Know Your One-Last-Trip-to-Boulder Rival: Colorado

LEAVE YOUR TRIFECTA PICKS IN COMMENTS.

Conference play is upon us! We begin the proceedings with, honestly, an odd realization: Mizzou makes its final trip to Boulder (for quite a while anyway) tomorrow.  Mizzou and Colorado have rarely been good at the same time (primarily because Colorado has rarely been good, I guess), so trips to Boulder have taken on more of a landmine quality than one of a big game, but regardless, Mizzou has played many great games and many terrible ones at the often sterile, occasionally rocking Coors Events Center.

For Mike Anderson, trips to Boulder have ended up just fine.

  • January 24, 2007: Mizzou 79, Colorado 65
  • January 26, 2008: Mizzou 66, Colorado 62
  • February 21, 2009: Mizzou 66, Colorado 53
  • February 6, 2010: Mizzou 84, Colorado 66

In fact, the worst thing to happen with any of the Boulder trips was what happened when Mizzou returned from Boulder in 2008.  (Check No. 2 on this list.)  Can Mike Anderson move to 5-0 at The Coors before Colorado moves to the Pac-12?

Colorado (11-4)


CU
Opp.
Pace (No. of Possessions)
69.5
Points Per Minute
2.09
1.75
Points Per Possession (PPP)
1.22
1.03
Points Per Shot (PPS)
1.42
1.25
2-PT FG% 54.8%
46.8%
3-PT FG% 36.2%
36.3%
FT% 77.7%
71.8%
True Shooting % 60.0%
53.7%




CU Opp.
Assists/Gm 14.8
12.8
Steals/Gm 8.2
5.7
Turnovers/Gm 10.9
15.6
Ball Control Index (BCI)
(Assists + Steals) / TO
2.12
1.19




CU Opp.
Expected Off. Rebounds/Gm 11.5
12.4
Offensive Rebounds/Gm 11.8
11.5
Difference +0.3
-0.9

Colorado doesn't play at a particularly high pace under new coach Tad Boyle, but you can somewhat see how the Denver Post might think this could be a shootout: they are very, very efficient on offense and nearly nonexistent on defense.  They shoot a rather incredibly high 60.0% in terms of True Shooting % ... but they allow opponents to shoot well themselves.

From a ball control perspective, Colorado's numbers are good, primarily because they don't turn the ball over.  (As we'll see below, they have the third-best offense in the country in terms of turnover avoidance.)  Their assist totals aren't amazing, but they are a team that brings plenty to the table.  When they have struggled, it has come because of some olé defense -- in all four of their losses, they have given up at least 82 points.

Ken Pomeroy Stats

CU Offense vs MU Defense Ranks

CU Offense MU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 21
32
Push
Effective FG% 18
108
CU
Turnover % 3
6
Push
Off. Reb. % 105
237
CU big
FTA/FGA 63
180
CU big
MU Offense vs CU Defense Ranks

MU Offense CU Defense Advantage
Efficiency 23
177
MU big
Effective FG% 27
178
MU big
Turnover % 23
120
MU big
Off. Reb. % 125
172
MU
FTA/FGA 261
179
CU

Where the Buffs are weakest

This list starts, predictably, on defense.  Colorado ranks 251st in Def. 3PT%, 143rd in Def. 2PT%.  They don't block shots (241st in Def. Block%), and in the primary Four Factors categories above, their defense ranks no better than 120th in any of them.

Beyond defense, Colorado's biggest issues come in the makeup of the team itself -- they are thin (210th in Bench Minutes, with basically eight players they trust) and not particularly tall (203rd in Effective Height).  Only one player in the rotation is shorter than 6'3 ... but only one is taller than 6'7.  They are a solid rebounding team despite whatever height issues they possess, however, and they don't get shots blocked.

Where they are best

Offense, offense, offense.  They don't turn the ball over, they don't get shots blocked (11th in Off. Block%), they shoot 3's well (72nd in Off. 3PT%), they shoot 2's very well (14th in Off. 2PT%), and they shoot free throws very, very well (eighth in Off. FT%).  This may not be a long paragraph, but that is a long list of important strengths right there.  As mentioned above, their problem to date has simply been that they give away on defense most of what they gained on offense.

