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Game Preview: Round of 32 Colorado

Florida State survived and advanced in the Round of 64 against a pesky UNC Greensboro squad. Now they have to face a Colorado Buffaloes team that is coming off of their highest scoring game of their season. FSU didn’t make a 3 in their first game, the first time a team has won a tournament game since 2018, but they won with incredibly tough defense. Colorado set a PAC-12 record in the NCAA Tournament by making 16 3s on their way to blowing out Georgetown. These two teams are not playing the same, but it should make for an interesting game come Monday.

Colorado isn’t your usual 5-seed though. They’re actually higher ranked in KenPom than FSU, currently sitting at 10 compared to FSU’s 17. This is something to note, since in 4/5 seed games since 2005, when the 5 seed is ranked higher, the 4 seed is 3-6 in those games. The saving grace is that when both teams are top 20 in KenPom, it’s split 8-8. As the Eye on College Basketball Podcast calls them though, Colorado is a team of computer trickers. For some reason, they have some wildly incredible metrics despite 3 quadrant 3 losses. We’ll get to why some of their numbers are so great, but fans should be in for a treat, and hopefully a regression to the mean. Besides, KenPom isn’t the end-all-be-all. 3 of the top 12 have already lost, as well as 6 of the top 20.

FSU/Colorado will be a battle of two very good, but very inconsistent teams. Either team is capable of beating any given team on any given night, but take them out of their rhythm and they can be beaten. This will be a fun one as FSU looks to get to their 3rd straight Sweet 16.

This game will be on Monday at 7:45pm EST on TBS, live from the Indiana Farmers Coliseum (Home of IUPUI) in Indianapolis, IN.

5 Seed, 20th Overall Colorado Buffaloes (23-8, 14-6) Breakdown

Colorado honestly has a similar resume and feel to Florida State. When they’re rolling, they’re incredibly hard to stop. When they play down to their competition, you wonder what has happened to a previously great team. This last performance against Georgetown was one of those times where you sit back and look at just how great they can be when they’re firing on all cylinders.

Here is their possession breakdown: Spot-ups (26.1% of possessions, 0.977 points per possession, 79th percentile nationally), Transition (14.9%, 1.012 PPP, 50th%), PnR Ball Handler (11.3%, 0.916 PPP, 97th%), Post-Up (9.2%, 0.84 PPP, 52nd%), and Cuts (9.2%, 1.226 PPP, 75th%). That PnR is dangerous. Even though it only says 11.3% of possessions, this is a team that plays heavily out of the pick-and-roll, and there are many different shot types that derive from it. How FSU’s heavy switching scheme affects their pick-and-roll will be the single biggest factor in this game.

Georgetown’s pick-and-roll coverage is a major reason why they lost their game against Colorado. Take a look at this play in particular.

If Georgetown is going to play their big this high, either the trailing defender has to get in front quicker, or he has to take the player on the wing and the stand-up man just takes the roller. Instead, McKinley Wright IV has two defenders on him, and he’s a savvy enough play to see that the stand up man is in no-man’s land, either the 3 or the lob would’ve been open here. FSU’s all switching scheme will be able to stop this action, since it all started with the back screen on the baseline, that’s why the defender is so late on the trail.

Georgetown’s coverage, also opened up these easy pick-and-pops, Colorado has good shooters up and down the roster, including their bigs.

It’s a simple action. Pick-and-pop, with the man up top diving to suck in any help defense. These little quick actions should be simple for FSU to stop since they just switch everything. FSU will just have to communicate. This was literally the next play.

Georgetown did a good job of just hedging and then getting back on the big, but then he got caught ball-chasing and left his man with bad footwork and couldn’t recover.

Once Colorado gets rolling from 3 off of easy looks, then they start taking the tough ones in transition in 3-on-2 situations and they’re a good enough shooting team to hit those. They started shooting from anywhere and everywhere, contested on uncontested once they started to see a few go in early against the Hoyas. This isn’t a normal shot in their offense.

Here’s quick hitter to watch for.

FSU is one of the best off-ball screen defenses in the country, only allowing 0.545 PPP in off-ball screen actions, 3rd best nationally. When the switching everything is working, it completely stifles actions. I think you’ll see a little more Malik Osborne than the last few games at the 5, just because of his versatility and activity defensively.

They’re about average in crashing the offensive boards, a place where FSU has been notably suspect this season, even UNCG was able to grab 11 offensive boards. The Buff’s offensive rebounding rate of 27.5% puts them 118th nationally, and they’ve only had 8 games with 10+ offensive rebounds (none of those came against USC, who compares well to FSU in terms of size and somewhat in rebounding). Colorado does do a good job of cleaning up the defensive glass.

