Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: ... and the hits just keep on comin'

I'll get to the mess in Seattle in a second, but first: a confession.  This was to be my last season.  With work and other commitments, I felt I was losing my focus and touch, and was prepared to step away from the lucrative world of amateur blogging at the end of the season.

Over the last few months, however, it dawned on me that I'd be quitting after a rotten egg of a year.  Not one to give out a last shriek on the retreat into irrelevancy, I've reversed decision. As a result, I will be back next year for at least one more go at chronicling Colorado Basketball.  If this thing is going to crater, I'm going to ride the bomb all the way down, a la Slim Pickens:
Hopefully, however, a return to form will follow, and I can ride off into the sunset with a clear conscience. We'll see...


Today in the bag, I'm talking the loss to a WAC school, the Pac-12 in the Dance, and a surprising coaching move in the desert.

Click below for the bag...

Monday, March 23, 2015

2015 CBI: Gardner-Webb Wrap and CU vs Seattle Basketball Teaser

Well, as compared to some other teams in the state, at least you can say the Buffs didn't take their presence in a lesser tournament lightly.  In their CBI Round 1 matchup with the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs, Colorado came out guns blazing, lighting up the scoreboard to stave off any potential upset.  Offense, offense, offense - that's really all that was on display in this one.  Both teams shot over 50% from the field in a game played to over 70 possessions.  Not the defense and rebounding test-of-wills that Coach Boyle would prefer, but, for entertainment value, you could do a lot worse for $15. Overall, a happy little performance in front of a few of the diehards last Wednesday night, as CU cruised to a 87-78 win.
Tory Miller took flight last week against GWU.  From: the BDC.
This whole tournament run is about the future, particularly Dom Collier and Tory Miller, and both were on display for large chunks of the game.  While Collier sat the bench early for showing up late to shoot-around, he eventually got into the action, and started giving those in attendance a show.  A little passing here (five assists), a little dribble-drive there (six points), and he contributed the best 10-minute stretch of his time in Boulder.  A little slower after the break, but still a promising game from the Denver East product.  Miller was similarly active, dropping 12/6 in 18 minutes, but really struggled defensively, helping to allow Bulldog forward Tyrell Nelson to put up 27 on perfect 10-10 shooting from the field.  Tory has had more matador then bull in him on the defensive end this winter, and his progress here is one of the things I'm really keying on going forward. In both cases, there's still miles to go, which is why there's hope that extra minutes now will equal better performances come November.

Outside of the freshmen, however, the game turned on the inside play of Josh Scott.  His 23/15 not only more than canceled out the efforts of Nelson, but set the tone for the entire evening.  Behind 'Grandpa Scott' (Miller's nickname for the junior forward), CU exploded the soft GWU zone, leading to a ridiculous 66-30 advantage in interior scoring.  You simply cannot beat Colorado in Boulder when you allow them to score 66 points inside, and the Buffs were able to coast in the second half, as a result.  Coach Boyle even had time to throw in walkon Brett Brady for extended, leveraging minutes midway through the final 20, which went about how you would expect.
The Bulldogs had no answer for Scott.  From: the BDC
The win over Gardner-Web, of course, means the Buffs advance to the second round of the CBI.  As Colorado would rather not cut another check for a home game, CU will hit the road this evening to take on the Seattle University Redhawks up in the State of Washington.  It's probable that most of you don't realize that something called Seattle U has a basketball team, that they're Division I, and that they were good enough to make a post-season tournament this season, but they are... apparently.

Once upon a time, Seattle U was a regional basketball power.  They're one of the lucky few to claim a Final Four berth (1958), and went to 11 NCAA Tournaments over a 16-year span in the 50s and 60s.  At one point in the 60s, they were even producing more NBA talent than any other school in the country.  Then, suddenly, it all stopped.  A financial slide in downtown Seattle eventually lead the school to de-emphasize their athletic programs, including men's basketball, and move to NAIA play in 1980.  It wasn't until 2001 that they returned to the NCAA, and have been slowly clawing their way up from Division III ever since. Now back in the WAC (a conference that I was surprised to learn still exists), they're hungry for a statement win, an opportunity for which Colorado brings with them tonight.
The Buffs haven't played in a gym this small since high school.  Even then...
This will be an interesting affair, as it'll be played in one of the tiniest gyms in all of Div I.  Normally, local Key Arena (former home of the SuperSonics, RIP) is Seattle's home court, but that's being used for the Big Dance.  With their regular court unavailable, Seattle turns to the Connolly Center, a 1,050-seat facility on their main campus.  It's where their women's team plays, and will make for an incredibly intimate setting.

