they'll provide a great test for Oklahoma St.
The Buffaloes must slow down the game:
Most of the time, it's much easier for teams to slow down the pace of a game than speed it up. Although Colorado seemingly plays best in transition and can get rather passive in the half court, it will be too tough for the Buffaloes to play up-tempo with Oklahoma St. and win the game. The Cowboys are incredible on offense; they average 1.17 points per possession, have an effective field goal percentage of 55.8 and own the fourteenth lowest turnover rate in the country. Furthermore, only twice this year has Oklahoma St. been held to under 70 points: a 69-67 victory over Butler and a 73-68 loss to Memphis. In these games, there were 63 and 64 possessions respectively. In comparison, when Oklahoma St. beat Memphis 101-80 earlier in the year, they had 84 possessions.
Continue to get to the free-throw line and limit the turnovers:
Colorado has slowly become one of the best teams in the nation at getting to the charity stripe. Spencer Dinwiddie has the 20th best free throw rate and as a team, the Buffaloes have the fifth best free throw rate in the country. Unfortunately, recently, they can't convert. In the past two games, Colorado shot 49-of-83 from the free-throw line, which made for an atrocious 58 percent and on the season, the Buffaloes have shot 70.5 percent from the line. The Buffaloes aren't known for being careless with the ball, but they certainly don't value their possessions either. Against Oklahoma St., they must be careful with the ball because the Cowboys are 18th in the nation in forcing opponents to turn it over. In their only loss this season to Memphis, they forced nine turnovers and in their narrow victory over Butler, they only forced seven turnovers.
Spencer Dinwiddie vs. Marcus Smart and the Buffs' size advantage
Dinwiddie and Smart are the stars and although Smart is slightly better and will be the best player on the floor, the disparity between them isn't as great as many would believe. The potential top five pick is averaging 18 points per game, 4.8 rebounds per game and 3.8 assists per game whereas Dinwiddie averages 15.5 points per game, 3.6 rebounds per game and 4 assists per game. They both get to the free throw line, but Dinwiddie converts 86 percent of the time and Smart converts 70 percent of the time. Smart has improved his three-point shooting this year, but The Mayor is still more prolific from beyond the arc shooting at a 40 percent clip compared to Smart's 33 percent.
Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott are Colorado's two best scorers inside and Oklahoma St. doesn't play anyone who is taller than 6-foot-8, but that hasn't proven to be a problem yet. They have the 10th most efficient defense, the 16th best block rate and 10th best steal rate. They haven't faced someone who has Scott's back-to-the-basket ability, however, which could be a deciding factor in the game. And Xavier Johnson has played his best basketball of the season in the past two games combining for 26 points and 21 rebounds and always seems to play better against elite opponents.
The Cowboys have other great players as well in Le'Bryan Nash and Markel Brown. Brown is second on the team at 15.7 points per game and also plays the most minutes on the team. Nash is third at 13.8 points per game and has become more effective shooting from the field this year boasting career highs on two pointers and free throws.
Oklahoma St.- 74 Colorado-70
Unfortunately, this game isn't being played at the Coors Event Center. I was wrong with my pick for the Kansas game and wouldn't mind being wrong again, but I don't think Colorado will be able to limit Oklahoma St.'s offense enough and will fall short down the stretch.