CU men's basketball preview: Oregon State
MATCHUP: Colorado Buffaloes (8-4) at Oregon State Beavers (8-4).
GAME TIME: Friday, 9 p.m. MT, Gill Coliseum, Corvallis, Ore.
BROADCAST: TV — ESPNU; Radio — 850 AM.
COACHES: Colorado — Tad Boyle, 8th season (157-99, 213-165 overall); Oregon State — Wayne Tinkle, 4th season (49-58, 207-149 overall).
LEADERS: Colorado — Scoring: G McKinley Wright, Fr., 17.0 ppg; Rebounding: G/F George King, Sr., 8.3 rpg; Assists: Wright, 4.7 apg. Oregon State — Scoring: F Tres Tinkle, So., 18.2 ppg; Rebounding: Tinkle, 7.2 rpg; Assists: G Stephen Thompson Jr., Jr., 3.5 apg.
NOTES: The Buffs play four of their first six Pac-12 games on the road, a stretch that continues Sunday at Oregon (8 p.m. MT, Pac-12 Network)...CU swept the Beavers last year and has gone 8-4 against OSU since joining the league. Three of those four losses were at OSU...Wright owns an assist-to-turnover rate of 1.70. Wright has bolstered that mark by recording 17 assists against just four turnovers in the past two games...In a couple statistical categories Boyle covets the most, the Buffs enter league play ranked fourth in defensive field goal percentage (.419) and fourth in rebounding margin (plus-5.4)...Freshman Tyler Bey has recorded 25 rebounds in the past three games. He had 25 total rebounds through the season's first 11 games.
The phrase "flashes of brilliance" has dotted head coach Tad Boyle description of his Colorado Buffaloes lately.
Flashes, though, won't get it done within the Pac-12 Conference.
The youngsters that comprise the bulk of the Buffs' rotation already have provided encouraging signs for the future. Yet those glimpses have been offset by predictable growing pains as well as bouts of inconsistency from CU's veterans. As the Buffs get set to open their seventh season of Pac-12 play Friday night at Oregon State, Boyle remains steadfast in his belief that finding more consistency on defense and on the glass will keep his team afloat through the 18-game league schedule.
"The level of play goes up when conference play happens. Much like the level of play goes up in postseason," Boyle said. "There has been a common theme in our four losses. And that's we haven't rebounded the ball. We're minus-7.8 on the boards in our four losses. And we're giving up 48 field goal percentage defense in our four losses. In our eight wins we're holding them to 39 percent field goal percentage and we're plus-12 rebounding.
"When we do what we're supposed to do, the wins and losses take care of themselves. I'm still getting our young guys to figure that out."
Arizona State has been the story of the league so far, ascending all the way to No. 3 in the nation with a head-turning 12-0 start. Preseason favorites Arizona and USC have suffered mixed results in the wake of the bombshell FBI investigation into college basketball that led to the arrests of assistants on both staffs, while UCLA capped a solid nonconference slate with an impressive win against Kentucky.
Here is a look at what's gone wrong and what's gone right in the Pac-12 so far.
Quality wins: UNLV, Texas A&M, Alabama.
Bad losses: North Carolina State.
Outlook: The Wildcats already have suffered through a season's worth of ups and downs in less than two months. Arizona was one of four Division I schools that had assistant coaches arrested in late September as part of a sweeping FBI corruption investigation, yet the Wildcats nonetheless were ranked No. 3 nationally in the preseason with one of the most talented teams of coach Sean Miller's tenure. Arizona was ranked second when it went 0-3 at the Battle 4 Atlantis in the Bahamas and became the first team in 31 years to go from No. 2 to unranked in one week. Yet bolstered by the return of Rawle Alkins from a foot injury, the No. 17-ranked Wildcats go into their showdown Saturday against ASU on a seven-game winning streak. Seven-foot-one freshman Deandre Ayton might become the second consecutive Pac-12 player to be the top overall pick in the NBA draft next summer.