It'll be in that tiny facility that CU will be tasked with taking on Coach Cameron Dollar's Redhawks.  Dollar, a key player on UCLA's title run in 1995, is a former assistant under Washington's Lorenzo Romar, and has been doing a decent job building up the reincarnation of the once-proud Seattle U Basketball program. They went 17-15 this season, finishing a distant fourth behind conference power New Mexico State, among others. He had his team playing pretty slow this winter, even going so far as to average under 60 possessions per game in conference play.  They rely on their zone defense and three point shooting (*double-gulp*) to get their wins, and otherwise look like a new-era WAC team.
Coach Dollar is in the midst of a massive rebuilding project at Seattle U.
The big name to remember is 6-0 senior guard Isaiah Umipig.  A transfer from Cal State Fullerton, Umipig is a nasty three-point shooter, making 117 of his 273 attempts from deep this year.  That's good for third in the country, and a 43% clip.  As if one shooter wasn't enough, the Redhawks also boast 6-3 senior Jarell Flora, who also hits over 40% of his three point attempts.  Overall, Seattle gets over 32% of their scoring from three point range, which is really the only area of their team that scares me.  Umipig alone, going full Scott the Dick, would push CU to the brink.  If both Isaiah and Jarell are lighting it up from deep, the Buffs will be in trouble.  Luckily, they're the only shooters on the roster.

Up front, things are significantly less scary.  Only two members of the rotation stand over 6-6, lead by 6-11 junior Jack Crook. A European product from Manchester, England (someone ask him 'United, or City?'), he's not something that a now healthy Josh Scott can't handle.  Maybe not a repeat of 66-30 show we saw against GWU in Boulder, but the Buffs should, once again, own the paint.
Umipig may be the best guard in the state of Washington. Be afraid.
On paper, CU should win this, probably pretty easily.  But, without Ski or extra defensive depth in the form of Dustin Thomas, I'm a little worried about a true road game being played in a veritable bandbox.  Does Umipig go bananas?  Can the Buffs shoot well in an uncomfortable environment?  Will the defense show us anything tonight? There's a lot of question marks headed into this one.

In the end, I think talent and inside play carries CU to another win.  Probably won't be pretty, and the two outside shooters scare the living daylights out of me, but the Buffs' zone offense has been looking good, and they should be able to lean on an advantage in the paint.  I'll say a two possession win which keeps everyone nervous until the end.

Tip-off from the telephone-booth-cum-basketball-arena called the Connolly Center is set for 8pm this evening.  There is no TV, but there is an online stream available here.  You do have to sign up, but it it's free registration.  As for radio, I think it'll be on 850 KOA, but don't quote me on that.  Check 760, if that doesn't work. Either way, iHeart radio has you covered there.


Wednesday, March 18, 2015

2015 CBI Teaser: CU Basketball vs Gardner-Webb

Well, this is awkward.  At 15-17 (8-12) on the year, the Buffs should, by all rights, be done with the season.  Were they still in the Big XII (or if Oregon State and Cal hadn't turned down their own invites) they would be.  But, Colorado's nightmare 2014-15 basketball season rolls on, with Coach Boyle accepting a bid to play in the College Basketball Invitational.  And so here we are.

This is not 2011.  Back in the final year of the Cory Higgins era, the Buffs shook off an NCAA snub to roar into the NIT.  That run meant something.  It was the first time in five years that the program had made the post season, and they deserved to be there.  Not so in 2015.  Colorado does not deserve to still be playing basketball right now.  I honestly believe this.  If you can't even manage to go .500 or better, you go home. End of story.  By pure virtue of their willingness to participate (and their willingness to write a check), the Buffs survive.
This visit to the invitational side of the post season is not as glamorous as it was in 2011.
How else can you look at this but as a glorified set of scrimmages?  While Coach Boyle says the primary goal is winning (and the Buffs are the prohibitive favorite to win the tournament), he's also said that the reason CU accepted the bid (bought the bid?) was to try some new things out with the roster, and focus on next season.  That's why Askia Booker and Dustin Thomas aren't playing, after all.  These, then, are the first practices of '15-'16, only without Fortune, King, Guzonjic, or Akyazili.  That's a quarter of next year's roster unavailable, so this is more like a Spring Game than anything else.  By now I think everyone reading this blog knows my feelings about those...

