Colorado went nuts in its first round victory over Georgetown. The Buffaloes splashed 16-of-25 3-point attempts en route to a 96-73 victory. Tad Boyle’s team put together its second-most efficient game of the season: scoring 1.32 points per possession. Led by McKinley Wright (13 assists, zero turnovers), Colorado assisted on 79.4 percent of its field goals.
Florida State, on the other hand, was forced to scrap for its postseason survival against an excellent UNC Greensboro team.
The second round meeting between these two teams presents a variety of intriguing matchups and subplots to keep an eye on. Let’s dive in.
A-Switch-Metic: FSU presents a unique math challenge
When analyzing how a team will matchup with Florida State, the point guard position is a good starting place. More specifically: how capable are this team’s ball handlers at exploiting mismatches. Florida State’s chaotic deny defense switches 1-5 on most actions. This has ripple effects all over the floor.
Away from the basketball, normal off-ball screening actions don’t always hit the same vs. FSU. With all of the switching, the defense doesn’t have to fight around screens — bending and recovering. Instead of a pindown screen forcing an off-ball defender to chase his man, FSU switches and neutralizes those responsibilities.
During the 2019-20 season, opponents assisted on just 48.5 percent of their field goals. Opponent assist rate has jumped to 52.2 percent this season; however, offenses still require 1-on-1 scoring to stabilize against Florida State.
With so much pick-and-roll action in the game, Florida State’s centers must be able to defend opposing point guards in space.
In the NBA, this is usually an advantage for the offense; the league’s off-dribble pull-up shooters are simply too good. Switch your center on Damian Lillard and he will light your world on fire with moon-ball 3s and easy dribble-drives in the paint.
Florida State, however, is willing to live with this equation in college. The pull-up 3-pointer is becoming more pervasive in the college game, but it’s nowhere near where the NBA resides. FSU will gladly switch its centers on opposing point guards, sink back, deny passing lanes and force that guard to make a play.
For a Colorado basketball program looking to get to the Sweet 16 for the first time since 1969, this means McKinley Wright must be ready to ball out.
David vs. Goliath: McKinley Wright and Balsa Koprivica
From the jump this season, Wright has been a total stud. After three very good seasons in Boulder, Wright was ready for a jump. His stats climbed meaningfully across the board. As Wright’s usage and playmaking share rose, his turnovers dipped. Wright is one of only two high-major players this season with 25 percent usage, 35 percent assist rate and sub-15 percent turnover rate.
While Colorado runs a balanced offense, Wright has turned into one of the country’s top pick-and-roll engines. According to Synergy Sports, Wright has scored 1.05 points per possession as a pick-and-roll ball handler. This ranks No. 3 nationally amongst players with 100+ possessions. (Max Abmas of Oral Roberts is No. 1.)
Standing 6-feet, Wright isn’t super explosive or twitchy with the basketball. However, he’s quick and knows how to operate in tight spaces; Wright is deliberate with his use of angles. He will happily play through contact, too.
Wright is one of the top assist men in Pac-12 history. Plenty of those dimes have come on some sort of ball screen action.
Colorado has scored 1.12 points per possession when Wright passes out of the pick-and-roll. Spot-up snipers have an effective shooting rate of 57 percent on these looks, per Synergy.
According to Pivot Analysis, Colorado was +323 in 1,013 minutes with Wright on the floor this season. Colorado has an offensive rating of 119 points per 100 possession with Wright on the court (+20.3 net rating). When Wright sat, Colorado was a -7 in 227 minutes — with an offensive rating of 106.4 points per 100 possessions.
With all of the switching, advantage creation will come different for Wright vs. FSU. When he isolates vs. Balsa Koprivica, Wright must be able to blow by FSU’s starting center.
Georgetown doesn’t switch on this possession; Jahvon Blair fights over as Qudus Wahab hedges to buy time. Wright wastes no time once Blair recovers, though. The senior guard probes left, gets two feet in the paint and kicks to an open Jabari Walker.
This type of penetration is what helped produce one of the top catch-and-shoot offenses in the country: 56.8 eFG% (No. 31). Colorado isn’t a high-volume 3-point offense: 36.1 percent of CU’s field goal attempts came from beyond the arc. However, the Buffs drilled nearly 38 percent of those looks, which is excellent.
Winning these 1-on-1 matchups is a must for collapsing Florida State’s defense. Wright must look for his own shot, but when help arrives, he can spray out for spot-up 3s.
FSU Basketball: Plays its hand
As good as Wright is, he does have one statistical weakness: 3-point shooting. He’s a career 33.2 percent 3-point marksman. That’s fine, though he’s under 32 percent this season, while attempting only 5.3 per 100 possessions.
