January 10, 2018 by Sam Dodge
Namon Wright IV, 25, celebrating after the 80-77 upset over Arizona on Jan. 7. (AP, David Zalubowski)
LOS ANGELES – Until last week, Colorado looked like the bottom of the conference.
They entered their home stand against now No. 11 Arizona State and No. 17 Arizona at 8-6 and on a three-game losing streak. Iowa, Oregon State and Oregon bested the Buffaloes by an average of 14 points.
Entering tonight’s visit at Galen Center, Colorado looks completely dangerous, holding court at home over both the Sun Devils and the Wildcats.
USC goes into an absolutely must-win over a battle-tested team – one that finally elevated their game after facing the No. 26 hardest schedule in the country.
Tad Boyle’s team started 6-0, then preceded to drop six of their next eight between squads as good as No. 10 Xavier and as bad as bottom-200 Colorado State.
Part of this recent resurgence is due to a youthful roster finally congealing. It ranks near the absolute bottom of experience at No. 321.
Freshman McKinley Wright IV runs the show, leading the team with 16.2 points and five assists per game. Standing a generous 6-foot-1, he mainly throws his body into the lane to mixed results.
On the plus side, he makes a healthy 53 percent of his twos and draws attention to kick to several decent perimeter shooters. He led the Buffaloes in both Arizona games, scoring 19 and 16 in consecutive games.
On the negative, he turns the ball over on 20 percent of his possessions, which fuels a team that ranks No. 259 nationally in turnovers.
As talked about in yesterday’s column, USC’s backcourt is starting to force more turnovers. Overall, Washington State, Cal and Stanford lost 50 turnovers to the Trojans, so Jordan McLaughlin and Co. have to continue the trend against Wright.
Junior wing Namon Wright broke out against the Sun Devils, equaling Wright’s 19 points on less shots and filling out the box score with seven rebounds and an assist. A Missouri transfer that tops 6-foot-5, he’s the on-ball defensive specialist and can jump out of the gym.
If he’s hitting his shots a la Arizona State, he might be Colorado’s best player.
Sophomore guard Deleon Brown rounds out the backcourt, and is a bit of a non-presence. He can’t shoot from close or far, doesn’t force a lot of turnovers or contribute much else. He scored five and two points last week, respectively.
Power forward George King is the senior leader. He chips in 13 points a game and leads the team in rebounds. He’s the No. 98 player in the nation in defensive rebounding rate, which sets the tone for a Colorado team that prevents second-chance points.
As a team, Colorado only allows offensive rebounds 25 percent of the time, good for No. 49 in the country. This directly conflicts Nick Rackocevic, who cleans the offensive glass 18 percent of the time. This is good for No. 2 in the country – Michigan State’s Nick Ward is No. 1 – and if USC goes cold from the floor like late against Stanford, he’ll be needed.
Freshman seven-footer Dallas Walton mans the middle, but as you would expect from a freshman, gets lost on defense. He doesn’t really harass too many shots, and Chimezie Metu and Bennie Boatwright should be able to lose him on the perimeter to get their shot going.
Both Arizona schools had off shooting nights, as both failed to crack 30 percent from behind the arc. Neither has two 6-foot-11 guys that can deal from three, so USC absolutely has a chance to take advantage here.
Elijah Stewart, 30, as well as the whole backcourt, may need to attack the basket more against an active perimeter defense. (Galen Central)
McLaughlin and Elijah Stewart, however, are going to need to attack the rim, as they could have problems taking flight against the Wright Brothers (they aren’t brothers, but c’mon. Too easy.).
This is a winnable game, but that has been typed here a few times before against Washington and Stanford. The feeling after last weekend around Galen Center is that the team mostly played well, but had some rough final minutes against Stanford.
However, this is still an elite offense with a matchup advantage in the frontcourt, as Boatwright and Metu should take advantage of height and athleticism to get their jump shot going. While Colorado’s offense erupted for 85 points a game against the best of the conference, the offense still ranks No. 179 per Kenpom in offensive efficiency.
USC needs to rely on their renewed aggression on defense in the backcourt, more minutes by Nick Rakocevic and continue their typically stellar play on offense.
Kenpom currently predicts a 81-71 win for USC with an 81 percent chance to win.
Tonight is the swing game for the rest of the season. A win starts a redemption tour towards a tournament berth.
A loss ends it tonight.
Tip-off is at 7:00 PST on Fox Sports One. No live updates tonight. I’m studenting.