Are you ready for March Madness? The UConn men’s basketball team is back in the NCAA tournament after missing out last year.
The Huskies are a No. 9 seed and have been matched up against the No. 8 seeded Colorado Buffaloes. The two will meet on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Eastern Time in Des Moines, Iowa to open the tournament. It will be televised on TNT.
UConn (24-10) is coming off winning the American Athletic Conference tournament last weekend in Orlando, Florida and they are playing the best basketball they’ve played all season long. The Huskies have won seven of their last 10 games.
Colorado (21-11) lost to Arizona in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, but the Buffaloes have had some impressive wins this season in a tough conference.
I talked with from Andrew Haubner, the University of Colorado’s Daily student newspaper’s General Assignment Editor, to get to know the Buffaloes before Thursday’s first round game.
Here is what he had to say:
Zampini: Do you feel that a No. 8 seed was appropriate for this Colorado team?
Haubner: There are a lot of people who thought Colorado deserved to be higher than an 8 seed, especially the players. This was a battle-tested Buffaloes team, one that fought through an incredibly deep and competitive Pac-12 and ended up in the top half. To make matters worse, Oregon State, a 19-12 team that split with CU this season, wound up in a 7 seed with a very favorable matchup against VCU. Head Coach Tad Boyle told his players that he thought they were better than an 8 seed, and the word ‘disrespect’ was used by some players when describing their thoughts on where they had been placed.
Zampini: As a team, what is Colorado’s biggest strength and its biggest weakness?
Haubner: There is no question that the strength and heart of this team lies deep in the post with Wesley Gordon and Josh Scott. The two combine for around 16 rebounds per game on average, and Scott has proven himself to be one of the best bigs west of the Mississippi. Gordon is the more athletic of the two, but his center counterpart has incredible footwork and has a wide array of post moves and double moves. Defensively, they combine for just under 4 blocks per game, and usually are able to handle most bigs that match up with them.
Zampini: Who is Colorado’s best player?
Haubner: Josh Scott. Easy. This team runs through him, and while college basketball leadership is usually predicated on point guards, Scott has shown he can be a leader from the 5 spot. He can score from inside, from the elbow, and will pull up for a three but only if he is wide open. Defensively, he anchors the floor alongside Gordon. He’s been at CU for four years, and has seen a bit of everything. If anyone is going to beat UConn from Colorado’s team, it’s going to be him.
Zampini: Scott averages 16 ppg and 8 rpg, what is the best way to defend him? And has he gone up against some elite shot blockers this year like UConn’s Amida Brimah?
Haubner: Now defending Scott is usually a tough task, but not one that is impossible. In the past he has struggled against bigs like Iowa State’s Georges Niang and Utah’s Jakob Poeltl. Poeltl, in particular, has mitigated Scott’s contributions in both of their meetings this year. Competing with him on the block and disrupting his shots are usually the easiest ways to create that mitigation. Scott has struggled in games where his contested shots weren’t hitting, and when he was being actively doubled. What presents such a problem to a team like UConn is that you never fully stop him: you merely limit him to 8-10 points as opposed to 16-18. As for players like Brimah, Scott has seen elite bigs such as the aforementioned Niang and Poeltl, Kaleb Tarczewski and Oregon’s Chris Boucher. Brimah will be a good test and matchup for Scott, who has been hit and miss against guys with Brimah’s size.
Zampini: Who is a player that kind of flies under the radar and could end up being the X-Factor for Colorado on Thursday?
Haubner: An X-Factor for Colorado isn’t necessarily a player, but a position in which multiple players play: the wing. Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Josh Fortune are two guys who can get hot in a hurry, but can be equally as cold if they miss their first couple of shots. George King, the Pac-12’s Most Improved Player, is always good for double-digit scoring, but Colorado’s big losses have come when neither Fortune nor Fletcher hits their shots. Fortune had a total horror show game against Arizona for about 35 minutes, and then in the last 5 hit key shots to give the Buffaloes a shot at completing a comeback. They fell short, but if Fortune puts together a complete game, or if Fletcher hits consistent deep balls, it will spell trouble for UConn.
Zampini: What is Colorado’s biggest win of the season?
Haubner: This can be split into subgroups: most important win and biggest win. The most important win was at the Coors Events Center vs. Washington State, in which the Buffaloes needed double overtime to avert potential disaster. The biggest win of the year was a 91-87 thriller against the Oregon Ducks. Granted, Oregon was not ranked at this time, but many out here believe that’s because people hadn’t started taking the Pac-12 seriously yet. Now a No. 1 seed in the tournament, that victory over the Ducks shows that Colorado is capable of playing a complete game, and when they are, they are capable of beating anyone in the country.
Zampini: What is your prediction for this game?
Haubner: This is a tough one for me, because I’ve seen Colorado start slow, start fast, blow leads, and hang on for dear life. The guard matchup isn’t favorable for CU at all, especially given the recent performances of starting point guard Dom Collier, but I think UConn doesn’t necessarily have an answer for the Scott-Gordon tandem (and, yes, I think Scott is going to handle Brimah). What will decide this game is intangibles, UConn’s hot streak vs. Colorado’s chip on their shoulder. The Huskies are riding high after winning the AAC, but the Buffaloes feel undervalued, and are out to prove something to the rest of the country. After a season in the incredibly competitive Pac-12, Colorado has had more experience against tough teams, so they have my vote.
Hauber’s prediction: Colorado 77, UConn 71