Previewing Saturday’s Kansas/Colorado BattlePosted by Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) & Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 6th, 2013
There are a lot of interesting non-conference battles around the country this weekend in advance of finals coming up in the next few weeks. Big 12 correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of one of them: Kansas at Colorado, Saturday 1:15 PM MST on ESPN2.
Kansas will win if… it gets its offense back in order. After beating Wake Forest last week, the Jayhawks turned in underwhelming performances against Villanova and UTEP, shooting less than 40 percent from the field in both games. The reasons behind Kansas’ struggles have gravitated from the odd setting of the Battle 4 Atlantis, to KU’s inexperience, to the fact that Andrew Wiggins played through illness. Bill Self weighed in earlier this week and felt as though last month’s win over Duke “spoiled them a little,” perhaps leading to a more passive attitude than what we’re used to seeing out of Self’s teams. Regardless of what you want to point to as the biggest factor, the Jayhawks need to get their scorers out of their recent funks, and the best way for them to do that is to go inside and test Josh Scott and Wesley Gordon early. If Perry Ellis, Wiggins and Joel Embiid establish inside dominance in the first half, it will go a long way toward opening cleaner looks behind the three-point line, an area where the Jayhawks are much better than what they showed in three games in the Bahamas.
Kansas will lose if… its backcourt struggles. We haven’t hit winter break yet, but Bill Self is already shaking up his lineup, opting to start freshman Frank Mason over junior Naadir Tharpe, per KUSports.com. Normally, going with potential over experience would be more of a shock, but on this team, in this season, what’s one more freshman being elevated into a more prominent role? Mason has opened eyes in the early going with his fearlessness despite standing just 5’11”, and while he isn’t a pass-first point guard (at least not yet), he can find the open man when defenses collapse on him. The point guard spot hasn’t been a gaping liability for the Jayhawks, but history suggests that Kansas’ best teams have featured floor generals with more of a bulldog mentality in the mold of Sherron Collins or Tyshawn Taylor, and that’s what Mason can provide. Will he embrace that role from the get-go, or will the minutes still shake out to more of a committee setup? While the Jayhawks have talented creators up and down their roster, they’ll be reliant on passers to deliver the ball in high-percentage spots until those playmakers gain the confidence and aggression necessary for Kansas to reach its potential. That’s where Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie can cause problems against a less-experienced guard like Mason. Mix in the altitude and the knowledge that a young Kansas team will be playing its first true road game of the season and we could have a surprise on our hands.
Colorado will win if… it can beat Kansas on the glass, it gets efficient production from its guards and if it rides the momentum of what is sure to be a raucous home crowd. Yeah, that’s a lot of things. And yeah, I get that Kansas has lost a game and are sort of thought to be struggling. But make no mistake, despite playing at home, the Buffaloes are a bit of an underdog in this one. You can completely count on the Buffs coming out of the gates jacked up. So long as they use that energy for good and aren’t too geeked up, they’ve got an opportunity to ride some early momentum out to nice lead. From there, however, they’ll need to be fundamentally sound in order to withstand the charge of the more talented KU squad. Scott and Gordon are going to need to keep Embiid and Ellis off the boards. Xavier Johnson needs to be able to hold his own against Wiggins. And CU’s veteran backcourt of Dinwiddie and Booker are going to need to score, and score efficiently; that means no 12-point games on 15 field goal attempts, Mr. Booker.
Colorado will lose if… it can’t establish an early advantage and if Kansas takes out their Atlantean frustrations on them. Let’s get this out of the way early: While the Buffaloes have the potential to be a very good team, if both KU and CU play up to their highest potential, the Jayhawks win. And while they lost to Villanova and didn’t look great in a win over UTEP, it looked pretty clear last weekend that, sooner or later (and probably later, you know, closer to March), things are going to click for Self’s squad. So, if the Jayhawks begin to put it together this weekend; if Wiggins is ready to respond to some of the overwrought criticisms of him with a fiery game; and if Colorado isn’t able to ride a rowdy crowd out to an early advantage, the Buffalo fans could get sent out into a chilly Boulder afternoon unhappy.