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Wednesday afternoon marks the first day of the 2016 Pac-12 men’s basketball tournament in Las Vegas. The Colorado Buffaloes will be in the second of four games played, tipping off at 3:30 p.m. MST on the Pac-12 Networks. Some quick pregame thoughts before CU hits the floor at the MGM Grand Garden Arena.
Who will be Colorado’s third star?
It’s no secret that Josh Scott and George King are the undisputed offensive leaders of this team. But the third scorer spot seems to be in a constant state of flux. Josh Fortune statistically is that guy, averaging 10.4 points per game while shooting nearly 41 percent from the field. But Fortune has been a streaky shooter at times, sometimes invoking occasional comparisons to Askia Booker. The same way the Buffaloes can get a 6-of-9 outing from him (like he did vs. Stanford), they can just as easily get a game where he shoots 2-of-13. That latter number isn’t just two random numbers — that was Fortune’s shooting from the field the last time the Buffaloes played the Cougars. It really comes down to what J44 shows up on a given day.
Tre’Shaun Fletcher has also shown flashes throughout the season, enjoying a hot streak from behind the arc as of late (he is 6-of-7 in his last two games). But, like Fortune, you can get a hot-shooting Tre or a poor-shooting one. Colorado’s offensive prowess in this tournament will be predicated on whether or not someone, or even a group of someones, can create enough offense so it doesn’t become the Scott and King show. Washington State will provide the first test.
What about those blown leads?
This particular issue has become a bit bigger since Colorado dropped a big lead against Utah and wound up losing in Salt Lake City. Anything from Dom Collier’s competence and consistency at the guard spot to the offensive mentality late in the game has been discussed. This will be the Buffaloes’ big opportunity to play a full 40 minutes and assuage the fears of #BuffsTwitter. The last time Colorado and Washington State met in Boulder, the Cougars erased a 10-point halftime deficit, outscoring the Buffaloes 35-26 during that 20 minute span. That’s not to say CU has been unable to close out games late, but the team has yet to play a full 40 minutes of consistent basketball. Just a few minutes won’t cut it in this tournament, especially this year, where the difference between teams is narrower than it seems to have ever been.
Can Colorado contain Washington State’s guards?
Last game in Boulder, Que Johnson dropped 25 points. In Pullman, Ike Iroegbu poured in 27. Luckily for the Buffaloes, neither heated up at the same time. The Buffaloes have had some difficulty at the guard spot, with Dom Collier getting a lot of the heat. But it isn’t without reason. Colorado has had turnover trouble, streaky shooting and occasionally suspect decision making. That struggle is highlighted against teams like Cal that feature elite guards. Iroegbu and Johnson aren’t elite, but they are good players that know how to score. Factor in Josh Hawkinson and his almost automatic double-double (averaging 15 points and 11 rebounds per game this season), and the Buffaloes will need to find a way to hold either Iroegbu or Johnson at bay. Or just outscore them. One of those two options.
Colorado has played the Cougars twice this year, winning the first 75-70 in Pullman and the 88-81 double OT thriller in the Coors Events Center. Many have their calendars circled for the next round against Arizona, but the Buffaloes have to first get by Washington State.