As disappointing as the buzzer-beating shot made by Washington's Andrew Andrews (!) was, it's hard to say this was a bad past week in basketball. Washington is a fantastic team that plays more inconsistently than Colorado does, but when they're on the up-turn, they can be lethal. What I'm happy about, though, is Colorado proved capable of beating upper echelon teams without Josh Scott or Xavier Johnson. I know it was a home game and UDub couldn't hit their shots until the second half, but the Buffs really showcased what may be an elite defense that will only get better when these underclassmen develop and Xavier Talton -- an excellent perimeter -- replaces the defensively challenge and sometimes foul-prone Askia Booker. The Washington State further proves this future formidability as the Buffs were able to generate offense at will, even with Booker resting.
The upcoming road games against USC and UCLA will help us see if the future Buffs will be able to compete away from Boulder.
Since I last previewed this Trojan squad, they've lost all but one game, which was at home against the struggling Golden Bears of California. To go back again to my last preview, I purposely avoided writing about the USC basketball team because it would require researching the USC basketball team, a task no soul should ever endure. Alas, it's time to research this decrepit collection of "power conference" basketball players.
Looking as positively as I can, the Trojans have been more OK than their record suggests. Last week, USC actually challenged Oregon and Oregon State, though the Oregon trip may be the easiest road trip in the Pac-12 this year. Nonetheless, the Trojans look somewhat capable of playing well on their home court, even if they literally lost at home to Army. Leading the team in Nikola Janovic, perhaps the only player USC has that Tad Boyle would start on the Buffs. Janovic is a good player with solid rebounding, established defense and decent range, but Wesley Gordon should be able to hold him down after his defensive renaissance, should they match up.
More on Gordon: He's averaged 10.6 rebounds per game in Pac-12 play, preposterously more than the 6.3 per game before that. He's also nearly doubled his block total since, thanks to his monstrous block parties against UCLA and Utah. As we saw in the Georgia game and in the Diamond Head Classic, Gordon can seem overly tired and lazy on these road games, but let's hope his three-block performance at Utah shows what Gordon will do in conference road games.
Getting back to USC, I don't see how Colorado loses this game unless they mail in a lethargic effort, but don't put it past them against a subpar opponent.
As I previously mentioned, I didn't preview the actual UCLA Bruins team in my last preview, instead focusing on why you should hate them. You should still hate them, but it's time to actually look how good this team is and who they have. Starting with their success, you should know this isn't the typical UCLA team. They don't rely on any one superstar or any hyped prospects, so I doubt they'll send three players to the NBA in this upcoming draft and four in total (Zach LaVine, Jordan Adams and Kyle Anderson went in the first round; Travis Wear was undrafted.) This team is a modest 11-9 with their best win coming at home against Stanford. Remember how USC barely lost to both of the Oregon schools? Well UCLA was blown out by both. There should be a rule of thumb suggesting that if USC can realistically claim basketball supremacy over you, your team shouldn't be taken seriously.
Though they may not send all of their non-Wear starters to the draft, this is a well-rounded bunch when they want to be. Leading the scoring is the perimeter-dwelling orc by the name of Bryce Alford. Check that -- he's not an orc he's ... Alf.
Alf is typically an amazing shooter, which we saw in last year's contest at UCLA, but Colorado's perimeter guys were making him uncomfortable shooting as he went 0-for-9 from deep. As much as CU's improved their three-point defense, they still look a tad eager to block shots, leading to more and more pump fake bites. If UCLA can exploit that, they can find open looks all around with Norman Powell and Kevon Looney on the flanks. Neither is that great of a shooter, but they're good enough to not leave them wide open -- sort of like how defenses treat Jaron Hopkins.
Speaking of Kevon Looney, I uploaded the 2015 draft class into NBA 2K15 and Looney went number one overall. I know the 2K drafts are glitchy and all, but it forced me to look into how exactly good Looney is. Turns out, Looney is an athletic freak with the wingspan of a condor. He teams that with a great defensive IQ to frustrate wings. If Xavier Johnson plays (fingers crossed), Looney is sure to annoy the piss out of him.
Luckily for Boyle, UCLA looks incredibly beatable. Their defense has allowed the most shots per game in the Pac-12, showing they don't really play a zone defense that takes time to find offense. For Colorado, that's fucking rad. Watching the Buffs pump fake around the perimeter until the shot clocks requires a shot, like against Wyoming and UW, is not a very fun brand of basketball to watch, especially with a team that can struggle from deep. As we saw against WSU, Colorado can quickly bury its opposition with a series of quick makes and active defense, somewhere UCLA looks increasingly vulnerable.