8. Colorado (22-11) vs. 9. Connecticut (24-10)
Thursday, March 17, 2016
1:30 ET, TNT
Ah, the most wonderful time of the year: the NCAA Tournament has arrived! In this game, Pac-12 at-large selection Colorado gets set to battle the American Conference Tournament champion UConn Huskies, in possibly the most intriguing 8 vs. 9 game of the bracket. Tad Boyle, one of the most underrated coaches in the country, looks to cement his team’s place as a national program with a chance to beat the 2014 NCAA champion.
Colorado’s offense is defined by the old adage of playing “inside-out” basketball. Big man Josh Scott (16.1 points per game) will be playing in the NBA sooner rather than later, but for now gives Boyle’s squad an elite post scorer with a shooting touch nearly out to the three-point line. Scott is the focal point of the Buffaloes’ offense, and his savvy passing ability allows him to expose double teams and kick out to multiple open shooters from beyond the arc. These wings, especially George King and Treshaun Fletcher, are great athletes who have the ability to play outstanding defense, when they commit themselves to that side of the floor. Point guard Josh Fortune (10.4 points, 2.3 assists per game) is the wild card for Colorado; he himself is also a good shooter, but disappears from games as frequently as he gets hot from the field. On top of all this, Colorado is a great free throw shooting team, making 73.8 percent from the line.
Connecticut’s elite defense (fourth in the country in field goal percentage) will have its work cut out for it guarding Scott on the inside and multiple above average shooters. But, this is a team that itself has an abundance of shooters from the perimeter, and has a very balanced scoring attack. Forward Shonn Miller (12.8 points per game) will have to avoid the foul trouble that plagued him during the AAC Tournament. He has an excellent offensive game, especially in the post, and must be a key factor for UConn to win. Shot blocker Amida Brimah will need to show the poise and patience he showed during the conference tourney, so that he can stay on the floor and be the Huskies’ answer to Scott. UConn’s greatest advantage may be at point guard, where freshman Jalen Adams has catapulted himself into the national spotlight thanks to his miracle shot against Cincinnati. However, his overall game as a slasher and floor general offers something to the UConn offense that Colorado doesn’t have. The Huskies are also not only a great squad from the free throw line, but the best in the country, at 78.7 percent.
MATCHUP TO WATCH
Predictably, the top matchup in this game will be between Josh Scott and Amida Brimah. The point guard battle of Fortune and Dominique Collier going up against a combination of Adams and Sterling Gibbs will also be one to watch, but the clash of the big men will have the most impact on the outcome of this contest. Brimah averaged 2.6 blocks a game this year. However, he also only averaged 21 minutes a game, because of his frequent foul trouble. Going up against a post scorer like Josh Scott will be a major challenge for the Ghanaian. To avoid early foul trouble, Husky coach Kevin Ollie may stick to a strategy he employed during the AAC tourney, in which he started senior Phillip Nolan over Brimah at the 5, so that the junior would not pick up early fouls and be forced to sit out. Should Scott force Brimah to foul, in addition to the other members of UConn’s deep frontcourt, the Huskies will be in trouble.
X-FACTOR FOR COLORADO
Avoiding Turnovers: Colorado has been a very turnover-prone team this year. They’ve averaged 13.4 a game, more than two, on average, than their opponents. Part of this comes from the lack of consistent point guard play. Fortune is capable on a good day, but averages 2.2 turnovers a game. Colorado’s other primary ball handler Collier also averages over two turnovers a game. However, despite the effectiveness of UConn’s overall defense, they are not exactly West Virginia in terms of forcing other teams to cough up the ball. Therefore, if UConn can adjust and play to Colorado’s weakness, and force their guards to turn the ball over, Colorado’s chances of victory may go up in smoke.
X-FACTOR FOR UCONN
Frontcourt Play: Josh Scott singlehandedly gives Colorado the advantage in the big man battle. Both he and fellow post player Wesley Gordon are competent when operating with their backs to the basket. UConn has a deep frontcourt, with five players capable of seeing minutes down low. Gordon and Scott, along with reserve Tory Miller, are Colorado’s only rotation big men. UConn will need to use their depth to counteract Colorado’s superior individual talent. If a big man rotation of Brimah, Nolan, Shonn Miller, and Kentan Facey can collectively avoid foul trouble and contain Josh Scott, the Huskies should win this game.
Three-point Shooting: Both of these squads are more than capable of winning a game from beyond the arc, should the shots be falling. UConn does not have one deadeye shooter, like George King (46 percent) of Colorado, but they have multiple players who all shoot better than 35 percent from three-point land. On the year, UConn has only allowed opponents to shoot a meager 32.7 percent from deep. By contrast, Colorado hits over 39 percent as a team. Since Christmas, UConn has only allowed a team to make more than ten three-pointers once: the four overtime game against Cincinnati. This should be seen as the benchmark for Colorado: if they are hitting shots from beyond the arc consistently enough to bury ten of them, their chances of winning greatly increase.
This game comes down to three-point shooting, as mentioned above, and free throw shooting. If one team makes both more three pointers and free throws than the other, that is the squad I expect to be on the winning side. That being said, UConn’s absurd free throw percentage tend to swing that pendulum in their direction, even if Colorado attempts more free throws, which is expected, due to the prowess of Scott. Three point shooting definitely seems to favor Colorado; besides King, Collier also hits 45 percent from deep. So, with this conversation ending in a push, the depth of each squad may well decide this game. Colorado has nine players that all get substantial minutes; UConn also uses primarily nine players. However, UConn’s advantages in depth lie in the frontcourt and at the point guard position. These advantages, despite inferior individual talent (in the post, not at lead guard), trump Colorado’s superior wing depth. Therefore, UConn will win this game. Connecticut 74, Colorado 68.
Josh Scott: http://www.denverpost.com/colleges/ci_25738723/front-range-teams-have-bright-future-mens-college
Jalen Adams: http://www.nj.com/sports/index.ssf/2016/03/watch_uconns_jalen_adams_hits_amazing_shot_to_help_1.html
Shonn Miller: http://dailycampus.com/stories/2015/11/12/mens-basketball-getting-to-know-shonn-millers-game-with-the-cornell-sun