The Washington State Cougars, losers of four games in a row, travel to Boulder to face the Colorado Buffaloes tonight, which probably isn’t a good sign for picking up their first Pac-12 win of the season: Since the Buffs joined the conference, WSU has played in Colorado six times and lost all of them — by an average of 16 points.
Tonight’s game tips off at 6 p.m. PT and will be broadcast on Pac-12 Network. You can also watch via Pac-12.com or the Pac-12 Now app on your favorite phone or tablet, which requires a broadcast subscription.
This matchup isn’t as lopsided on its face as some previous ones; the Buffaloes are “only” ranked about 80 spots ahead of WSU in kenpom.com’s system, which is based on marginal efficiency.
That said, it’s sure looking a lot like WSU’s leading scorer, Robert Franks, is going to miss another game — and it appears there’s now no return in sight. That’s obviously a big blow to WSU’s offense; while most fans know Franks for his perimeter shooting, the UW game revealed just how critical Franks is to providing any kind of interior scoring presence for the Cougs.
Colorado’s interior defense is its weak point — the Buffs block a lot of shots, but they also allow greater than 50 percent shooting on twos — so it sure would be beneficial if someone else could give the Cougars something in the paint.
The Colorado defense forces its opponents into lots of isolation play — nationally, the Buffaloes allow the 14th-fewest assists on made baskets. The Cougars’ athletic limitations mean they’re typically at their best when they’re sharing the basketball, so something is going to have to give: Either the Cougs will have to find a way to penetrate the defense with ball movement, or they’ll have to get some individual creativity.
Freshman CJ Elleby has done his best to provide the latter. He’s coming off a 26-point, 10-rebound performance against the Washington Huskies and is WSU’s de facto go-to guy in Franks’ absence. It’s a heavy burden to place on a first-year player, but he’s generally been up to the task ... so far.
Of course, the WSU defense has been something approximating a disaster, so it might not matter, anyway. Perhaps the Cougars will get lucky, though: Colorado isn’t a great perimeter shooting team — just 33 percent from three-point range — and WSU, which will give up lots of open perimeter looks, might be able to bait the Buffs into shooting more from out there than they usually do. Maybe the Buffs will miss 80 percent of them?
If Colorado doesn’t take the bait, it probably will be another long night where the Cougs appear to hang around for a while because they hit some shots for a while, but ultimately are never really in the game because they just can’t get stops or rebounds.
Kenpom.com predicts the Cougars to lose by 10 points, giving them a one-in-five chance of pulling off the upset. That’s also predicated on the computer’s belief that the Cougs are at full strength. ¯\_(ツ)_/¯