Hello, my name is Sam and I would like to tell you a story. Once upon a time, a group of buffaloes had to go to the state of Washington. They had to go there because their boss Larry made them. And once the buffaloes got there, they got attacked by huskies! The buffaloes' leader, Josh S., stood up to the big bad huskies and told their leader, Andrew, to "hit the hay!" Andrew and all the other huskies didn't really know what hay was, since they never ate hay before because they're huskies, which is a type of dog. Huskies are really hairy and cute and they love to run. One time, some lady called me "husky," but I didn't know what she meant because I'm not a dog. So Andrew got mad because the buffaloes came into his home place and started bossing him and his friends around, so he started shooting things at him! Once Andrew started shooting things, his friends Dejounte and Marquese got really close to the buffaloes and began to hit them a lot. The buffaloes were pretty surprised and they didn't know what to do. Soon, Josh S. and his friends Dom and George started shooting things back. The huskies were better at attacking and blocking the buffaloes' shots, so they won and made the buffaloes leave.
The buffaloes couldn't leave yet and Larry made them go to Pullman. Pullman is a small town in Washington that doesn't have mountains and the people there grow lots of potatoes. When the buffaloes got there, they got attacked by cougars! They were really confused because there weren't any mountains around and cougars live in the mountains. That's why cougars are called mountain lions by other people. Josh S. tried fighting the cougars, but he wasn't doing much damage because Josh H., one of the cougars, was also good at fighting. Because of this, George the buffalo and Ike the cougar started attacking each other. George was a very talented shooter and Ike was to fast for the buffaloes to fight against. After fighting for a while, the buffaloes were able to win the battle because they were better at fighting. They won the battle but decided that they would rather go back home to Colorado than to stay in Pullman because they didn't really like Pullman very much.
P.S. The cougars and huskies are now in Colorado to fight the buffaloes here.
Washington State (8 p.m.,Thursday, Pac-12 Networks)
First up is Wazzu. The cougars are 1-10 in conference play and haven't won a game in over a month, which was a solid home win over then-No. 25 UCLA. Since then, the Cougars have only played in two close games, the aforementioned Colorado game and a home overtime time loss to Washington. In hindsight, neither game should've ever been close.
That game against Colorado was tight because the Buffs were unable to adjust to matchup problems the Cougars posed. Josh Hawkinson, a real fine basketball player who deserves a run at the Pac-12 POY, did just enough defensively to offset Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon, but he didn't do standout work. That was Connor Clifford, a backup big who came out of nowhere to put in a career game as he physically imposed himself on Scott. He's a massive man with a soft touch (so you now the Freshman will be feared in a couple years), but he'll be hard-pressed to replicate that performance, especially with the Buffs having game planned around his threat. And it's harder to see Josh Scott get shut down again against a mediocre interior defense, no matter how strong or jolly that defense is.
Speaking of breakout performances, Ike Iroegbu was absolutely dynamic for the Cougars last time out. With jaw-dropping speed, the junior got to the tin seemingly at will. Once he was there, he produced buckets aplenty with touchy floaters and acrobatic layups. The simple solution would be to back off Iroegbu and take away his driving lanes, but he's a good enough shooter to make a defense pay for that. If a team doesn't have a Gary Payton II to stick on him, they'll be forced to play a game of chance in their defense. Colorado could capitalize on Wazzu's lack of secondary shooters and focus on stopping Iroegbu with strong help defense, but Iroegbu may be shifty enough to just slip through that defense. Or -- and this is what I would do -- the Buffs could dare Iroegbu to shoot over them. When Iroegbu misses, the rebound will be the first pass into a fast break (a Larry Brown idea) and the Buffs can push the pace. When Colorado gets out in transition, their level of play is elevated to new heights, and if they do that tonight, a blowout may ensure.
Colorado 87, Washington State 65
Washington (12 p.m., Saturday, Pac-12 Networks)
The Huskies have been the most surprising team in the Pac-12, and it's not a particularly close contest if you trusted in Dana Altman's devil magic. Since last season, Nigel Williams-Goss transferred to Gonzaga, Robert Upshaw was suspended and declared for the NBA Draft (he was undrafted due to his off-the-court issues), and starters Mike Anderson and Shawn Kemp graduated. All that is left of that dysfunctional team is Andrew Andrews, this season's humble star. And without a Kentucky-level recruiting class, no team should ever be expected to contend for a conference championship with seven freshmen in a nine-man rotation. Washington's run should not be happening.
The first thing you notice about Washington is holy hell they have some elite athletes and they are long. On offense, they will gash through any opening in the defense and have the strength and agility to finish around the basket. Dejounte Murray, a potential lottery pick, can blow by anyone and has the court vision to decimate a crashing defense. He's a scary mofo and he can't leave for the pros soon enough. Andrew Andrews is the metronome that keeps this team steady. He's there night in and night out gunning threes and converting tough shots when his team needs him most, all while providing senior leadership. As he's proven in the past, he can roast Colorado and carry his team to a win.
Washington's physical tools combine with Lorenzo Romar's always sound defensive strategy to create one a first class defense. With long arms that clog all passing lanes, Colorado won't have any ease getting the ball to Josh Scott on the block. Because of their athleticism and man-to-man defensive chops, CU won't be able to get past them on dribble-drive penetration without offensive creativity. Even if the Buffs can get to the rim on penetration and post moves, the Huskies have multiple elite rim protectors. In their last meeting, freshmen Marquese Chriss and Malik Dime combined for 12 (!) blocks. Colorado shot a surprisingly high .485 eFG%, but that was mostly buoyed by Dom Collier shooting a ridiculous 6 of 7 from deep, which he will hopefully and unrealistically repeat.
On that note, Colorado's best chances at beating Washington lie in their ability to shoot, and win the turnover and rebounding battles. As they did against Cal, the easiest way to beat a team with that much length and athleticism is to simply shoot over the top of it. If those shots are falling, not only do you have a valuable shot working for you, but the defense will adjust and sacrifice driving and passing lanes to do so. If Collier, Fortune and King are able to shoot like they are capable of -- not to say all three need to shoot well for CU to win -- the defense will open up and Josh Scott will have room to breathe.
Washington loves to play in transition and will turn turnovers and long rebounds into fast breaks. Like what we saw with Oregon, a live-ball turnover will almost always result in a four-point swing Washington's way. Colorado will need to manage their own turnovers in order to maximize possessions. And with their fast play and relative inexperience, Washington has been plagued by turnovers at times. CU should look to force the issue and jam their offensive rhythm. If anything, playing in the CEC should heavily favor CU as the crowd will energize the Buffs (or is it vice versa?) and rattle the Huskies.
This rebounding battle between the top two glass eating teams in the conference follows the same logic. Both teams will be challenged to end the opposing offensive possession when the first shot is missed; allowing offensive rebounds can be death to either side's chances at victory as each possession will be ever so crucial. With Washington looking to run off defensive rebounds and Colorado being supernaturally gifted (and dependent) upon offensive rebounding, the victor of that side of the boards has a strong chance of emerging as the game's winner.
Colorado 81, Washington 79