The Arizona Wildcats (12-5, 2-2) will welcome the 20th-ranked Colorado Buffaloes (14-3, 3-1) on Saturday in McKale Center, a game that could have major conference championship implications down the road.
Tip-off is set for 12:30 p.m. on FOX.
We wanted to know more about the Buffs before the big game, so we got some insight from Samuel Metivier of RalphieReport.com.
Here’s our Q&A.
Colorado was picked to finish second in the Pac-12, two spots ahead of Arizona. Why were expectations so high this year, and how have the Buffs lived up to them so far?
Two years ago, when Colorado beat Deandre Ayton’s Wildcats, they were a team of freshmen still learning how to play major college basketball. Now those kids have grown up and are mostly juniors and seniors this year. The preseason projections took quite a leap in projecting CU to finish 2nd in the conference after the Buffs finished 10-8 in Pac-12 play last season. Those projections assumed that McKinley Wright IV and Tyler Bey would become stars carrying a solid and experienced squad, which is exactly what has happened. Buffs fans were very optimistic about this team has been better than expected. This team just knows how to fight and they play for each other. This also might be the first Tad Boyle team that can win on the road, which is something we’re extremely excited about.
Colorado has No. 17 defense in the country, per KenPom. What kind of style do they play and what makes it so effective?
Tad Boyle is all about defense and rebounding, so much so that some Buffs fans criticize him for not teaching offensive fundamentals. All these players have been in the program for three or four years and have shaped into the defense of Boyle’s dreams. Colorado’s defensive rotations are pristine, they close out hard without fouling and they box out like their life depends on it. They use a fairly conservative man-to-man defense, but they still cause turnovers just because teams have to work hard to get open looks. It helps too that Tyler Bey is defensive menace at the forward spot and causes havoc at times. This style of play bogs down elite offenses, as Colorado has wins over Dayton (in Chicago) and Oregon, who are 2nd and 7th in the nation in offensive efficiency, per KenPom.
McKinley Wright IV is second on Colorado in scoring and first in assists. What makes him such a special player and how can Arizona slow him down?
McKinley Wright calls himself a “walking bucket,” which says more about his confidence than it does his skill. He’s aggressive with the ball, as he understands that CU’s offense is best when he’s running everything. He’s very quick, knows how to knife through the defense to find opens look for everyone on the team, and he’s even added a pull-up three that he shoots at a decent 35%. He’s a strong defender who struggles with size (i.e. Oregon State’s Ethan Thompson), but loves a good matchup with a quick and skilled opponent. His biggest weakness is losing focus or aggressiveness against low-level competition, although that shouldn’t be a problem here. Otherwise, you just have to hope his shot isn’t falling (it usually doesn’t) and that he has an inefficient scoring night; if he’s on, though, he’s awfully tough to stop.
What should Arizona fans know about Tyler Bey?
Tyler Bey may be the best defender in the Pac-12, depending how you feel about Kylor Kelley at Oregon State. He’s an Andre Roberson-type defender who is physical, athletic and always in the right spot. He’s very important in this game if Colorado wants to slow down Zeke Nnaji. Bey will have to help against Nico Mannion’s drives without losing sight of Nnaji, then fight with Nnaji for rebounds (Bey has a 29.3% defensive rebounding rate, 12th best nationally). Offensively, Bey is capable of taking over with interior scoring and getting to the foul line, but he’s vulnerable to turnovers (2.6 per game) and can disappear against teams with great rim protection. He’s doesn’t let offensive struggles affect his defense, so there’s that.
Who is Colorado’s X-factor?
Colorado has those two stars, but any four or five guys can be the best player on any given night. In this matchup, it’s probably Evan Battey, the burly forward whose known for his offensive rebounding and high-post playmaking. Colorado beat Dayton partly because they couldn’t keep him off the offensive glass. He actually has a higher offensive rebounding rate (14.7%) than Zeke Nnaji does (12.2%). The issue with Battey is that he can struggle with foul trouble, if only because he’s so big and energetic. And like Bey, he too can disappear at stretches on offense, usually because his scoring touch can be too heavy.
D’Shawn Schwartz and Lucas Siewert are also players to watch, as they are both gifted shooters who can at times buoy Colorado’s offense if no one is hitting shots. Schwartz starts at small forward and is a terrific team defender, while Siewert is a backup power forward who plays most when Battey is in foul trouble. Colorado creates a lot of inside-outside three-point opportunities, so if either of them are hitting (hopefully it’s both), it’s a boon for the offense.
What are the keys to a win over Arizona?
Offensively, Colorado doesn’t have to change much to attack Arizona’s weak spots. They really just need Wright to attack, Bey and Battey to finish inside (I don’t trust Nnaji and Chase Jeter to protect the rim), and have the role players hit some open 3s. Defensively, I’m worried about the inverse: Mannion beating Wright off the bounce, Nnaji getting buckets and Arizona’s perimeter role players getting hot. From a purely basketball standpoint, I think CU matches up quite well and can take advantage of Arizona’s youth. I’m skeptical of CU’s offense traveling (it didn’t make it to Tempe) and this team having a mental block playing in McKale.
Will the Buffs finally beat the Wildcats in McKale?
Yes, I think the Buffs win this one in a close, low-scoring game. I like how Wright and Bey match up with Mannion and Nnaji, particularly, and I think the Buffs will fight as hard as they can to get this win. If this isn’t the year it happens, I don’t know when it will. Colorado 70, Arizona 66.
Bonus question! Was Sabatino Chen’s shot good?
Yes.— Was Sabatino's Shot Good? (@RunRalphiieRun) March 14, 2019
(Editor’s note: No, in fact, it was not. At least not according to the officials.)