Arizona State Sun Devils
Quality wins: Kansas State, Xavier, Kansas.
Bad losses: None.
Outlook: In what was a less-than stellar nonconference season for the league, ASU not only was the bright spot of the Pac-12, but the Sun Devils have emerged as one of the surprise stories in college basketball in the third season under coach Bobby Hurley. ASU has thrived under the moniker "Guard U," with a veteran backcourt of Tra Holder, Shannon Evans, and Kodi Justice together averaging almost 53 points per game. The third-ranked Sun Devils did the unthinkable by posting a win at Kansas, and they will have an opportunity to take a big early step in the league race with a battle at Arizona for both teams' Pac-12 opener on Saturday night.
Cal Golden Bears
Quality wins: Wofford, San Diego State.
Bad losses: Chaminade.
Outlook: Cal was expected to struggle in the first season under coach Wyking Jones, and that largely has been the case so far. The Golden Bears were routed on a neutral floor by Chaminade and at home against Portland State, though the Bears turned in a solid one-point win on the road against San Diego State. Cal begins league play ranked last in the Pac-12 in scoring defense (80.1), field goal percentage (.449), and defensive field goal percentage (.453). After averaging just 4.6 points as a reserve last year, junior Don Coleman has emerged as an explosive scorer, averaging a team-leading 20.5 points per game for the Bears.
Quality wins: None.
Bad losses: San Diego.
Outlook: The Buffs were expected to struggle with their youthful rotation, and so far that has been the case. CU displayed impressive grit in winning three games in three days to claim the championship of the Paradise Jam in November, but none of those three opponents (Quinnipiac, Drake, and Mercer) began this week with a winning record. CU lost one of its three seniors, Tory Miller-Stewart, to a season-ending injury, and other than the wins at the sparsely-attended Paradise Jam the Buffs have struggled away from home. The Buffs have competed commendably within games, but the Pac-12 slate will be more about the continued development of CU's promising freshmen, a group led by point guard McKinley Wright (17.0 ppg, 5.2 rpg, 4.7 apg, .507 field goal percentage). CU is tied for 10th in the Pac-12 in assist-to-turnover ratio, and that's with Wright owning a solid 1.70 mark.
Quality wins: Ball State, Portland State.
Bad losses: Boise State.
Outlook: The Ducks have completely retooled their rotation after last year's Final Four run with mixed results. Oregon ranks second in the league in scoring (85.3 points per game) and leads the Pac-12 by a significant margin in defensive field goal percentage (.385). Four players are averaging at least 11 points for Oregon, but the Ducks are averaging an uncharacteristic 16.6 turnovers per game — five more than the Ducks averaged last year. Oregon's last-second loss against Boise State on Dec. 1 ended the Ducks' 46-game home win streak.
Oregon State Beavers
Quality wins: St. Louis.
Bad losses: Wyoming, Kent State.
Outlook: The Beavers entered the season with an intriguing mix of players after being derailed by injuries last year, but a ho-hum nonconference schedule has made it difficult to get a solid read on OSU. A loss last week against Kent State ended a six-game winning streak, but much of that run was compiled at home against such programs as Eastern Kentucky and Arkansas-Pine Bluff. Tres Tinkle (18.2 ppg), who missed most of last year due to a wrist injury, and Stephen Thompson (16.3) form one of the top scoring combinations in the league, and the Beavers also feature a solid inside presence with Drew Eubanks (14.6 ppg, 6.6 rpg). OSU has shot the ball well overall (.479 field goal percentage) but ranks last in the league in 3-point percentage (.299).
Quality wins: None.
Bad losses: Eastern Washington, Long Beach State.
Outlook: The Cardinal was billed as a darkhorse candidate to compete for one of the top four spots in the league, which comes with a first-round bye at the Pac-12 tournament. To Stanford's credit it has played a challenging nonconference schedule, with more than half its losses coming against Kansas, North Carolina, Florida, and Ohio State. Reid Travis posted the top scoring average in the league through nonconference play at 21.4 per game, and the Cardinal has the advantage of playing its first three Pac-12 games at home.