The two main things I look at when a team plays FSU is free throw rate and forced turnover rate. On the season, Colorado is slightly above average in forcing turnovers, with a forced turnover on 17.4% of possessions, but they’re actually really poor at getting to the free throw line, sitting 213th in FT rate, with the same rate as Boston College. Once they get there, they kill you. Their 82.3% is the best in the country, and is currently ahead of the all time record of the 1983-84 Harvard Crimson, who hit 82.2% of their free throws (Oral Roberts is at 82.2% this season as well). The Buffaloes only shoot about 17 free throws a game, which is insanely low given their efficiency. This is not a team that needs to get to the free throw line to get momentum.

Defensively, they can get burned on spot-ups. Their 0.913 PPP allowed is in the 49th percentile nationally. They’re also pretty bad at defending post-ups, allowing 0.926 PPP (hello Balsa Koprivica), but everywhere else they’re either good, or really good. They are a strictly man-to-man team, and only press when down late in games. On ball screens, they will heavy hedge with the big (he comes all the way out to force the ball-handler higher; think Virginia), which can leave slips, mismatches in the post, and weakside 3s if the skip pass is delivered on time.

For Colorado, it all starts with McKinley Wright IV. He is their engine. He leads this team in minutes played, points scored, assists, steals, free throws attempted, is second in usage rate, and third in rebounds. His 5.6 assists per game leads the PAC-12.

Because Wright is able to score from anywhere, it really makes him a threat to distribute the ball. He’s really the only player on this team that takes a lot of 3s, but doesn’t hit them that efficiently. If he enters this game with the mindset he’ll be able to chuck up shots, FSU will like their chances. I expect FSU to give him a little extra pressure in the backcourt so he gives up the ball and to force someone else to create. There are only three other players on this roster that have a positive assist-to-turnover ratio, but they’re all players at the bottom of the scoring list: Maddox Daniels (28 assists to 15 turnovers), Eli Parquet (38:31), and Keeshawn Barthelemy (41:22). All of those pale in comparison to Wright’s 181 assists to 63 turnovers.

Despite coming off of the bench most of the time, Jeriah Horne is a mismatch at the 5. About half of his overall attempts this season have come from 3, but he’s able to score from anywhere. He was lethal in the Georgetown game, going 9/10 from the floor and 5/5 from 3. While he’s not usually this light’s out, it wasn’t a surprise as he’s taken the most 3s on the team. Not a shot blocking threat, I’d actually drive directly at him when he’s in the paint.

Evan Battey is what Charles Barkley would call “a similar player to myself.” He actually said this on Saturday. He’s taller than Chuck, but is just as capable of banging bodies down low and getting tough baskets around the rim; 79% of his shots have come within 8 feet of the rim. He can hit outside shots occasionally, but if he wants to take them, let him. I think he’s going to get toasted by Gray, he can struggle trying to defend in space from time to time.

D’Shawn Schwartz is a smooth shooting lefty who spends most of his time beyond the 3-point line. Once he gets the ball, he’ll drive and create for himself, but most of his time off-ball is running around the 3-point line. He’s the most neutral player on the team in terms of overall impact.

Jabari Walker only plays about 13 minutes per game, but he’s lightning in a bottle down low, and his 23 points per 30 minutes actually leads the team. Really the only reason he hasn’t played more is mostly because he’s a freshman and just hadn’t gained the trust of the staff yet, but his analytics say he should be playing more as he leads the team in defensive rating, and is third in offensive rating. He’s going to be a really good player in a couple of seasons for them.

Maddox Daniels is the most inefficient player on this team, but can still light it up from 3. 67.5% of his total shots have come fro behind the arc, which is the most of anyone that gets consistent minutes for them. His 37 total makes from 3 are third on the team.

Dallas Walton starts most games for Colorado, and is capable for scoring out to 15-feet consistently as a 7-footer. Even though he starts, he’ll only play about 15 minutes, it’s kind of like when FSU would start Christ Koumadje but only play him 12-15 minutes and get someone more versatile offensively in the game.

Eli Parquet is not a great scorer, but he starts every game and plays consistent minutes because he’s a really tough defender and has the highest defensive box plus minus to show for it. He only takes about 4 shots a game, which is insane with his 28 minutes per game, but can act as a solid secondary creator.

Keeshawn Barthelemy is the last player you’ll see get consistent minutes, but he’s just ok. He’s got the worst defensive analytics of anyone on the team, and only plays about 11 minutes per game, but is another guy that can act as a secondary playmaker.

