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Kansas Vs. Colorado: Previewing The Buffaloes

Kansas vs. Colorado tonight and the game that I personally picked to be the first Jayhawk loss.  Obviously a loss to Texas makes that impossible, but I wouldn't say a loss in general is out of the question.  Yes Colorado dropped two road games, but this is a different team at home and it's a team that beat Missouri fairly easily at home.  There's some talent in Boulder and Bill Self knows it.

"Well Burks is a pro and Higgins will probably be a pro. I think they're the top scoring duo in our league and probably as good of wings that we have in our conference."

Now the trick is not letting one loss turn into two and tonight both Bill Self and Tad Boyle will be looking to get their respective teams back on track.  Another consecutive loss by either side is going to prove at least a little demoralizing.

One last trip to Boulder as Big 12 opponents.  It's time to preview the Buffs.  And in case you had forgotten, they still sit fourth in the current Big 12 standings.


AP Poll
SOS Projected

The Players

When you talk about Colorado the first player you have to talk about is a 6'6" sophomore guard practically out of Kansas' backyard in Grandview Missouri. As the story goes, Alec Burks was around 6'1" maybe 6'2" as a senior and after committing to the Buffs he hit a growth spurt and made the jump to 6'6" where he became a bonafide wing.  I listened to the Husker broadcast the other day when CU played in Lincoln and the way they tell the story Burks grew 10 inches going from 5'8" to 6'8" in some sort of Alice In Wonderland type scenario. 

Getting back to Burks, he's the best and most dynamic scorer on this team and will be a key for Kansas on the defensive end throughout.  Burks lead Colorado in scoring at 19.6 per game and sits near the top of the league in conference play. His season average of 5.7 boards per game is second on the team but again since conference play his average has been closer to 9 which is tops on the team and near the top of the league.  This is a player that will get paid to play at the next level and Kansas could use a guy like Travis Releford to help stop him.

After Burks the next man to keep an eye on is Cory Higgins.  Higgins is a familiar name and a senior guard that prior to Burks arrival was the lone bright spot on the Buffaloes a few years ago.  Higgins averages 16.1 points and leads the Buffs in assists.

Another senior and a local player for the Buffs has had a strong season and that is 6'4" guard Levi Knutson.  Knutson is actually a player that typically comes off the bench for the Buffs but he ranks third on the team in scoring at 11.7 per game. A big reason for that is his 50% shooting percentage from beyond the arc and a team high 40 three pointers this season.  For some perspective, Knutson's percentage leads the Big 12 this season and I'd nominate Knutson as the player to watch for an "out of his mind" night against the Jayhawks.

One of the major leaders on the team for Colorado would be 6'7" senior forward Marcus Relphorde.  Relphorde might actually have more to do with whether or not Colorado loses than some of the other players already mentioned.  When Relphorde is his normal self, the Buffs play well.  When Relphorde is off, the Buffs often lose.  On the season Relphorde averages 11.6 points and 4.2 rebounds.  In the Buffs 6 losses he has averaged 8 points per game while shooting just 34%. 

The other player on the inside for Colorado is 6'9" junior forward Austin Dufault.  Dufault may or may not actually hit 6'9" with shoes on, but he is the Buff primary interior player and averages 8.7 points and 4.7 rebounds per game.

The lone remaining starter for the Buffs is junior guard Nate Tomlinson.  Tomlinson battled the injury bug early in the season but has returned to the lineup.  He's not a huge threat offensively and sees most of his minutes due to defense.

Off the bench the Buffs have received a big boost from a true freshman in San Antonio native Andre Roberson.  Roberson is 6'7" and a lean 195, but he might actually have the best instincts of any of the Colorado bigs.  He'll be a player to watch for the Buffs as they transition to the Pac 10 and he currently leads Colorado in rebounding at 7.3 boards per contest.

The last player in the regular Colorado rotation is 6'1" freshman guard Shannon Sharpe.  Sharpe averages 15 minutes per game and contributes 2.2 points per game.

As you can see Colorado has some good top end talent in Burks, Higgins and Relphorde.  They have a shooter off the bench in Knutson and a couple of decent bigs in Dufault and Roberson. 



Colorado Trends

The Buffs are coming off back to back tough road losses in the Big 12.  After opening week wins against #Missouri and on the road against a ranked Kansas State, Colorado moved to 3-0 in the conference with a nice win at home over Oklahoma State.  At that moment the Buffs were two road wins away from a likely top 25 ranking headed into this game.  Unfortunately the Buffs lost on the road to Nebraska and again in Norman to Oklahoma.  Those are bad losses for a team that many considered an NCAA tournament team. One second Colorado looks to be a team that had moved beyond the bad road loss, the next they are the same old Colorado.

What's different?  Well this one is at home.  Colorado's losses are ALL on the road but at home the Buffs have been pretty good.  Throw in the fact that Buffalo fans have circled this game on the calendar for about two weeks after they started to think they had a chance, and it should be a tough environment to play in.

The biggest question mark for Colorado is going to be their defense.  Offensively they are a good team.  They have weapons and they attack.  When the Buffs are winning games, they're buying into Tad Boyle's philosophy and working hard on both ends of the floor.  Right now CU is on the ropes, but Kansas at home will provide plenty of motivation to try and turn that momentum.

Offensive Averages:

11th / 3rd
112th / 7th
133rd / 9th
FG Pct
12th / 2nd
Defensive Averages:
267th / 3rd
187th / 7th
40th / 9th
FG Pct
233rd / 2nd

Prediction Time

Kansas has a tremendous advantage inside with the Morris twins although the depth is certainly hurt with the loss of Thomas Robinson for this one.  Enter Jeff Withey.  Withey and the twins will need to exploit the size advantage attack the basket and attack the glass to ensure Colorado doesn't get this game going in their favor.  If Kansas plays soft, Relphorde, Dufault and Roberson will make them pay for that.

In addition Kansas needs their guards to carry over the defensive effort that they showed in a loss to Texas into tonight's matchup with Cory Higgins and Alec Burks.  The two are athletic and very good in the one on one. 

I've been to Boulder when this has been 90% Kansas fans and 10% Buffs fans.  That's been shifting over recent years and I'd say tonight will likely be close to 50/50 if not slightly in favor of the Buffs. 

Kansas needs to set a tone early and they need to find some consistency.  The Jayhawks have the talent, but this isn't a game you win on talent alone.  Colorado has improved and they're not going to let you do that anymore.

Kansas KU 82.1 51.4 66.7 37.0 39.3 11.6 27.7 18.2 14.1 8.9 4.8 17.8
Colorado CU 81.8 48.6 77.9 36.7 36.0 12.2 23.9 13.9 11.9 7.6 2.9 18.8
Kansas KU Opponents 61.7 38.0 68.8 26.5 32.3 11.5 20.8 10.4 16.4 6.2 2.7 19.8
Colorado CU Opponents 71.4 44.4 72.3 34.6 31.5 10.8 20.6 12.9 14.7 6.2 3.0 20.4