Quality wins: Kentucky.
Bad losses: None.
Outlook: With Arizona riding a rollercoaster on and off the court and USC not living up to its preseason billing, look out for the Bruins. UCLA is battle-tested, with its three losses occurring against two ranked teams, Creighton and Cincinnati, as well as a solid Michigan team on the road. While it certainly was a different situation than Arizona and USC, UCLA successfully weathered its preseason bad press when three freshmen players were arrested in China for shoplifting; two of them, Cody Riley and Jalen Hill, have been suspended for the season, while LiAngelo Ball and his distracting family have left the program. The Bruins sent a message by closing the nonconference season with a neutral-court win against Kentucky, and a favorable early schedule in the Pac-12 could get the Bruins rolling.
Quality wins: Middle Tennessee, New Mexico State.
Bad losses: Princeton.
Outlook: The Trojans were ranked 10th in the preseason but stumbled in the aftermath of assistant Tony Bland's arrest in the FBI's college basketball corruption probe. The fallout has cost USC the services of sophomore guard De'Anthony Melton, who was suspended indefinitely due to his association with the on-going investigation. However, like their crosstown rivals at USC, the Trojans have played a quality schedule, with three of their losses occurring against No. 5 Texas A&M, at SMU, and by two points against No. 12 Oklahoma. Senior guard Jordan McLaughlin leads the league in assists (7.8) and the Trojans lead the league in 3-point percentage (.409). USC looked more like its preseason billing while winning the Diamond Head Classic in Hawaii earlier this week.
Quality wins: Missouri.
Bad losses: None.
Outlook: Coach Larry Krystkowiak keeps showing his knack for keeping the Utes competitive. As always the Utes have been tough at home (6-0), and Utah also has played a quality road schedule (including losses at Butler and BYU). With no player among the league's top 20 in scoring or top 15 in rebounding, the Utes are getting it done by committee, with five players averaging at least 10 points and five players averaging at least five rebounds. As CU's travel partner the Utes have the same tough schedule out of the gate, with trips to Oregon and Los Angeles sandwiched around home dates against No. 3 Arizona State and No. 17 Arizona. The Utes lead the Pac-12 in scoring defense (67.9) and free throw percentage (.777). The defensive mark is no fluke, as Utah also ranks second in defensive field goal percentage (.402).
Quality wins: Kansas.
Bad losses: None.
Outlook: First-year coach Mike Hopkins, who finally nabbed his own job after waiting indefinitely as the heir apparent to Jim Boeheim at Syracuse, has a chance to make the Huskies a surprise team in the Pac-12. Washington scored one of the league's best nonconference wins with an upset of Kansas in Kansas City, and the addition of freshman guard Jaylen Nowell to a core of Noah Dickerson, David Crisp, and Matisse Thybulle gives the Huskies an explosive mix. Defense remains an issue (Washington ranks in the lower third in the league in all major defensive categories) but Nowell, a Seattle native averaging 16.9 points per game, has glossed over the loss of one-and-done guard Markelle Fultz, the top overall pick in the 2017 NBA Draft. While Washington probably wishes it put up a better fight in a 27-point loss to Gonzaga four days after toppling Kansas, the Huskies have defeated all opponents they were expected to beat.
Washington State Cougars
Quality wins: San Diego State.
Bad losses: UC Davis.
Outlook: Despite a solid win against San Diego State, the Cougars have done little to make folks rethink their 12th-place finish in the preseason media poll. WSU ranks last in the league in rebounding margin and generally hasn't excelled in any area, though the Cougars have knocked down a league-leading 143 3-pointers (11.9 per game). Junior forward Robert Franks, who averaged just 6.3 points off the bench last year, has been a bright spot, averaging a team-leading 18.1 points while shooting .500 from the floor and .875 at the free throw line.