Previewing #8 Colorado vs. #9 PittsburghPosted by Matt Patton & Andrew Murawa on March 20th, 2014
Pittsburgh will take on Colorado in Orlando at 1:40 PM ET Thursday afternoon on TBS. RTC correspondents Matt Patton and Andrew Murawa sat down and conducted a quick Q&A about the game featuring ACC vs. Pac-12 squads.
Matt: Obviously Colorado took a step backwards when it lost Spencer Dinwiddie in January. How have the Buffaloes replaced his offensive production, and is their seed inflated because of what they did with Dinwiddie earlier in the season?
Andrew: The biggest adjustment that Colorado has made to adjust following the Dinwiddie injury was to slide junior Askia Booker – previously known as an inveterate gunner – over to the point guard slot. Since that time, the number of shots per game out of Booker hasn’t changed much (only twice in the 17 games since the Dinwiddie injury has Booker hoisted fewer than 10 field goal attempts), but the quality of those shots has improved and it has been balanced by an obvious interest in getting his teammates involved. Other guys like Xavier Talton and Jaron Hopkins have seen their minutes and production increase as well, but both have been fairly inconsistent. All of this leads to the fact that while it has been admirable how the Buffaloes have held it together after the loss of their floor general, this team isn’t much of a threat to surprise in the NCAA Tournament, and the #8 seed is a generous appraisal of the team that will take the floor on Thursday.Lamar Patterson quietly had a great senior season, leading his team in scoring, assists and finishing second in rebounds. What makes him such a special player?
Matt: Patterson is just so efficient. He definitely has worn down a little bit of late, but he’s one of the best offensive players in the ACC. The two things that stand out most about him are his jumper and decision-making. He has perfect shooting form, and every time I see him pull up I expect him to make the shot. Combine his accuracy with good vision, and you’ve got a top-flight offensive player. The last couple of years he struggled a lot with his conditioning, and although it’s clear he’s in the best shape of his career, I think this season has worn him down. Colorado can’t afford to give him any space regardless, but we’ll see if the week off helps him get his legs back.
Against North Carolina last weekend, Pitt really struggled against a full-court press. Do you expect to see much of that from Tad Boyle?
Andrew: A full-court press isn’t something that Tad Boyle is known for and odds are good that the Buffs aren’t going to suddenly turn into VCU. But if the Colorado coaching staff pinpoints that as a weakness of the Panthers, one thing they could do is increase their ball pressure in the half-court. Booker is capable of being an annoying defender, while athletes like Hopkins, Talton and Xavier Johnson could certainly extend pressure as needed. Doing that out to the three-point line, discouraging attempts from behind the arc, and challenging those shots that do go up from deep are all staples of basketball by Boyle’s teams.
Pittsburgh doesn’t seem to do anything poorly, but they rely on offensive rebounding a lot for their offensive production. Colorado, meanwhile, makes it a priority to clean the defensive glass. If the Buffaloes keep the Panthers off the offensive glass, can they score enough to win?
Matt: If Colorado has a chance in keeping Pitt off the glass, it’s going to start and end with putting a body (or two) on Talib Zanna. He was phenomenal on the offensive glass last weekend in Greensboro. He doesn’t get much offense on his own, but cleans up second-chance opportunities with aplomb. The rest of the Panther bigs and wings are capable rebounders, but Zanna is the difference-maker. Limit him on the glass, and Jamie Dixon’s supporting cast will feel a lot more pressure to put up points. And while their percentages are good, this team is a lot less dangerous when they are shooting jump shots. The battle on the glass definitely has the chance to swing this game one way or another.
Colorado doesn’t hit many threes and the Panthers excel at defending inside the arc with physical man-to-man defense. Will scoring be an issue, especially against a good rebounding team?
Andrew: Scoring is always an issue for the Buffaloes. Since Dinwiddie was injured, they’ve averaged a mere 0.98 points per possession and only three guys on the team have an Offensive Rating over better than 100 – Booker, Johnson, and sophomore center Josh Scott. Scott is their most efficient scorer, but he is often passive, especially against physical defenders like he’ll see on Thursday. Johnson has the capability to heat up and can score with both athleticism inside the arc or by stepping back and drilling threes. The problem is that if one or both of those guys isn’t on his game, the task once again falls to Booker to pick up the offensive slack.
Pitt is most well-known this year for missing out on big wins, losing against teams like Cincinnati, Syracuse, Duke, Virginia and North Carolina before finally breaking through with a big win over the Tar Heels in the ACC Tournament. Is this just a matter of bad luck in a small sample, or is Pitt lacking something in close games?
Matt: I think it’s a little of both. This team struggles when faced with a challenge (see: coughing up a lead at Syracuse and almost choking away a huge lead against North Carolina). I think that comes down to playing tight when ahead. When North Carolina started pressing in Greensboro, the Panthers ran the exact same play (Patterson inbounds to a guard who tries to step through the double-team, but ends up throwing it back to the baseline, which led to traps and turnovers). At the same time, some of it is just bad luck. If Pittsburgh hits its free throws on Friday, the Panthers will win handily and their struggles with the press become a sidebar to a convincing win. Role players like Josh Newkirk and James Robinson stepped up and made big plays in the ACC Tournament. Assuming they continue producing, I think that will pay dividends in this team finishing games. I’ll be interested to see if they play looser having finally gotten the big-game monkey off their backs, but certainly it’s a big concern when trying to rationalize their computer profile and resume.