Wright is a quality pull-up shooter, though: 46.7 eFG% on off-dribble jumpers in the half-court. Wright has 28 3-pointers on the season — 15 without an assist. However, he’s more comfortable in the midrange or getting to the rim, where he shot 60.3 percent this season.
This kind of look, which comes all too easily from Horns Flare action, won’t be available against Florida State.
FSU is the tallest team in the country, according to KenPom. Once again, Leonard Hamilton’s squad ranks inside the top 10 nationally in block rate (14.7%). It’s not easy to score inside Florida State’s paint; opponents have made only 51.3 percent of their attempts at the rim (No. 9 nationally) vs. FSU.
Wright will put these numbers to the test. Here’s Wright scoring on that same Horns action. This time, though, he’s able to dust Tennessee’s Jaden Springer, a powerful point of attack defender.
Given Wright’s limitation — lack of size and deep pull-up shooting — FSU should feel relatively comfortable switching Koprivica or some of the other bigs. That doesn’t mean it will work; Wright is awesome, and he could burn them. But Koprivica has shown the ability to hang with the ACC’s resident pick-and-roll maestro: Carlik Jones.
Koprivica will switch, sag off and use his enormous wingspan to remain connected. According to Bart Torvik’s database, opponents shot just 34.5 percent on long 2-point attempts this season vs. FSU, a top-65 number nationally. On the flip side, Colorado connected on 41.3 percent of its long 2-point attempts (No. 53).
By no means in Koprivica a passive switch defender. He may be 7-foot-1, but the sophomore center is agile and a good mover for his size. Koprivica has the green light to jump passing lanes.
Koprivica played 24 minutes (FSU +7) during the first round win over UNC Greensboro — the majority of Florida State’s center minutes. Obviously, this meant a lot of 1-5 switches for Koprivica.
Again, he’ll sag off and use his length when his new assignment has the ball. In theory, this allows him to play a middle ground of sorts: bother/contest a jump shot, while also having some room to slide at a disadvantage in terms of foot speed.
However, when that new assignment is off the ball, Koprivica will press up — even guarding above the 3-point arc. Newsflash: Florida State’s defense is super aggressive.
Koprivica had some good 1-on-1 battles with UNC Greensboro star Isaiah Miller, another 6-foot point guard and volume pick-and-roll scorer.
Florida State will even allow those 1-5 switches away from the ball, too. Miller burned him for a layup on a first-half switch, but many of these possessions ended with a tough midrange look.
One-game samples are wacky and lend themselves to some degree of shooting luck. But these feel like important metrics to monitor for Colorado’s offense: spot-up 3-point attempts and midrange field goal percentage.
Tony Bennett and Virginia are credited as the premier blocker-mover offense, but there are several other programs that run this type of wheel action. That list of teams includes Colorado.
During Colorado’s drubbing of Georgetown, the Buffs went to blocker-mover several times in the first half. Colorado generated multiple looks off the weak-side flare screen. Check this gorgeous pass from Wright, who hits Eli Parquet for a dunk.
(This is the kind of read for Wright that will be more of a challenge vs. FSU’s height and length. Passing windows will shrink.)
Wright obviously has wonderful court vision, but this also require trust — in the system and Parquet. After four years of running this offense, Wright has seen everything, while dishing out nearly 700 career assists.
Later in the first half, Colorado dials up more blocker-mover. This time, though, D’Shawn Schwartz does an excellent job reading the chase defender. Instead of going over the flare screen, Jamorko Pickett goes under. Schwartz (38.7 3P%) spots this and fades off the flare for an open 3-ball.
If things bog down in the half court, Colorado can do a couple different things. One, Evan Battey or Wright can look to post-up. Of course, Colorado can also shift to some version of spread pick-and-roll.
During one after-timeout (ATO) play in the first half vs. Georgetown, Colorado moved from blocker-mover into a continuity ball screen set.
Florida State plays Virginia every year. When those two teams met last month in Tallahassee, FSU thumped UVA. The Cavaliers looked scattershot for most of that game. Florida State’s pressure forced Virginia out of its comfort zone and away from a half-court offense that looked brilliant at times this season.
(During the 2018-19 season, Virginia used to do the inverse of this: starting a possession in continuity ball screen, then shifting to blocker-mover.)
Virginia largely stayed away from blocker-mover in that Feb. 15 game. The off-ball switching of Florida State weakens the set’s pindown screens. There are no open jumpers and no pockets of space to exploit with a curl into the paint.
Watch Scottie Barnes switch on Kihei Clark. That’s followed by Malik Osborne, the de facto 5-man, switching on Reece Beekman. With the shot clock dwindling, Beekman has to go 1-on-1 and settle for a contested, inefficient pull-up 2.
