What a time to be alive! Not only has Colorado lost their last three games and are one misstep from being .500 in late January, but we get to enjoy watching this team do worse on the road than Jon Embree's football team. Rejoice, my friends, for the Buffs don't have to leave Boulder for another week where USC will be waiting for them with archers perched upon fortified walls. Until then, we can bask in the Gospel of Ski, showing the Washington schools that the rain never stops.
First up is the University of Washington Huskies. Purple clad with a mouthful of rabies, Lorenzo Romar's Huskies are no joke, but it may be the Twister II of Pac-12 schools. An age-old program with a famed (basketball) tradition, the stability of the (program/infrastructure) is not what it used to be, but the rickety jerkiness of the journey makes it that much more exciting. The ups and down of this roller coaster ride are consistent of disappointment and false hope, as the Huskies ups (tight victories over then-top-15 teams in Oklahoma and San Diego State) get the hopes up of fans before brutally letting them down to the tune of a home loss to Stony Brook. After three consecutive losses to start out conference play -- including an embarrassing home loss to archival Washington State -- the Huskies appear to be on the ascend once again after trumping Oregon and Oregon State last week. You can imagine how fun it would be to root for a team toying with your emotions day-to-day.
Before we can determine whether or not the Buffs will be a drop-off in Washington's roller coaster, we have to see how good Washington actually is.
The aforementioned top-15 wins over SDSU and Oklahoma had one dominant trait: Nigel Williams-Goss dominating the stat sheet. In these contests, Williams-Goss averaged 11.5 points, 7 rebounds and 5.5 assists all while playing superb, chaos-invoking defense. As much as I want to compare Williams-Goss to Delon Wright, it's ultimately unfair to the Utah guard. Sure, Williams-Goss leads his team in scoring, but the Huskies don't live or die off his point production (their loss to Wazzu happened to be the game in which Williams-Goss was like, "I'll get all the buckets and you just get out of my way.") like Utah does when Wright can't hit his shots. Moreover, Williams-Goss isn't quite the shooter Wright is (Wright's biggest weakness per NBA scouts) and he's much wilder and subsequently more turnover-prone. Unlike Wright, the Buffs may be able to benefit from his skill set, as his lackadaisical ball management could lead to Booker pushing the Buffs in transition and -- assuming Jaron Hopkins gets the majority of minutes -- highlight opportunities for the crowd to build off.
Williams-Goss isn't alone, by the way, as he's joined by dynamic scorer and all-name first-teamer Andrew Andrews and the ever improving Robert Upshaw. Andrews is a fairly typical guard type that can make the Buffs regret putting so much backcourt attention on Williams-Goss, but he's not unstoppable nor is he the best defender. Upshaw, a possible NBA Draft pick, happens to be a burly bruiser of man, a 7-footer capable of muscling up Josh Scott. We didn't see it last week against Zeus "Zeus" Zeuszeuski last week, but we've learned not to expect the greatest of games from Scott is he's matched up with a mound of muscle. Keep your eye on this matchup as it may decide the game.
Then comes the Washington State Cougars, a team that never ceases to struggle on the hardwood. It's sad when a program can only get above .500 when they have Klay Thompson, and even then they can't make the Tournament. To make matters worse, Wazzu is currently ranked, according to KenPom, as the worst Pac-12 team at No. 171. Nonetheless, the Cougars are here to play and will be gunning for their first ever Pac-12 victory over the Buffs.
If there's any one reason Wazzu should scare folks it's they're a veteran squad capable of stealing a victory on the road. They've already topped Cal and Washington, two very good teams with enough talent to Dance. The secret to their close victories is a sort of rare big man imposing, up-tempo attack that races to the rim whenever they see fit. Leading the attack is senior guard DaVonte Lacy, a horrendous defender who makes up for it with buckets aplenty. In Colorado's overtime victory at Wazzu last year, Lacy sat out due to injury. It's not difficult to imagine Lacy being the difference in that game, especially so considering he scored 34 points in the following meeting in a close win at the Coors Event Center.
Down low for the Cougs is the rebounding god known as Josh Hawkinson. Despite getting minutes too few and too far in between last year, Hawkinson has broke out this season as he is currently 8th in the nation with 11 rebounds per game to go along with a healthy scoring output and solid interior defense. To really hammer down the idea of his rebounding dominance, second place on the Cougars in rebounding is Junior forward Junior Longus with a whopping three (3) rebounds per game. Also watch out for 7'0" Jordan Railey, a giant with inconsistent minute totals who has the ability to come in and bother Josh Scott and whoever is brave enough to get to the rim, though we all know how much the Buffs love to penetrate the defense.
As pessimistic as I am in believing the Buffs will dramatically underestimate the road warriors from Pullman, Colorado should pull out a victory. Fingers crossed they take this team seriously.