Team Stats PPG/RPG (ORBs/DRBs)/APG/SPG/BPG/ToPG/FPG          FG%/3PT%/FT%

Colorado Produces: 73.8/34.8 (9.6/25.2)/13.7/5.2/2.8/11.1/16.3          45.9/37.7/82.3

Colorado Allows: 63.6/30.7 (8.5/22.2)/11.0/4.6/2.9/13.1/16.6              41.8/33.3/72.6

Player Stats

#25 McKinley Wright IV 15.4/4.4 (0.8/3.5)/5.8/1.0/0.3/2.0/1.5           48.5/31.5/84.2

#41 Jeriah Horne 11.1/5.8 (1.1/4.7)/0.9/0.6/0.1/1.1/1.5                           46.7/40.8/90.6

#21 Evan Battey 10.0/5.3 (1.9/3.5)/1.0/0.4/0.3/1.5/2.5                           49.3/12.5/83.2

#5 D’Shawn Schwartz 9.2/4.0 (0.9/3.1)/1.2/0.5/0.1/1.4/2.2                   40.6/39.1/73.1

#12 Jabari Walker 7.9/4.4 (1.2/3.1)/0.5/0.5/0.5/1.1/2.2                          54.7/54.8/77.8

#3 Maddox Daniels 6.7/2.9 (0.8/2.1)/0.5/0.5/0.7/0.9/2.2                      55.0/47.4/84.5

#13 Dallas Walton 5.3/2.5 (0.5/2.0)/0.9/0.4/0.1/0.5/1.5                         37.7/36.3/86.7

#24 Eli Parquet 5.3/2.1 (0.5/1.6)/1.3/0.9/0.7/1.0/2.1                                47.9/42.6/91.3

#11 Keeshawn Barthelemy 3.6/0.8 (0.3/0.5)/1.4/0.2/0.2/0.8/0.4          35.1/31.4/91.7

4 Seed, 13th Overall Florida State Seminoles (17-6, 11-4) Breakdown

I didn’t get a chance to make a game-changing plays article after the UNCG game after it had been a really busy and taxing morning for me, so I’ll be recapping the game here.

Here is FSU’s base box score stats from the game.

A couple of things. I get that Isaiah Miller is a 3-time SoCon defensive player of the year, but Scottie Barnes having only 2 total shot attempts is embarrassing. If FSU wants a deep run, he needs to be aggressive, it’s as simple as that. 7+ shot attempts from here on out. Get him involved in ball screens, make sure he’s using them, and get downhill towards the basket. I like Tanor Ngom, but he can’t have more shot attempts than Barnes and Sardaar Calhoun. MJ Walker was solid as a distributor, but he needs to shoot more too. I get he rolled his ankle in this game and hasn’t looked great the last month or so, but he needs to have more than 6 shot attempts. Wyatt Wilkes being -9 in 6 minutes is honestly impressive and hilarious. RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica were phenomenal in the second half, and were playing incredible two-man game.

Getting in the paint was working though. Florida State scored 44 of their 64 points in the paint, and another 14 came from the free throw line. FSU just overwhelmed UNCG with size as the game progressed. The Spartans did a good job of going on quick runs after the lead ballooned to double digits. Isaiah Miller was seeing at least two bodies every time he touched the ball. Keyshaun Langley was the only reason they were in this game, as he had 5 3s and hit some incredibly tough shots. Miller and Langley combined for 33 of their team’s 54 points. No one else for UNCG scored more than 4 points.

The big storyline will be FSU’s inability to hit a 3 all game, with no makes on just 9 attempts. That simply cannot happen again. UNCG has a great 3-point defense, but so do a lot of teams in March. It’s good the ‘Noles found a way to win in March, but they need that spacing to open up the driving lanes for Gray and Barnes.

It was just a game of runs the entire way. FSU started up 23-7, before UNCG closed on a 19-6 run to close the first half. Then FSU opens it up again with a 12-3 run to open the second half, before another UNCG run made the game tight again. Eventually, FSU pulled away, but it was a phenomenal effort from UNCG, they gave FSU everything they could handle.

Now FSU goes from a gameplan focusing on just one player, to a gameplan that’ll feature an entire team. Colorado is dangerous in the pick and roll and is really efficient with the ball, but really strains to generate those open looks. When Colorado is open, they hit those shots though, and FSU will have a challenge ahead of them to slow those open looks.

I can’t just not reference a game-changing play in a small recap, but I don’t think anyone wants to watch two missed free throws. The lead was just 51-50 for FSU before RaiQuan Gray hit two shots in a span of 40 seconds to extend the lead to 55-50. The next two possessions were fouls on the floor for UNCG and they were in the first bonus so they were able to go to the free throw line, but instead of converting, Isaiah Miller missed the front end of 2 straight 1-and-1s. That’s essentially four straight missed free throws, and FSU was able to capitalize with another layup on the other end to make it a 7-point game with 2 minutes left.