Opp's Season to Date

  • Wins (Team Rank is from KenPom.com)
    vs No. 74 Indiana, 78-69
    No. 87 Colorado State, 90-83 (OT)
    No. 127 Oregon State, 83-57
    at No. 233 CS-Bakersfield, 85-73
    No. 283 The Citadel, 89-61
    No. 295 Idaho State, 88-80
    No. 308 UT-Pan American, 83-64
    No. 326 Longwood, 104-59
    No. 338 UM-Eastern Shore, 92-65
    No. 340 Alcorn State, 91-51
    Western New Mexico, 92-70
  • Losses
    vs No. 50 New Mexico, 76-89
    at No. 76 Georgia, 74-83
    at No. 100 Harvard, 66-82
    at No. 189 San Francisco, 81-83 (OT)

It is easy to be enamored with Colorado's offensive proficiency, but it's equally easy to be turned off by this simple fact: so far in 2010-11, the Buffs are 3-4 versus Top 200 teams.  Against those teams, they have allowed under 80 points just twice.  Granted, none of their losses came at home, where they are undefeated, beat No. 87 Colorado State in overtime, and whipped No. 127 Oregon State.  But still ... defensive is going to continue to hold them back significantly barring sudden, jarring improvement.

Opp Player Stats

Player AdjGS*/Gm GmSc/Min Line
Alec Burks (6'6, 195, So.) 16.8 0.59 28.7 MPG, 19.1 PPG (53.4% 2PT, 28.6% 3PT), 4.7 RPG, 2.3 APG, 2.0 TOPG
Cory Higgins (6'5, 180, Sr.) 14.8 0.49 30.4 MPG, 16.6 PPG (47.8% 2PT, 30.6% 3PT), 3.3 RPG, 2.7 APG, 1.3 SPG, 1.5 TOPG
Levi Knutson (6'4, 200, Sr.) 11.3 0.48 23.7 MPG, 11.4 PPG (50.0% 3PT), 3.1 RPG, 1.1 APG
Marcus Relphorde (6'7, 220, Sr.) 10.9 0.40 27.1 MPG, 12.1 MPG (39.4% 3PT), 4.2 RPG, 2.4 APG, 1.8 TOPG
Austin Dufault (6'9, 225, Jr.) 10.1 0.45 22.3 MPG, 9.0 PPG (58.8% 2PT), 5.0 RPG, 1.1 SPG
Andre Roberson (6'7, 195, Fr.) 9.8 0.48 20.3 MPG, 6.7 PPG (65.5% 2PT), 7.7 RPG, 1.7 SPG 1.3 BPG, 1.3 TOPG
Nate Tomlinson (6'3, 190, Jr.) 4.2 0.19 22.8 MPG, 3.6 PPG, 2.9 APG, 2.1 RPG, 1.5 TOPG
Shannon Sharpe (6'1, 200, RSFr.) 2.8 0.16 17.3 MPG, 2.6 PPG, 1.7 APG, 1.3 RPG, 1.1 TOPG
Trey Eckloff (6'10, 235, Jr.) 2.2 0.38 5.8 MPG, 2.3 PPG, 1.3 RPG
Ben Mills (7'0, 215, Fr.) 1.1 0.23 4.8 MPG, 2.0 PPG, 1.3 RPG
Javon Coney (6'3, 210, Sr.) 0.7 0.12 5.5 MPG, 0.9 PPG

* AdjGS = a take-off of the Game Score metric (definition here) accepted by a lot of basketball stat nerds.  It redistributes a team's points based not only on points scored, but also by giving credit for assists, rebounds (offensive & defensive), steals, blocks, turnovers and fouls.  It is a stat intended to determine who had the biggest overall impact on the game itself, instead of just how many balls a player put through a basket.

  • Highest Usage%: Burks (31%), Higgins (27%), Relphorde (22%).
  • Highest Floor%: Knutson (52%), Dufault (48%), Burks (45%).
  • Highest %Pass: Tomlinson (80%), Sharpe (71%), Relphorde (51%).
  • Highest %Shoot: Dufault (46%), Knutson (44%), Roberson (41%)
  • Highest %Fouled: Dufault (20%), Burks (17%), Higgins (13%).
  • Highest %T/O: Roberson (12%), Sharpe (8%), Tomlinson (7%).
  • How much does the Colorado offense run through Burks and Higgins?  Typically the point guard earns the most touches per possession, and for obvious reasons -- either through passing, shooting or turning the ball over, they are getting into the box score quite a bit ... plus, it is, after all, their job to touch the ball a lot.  For Colorado, however, here are the highest Touches Per Possession:

    Burks 3.5
    Higgins 3.3
    Relphorde 3.0
    Tomlinson 2.8
    Sharpe 2.5

    Tomlinson and Sharpe are by far the most frequent passers on the team, but they are fourth and fifth on the touches list behind three guys who, it would appear, penetrate a lot.
  • Burks toyed with the idea of going pro last year, but I'm curious ... clearly he's good at getting into the lane and scoring points.  Of all the skills for a future shooting guard to have, obviously that is one of them.  But he really doesn't take a lot of 3-pointers (only 28 of his 191 field goal attempts have been 3's) ... and more importantly, he rarely makes them, shooting just 28% for the season.  He clearly has a lot of offensive talent, but he is just as clearly still a work in progress.
  • Higgins is a near mirror image of Burks in a lot of ways.  He passes a hair more, gets fouled a hair less, and shoots just as poorly from 3-point range  But it's easy to forget about him when Burks is younger and, seemingly, a bit better.  The two almost equally paced Colorado in their two games versus Missouri last year; they scored 76 of the Buffs' 129 combined points -- Burks 40, Higgins 36.
  • This team clearly goes as far as Burks and Higgins take them, but Relphorde is a bit of a wildcard.  His tendencies are very close to Burks' and Higgins' (like Higgins to Burks, he passes a bit more, gets fouled a bit less), but he does still average 12 PPG, primarily because he's a much better 3-point shooter than the other two.
  • When you've got three guys penetrating as much as these three players do, somebody surely benefits from wide-open looks on the perimeter, right?  Right. In this case, it's Levi Knutson, who shoots 3.5 3-pointers per game and makes half of them.  Knowing Mizzou's early-season defensive tendencies, it is possible that he could end up with some open looks.  Then again, Mizzou has gotten much better in this regard lately.  Since the Vanderbilt game, opponents have made just 35 of 139 3-pointers (25.2%).
  • One guy who could be an underrated factor in this game: freshman Andre Roberson, who assaults the glass.  His 14% offensive rebounding rate is the best on the team (second-best: Dufault's 12%), and his 30% defensive rebounding rate is about as good as Missouri will see this year.  In fact, he's currently the third-best defensive rebounder in the country.  Colorado allows quite a few open looks, so offensive rebounding might not be a huge key for Mizzou, but ... if you're going to miss them, miss them away from Roberson.

Keys to the Game

  1. Back atcha.  Congratulations, you scored.  Now you better get back downcourt because it's our turn.  That is the Mike Anderson way, and against a team as bipolar as Colorado -- great on offense, not so much on D -- it is Mizzou's key to victory.  Mizzou's team defense has improved significantly in the last month, but Colorado is the best all-around offensive team Mizzou has faced since probably Georgetown.  The key to breaking CU's will is responding, and probably quickly.  Colorado isn't a slow team, but they're not a fast one.  Quick responses will both force Colorado to keep it up on the offensive end, but it will also get them moving and thinking faster than they like.  Mike Anderson's system isn't just about forcing turnovers; speeding you up can do more than simply lead to steals, it can lead to bad decisions as well.  That's what will win Missouri the game.

  2. BCI! BCI!.  Colorado's offensive BCI is damn good, primarily because they don't turn the ball over.  However it comes about -- via turnovers, assists or steals -- Mizzou will need to beat Colorado in the BCI battle.  It's hard to imagine Colorado winning this game if they don't outperform Mizzou in this area.

  3. Kim English.  Now you've done it, Kimmeh.  You have all Missouri fans envisioning how the next three months could play out if Marcus Denmon AND Good Kimmeh are in the backcourt at the same time.  No pressure or anything, but ... now you have to play like you did against North Alabama, each game for the next 16 games.  Against this defense, lord knows you'll have some open looks.  Now make them.

Prediction

Any game in Boulder is a potential trap game -- a few times a year, the Buffs give a superior team hell there.  Last year, it was Kansas and Kansas State.  The year before, it was Texas.  But under Mike Anderson, it has yet to be Missouri.  And you know by now that I never pick against a streak.  We'll say this is a close game for 20-30 minutes, but Colorado eventually buckles.  This should be a pretty fast game, so we'll say at a pace of 76 possessions or so, Mizzou pulls away, 88-75.

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