Later in the first half, Virginia went back to blocker-mover. On this possession, though, Casey Morsell takes advantage of a Koprivica switch — breaking off from the scripted play and driving to the lane. While that’s happening, Sam Hauser sets the weak-side flare screen on Sardaar Calhoun for Beekman. RayQuan Evans (who had already switch on Hauser after an exchange with MJ Walker) and Calhoun botch the switch on the flare. Beekman, however, misses an open layup.
Colorado doesn’t have to shelve its blocker-mover sets vs. FSU. However, CU should be mindful of when to break off the action and attack. If there’s a center switched on the ball — with multiple off-ball switches taking place as well — look to drive or work the weak-side flare screen.
As scary as Florida State’s defense may seem, there’s no Devin Vassell — a historically good team defender — this season, flying around to close up any gaps.
Move the mesh point
Boyle’s motion offense does a nice job moving pieces around before launching spread pick-and-roll with Wright. Florida State will of course want to switch these actions; however, that process can be cluttered with pre-screen motion and different exchange points.
Veer Ram PnR Roll Replace
As a team, Colorado assisted on 52.5 percent of its field goals this season, but 88 percent of Wright’s makes at the rim were unassisted.
Horns Flex Shake
Colorado | Horns Flex Shake pic.twitter.com/d0AB8RhRZe
— Half Court Hoops (@HalfCourtHoops) March 20, 2021
Georgetown drops (high) on the screen-roll with Wright and Walker, which gives Walker an angle to the basket. The weak-side defender fails to tag Walker and it’s an easy dunk.
Now, here’s the same look vs. Tennessee: Yves Pons late switches on Wright. Battey’s roll is non-existent; Victor Bailey switches, and Dallas Walton (9-of-19 3PA) doesn’t space out in time to create added room in the paint. This play ends with Keon Johnson doing what he does best: blowing things up with a perfectly-timed dig.
Chin Chicago Strong
Pindown screen for Wright into the handoff with Battey
Chin Split Strong
Continuity Ball Screen — Duck In
Continuity Ball Screen — High/Low
When matched up with UNC this season, FSU had some struggles with North Carolina’s high-low game out of continuity ball screen offense.
This could be a way for Colorado to target post-ups vs. Florida State’s guards when they switch on ball screens. CU shot 43.1 percent on post-ups this season: 0.84 points per possession.
5-Out Split Twirl PnR
Standing 6-feet and weighting under 200 pounds, Wright doesn’t look like much of a post threat. However, don’t be fooled by his lack of size; Wright enjoys initiating offense from the post. Watch Colorado use blocker-mover to clear out a side for Wright, which lets him operate vs. the 6-foot-4 Bailey.
This is one way for Colorado to create offense with Wright without involving him in a ball screen.
It will be interesting to see who defends Wright on isolation/non-ball screen possessions. Barnes is significantly larger and a good defender, but he lacks fluidity in his hips, which gives him trouble in some 1-on-1 matchups.
Along with Carlik Jones, Jose Alvrado is one of better analogs for Wright in the ACC. On this possession, Georgia Tech’s floor general zips by Barnes for a layup.
Anthony Polite (6-foot-6, 215) has a size advantage and is a solid point of attack defender; he probably makes the most sense. However, Wright will find success vs. taller/longer on-ball defenders, like Springer and Polite.
Evans is the smallest guard in Florida State’s rotation, but he’s still 6-foot-4, 210-pounds. If Wright were to post-up, this may be the right matchup.
MJ Walker is a good offensive wing, but he can really struggle at times defensively. Wright will look to torch Walker.
X-Factor: Jabari Walker
For those of us that follow the NBA Draft, Walker has been a known commodity for a while now. However, the win over Georgetown (24 points, 5-of-5 3PA) served as a national notice: while only a 3-star prospect out of high school, Walker is one of the top prospects still in the NCAA Tournament.
Wright is Colorado’s catalyst, but Walker is the team’s X-factor. That’s cliched analysis, but it’s also true. With those two on the court together this season, Colorado is +166 in 254 minutes, according to Pivot Analysis — with a net rating of +40 points per 100 possessions.
A rangy 6-foot-8 hybrid forward, Walker is a smooth mover on the basketball court; he glides all over the floor. His appeal as a prospect is painfully obvious. Walker can switch across and guard multiple positions, while having a real impact at the rim — on both ends.
With long arms and good athleticism, Walker (1.4 blocks and 1.4 steals per 40 minutes) can cover a great deal of space on defense. There’s really intriguing potential as help-side team defender.
Walker can do a lot of different things on offense, too. So far, Walker hasn’t shown much of an iso/face-up component to his offense, but he has the frame and footwork to eventually operate in these spaces. There are already some flashes.
