In the inaugural game of the 2015-16 men's basketball season, the Colorado Buffaloes will travel to Sioux Falls, South Dakota for a neutral site game against No. 7 Iowa State. As chronicled by SB Nation's Ricky O'Donnell, a thorough preview for the Cyclones can be found here.
Glad you're back! Now here are some important questions to consider:
Who should we fear?
Georges Niang is one of the best players Colorado will face all season. He's incredibly unique in that he can do everything on the court as a 6'8" point forward, and he's more athletic than the distinguished Kyle Anderson of UCLA past. He should be getting that NBA paycheck, but the main reason Niang returned for his senior year was because he didn't want to end his Cyclone career with an NCAA Tournament loss to an impassioned 14-seed UAB (via Sports Illustrated). He's hungry for victory and will look to demasculinize whomever is tasked with guarding him.
Who will guard Niang?
Excellent question! ISU plays a fast-paced small-ball lineup with trusty ball handlers galore. The projected starting lineup for the Cyclones features only one player 6'9" or taller in Jameel McKay. Around the shot-blocking McKay, new head coach Steve Prohm (Prohm coached the Isaiah Canaan-led Murray State team that Colorado saw a lot of) will play Monte Morris and Naz Long in the backcourt with Abdel Nader and Niang on the wings.
With Niang as the nominal power forward, Colorado will have a very tough decision on how to craft their lineup. Starting Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott together is the default lineup, but neither of whom represent a decent candidate to guard Nader or Niang. Drawn away from the basket, Niang can easily drive past Scott or Gordon. If Niang wasn't such a good defender, Scott or Gordon posting up on him would mitigate the mismatch, but that isn't the case.
If Boyle wants to go small, he'll have to resort to giving heavy minutes to George King and Tre'Shaun Fletcher, but neither is proven. Xavier Johnson would really help right now if Paris didn't have such marksmanship (if you have sensitive eyes, the linked clip is gorier than I remembered it to be). In an ideal world, Johnson provides the right combination of strength and quickness to keep Niang in check, so a mismatch it is.
Anyone else we should be weary of?
Why yes, there is! As discussed in the roster preview, Askia Booker's graduation and Jaron Hopkins's transfer leaves a deficit at guard for the Buffaloes. The questionable guard rotation of Josh Fortune, Xavier Talton, Eli Stalzer and Dominique Collier means that said deficit may not be readily filled. Especially worrisome for Colorado, Iowa State's second best player is point guard Monte Morris who is not only one of the best passers in the country, but one of the better scoring guards we'll see this year. As a freshman last year, he set an NCAA record with a 4.63 assist-to-turnover ratio. And when Morris isn't slicing through the defense setting up easy layups for his teammates, he's slicing through the defense setting up easy layups for himself. And as good as Morris is offensively, he may be a better defender.
Also, we should watch out for Jameel McKay. He's a bit undersized for the center position, but he makes up for it with tenacious post defense. When he's on his A-game, blocked shots fly more than his immaculate dreadlocks. He's limited on offense, but McKay is fully capable of giving Josh Scott fits on the block, thereby disrupting Colorado main offensive strategy.
Geez, is there any chance Colorado wins?
With Niang's all around mastery combining with Morris's excellence (not to mention the other starters and bench being similarly great), the Cyclones enter the game as overwhelming favorites, but there is way to win. Iowa State is very dependent on three-pointers, and as we've seen in March Madness time and time again, volume shooting teams have a very hard time winning if their shots aren't falling from deep.
In last year's tourney, seemingly overpowered UAB was able to pressure shooters and dominate the boards on their way to a bracket-busting victory. If the Buffs replicated that with more talented players, a win isn't out of question, especially if Josh Scott does manage to win his tough battle with McKay.
Did you forget that Colorado's three-point shooting defense is notoriously porous?
Thanks to Brady Heslip and Bryce Alford, it's impossible to forget about this defensive deficiency. Yes, CU has been horrible at defending threes and ISU is generally excellent from there, but maybe the Buffs drastically improved their perimeter defense over the offseason.
OK, yeah sure.
[UPDATE]: SB Nation's list of the Top 100 players in college basketball came out this morning. Iowa State's McKay (66), Morris (16), Niang (4) and Colorado's Josh Scott (73) were all ranked among the elite.