Colorado continues push towards third consecutive NCAA tournament berth

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As many teams would need to do in the aftermath of a major personnel loss, Colorado had some adjustments to make once junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down in the first half of their loss at Washington on January 12 with a torn ACL. One of the nation’s best perimeter defenders, Dinwiddie ran the show for a team that was expected to contend for the Pac-12 title this season.

Clearly that wasn’t to be the case once he was lost, with the Buffaloes losing three of the four games they played in the immediate aftermath of that injury. But since that stretch, which included being swept on the road by the Arizona schools, Colorado’s won five of its last six games with their most recent result being a 61-52 win over Arizona State on Wednesday night. Tad Boyle’s team may not have shot particularly well from the field, making 37% of their shots, but they defended well and absolutely whipped the Sun Devils on the glass.

Arizona State shot just 31.5% from the field, with the guard tandem of Jahii Carson and Jermaine Marshall combining to shoot 8-for-28. And in regards to the rebounding Colorado rebounded just over 40% of its misses, converting those 15 offensive rebounds into a 12-0 edge in second-chance points. And leading the charge on the boards was none other than sophomore Josh Scott, who finished the game with 13 points and 13 rebounds.

Scott, who’s been one of the Pac-12’s most improved players all season long, and junior guard Askia Booker have been the key pieces for Colorado as they’ve put together this current stretch of quality basketball. And in regards to Booker, who at times struggled mightily with shot selection while Dinwiddie was on the court, even with his 5-for-17 night against Arizona State he’s been a more efficient player. Booker scored 16 of his 18 points in the second half, making all eight of his free throw attempts and doing a better job of making plays in the final 20 minutes.

Booker’s posted an offensive rating of 105 or better in five of Colorado’s last six games, with their win at USC being the exception. And even in the one loss, a 92-74 defeat suffered at the hands of a UCLA team that’s playing the best basketball of any team in the conference, Booker dished out 12 assists to just two turnovers. This is still a work in progress given the need for Booker to properly balance his scoring and distribution responsibilities, but he and his teammates have looked more comfortable in their roles over the last six games.

Wednesday was was big because it was a quality win for Colorado without Dinwiddie in the lineup, and it sets up the Buffaloes for what will be a major opportunity on Saturday night when No. 4 Arizona visits Boulder. The Wildcats dominated the first meeting, but that was when they had Brandon Ashley in the fold. Already in good shape to earn their third consecutive NCAA tournament berth, Tad Boyle’s team can make a significant statement in that regard with a win.

Syracuse upsets No. 18 UConn as Tyler Lydon stars again

St Bonaventure Syracuse Basketball
AP Photo/Heather Ainsworth
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Michael Gbinije and Trevor Cooney combined for 34 points as Syracuse overcame an early 10-point deficit to knock off No. 18 UConn in the semifinals of the Battle 4 Atlantis, 79-76.

The talking point at the end of this game is probably going to end up being UConn’s decision not to foul Syracuse with 36 seconds left on the clock. Trevor Cooney dribbled out the clock and, with six seconds left, missed a 35-foot prayer, the offensive rebound getting corralled by Tyler Roberson, sealing the win.

But that’s not the real story here.

That would be Tyler Lydon, who suddenly looks like he may end up being the difference maker for this Syracuse team.

If you don’t know the name, I don’t blame you. Lydon was a low-end top 100 recruit that had been committed to the Orange for a long time. He’s not exactly a game-changing prospect, but he’s a perfect fit for Syracuse. At 6-foot-9, Lydon has the length to be a shot-blocker in the middle of the 2-3 zone — he entered Thursday averaging 3.3 blocks — but his biggest skill is his ability to shoot the ball from beyond the arc. When he plays the middle of that zone, when he is essentially the five for the Orange, they become incredibly difficult to matchup with defensively.

The question is whether or not he can consistently be that guy on the defensive end of the floor. Against UConn, Lydon had 16 points and 12 boards. Against Charlotte, he finished with 18 points, eight boards and six blocks. But neither the Huskies nor the 49ers have a big front line that crashes the offensive glass.

Lydon is great at using his length to make shots in the lane difficult, but at (a generous) 205 pounds, he may run into trouble against bigger, stronger front court players.

The perfect test?

Texas A&M, who the Orange will play in the title game on Friday.

USC holds on to beat No. 20 Wichita State

Andy Enfield
Associated Press
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With guards Fred VanVleet and Landry Shamet both sidelined due to injury, No. 20 Wichita State arrived at the Advocare Invitational shorthanded. But even with that being the case the highly successful Shockers represented quite the opportunity for USC, and Thursday afternoon the Trojans took advantage.

Despite turning the ball over 23 times Andy Enfield’s team found a way to win, hanging on to beat the Shockers by the final score of 72-69. Freshman forward Bennie Boatwright, a tough matchup for most teams as a 6-foot-10 stretch forward who can score from the perimeter, shot 5-for-9 from three and scored a team-high (and career-high) 22 points.

The tandem of he and junior Nikola Jovanovic, who added 14 points and 11 rebounds, outplayed the Wichita State front court on a day in which the Shockers needed greater contributions from those players. Add in 15 points and four assists from Jordan McLaughlin, ten points off the bench from Katin Reinhardt and a 12-for-23 afternoon from three, and the Trojans were able to do enough to make up for their high turnover count and Wichita State’s 24 points off of turnovers.

Given the absence of VanVleet and Shamet there’s no reason to panic regarding Wichita State. Ron Baker, who was exhausted by the end of the game due to the heavy load he was asked to shoulder, scored a game-high 25 points and the play of freshman Markis McDuffie was a positive to build on.

McDuffie, who entered Thursday’s game without a made field goal in his first two appearances as a Shocker, shot 5-for-9 from the field and contributed 14 points and three rebounds off the bench. With their current perimeter rotation being what it is McDuffie will have opportunities to contribute, and the Shockers will need him to take advantage as they await the returns of VanVleet and Shamet (and the addition of Conner Frankamp).

Doing so will not only help Wichita State in the short term but in the long-term as well, thus giving Gregg Marshall another option to call upon on his bench.

Thursday’s outcome, even with the desire to see more from Anton Grady (eight points, seven rebounds), says more about USC at this point in time than Wichita State. Enfield’s first two seasons at the helm were about amassing the talent needed to compete in the Pac-12 while also gaining valuable (and at times painful) experience. In year three the Trojans hope to take a step forward within the conference, and wins like this one provide evidence of the program’s growth.