The sample may be a little small, but Walker shot the hell out of the ball this season: 54.8 3P%, 54.7 2P%, 77.8 FT%. According to Synergy, Walker posted a 76.8 eFG% on catch-and-shoot field goals this season, which ranks in the 99th percentile of Division I.
Walker is an excellent second-side weapon — scoring 1.3 points per spot-up possession. However, he has real potential to be a scoring threat as a screener. Walker can roll hard the rim (10 dunks) or pop for 3s. That type of versatility can go a long way.
This type of wide open pick-and-pop 3 won’t be available against Florida State’s switching. FSU will give up open looks from downtown, but those shots generally come off dribble penetration — kicking out to shooters when help arrives.
Walker may need to work as a driver in this game, which could be tough in certain matchups. Either way, those are the next steps for Walker: attacking closeouts and bullying guys in isolation.
Walker at the 5?
Colorado can open the floor up on offense when Walker is inserted at the 5. Pair Walker with Jeriah Horne (40.8 3P%) and CU has two frontcourt pieces that can really shoot off the catch.
With those two on the court together this season (Battey and Walton on the bench), Colorado was +77 in 129 minutes. The Buffaloes scored nearly 1.32 points per possession this season with Walker and Horne as the center-power forward combination. The duo was extremely effective vs. Georgetown, too: +10 in eight minutes.
How comfortable will Boyle be letting Walker play the 5 against Florida State’s 7-footers: Koprivica and Tanor Ngom?
If Colorado tries this lineup combination, and stays hot from deep, will they force FSU to go smaller? Hamilton wants to play big, but the Gray-Osborne 4/5 combo allows Florida State to put five like-sized guys on the floor at the same time. Osborne (34.1 3P%) also gives Florida State’s offense a stretch element when he’s in as the small-ball 5.
Florida State started Gray and Osborne together for the home win over Virginia; those two also played together (5 minutes) against UNC Greensboro. The sample is limited, but those lineups have been a little shaky. Opponents have outscored FSU by 30 points in the 205 minutes with Gray and Osborne on the floor together.
Colorado is a solid offensive rebounding team. The Buffaloes have rebounded 30.4 percent of their misses this season. As the team’s top athlete, Walker is the best of the bunch.
The freshman forward has an offensive rebound rate of 11.4 percent. According to Synergy, Walker shot 55 percent on put-backs attempts this season.
Florida State’s defense is a bit exposed on the glass, due in part to all of the switching. This creates the amusing juxtaposition of the tallest team in the country ranking No. 283 nationally in defensive rebound rate: 68.9 percent.
Walker and Battey are two guys to monitor on the offensive glass; this could be a necessary source of offense for Colorado.
Evan Battey — Inverted Offense
Another fun little subplot of this matchup centers on the 6-foot-8, 262-pound Battey working as a playmaker. Battey is at his best attacking the offensive glass (11% OREB career) and posting up on the block. According to Synergy, Battey shot 47 percent of post-up attempts this season, so far.
With that said, Colorado likes to give the junior big man some playmaking equity, too. Colorado has an ATO Horns call that gives Battey the ball at the elbow; Wright enters the pass and cuts through, while the weak-side corner shooters sprints up to set a ball screen for Battey.
Here’s that look again: another inverted pick-and-roll. This time, however, Stanford does a better job defending the action.
Colorado has other versions of this Horns Elbow pick-and-roll for Battey — with important differences. Instead of Wright cutting through on this possession, he passes to Battey and cuts to the corner to help set a stagger screen for Parquet. Using the staggers as Ram action (screen-the-screener), Parquet sprints up to set the ball screen for Battey.
The Buffaloes ran this same ATO vs. Georgetown. This time, though, Wright was the corner screener, which creates an interesting proposition for defenses. Wright has the most gravity on Colorado’s roster. When weaponized as a screener, he can force awkward rotations and risky defensive decisions.
Colorado can also use this same setup to run weak-side stagger games. Without setting a ball screen for Battey, the Buffs run split cuts and wait for the defense to breakdown. This is a good way to target some of the money areas of the floor, too: 3-pointers and rim attempts.
Now, Florida State can certainly appreciate using a jumbo-sized point forward to initiate offense better than any other program in the country. Gray and Barnes run lots of pick-and-roll; they are FSU’s top two table-setters.
This shouldn’t create some type of crisis for FSU; switching is in their DNA. Presumably, Florida State will switch inverted 5-1 pick-and-rolls — just like they would another screening action. Depending on matchups, though, this could be a way to get Battey — who draws 4.8 fouls per 40 minutes — isolated vs. a smaller defender.
Battey as a passing hub at the elbow is interesting, too. These weak-side splits are a good away to scramble and attack Florida State’s off-ball switches.