For the third straight year, Colorado is back in the NCAA Tournament. Despite losing Spencer Dinwiddie to injury only five games into Pac-12 play, the Buffs earned themselves an eight seed, the best seed Tad Boyle has ever received at Colorado. They'll take on Pittsburgh who went 25-9 this season and 11-7 in the ACC at 11:40 a.m. MT on TBS.
The Panthers are strong on both sides of the ball. Their adjusted offensive efficiency rating is 115.1 putting them at 18th in the nation and on defense their adjusted rating is 37th best at 96.5. The Buffs are barely better with an adjusted defensive efficiency rating of 96.2 which is 32nd best. On offense, however, they're not comparable with a rating of 105.9, the 141st in the country.
Pittsburgh's best player and go-to-guy is the 6-foot-5 senior Lamar Patterson. Patterson leads the team in scoring at 17.6 points per game and assists with 4.3 per game. He takes 29.7 percent of the Panthers' shots when he's on the floor and shoots 48.8 percent from two and 39.7 percent from three. The other key player for Pittsburgh is Talib Zanna. The 6-foot-9 230 pound Zanna scores 12.9 points per game and collects 8.8 rebounds per game. He has an offensive rebounding rate of 14.2 in comparison to Josh Scott's 11.2. Zanna could cause fits for Scott and allows Jamie Dixon the option to not double him.
James Robinson, Michael Young and Cameron Wright fill out the rest of Jamie Dixon's most used starting lineup while Josh Newkirk and Jamel Artis see the most time off of the bench. Robinson, who is Pitt's starting point guard, has the highest offensive rating on the team at 122.2. Young only averages 5.9 points and 4.2 rebounds per game and sees less minutes than any other starter. Wright averages 10.6 points per game, but seems to be very inconsistent. The 6-foot-4 junior has posted an offensive rating above 110 seven times and below 90 seven times in his past 14 games.
Newkirk had a season-high 20 points against another team in the field of 68, N.C. State, and has posted an offensive rating above 165 in three of his past six games and could act as a spark off of the bench. Artis, the 6-foot-7 freshman, averages 4.7 points and 2.9 rebounds per game providing similar production to Young.
How the game will be won or lost:
The tempo of the game could give Colorado's struggling offense less opportunities.
It has been documented time and time again how much the Buffs have struggled on offense without Dinwiddie and in order for them to have a chance to advance to the Round of 32, Colorado is going to have to have a very efficient offensive game. To put into perspective how much the Buffs are flailing on offense scoring and efficiency wise: they haven't averaged more than one point per possession since their 83-74 win over USC and in the eight games since then, are averaging .92 points per possession. Considering the Panthers take their time averaging 19 seconds per possession on offense and are the 271st slowest team in Division I, the Buffs won't have a ton of opportunities with the ball.
Pittsburgh's slow tempo has paid off for them as they get assists on 62.8 percent of their shots, which is the 10th best in the country. That means that the Panthers aren't chucking and are getting good looks. These good looks, however, are mostly two-pointers as 54.4 percent of their shots come from inside the arc.
Plus, they don't turn it over as much as Colorado. Pitt's turnover rate is only 16.5 in comparison to Colorado's rate of 19.4. The only two games in which the Buffs haven't turned the ball over 10 times or more since The Mayor's injury have been the two blowout losses against Arizona. Colorado needs to keep that number below or close to 10 on Thursday to have a chance to win.
The Buffs must get baskets in transition and win the rebounding battle
Colorado loves to run and on every long rebound the Buffaloes will need to. Pitt, however, plays exceptional transition defense so Askia Booker and others who take it up the court must be careful about when to attack. In the half-court, Pittsburgh likes to force the two-point shot as their opponents get 50.5 percent of their points from there. Colorado shoots 48.7 percent on two pointers, but a below average 32 percent on three-pointers. So although the Buffs two-point percentage doesn't stand out and is 167th best in the country, it doesn't hurt that Pittsburgh excels at making its opponents take that shot.
Rebounding will be a factor as it has been all season for Colorado. On defense, Colorado is 7th best at securing defensive rebounds as opponents' offensive rebounding rate is 26 percent. Pittsburgh has an offensive rebounding rate of 37.8, which is 19th best. Moreover, the stats say that the rebounding battle should be close to even, but if Colorado can gain an advantage in that category from Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon, the Buffs will be in good shape.
Colorado, without Dinwiddie, has struggled tremendously beating teams that have equal or better talent and clamp down in the half-court on defense. But Pittsburgh really hasn't had any impressive wins this year aside from beating North Carolina in the ACC Tournament. Combine that with the fact that both teams are exceptional at rebounding and this game seems like it will go down to the final minute. Ultimately, Pittsburgh has a slight edge on both ends and the best player on the court in Lamar Patterson and that's why I think the Buffs will eventually fall.
Pittsburgh 66 Colorado 61
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