I guess, at this point, all that's left is to accept, and move on.  Fair enough.  Tonight brings us game #33 on the year against the Gardner-Webb Runnin' Bulldogs from Boiling Springs, NC. The 6th-place finisher in the Big South (really?), comes to Boulder for the first time since December of 2004 (the only previous meeting).
The Buffs catch a break in not having to worry about Jerome Hill.
Almost as if to offset the absences of Booker and Thomas, the Bulldogs will also be without one of their big guns.  Jerome Hill, an all-conference selection at forward, didn't make the trip, and won't be playing tonight.  A real good one, the Buffs catch a break without him in the fold. Beyond just his 19/10 averages, Hill's absence also means that the Bulldogs will only have two players listed as taller than 6-7 available.  This is an exploitable physical advantage for the Buffs, one that could keep the game from being close.

Outside of Hill, the key players to watch out for are Tyrell Nelson and Tyler Strange.  Nelson is what remains of the front line, as the 6-7 sophomore center is the closest to what you would call a post threat.  He averaged 14/7 this season, including near 60% shooting from the field.  Strange is one of the nation's best pure point guards, dishing out over seven assists per game, and posting an assist rate over 38%.  He a good shooter, too, hitting 37% of his 143 attempts from deep.  Beyond Strange, there are four other shooters who took over 95 three point attempts in the year - Jarvis Davis, Harold McBride, Adonis Burbage, and Dylan Potson.
Strange can sling it and shoot it.
Overall, GWU is a pretty good offensive club.  They like to share the ball, handing out about 16 assists per game, mostly around the perimeter.  The 'Dawgs also love to shoot the three ball (33.7% of all scoring), making about eight each night.  Currently 30th nationally in points per game (74.7), it's more about pumping out possessions than anything else. They grab about 68 per game (38th in the country), at a clip of under 17 seconds per on offense. Under the tutelage of head coach Tim Craft, the Bulldogs play fast, desperate to score enough to cover up their most glaring weakness: defense.

The Bulldogs leak like crazy against even soft competition.  They coughed up an adjusted 1.08 ppp this winter, and allowed all opponents to shoot near 47% from the floor.  Combine with some middling rebounding numbers, and it's not a recipe for success against better competition.  Considering that, it's easy to understand their season - streaky runs, splashed around games where the shooting let them down.
Don't take them too lightly, as the bulldogs can sneak up on good teams, like Purdue.

At the end of the day, these things are all about who wants to be there.  In both cases - Colorado and Gardner-Webb - I have no idea.  While much of the coaching staff and roster may like the idea of the CBI, I really don't know what will happen when the ball tips this evening.  I think the Buffs will take to this (and even if they don't, they still should beat GWU), but you never know.  There are scenarios bouncing around inside my brain where lackadaisical perimeter defense leads to a downpour of points.  Just look at GWU's best win from the year - 89-84 against Purdue in West Lafayette, IN.  The Boilermakers, now in the NCAA Tournament, were swarmed by 14-25 shooting from deep, and were never able to assert their authority.  That, too, can happen to Colorado this evening if they are not careful.

Rebounding and paint touches are the firewall, though.  Assuming the Buffs aren't completely asleep at the wheel, I see them winning by 10+.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7pm this evening.  Tickets are still very much available, are all GA, and can be had for $15 a pop.  There is no TV coverage (although a stream will be available), and I'm not even 100% sure about the radio broadcast on 850 KOA, so actually being there will be your best bet to keep up with the action.


Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Brackets!

This weekend was just too busy.  From travels to and from the Pac-12 Tournament to news breaking across the basketball landscape, I'v never had so much to throw in one grab bag.  It's so stuffy in here that I even had to leave a couple of important items on the cutting board.

For example, did you know CU is scheduled to play a non-conference basketball game with Iowa State in South Dakota this November?  They are!  In a tiny-ass gym, no less.  That's pretty cool and newsworthy. Arielle Roberson isn't returning for her senior year.  Also newsworthy, but far more sucky.  Or, what about the Spring Game? Didn't watch, didn't care, but I know a lot of people do.  There was so much breaking news this weekend that I don't even have time to halfheartedly struggle through three paragraphs on that!

The point is, there's a lot of stuff after the jump, each item worthy of its own, dedicated column.  Please, bear with me as I dive through everything from an insane weekend. I'm talking the Pac-12 finale, bracket snubs, the CBI, a pair of new basketball recruits, and the Frozen Banana Stand winning number 20.  *whew*, let's get started.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, March 14, 2015

2015 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 4

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 14th --

Chalk reigned, once again, on day three of the Pac-12 Tournament, but not as overwhelmingly as it did in the quarterfinals.  The two top seeds, Arizona and Oregon, each survived to live another day (by the skin of their teeth) to set up a dramatic final on Championship Saturday.

