To be honest, whenever I've looked over the Cyclones' schedule and tried to figure out which games are wins and which are losses, this is a game that I've tagged as a loss every time. Bar none.
But, I'm starting to re-think that. And now I believe that Iowa State can go into Boulder and get a victory on Saturday. I'm not saying that it is going to happen for certain, but it's definitely a possibility. However, the Cyclones are going to have to achieve several things to give them a shot at it.
Here are 10 strategies that would work in ISU's favor against the Buffs…
Pound the ball inside as much as possible and ball fake Harrison with regularity. The seven-footer LOVES to block shots and will leave his feet or put himself in an awkward position when ball-faked. Then, ISU should take it right at him to draw the foul. The WORST thing for the Cyclones to do would be to try to steer clear of Harrison around the basket. He's an intimidating presence, but he will put himself in bad spots. In the Buffs' four losses, Harrison has fouled out twice and picked up four fouls once. Iowa State must attack him—whether it's Jared Homan, Jackson Vroman, Damion Staple or someone penetrating—and force him into some foul difficulty.
Identify Morandais and Blair Wilson on the perimeter at ALL times. Colorado doesn't have many three-point threats, but these two guys are extremely dangerous from the arc. There will be no excuse for giving either of these guys an open three-pointer in the Buffs' half-court offense. Colorado likes to load up one side of the floor with Harrison and one of these two shooters, in an effort to give the big post some space. I think the double-team on Harrison must come from the weak-side when this is the case. Wilson is much less likely to hurt ISU off the dribble than Morandais, so the Cyclones must really get into him on the perimeter.
Harrison must be fronted in the low post with help from the back-side post discouraging a lob pass. Harrison is a strong offensive player who has scored in double-figures in 12 of Colorado's 13 games this season, but the Buffaloes' power forwards aren't terrific offensive weapons, so some help should be available. In addition, outside of Morandais and Wilson, there isn't a GREAT three-point shooter to keep the floor spread for Colorado.
Pressure the Buffs' young point guard, Jayson Obazuaye. The sophomore in probably an OK shooter (5 of 15 from downtown), but no better than that. As a "creator" in the half-court, he's not much of a factor, with only 13 assists versus 14 turnovers in 13 games this season. In Colorado's four losses, Obazuaye has played 57 minutes and handed out ZERO assists. Really. Zero. Now, THAT'S hard to do. Even Uwe Blab and Patrick Ewing would pick up an assist by accident on occasion. So, my feeling is that you can pressure Obazuaye a little bit early on and see if he will make some mistakes or have a hard time keeping Colorado in its offensive sets. If he handles it well, you can always back off a little. But, I think ISU will want to test him. Plus, he's an awful free-throw shooter (16 of 29, 55%), which is actually an improvement over last season (14 of 32, 44%).
Keep Lamar Harris and Harrison off of the offensive glass. This may seem like a minor detail, but it is actually a critical point, in my opinion. When you double Harrison and take him out of the half-court set consistently, he can go one of two ways…either go get his offense on the boards or completely disappear for a while. Plus, when the big guy gets frustrated, he's more likely to foul, which makes him more likely to sit. Harris, on the other hand, doesn't have a ton of offensive skills to worry about. He wants to rebound and crash the offensive glass from the second he steps on the floor. In five of Colorado's 13 games, the 6-7 senior has double-digit rebound totals. If you put a body into him when a shot is up and keep him from getting easy put-backs, Harris becomes a non-factor on the offensive end of the floor.
I would consider playing quite a bit of zone against Colorado, especially when either Morandais or Wilson is sitting down, because then there's only ONE strong three-point threat on the floor. I would keep a man fronting Harrison anytime he's within six to eight feet of the basket. I think he would get frustrated.
The three keys to playing zone against the Buffs are: A) keep the ball out of Harrison's hands, B) identify Morandais and/or Wilson, and C) box out. You CAN'T play 20 to 30 seconds of solid zone defense, force Colorado to take a tough shot…and then allow Harris or Harrison to get a rebound and put-back.
When Harrison is on the bench, I would probably play a straight man-to-man with help ready to jump to Morandais when he penetrates. In fact, depending on the flow of the game, ISU might be able to get away with playing behind a couple of Colorado's post players who aren't great offensive threats (Harris and Amadou Doumbouya come to mind).
Identify the aforementioned shooters (Morandais and Wilson) and don't get beat from behind the arc. In the Buffs' four losses, their opponents have drilled 33 of 74 (45%) three-pointers, while Colorado was only 17 of 65 (26%) in those games. HUUUGE disparity. And Morandais and Wilson are the keys. One factor in keeping either of those guys from getting into a hot streak is to beat them down the floor. Don't allow either of them to get spot-up threes in transition.
If it comes down to the final two minutes and it's anyone's ballgame, there are a couple of pretty good options to foul. Harris is a terrible free-throw shooter (9 of 20, 45%) and so is Obazuaye. And if he's on the floor, Doumbouya is 0 for 6 at the line this season.
Take care of the basketball. In Iowa State's road losses earlier this year, turnovers—especially down the stretch—were crucial. The Cyclones will not be able to afford much of a lapse in offensive execution on the road against ANYBODY in the Big 12, let alone a team with the talent and experience that Colorado has.
(Marty Gallagher founded the popular web site IowaSportsOpinions.com. You can e-mail him at Marty@IowaSportsOpinions.com.)