The Washington State Cougars are fresh off two impressive home wins over Oregon and Oregon State, but they leave the friendly confines of Beasley Coliseum to face the Colorado Buffaloes on Thursday night (7 pm PT, Pac-12 Network). Since moving to the Pac-12 in 2012, the Buffs have won all seven home matchups against the Cougs.
If you’d like to follow the game, WSU Basketball’s Twitter account has you covered with the game time, TV channel, stream, stats and radio information:
Colorado is an elite defensive team (17th in adjusted defensive efficiency) that excels in all major factors. The Buffs allow opponents to shoot just 44 percent from 2s, and allow just a 45.1 effective field goal percentage overall (33rd). They are top 50 in defensive rebounding and limiting free throw attempts, and 73rd in turnover rate.
There is size on the CU roster, but head coach Tad Boyle starts a 6’7 power forward and a 6’8 center. Of course, that 6’7 guy is the athletic Tyler Bey who is one of the best defensive rebounders in the country and a fine shot blocker. Evan Battey’s 6’8 frame carries 262 pounds, so he can take up space. Off the bench, 6’10 Lucas Siewert will back up both Bey and Battey, while 7-footer Dallas Watson might see a few minutes.
Having 6’7 D’Shawn Schwartz take up most of the minutes at the 3 also gives the Buff some tough defensive matchups. That helps make up for a 6-foot McKinley Wright playing almost every minute at the point. If Noah Williams gets plenty of minutes in the backcourt alongside Isaac Bonton, the Cougs should have a regular size advantage against Wright and one of 6’2 Shane Gatling or 6’4 Daylen Kountz.
That lineup worked against the Oregon schools (including DJ Rodman at the 3), but shifting CJ Elleby to the 4 will give him a tough assignment against Bey. However, it could be a benefit if he could draw Bey out of the lane.
WSU has struggled from 2-point range, and Colorado pushes it’s opponents off the 3-point line. That’s not a good matchup, but the Cougs have been running better offense recently and they’ll need to do that to get free looks.
When Colorado has the ball, Wright controls the action. He’s a tough guard who will dish as much as he shoots. He can hit the 3, but is more likely to break a defender down off the dribble. He doesn’t get to the free throw line an extraordinary amount, likely due to the fact he is looking to dish off to teammates.
Bey will go to the rim, as well as use the midrange. He is selective on 3-pointers, but possesses the ability to knock them down. The junior is one of the best in the country at getting to the free throw line relative to his total shots—taking 77 free throws for every 100 field goal attempts. He shoots them quite well at nearly 77 percent. Bey is the type of guy that could give an injury-hobbled WSU trouble simply by drawing fouls. The Cougs cannot afford much foul trouble, particularly in the frontcourt.
Battey is a terror on the offensive glass, grabbing 14.2 percent of his own team’s misses when he is on the floor. He’s also relentless at getting to the free throw line—nearly at the rate of Bey. Again, it’s going to be tough for WSU’s bigs to avoid foul trouble against the Buffs.
Schwartz and Siewert are the long-range threats, and Gatling can be streaky outside.
Overall, the CU offense relies heavily on free throws and 3-point shooting, along with getting second chances on the offensive glass. While the bigs will draw fouls, they don’t shoot particularly well on 2-pointers. That should help a WSU defense that has shown it can be shredded inside by adept big men.
Colorado does struggle with turnovers—giving it away on 20.2 percent of possessions. The Buffs have been particularly susceptible to steals. WSU could get some easy transition buckets and defensive stops by picking a few pockets.
This isn’t likely to be a win for WSU—KenPom projects Colorado to win 87 percent of the time with an average score of 74-62. But the Cougs played like a top-20 team last week, and can take down the Buffaloes if they do that again. It will require sound defense that forces Colorado off the 3-point line, continued hot outside shooting, and probably some extra quality bench minutes at elevation with foul trouble being a strong possibility.