Florida State won this game because of their defensive intensity. Only allowing 0.933 points per possession is solid, but there were still times where FSU reacted too slowly to passes; where the ball would be passed and FSU is waiting for the pass to get to its destination to react. The big difference for Leonard Hamilton’s squad this time will be to react directly when the ball is passed and be there on the catch.

This reaction is way too slow, and Colorado can burn you if you react this slowly. If FSU cleans this up, they’ll stand a good chance of winning the game.

Injury Report

MJ Walker rolled his ankle in the second half against UNCG, but was able to return to the game. His situation will be something to monitor.

Leonard Hamilton was on his feet the entire game against UNCG after rupturing his Achilles in Indianapolis. A credit to him because I’m sure that can’t be easy.

Colorado is healthy.

Projected Starters

Florida State

G: RayQuan Evans

G: MJ Walker

G: Anthony Polite

F: RaiQuan Gray

C: Balsa Koprivica

Colorado

G: McKinley Wright IV

G: Eli Parquet

G: D’Shawn Schwartz

F: Evan Battey

F: Dallas Walton

Keys to the Game

Colorado’s Pick and Roll

Colorado’s PnR is one of the most efficient in the country, and it’ll be interesting to see how they react to an all-switching defense like Florida State. It’ll either be completely stifling, or they’re going to light it up, no in between. Because Colorado works so hard to get their open looks, FSU’s switching could give Colorado issues off the ball and close up lanes that they’re used to being open. Their PnR also allows them to dictate the pace of the game, and they run one of the slower tempos in the country. When FSU was humming in late January/early February, they were lighting up these slower paced teams like Clemson and Virginia with their fast pace. You can’t allow Colorado to play at their pace, like the first Clemson game went.

Limiting these easy looks comes two-folded. UCLA did a great job of stunting on driving lanes before recovering to open shooters without fouling early in the season in their first matchup with the Buffs, and the few times they did switch on the ball screen, Colorado chose to just pass away from the action. FSU will have to follow a similar formula for them to have a successful game. Size clearly doesn’t bother Colorado, as they’re 3-0 this season against USC, another really tall team, but I think FSU is a little more active defensively, and disrupting the pick and roll will be the best way to win.

Get to the Benchmarks

Let me lay out some stats for you. In games where Colorado’s opponents score 65 or more points, Colorado is 5-6. In games where Colorado attempts 22 or more 3s, Colorado is 8-5. In games where Colorado shoots below 28% from 3, Colorado is 4-5. In games where Colorado attempts 13 or fewer free throws, Colorado is 3-4. In games where Colorado’s opponent turns has 10 or fewer turnovers, Colorado is 4-5. Florida State is 16-0 in games where they keep their opponent scores 75 or fewer points, which will be an interesting one to watch considering Colorado averages 73.8 PPG.

Getting to 65 points/keeping Colorado below 75, limiting Colorado’s makes from 3, and keeping Colorado out of the lane and getting free throw attempts will be things I think are possible for this Florida State team. You can’t let them run their actions to get their open looks, really force them to get away from their off-ball actions.

Regress to the Mean

Colorado will not make 16 3s in a game again. Florida State will not go another game without hitting a single 3. How close to the mean we get will be a telling sign for how the game goes. 25 3PAs is some of the most Colorado has taken all season, and they’re just 8-5 in games where they’ve attempted 22 3s or more. This isn’t the norm for them. They usually work for open looks by getting to the basket and working off of the pick and roll.

For FSU, they’re too good of a shooting team to only attempt 9 3s. They need to be between 18 and 24 attempts, that’s their sign of a smooth and free flowing offense. RaiQuan Gray and Balsa Koprivica were incredibly impressive against UNCG, especially in the second half, but they can’t be the only ones relied upon if FSU wants to keep playing in this tournament, even if I think they’ll have good matchups in this game too.

Game Prediction

Florida State opened as a 1.5-point favorite, with an over/under of 140.5.

This is a game that could absolutely go either way. No result would surprise me. Both teams seem to play up to competition, as well as down to lesser competition. Both teams have had bewildering losses (FSU to UCF, Colorado to Cal and Washington State), as well as incredibly dominant wins (FSU over Virginia, Colorado over USC and Georgetown). Which versions of these teams show up?

I may be biased, but I think FSU is more likely to hit some 3s and cause disruptions than Colorado is likely to continue their offensive explosion from Saturday afternoon.

I will take FSU in a tight one 71-68.


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