In the opening game, Arizona saw their first test in weeks from the UCLA Bruins, who held a solid lead deep into the second half.  The underdog utilized a changeup 3-2 zone to confuse the 'Cats, holding them to 36% shooting in the first half.  Suddenly, the physical, slashing Arizona offense was reduced to a jump shooting apostay.  While UCLA struggled with foul trouble, and the 'Zona defense stayed formidable, it at least made an upset conceivable.

The inevitable - a dramatic, table-turning run from Arizona - always seemed to loom, however.  Eventually, the moment came, as the 'Cats raced into a 15-0 sprint midway through the second half to turn a seven point Bruins' advantage into a 55-47 Arizona lead.  Based on the efforts of Brandon Ashley, who's having one of the best runs in Vegas, momentum was flipped on its head.  UCLA still had some fight left in them, and even brought it back to within two with 20 seconds to play, but the Wildcats hit their free throws to win a 70-64 final.

In the night cap, a back-and-forth affair between Utah (the lower seed, but betting favorite) and Oregon stayed tight until the end.  Neither team ever pulled away by more than six, and the fans were treated to seven ties and four lead changes.  With the Utes only leading by one at the break, this one had all the makings of a dramatic finish.

Just as they had against Colorado, Oregon would utilize a second half surge to gain an advantage.  They upped their shooting percentage to 58% from the floor, and cracked down on the Utes' three point looks. This flip helped make up Utah's dominance on the glass, where they were +12.   In the end, it was the Joe Young show, who capped his 25 point performance with a game-winning three pointer in the final seconds. 67-64, Oregon.  Bring on the 'ship.


Today's action

- #1 Arizona vs #2 Oregon - 9pm MT, ESPN - 

The Ducks are hotter than hot right now.  With Joe Young scoring seemingly at will, they've looked like the two-seed they earned in the regular season.  The Wildcats are an intimidating presence, however, and will only further leverage the rebounding deficiency that Oregon showed against Utah.  Between the length, activity, and physicality of the Arizona defenders, I just don't see a way that the Ducks can pull this off, even if Young goes bonkers.  Give me Arizona - maybe not to cover, but to finally break through in the Pac-12 Tournament.

Friday, March 13, 2015

2015 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 13th --

A top-heavy league showed its true stripes in the quarterfinals. The Pac-12 Tournament, that had started out bonkers, slumped under a wave of double-digit blowouts. Heavy favorites Arizona, Oregon, Utah, and UCLA all rolled - after some early nervous moments - setting up a chalk pair of semifinals this afternoon.

For Colorado, they had their shot against the Ducks.  They lead by as many as 11 in the first half, and were up by three at halftime.  For much of the game, they were not only playing with favored Oregon, but beating them. Through the opening 20 minutes, the Buffs had held UO to only 33% shooting from the field, and largely kept one of the nation's best offenses silent.  But, as would be expected, you can't keep a good team down for long, and, eventually, Oregon began to find traction against the porous CU defense.  A wave of UO points in the second half proved to be too much, and the Buffs saw their season end to the tune of a 93-85 final.

The big problem was defensive switches - some of them unintended.  In the second half, Oregon was able to get whomever they wanted on their elite set of guards - particularly the great Joe Young - by running a screen off a Colorado forward. For his end, Young dropped 30 points, including a back-breaking layup off of a bad switch from Askia Booker, to knife the Buffs.  In total, the Ducks would shoot 76% from the floor in the second half, en route to a painful 59 points over only 20 minutes of action.

This was never the type of game that CU could win.  Played to 75 possessions, this was to Oregon's tempo and style.  Colorado kept running into mistakes, keyed by coughing up turnovers against the Ducks' trapping press.  The Buffs would commit 13 TOs for the game, leading to 27 points for the league's two-seed.  Not only were the turnovers ugly, but they were fueling the Oregon attack.

There was some late hope, as Colorado managed to cut the deficit to only four in the waning minutes of action. But any dreams of the great Booker single-handedly leading a noble comeback to stave off the end of his career were short lived.  Booker did get a little warm down the stretch, finishing with 12/5/5, but it wasn't enough.

At their best on Thursday, CU was going through Josh Scott.  The Colorado Springs native was nigh unguardable against Oregon, dropping 16 mostly-early points.  He helped get elite rim protector Jordan Bell in foul trouble quickly, and was a terror in the paint.  The Buffs struggled to get him the ball in the second half, however, and his post touches diminished.

Overall, this was Colorado's season in a nutshell.  Good enough to compete, but not focused or composed enough to get the needed results on high leverage possessions.  It's a frustrating end to a frustrating year.  CU now heads into the offseason needing a lot of reformative work.  Unless I've completely overestimated Coach Boyle, the version of the Buffs we will see in November will be a completely different animal.


