The Washington State Cougars host the Colorado Buffaloes on Saturday in Beasley Coliseum as both teams seek their second conference victory of the season. The Buffaloes have had a disappointing start to their Pac-12 slate. They've taken the two of the league's best teams, Arizona and UCLA, to the wire only to come away with narrow losses. Road failures at Arizona State and Washington have left them in a big hole.
Who should WSU keep an eye on?
The Buffs are led on offense by sophomore Askia Booker, who takes 31 percent of the shots while he is on the floor. Booker hasn't done all that well with those shots, posting just a 45.5 effective field goal percentage thus far. He is at his best from long range, where he has knocked down 36 percent. The problem is, Booker more frequently shoots twos, of which he is making just 41 percent.
The rest of the shots are distributed well on offense for Colorado. The most efficient regular is Josh Scott, who is an inside threat at 6'10. Spencer Dinwiddie is a versatile scorer who has the ability to hit a jump shot, but also get to the free throw line. He shoots almost 79 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts, 23rd-best in the country.
Much of the focus before the season was on Andre Roberson, the athletic forward. He was called underrated so much to the point he was actually overrated. He is one of the nation's best interior defenders and rebounders. His 28 defensive rebounding percentage is eighth-best nationally. His athletic length is just the type of guy that can bother Brock Motum. The Cougars' star won't be able to beat Roberson off the dribble like he does many big men in the league.
Outside of home court, are there any advantages that WSU may have?
The only obvious advantage for the Cougars is in defensive rebounding. The Buffaloes are just above average on the offensive glass, and WSU has the potential to shut that part of their game down. On the other end, Colorado doesn't do much rebounding outside of Roberson. This could be another game where Mike Ladd has a big day on the glass.
One other thing in Wazzu's favor could be free throw rate. Aided by their slow pace, WSU has done well at limiting free throw attempts for their opponents, allowing just 30 free throws per 100 field goal attempts. Free throws are a big part of the Buffaloes' offense, as they are 20th nationally in free throw rate. They are also 62nd in percentage of points coming from free throws. If WSU is able to slow down the pace, that would lessen the chance of Colorado drawing enough fouls to get into the bonus.
The Buffs still can get to the line by attacking the basket on drives, but it will help to limit the chances they get on bonus free throws.
What about Colorado should make WSU fans scared?
First off, the Buffaloes are going to be hungry for a win. They expected to contend for the Pac-12 title, but have started off poorly and fallen way behind. Athletes and coaches like to say that they are always motivated to win, but it's obvious that they get up a little more for certain games. With the prospect of a 1-5 conference start staring them in the face, CU will have that extra bit of focus.
Statistically, Colorado is a solid three-point shooting team with plenty of options. Now, we've talked about plenty how the three-point game is a lottery (as evidenced by WSU on Wednesday), but a group with lots of shooters has more entries in that lottery. Additionally, the Cougs give up a ton of three-point shots, so a hot day from Colorado could bury the home team in a hurry.
I said above that free throws could be an advantage for WSU if they are able to take that part of the game away. On the flipside, Colorado's ability to draw fouls and get to the line could cause problems if the Cougs can't contain it. WSU's rotation is thin, and foul trouble could doom them in a hurry.
Finally, the Buffaloes' length inside could be a huge hindrance. As documented here before, the Cougs are among the worst in the country at getting their shots blocked. WSU has 13.4 percent of their shots sent away, and Motum has struggled with that recently. Roberson and Scott could make life difficult if the Aussie and his teammates don't take the ball strong to the rack.
Overall, what should be expected?
This should be a game with plenty of outside shots. WSU and Colorado both allow lots of three-point attempts on defense. So, the ability of the Cougs to knock down jumpers is key. That isn't exactly a comfortable situation to be in, as DaVonte Lacy, Mike Ladd, Royce Woolrdige, and Dexter Kernich-Drew are streaky. It could be a great day, or it could be a completely miserable day on the offensive end.
KenPom predicts this game as a toss-up, with a 60-59 Colorado win expected. WSU has played better at home this season, and they'll have to come through with a strong game to knock off the Buffaloes. Aside from outside shooting, look for the battle inside and on the glass to be a deciding factor.