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First Thoughts: Colorado Buffaloes

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Saturday night was undoubtedly an instant classic.  No doubt about it.  You should catch that one on ESPN Classic sometime later this week.  Winning that one really put the Jayhawks (6-0 conference record) in a prime position to capture their sixth straight Big 12 regular season championship.  They now hold a two game lead over everybody else in the conference.  The presumed "biggest threat" to dethrone Kansas, Texas, and Missouri are tied for second, each at 4-2.  The Longhorns still have to make a trip to Columbia to play the Tigers, so one of them can be chalked up for another loss right now.  Which one, we do not know.  But, as of right now, you can narrow it down to a two horse race - Kansas and Texas or Missouri, depending on who wins the matchup February 17.

Now, not to get too far down the road, the games in between the big time matchups still need to be accounted for.  Those are the ones that can sneak up and bite you and derail a run for a conference title.  The games that a team overlooks, with a highly publicized matchup on the flip-side.  So, we will spare no opportunity to press onward and get ready for the Jayhawks' next opponent - the Colorado Buffaloes.

Historically speaking, Kansas owns the Buffaloes.  Since 1980, the series stands at a lopsided 56-7 mark, in favor of the Jayhawks.  And, on average, the games haven't been close, either - with an average score of 82-67.  And, only two games have been within ten points since 1999.  The Buffs have beaten Kansas at home exactly twice in the last 20 years.  Not quite the level of dominance as the Kansas State rivalry, but impressive and intimidating, nonetheless.  Kansas fans regularly invade Boulder and give the feel of a home game inside Allen Fieldhouse - though, nothing compares to the real Fieldhouse.

Colorado has been very good this year at home, (10-1) but a lackluster 1-7 away from home.  If the laws of averages work themselves out, that means they have a 90.9 percent chance of knocking off the Jayhawks Wednesday night, right?  Well, not really. What that doesn't take into account is talent.  While the Buffs have obviously brought in better talent since head coach Jeff Bzdelik took over, they still rely too heavily on their guards and don't get enough from their frontline, despite having as many big bodies as the Jayhawks.

Backcourt Comparison

Kansas - Sherron Collins, Brady Morningstar, Xavier Henry, Tyshawn Taylor and Tyrel Reed
Colorado - Cory Higgins, Alec Burks, Nate Tomlinson, Dwight Thorne II and Levi Knutson

Kansas Colorado
PPG 47.0 51.9
RPG 12.4 14.4
SPG 6.1 5.5

 

Frontcourt Comparison

Kansas - Cole Aldrich, Marcus Morris, Markieff Morris, Thomas Robinson and Jeff Withey
Colorado - Marcus Relphorde, Austin Dufault, Shane Harris-Tunks, Casey Crawford and Keegan Hornbuckle

Kansas Colorado
PPG 36.4 25.9
RPG 26.8 12.5
BPG 6.0 1.3

 

There is little doubt in my mind that the Colorado guards can play and score with their counterparts in blue.  Cory Higgins took over last year with the departure of nineteen year senior Richard Roby and 17.7 points per game.  He has upped that to 18.3 per game this year.  For a guard that is so heavily relied upon to score, Higgins has an outstanding 50 percent shooting percentage from the field.  Higgins has help in the backcourt, though.  Freshman guard Alec Burks is second on the team in scoring and has been a very pleasant surprise.  A Kansas City product, Burks is averaging 16.3 points per game, and doing so while shooting ever better than Higgins; checking in at 53.1 percent from the field.  He's not much of a three point shooter, (27.5 percent) but as the running joke goes, give him a game against Kansas; see if he doesn't heat up.  Burks also leads the team in rebounds with 4.7 boards a game. (Does that seem low to just me for a team leader?)  Give him another year to develop and Burks should be an All-Big 12 level performer by his junior year, if not next year.  Sophomore Nate Tomlinson, an Aussie, runs the show as the point guard and averages 4.3 assists per game.  He is the stereotypical point guard; don't expect much scoring from him.

Do the Buffs even try to get the ball inside?  Without having watched their every game this year, the answer, based on the numbers, would almost overwhelmingly be 'no.'  Perhaps every website has their numbers misprinted.  Yeah, that's it.  Maybe StatSheet, Yahoo!, ESPN, the Colrado official website and the Big 12 website are all guilty of the same stat reporting mistake.  Since I doubt that, I'm truly at a loss for explanation.  They have somewhat comparable size to the Jayhawks - three players over 6'9" and five over 6'7" who see regular playing time.  What's that you say?  Nobody else seems quite as good when you are used to watching Cole Aldrich on a game to game basis?  That makes sense.  In all seriousness, if the Jayhawks throw the ball inside over and over, they should score with ease and put pressure on the Colorado guards to shoot at a high rate, since they get little production from the frontline.  The only way the Buffs stay close is if they cook up some whacky zone defense scheme to prevent the ball going inside and force Tyshawn and Xavier to shoot three after three.  Oh, and one last thing - twelve rebounds a game from your frontline?  The stats must be misreported.  They are not.  Burks, a guard, leads the team in rebounds with 4.7 per game.  The opening line for over/under on Kansas rebounds has been set at 60.

 

Record: 11-10 (2-5)

Best Win(s): Baylor, Nebraska

Worst Loss(es): @Oregon State, @Colorado State, @Iowa State

 

Informative Colorado Links

The Ralphie Report

KenPom Page

StatSheet Page

Player rotation from their Yahoo! team page:

Player Rotation:   Usual Starters—F Austin Dufault, F Marcus Relphorde, G Alec Burks, G Cory Higgins, G Nate Tomlinson. Key Subs—G Dwight Thorne, F Casey Crawford.

 

Against Common Opponents

Kansas Colorado
Baylor vs. W, 81-75 vs. W, 78-71
Kansas State @ W, 81-79 vs. L, 81-87
Nebraska @ W, 84-72 vs. W, 72-60
Iowa State @ W, 84-61 @ L, 63-64

 

Random Stat Musings About Colorado

  • In case you skipped ahead to shorter sentences down here, ss stated above, Burks leads Colorado in rebounding at 4.7 per game.  If you read it above, it needs to be emphasized again.  That is mind-boggling.
  • Five of the Buffs' ten players with the most minutes per game are either freshmen or sophomores, including two sophomores and a freshman in the starting lineup.
  • The Buffs handle the ball very well, boasting an assist to turnover margin of 1.15, good for 55th in the nation.  They also only allowing a 0.73 assist to turnover ratio, good for 73rd in the nation.  Smart ball-handling will be a key.
  • Don't put them on the free throw line.  They will not miss many.  76.7 percent - third in the nation.