Every road game in the Pac-12 is difficult, but there are few tougher than Saturday’s matchup, as Stanford men’s basketball (8-4, 4-2 Pac-12) heads to the Centennial State to take on Colorado (10-2, 4-2 Pac-12).
Stanford is coming off of a 79-65 road loss to Utah, which ended the Cardinal’s three-game win streak and moved them down to a fourth-place tie with Colorado in the Pac-12.
In Thursday’s loss, Stanford shot a meager 17-of-48 from the field, as it seemed nothing could go right on the offensive end. Foul trouble also plagued the team, with freshman forward Ziaire Williams and junior forward Jaiden Delaire fouling out, while senior forward Oscar da Silva was forced to play cautiously with three fouls for much of the game.
The one bright spot in the midst of many woes was the return of senior guard Daejon Davis, who provided a much-needed spark in an attempt to lead Stanford back. Davis, who missed five games due to a lower leg injury, scored a team-high 19 points off the bench, including his 1,000th career point. His superb performance should be promising for Cardinal fans.
In a quick turnaround following the Cardinal’s less-than-stellar showing against the Utes, Stanford now takes on Colorado — one of the most analytically sound teams in college basketball. Sitting at #9 in the NET Rankings and #14 in KenPom as of Jan. 14, the Buffaloes have impressed analytics experts everywhere. Colorado has it all: talent, experience, offensive and defensive balance and results, making it difficult to understand how they are unranked in the most recent AP Poll.
Let’s begin with talent. Colorado’s senior leader, guard McKinley Wright, is one of the top players in the Pac-12. Wright’s impressive stat line — 15.4 points, 4.7 rebounds, and 5.1 assists — makes it clear why he is a two-time All-Pac-12 First Team honoree. In addition, it’s his defensive prowess that made him a 2019-20 Pac-12 All Defensive team member, as he is a lethal threat all over the court despite being just six feet tall. Wright is a force to be reckoned with and has been a key reason for the Buffaloes’ immense success.
Next up for the Buffaloes is experience. Four of Colorado’s top five scorers are seniors, with the exception being junior forward Evan Battey. This team knows how to battle through adversity, and in a season filled with unprecedented twists and turns, upperclassman leadership is important.
Stanford is also quite reliant on upperclassman leadership, with da Silva and Davis as the team’s key leaders. However, junior guard Bryce Wills has been out with a knee injury, forcing the Cardinal to rely on younger talent like freshman guards Michael O’Connell and Noah Taitz. If Wills remains out Saturday, the Buffaloes will likely have a slight experience advantage.
Onto offensive and defensive balance. On Jan. 15, KenPom ranked Colorado 17th in adjusted offense and 15th in adjusted defense, a balance that is rarely found among top teams. Much of this can be attributed to the experience of this veteran squad, which knows that while games can be won on one end of the floor, championships are won on both ends. This offensive and defensive balance differs starkly with Stanford, which sits at 84th in adjusted offense and 14th in adjusted defense. Colorado’s balance will be an advantage against a defense-oriented Cardinal team and could be lethal against the Stanford squad if defensive talent Wills continues to sit.
Lastly, the Buffaloes have results to show for its strengths. Its wins include over then-No. 17 Oregon and on the road against USC. Its losses have all come on the road and have been against quality teams, including national championship contender Tennessee and Pac-12 title contenders Arizona and UCLA. It is always promising to have a veteran squad with good wins and zero bad losses, and that is exactly what Colorado has.
Keys to the game
The key for Colorado is to shut down da Silva, and to do so, the Buffaloes should look at a tape of the Stanford vs. Utah game. Da Silva, who entered Thursday’s game averaging 22.6 points per contest in road games, was held to 11 points on 3-of-5 shooting. Utah did what few teams have done, in that it set up a “wall,” as the broadcasters put it, on the interior and completely prevented da Silva from getting off shots. Colorado is a significantly stronger defensive team than Utah, but it should take notes from the team that figured out how to slow down Stanford’s star.
Stanford’s key is shooting. Everyone knows the Cardinal is consistent in its stifling defense, but defense isn’t always enough when the shots aren’t falling. Stanford shot just 35.4% from the field against Utah, with most of its usual offensive contributors struggling, such as sophomore forward Spencer Jones who had just three points. The Cardinal players need to figure out their shots before Saturday, or it will be a runaway for Wright and his squad.
Tip-off is set for 12 p.m. PT on Saturday.
Contact Teddy Solomon at tedsol ‘at’ stanford.edu