Yesterday I chronicled the Buffs' turnover problems that have plagued them in big game. I originally intended to write up a preview of the Arizona game, but I got sidetracked enough to write a whole separate article. Hey ho. In case you aren't interested in world class journalism, I'll sum up that article:
CU lost to Oregon State and USC directly because of turnover struggles, they lost to Utah and SMU because they turned over the ball too much in crunch time, and they probably would've beat Iowa State if they had committed less turnovers. ... Every possession against [Arizona] will be vital. The only way Colorado can beat Arizona is if they hold onto the ball [in order to maximize possessions against a vaunted defense].
Stop me if you've heard this before: Arizona is quite good at basketball. Despite losing their three best players from last year in goblin mercenary T.J. McConnell (graduation), Stanley Johnson and Brandon Ashley (both to the NBA Draft), the Wildcats have been excellent this year, much to the dismay of every non-Arizona fan. As usual, Arizona has been ranked every week this season and are currently No. 9.
Perhaps even more impressive than their 22 wins, (they did have a lackluster non-conference schedule, especially considering Gonzaga's struggles) their five losses this season were by 18 points total. CU's last five losses were by 65 points combined. But it's OK, Arizona's inability to lose big makes their Elite Eight losses even more devastating for their fans. At least when CU loses in the Tournament it's by 30 points and we don't have our hearts ripped straight from our chests by Frank the Tank. Hey ho.
In the past, I've said this Arizona squad is overrated. I fiercely stand my ground. Again, they have impressive victories against ... wait. Arizona has only played a ranked team three times all season. They won at then-No. 13 Gonzaga, but the Zags have been arguably the most disappointing team in the nation. They hosted Oregon and USC (both No. 23 at the time) and only beat the latter. Those are their two best victories, and neither are all that impressive. Besides beating Oregon at home, Colorado hasn't done much better, so I don't want to be that bitter sportswriter who just trashes on a team he hates just cause. Then again, I really enjoy trashing teams I hate with as little basis for my claims as possible. Doubly so when that team has a goblin king for a coach and several goblin mercenaries on the roster.
Anyhow, if there's any consolation to Arizona being overrated, it's that their fans are overrating them even more egregiously. When they inevitably lose in heart-breaking fashion to Oklahoma in March, the schadenfreude will be unreal.
Undoubtedly, Arizona's best player is Ryan Anderson. Criminally underrated on an overrated team, Anderson is a stretch-four with a diverse offensive game and tenacity on the boards. He was highly coveted at the NBA trade deadline as a valuable role player on an expiring deal, but his team ultimately chose to retain his services. Oh, sorry, wrong Ryan Anderson, but you get the picture.
Wesley Gordon will likely be tasked with stopping Anderson. As good as a defender as Gordon is, I'm not sure if he'll be able to effectively neutralize the ever versatile power forward. Anderson won't shoot threes, but he's still an effective mid-range shooter, which could problematically pull Gordon away from the paint. Arizona's other big, Zeus "Zeus" Zeuszeuski, is getting better offensively, but he still has no range. As a result, Josh Scott could sag off him and support Gordon in a partial double team of Anderson.
Another matchup to watch will be the aforementioned Scott-Zeus battle, but on the other side of the floor. Scott is as unstoppable as any post scorer in the country, but he has struggled against Zeus in the past. With a massive body and arms that reach all the way to the top of Mount Olympus, Zeus's calling card is his interior defense. Considering Scott doesn't exactly have the physical advantage here, it should be no surprise that Scott has struggled in this matchup. Because it's a statement game and his last major home game, I would expect Scott to come out pissed off and ready to dominate. As for a nifty tie-breaker, Scosh Jott has the edge in spoonerisms over Taleb Karczewski (first try!).
On the subject, Ges Wordon could really help stop Anan Ryderson from having a great game.
Out on the perimeter lies yet another great matchup (can you believe it?) between George King and Arizona's Allonzo Trier. Once an unknown commodity, we know King as an uncontrollable and unpredictable wing scorer who can just as easily drop 20 as he can go 0-for-the-field with five turnovers. A good King can turn a feud into his own feudal system. A bad King can soon find his entire class guillotined (shout out to my ancestors for escaping to Canada). Though this matchup hinges entirely on the quality of King we are bestowed, this matchup isn't about him. It's about Allonzo Trier, he of the wonderful Tronzo Allier spoonerism.
Arizona no longer relies upon 5-star freshmen like Aaron Gordon and Stanley Johnson to make immediate contributions, but Allonzo Trier is happy to try to replicate their work. Trier is a terrific athlete, but he won't beat anyone with brute athleticism. He's a respectable shooter, but won't beat anyone with his range. Instead, Trier will beat you with savvy elusiveness. It's rare for someone so young to utilize change of pace and shiftiness in their drive game like Trier does. Once he's at the rim, he uses his strength, athleticism and acrobatic flexibility to finish in traffic. He isn't all the way there yet as a passer (his 7.6 assist rate is mediocre for someone who penetrates the defense as often as he), so Colorado collapsing on his drives could force bad misses and turnovers from the young freshman.
Unfortunately, Colorado can't just sit back on defense and focus all their efforts on stopping Anderson and Trier inside. That's because of goblin mercenary Gabe York. If Colorado gives up the perimeter to shut down Arizona's other options, York will gladly play Hero Ball. With nifty ball handling and a lethal shot, York is dangerous. I'm not sure which of the CU guards will start, much less who will be guarding him, but whoever does so must be willing to go all out defensively. The best remedy for York disease (if he bites you, your skin will wither and your blood will turn to blackened tar) is to pressure him into committing turnovers and shooting himself into a slump. After letting UCLA's Isaac Hamilton and Bryce Alford get hot, these guards will have something to prove.
If CU's guards are somehow able to play York and leading assist man Parker Jackson-Cartwright into a stalemate, this will be a massive victory. I'm just concerned Yabe Gork will overcome said stalemate with an elite spoonerism of his own.
What do the Buffs need to win?
First off, CU maintaining possession is absolutely vital to their chances at pulling off this upset. If Dom Collier and Josh Fortune continue their turnoverous ways tonight, we will likely hear that cursed blood-curdling U of A death chant with ten minutes left in the game. If the Buffs are able to set up their offense and pass the ball with actual purpose, the Wildcats may be so stunned at the sight of meaningful ball movement that they go into circulatory shock.
After maintaining possession, the Buffs will need a balanced offense to beat Arizona's defense. Because of Zeus's defense on Scott, Arizona may want to leave out the ‘Zon' and play man-to-man all night. The one-on-one matchups aren't exactly favorable for CU's offense, but if they can get just enough shooting (hey George King) and post offense, they'll be in business. Arizona's transition defense is always solid, but if the Buffs are able to run off rebounds and turnovers, Arizona's proverbial advantages should be dissipated.
To put Colorado over the edge, they need some random great game from a role player. Thomas Akyazili sparked a surge against Washington so maybe he can do the same here. Tory Miller at his best could energize this crowd to hype levels of old. Xavier Talton having one of those random ace shooting performances would be delightful, especially because he would take away crunch-time minutes from Collier or Fortune, a time when they're most turnover prone.
If all that goes Colorado's way and the crowd is buzzing, the Buffs should walk out with a season-defining victory over a hated opponent.
So I don't look stupid later, this is all assuming the Buffs don't get trashed on defense. Hey ho.
Colorado 68*, Arizona 67
*King nails a buzzer-beating three from the corner after a beautiful pass from Talton. Or this happens.