We just can't quit you Colorado. For the third year since the Buffalos left the Big 12 to go to the Pac-12, they will face their former conference rival. The first game in 2012 went to the Bears in the second round of the NCAA tournament giving the Bears a birth into the Sweet 16. Last year, Baylor and Colorado met again at another tournament, this one a preseason one. The Buffalos prevailed in that game, to even the series. Now, the rubber match is upon us, again at a neutral court. It is weird that all three games have been outside of Waco or Boulder.
The 2013-2014 season opener will be a battle of two teams with entirely different strengths. They are also both trying to replace a key member of their team that will be matched up against the opposition's strength. The Bears lost All-American Pierre Jackson as their point guard while Colorado lost All-Pac 12 forward Andre Roberson. Of course, awaiting the Bears are two very good guard in Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie. Baylor though has returning twin towers Cory Jefferson and Isaiah Austin to battle the Buffs inside.
Both teams have quite good size all around the court, with traditional sized small forwards. Colorado is a little bit longer at the guard and wing spots though, with great size and athleticism in the backcourt with Dinwiddie and Booker. Those two players combined to score 27.7 points per game for the Buffalos and are the team's two top returning scorers.
Keys to the Game
1. Corral Dinwiddie – The junior to be is one of the top point guards in the nation, and many expect a breakout season for him in 2013-2014. He averaged a team leading 15 points and 3 assists per game, but is also a very good defender. Baylor has to account for him on both sides of the court, but defensively is where Baylor must pay the most attention. He has great size at 6-foot-6 and is a defensive stopper. Bear fans should just remember what he did to Pierre Jackson last year as evidence (12 points on 3-11 shooting, 1 assist and 3 turnovers).
He combines his tremendous length with good quickness and really great reaction time. His matchup against Junior transfer Kenny Chery is a big mismatch on paper. How Chery handles the pressure that Dinwiddie will apply is a key to this game. Look for the Bears to have other players bring the ball up at times, and to also try and pick Dinwiddie to make Colorado switch on defense to get him in more favorable matchups.
2. Let the big dogs eat – Baylor's big strength in this game, and pretty much all games this year, will be in the middle. Colorado is no push over with breakout candidate Josh Scott anchoring the paint for Buffalos, but with the loss of his frontcourt mate Andre Roberson, the Buffs could be searching a bit for another post man. They do have redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon as a starter, but behind him are little used backup center Ben Mills and true freshman Dustin Thomas who was not ranked by Scout.com. In fact, Colorado has just 3 players 6-foot-9 or taller. Baylor on the other hand can bring Austin and Jefferson on the court together to take advantage of their height and size. Baylor has to score inside, especially with their post players to make sure the dictate the tempo and get easy buckets.
3. Get them in foul trouble – To tie-in with key #2, the Bears have to take advantage of the lack of depth in the paint for Colorado by attacking the rim and getting them into foul trouble. Xavier Johnson fouled out of 3 games and had four fouls in 10 other games. Josh Scott is also the Buffalos only known commodity in the paint, so the Bears have to attack him often. Cory Jefferson excelled at drawing foul calls last year, and look for him to grow in that area in the new season.
4. Rebound those misses – You can expect some poor shooting in this one, primarily due to this being the first game and in an unfamiliar arena for both teams. Also, these are two good defenses, with the Buffalos using great perimeter defense to challenge shots and make it tough on shooters, while the Bears interior force gives up very little in the paint. This will be a game with a lot of rebounds bouncing off the rim, so both teams will be looking for an edge here.
Colorado was a very solid rebounding team last year, but lost one of the best rebounders in the college game to the NBA in Andre Roberson. Baylor though, has three proven outstanding rebounders in the paint and are welcoming two new cogs to their rebounding machine in Ish Wainright and Royce O'Neale who should both help shore up the Bears defensive rebounding weakness from last year.
KenPom.com – 71-67 Baylor (65% chance for win)
Massey.com – 71-64 Baylor (73% chance for win)
BearsIllustrated.com – 68-64 Baylor
The Bears have too much of an edge in the paint to win this game. Their height, experience and pure numbers will allow them to pound the ball inside and keep the Buffs off balance. Look for Cory Jefferson to be matched up with Josh Scott and get him into early foul trouble, while the Bears find their rhythm. I expect this to be a low scoring game, mainly due to it being the opener for both teams, so nerves and eagerness might make some shots off the mark. Also, the American Airlines Center in Dallas is pretty unfamiliar territory for both teams (though the Bears have played there several times over the past few years) and those bigger gyms can sometimes get the shooters out of whack. With the missed shots, the interior play of the Bears will be even more important. The Bears win by 4 and hold onto to win with some key free throws.