Today's action

- #1 Arizona vs #4 UCLA - 7pm MT, Pac-12 Network - 

Now we get serious.  Arizona has looked unstoppable in recent weeks, crushing all comers by buckets of points.  These next two games, however, will decide how we perceive the league champs.  The Bruins have been the ones to take out the Wildcats each of the last two years, and they may be the only hope to do so this season.  They're young and inconsistent, however, and I'm not expecting any dramatics in the first semi. Give me the 'Cats and the under.

- #2 Oregon vs #3 Utah - 9:30pm MT, ESPN - 

Utah looked refreshed and reinvigorated against Stanford last night; a complete reversal from their slumping effort in Seattle last Saturday.  With their length and activity on defense, they should prove to be a much tougher challenge to the Ducks offense than Colorado.  I like the Utes, behind another Delon Wright explosion, to slip into the final.  

Thursday, March 12, 2015

2015 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 2

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 12th --

March - n. - A time of year where insanity becomes the norm.

March descended on Vegas with a crashing bellow yesterday, with all four games defying expectations. Overall, it was a rough day for the overachievers, as Washington State, Arizona State, and Oregon State - teams that all finished above their predicted place - fell out of the Pac-12 Tournament to teams that had underachieved this season.

For the Buffs, that meant a win over the OSU Beavers, and it took an extra special dose of Askia Booker to make it happen.  The senior spark plug, who had struggled in the first half, came alive over a three minute stretch in the second.  Out of the under-twelve timeout, with the Buffs trailing 52-50, Booker hit on a pair of free throws to even the score.  He then proceeded to nail a trio of three point attempts and a slashing layup to sling-shot CU into a nine point lead.  It was a lead the team would never relinquish, skating home with a 78-71 final.

The previous meeting in Corvallis was a fit of frustration, as Colorado never found traction against the Oregon State zone.  Yesterday, however, CU played particularly well on offense, using incisive passes to carve up the Beavers.  Eventually, OSU had no other option but to ditch the zone for man-to-man, as CU shot 50% from the floor against one of the nation's best defenses.  That effort was supported by fantastic free throw shooting, with the Buffs getting near full value out of their 26 attempts.  Just an outstanding performance all around.

For Booker, his 20 points lead the team. He had been off his game in the first half, finishing without a made field goal, but still found a way to contribute by repeatedly catching the Beavers in the air on pump fakes. Josh Scott, continuing his recent run of strong play, was vital in support, posting a 16/14 double-double against zero turnovers.

This was a tight game from start to finish.  Back-and-forth action made for a very engaging affair, and Ski's three minutes of insane brilliance were the only difference.  The Buffs now move on to face Oregon in day two, looking to claim a Beaver State sweep.

In the day's other action:

  • Cal crushed Washington State 84-59 in a game DaVonte Lacy played little to no part in.  
  • USC stunned everyone by storming back in the second half to clip Arizona State 67-64.
  • Stanford survived 71-69 in the day's best finish, thanks to senior Chasson Randle's three pointer in the waning seconds.
Just a bonkers day in Las Vegas, as the muddled middle scrapped for the spoils.  This is a top-heavy league, however, and the behemoths hit town this afternoon.  It's about to get real.


Today's action

- #1 Arizona vs #8 Cal - 1pm MT, Pac-12 Network - 

The red horde is about to wash over the Strip, as the league champions finally start their run.  It's hard not to expect some serious noise from the Wildcats, who dominated competition this winter, winning 16 conference games.  It would take a near-perfect effort from Cal to beat them on their worst day, and I'm not expecting that sort of shenanigans.  Give me the 'Cats.

- #4 UCLA vs #12 USC - 3:30pm MT, Pac-12 Network - 

A surprise LA showdown in the second game won't be much fun for those in attendance.  For all the faults with the Bruins, they should have no difficulty with their cross-town rival.  Give me UCLA, big.

- #2 Oregon vs #10 Colorado - 7pm MT, Pac-12 Network - 

We saw in Eugene what happens if the Buffs try to get into a track meet with the Ducks.  It's not a pretty sight.  Colorado's best chance this afternoon is to bring #TadBall to Vegas, and turn this one into a grind-it-out clencher.  I've been told I can no longer pick CU to win this season, however.  Fair enough.  Ducks and the over.

- #3 Utah vs #6 Stanford - 9:30pm MT, ESPN - 

This one could be interesting, as the Chasson Randle/Delon Wright matchup is fantastic, and Stefan Nastic will be able to use all his wily veteran skill against freshman Jakob Poeltl.  I'm expecting another close finish in the night cap, with the Cardinal covering in a close loss.