From the Big Ten, arguably the most competitive conference in college basketball, come the 8-3 Penn State Nittany Lions. Their record doesn't exactly show it, but Penn State is rather mediocre and their season has been nothing more than meh.
I say this about Penn State because they've scheduled themselves an absolutely lackluster set of early season opponents. If you need to know anything about their schedule, it's that two of their losses were by double digits to decent mid-major schools, and none of their eight wins were the least bit impressive. Tallying up the blowout losses and tight wins, Penn State has only outscored their opponents by 18 points combined. By comparison, Colorado has outscored their opponents by 172 points combined, and with a much more difficult schedule to boot.
Moreover, using Ken Pomeroy's nifty Luck Rating (the system looks at how much each team has benefitted from simple point variance, among a host of other metrics), Penn State has been the 10th luckiest team in the country. Colorado is 112th.
While writing these previews, I usually find a team's most impressive win of the season and look at how the previewed team won that game. I try to analyze what worked and didn't work, how their best players fared against tough competition, and most importantly, how that game applies to Colorado. Usually, it's fairly easy to spot a team's most impressive win and to learn something from it. Colorado State, for example, beat an excellent Northern Iowa squad on the road, and they did so with monstrous rebounding and solid shooting. With Penn State, however, I have no idea which is their best.
Penn State's highest ranked past opponent, per Ken Pomeroy, is No. 40 George Washington (Colorado is 44th, for reference). Penn State lost that game by 10, but the score was deceivingly tight; the Colonials dominated every aspect of the game except offensive rebounding, but even that was fairly close. Penn State stayed within reach because their Sophomore point guard Shep Garner had an excellent all-around game and truly carried them. Colorado will need to work to contain Garner, which they should be fully capable of with Dominique Collier improving every time he steps onto the hardwood.
In that game against George Washington, Penn State's inconsistent low post defense stood out prominently. Despite having two massive forwards in 6'10 Julian Moore and 7'1 Jordan Dickerson, George Washington's Tyler Cavanaugh was terrific, finishing the game with 18 points and 10 rebounds, including hitting 7 of 9 from the charity stripe. Pace adjusted, Cavanaugh's stat line is about equivalent to Josh Scott's typical 22 and 12 output.
How the Buffs Match Up
Speaking of Josh Scott, he should be more than capable of bullying the Nittany Lions on the low block. Speaking of blocks, Wesley Gordon's knee injury doesn't appear to anything serious, but his playing status is still undetermined. If Gordon rests, the Buffs will look to play Tory Miller heavy minutes. Gordon's shot blocking and rebounding is difficult to replicate, but against the offensively challenged Nittany Lions, I'm not too worried about how the Buffs will perform on defense, especially after getting a wake up call from Nicholls. What I'm concerned about is how the offense will look if Miller replaces Gordon.
Though Miller has improved steadily since biting an Air Force player, his lack of a reliable shot will cause for a severe spacing issues in this game if Tad Boyle doesn't get creative with the offense. Gordon isn't exactly Ryan Anderson, but he has a semblance of a jumper and thusly attracts at least some of the defense towards him. With Miller out there, Penn State can effectively ignore him and focus double teams on Josh Scott all game. To combat this, I'd like to see Josh Scott be a ready passer with Buffaloes cutting towards the hoop whenever they recognize a double team. If Miller and Scott connect on a high-low passes (or variations of it), expect to see some absolutely thunderous slams for the mammoth Sophomore.
Moreover, if Gordon is out, now would be a good time for Boyle to run out some small-ball lineups to try to outrun Penn State's otherwise plodding tempo, which could turn Penn State's size advantage against them. If Colorado surrounds Scott with Fletcher, King, Fortune and Collier, that could be a fun lineup to watch with all the threes and fast breaks.
The matter of my ramblings and small-ball daydreaming is that if Gordon is out, don't fret it too much. The Buffs are talented enough to find a way to beat Penn State without a key player.
Colorado 71, Penn State 70