Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Yet More Attrition in Basketball

I think it goes without saying that I hate the 'wave.' By participating, you’re saying, in essence, 'I no longer care about what’s going on in front of me, and just want to goof off for a bit." I guess I get the notion - you’re bored at a game, and want something communal to participate in - but it strikes me as a gateway to the lesser aspects of being a sports fan. Since a fellow member of the Pac-12 (Washington) claims responsibility for berthing the beast, there's some conference honor to be had in its continuance, but I would prefer to be left out of it.

That informs why dawning horror splashed across my face Friday afternoon as two (and there’s really no other way to describe them) Sox-bros stood up at the bottom of a nearby section, and began to exhort their fellow fans to giving rise to the wave. I had long prided myself in saying that no Sox fan would ever participate in the wave; ‘Oh no,’ I thought, ‘the safety of my imagined reality is being breached!  Maybe we do, indeed, 'wave.’ 

Thankfully, the nonsense was short lived. Others around me grumbled their displeasure, and, out of hundreds sat before them in the section, only a scant handful even pretended to participate. Surely, the lousy performance put on from the home nine that afternoon had put a damper on fanatic spirits, but the curse of a wave to satiate the bored was avoided.  

If you or anyone you know struggles with the urge to 'wave,' let me encourage you to seek out professional help.  Together, we can cure this devastating affliction.

--

Today in the bag, I'm talking another round of roster attrition in men's basketball, the Masters, and some final ruminations from my weekend trip home to the SouthSide.

Click below for the bag...

Tuesday, April 7, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: A Champion is Crowned

Straight to the action today.  I have thoughts on the national championship decided last night, baseball's opening day, and the lacrosse team.

Click below for the bag...

Thursday, April 2, 2015

On the Pac-12's Basketball Bands

From time to time I've expressed my opinions on the basketball bands of the Pac-12.  Some of you enjoy these delves into band geekdom, and have requested more.  This post is for you.

Of course, I've also received the occasional push-back on those opinions, like I did last week when I agreed with Rush The Court's Andrew Murawa that the Arizona band appearing in Los Angeles was... less than awesome.  Maybe, in that light, I should provide my qualifications to comment on the league's pep bands, so that you can better understand where I'm coming from.

The large tuba player in the picture above is me. *waves* I played with the CU marching and basketball bands from 2002-2006.  During that time, I rose to become tuba section leader, and have stayed close to the program since graduation.  To this day, you can occasionally find me strapping up as part of the Silver Buffalo Alumni Basketball Band. While not an 'expert performer,' per se, I would consider myself an expert participant in all that is life as a basketball band geek. It's this experience and passion that underscores my opinions on the subject.

(Note on the label 'band geek:' I have never found this term to be offensive, and self-identify as such.  If you, as a band member, do find offense, I apologize, but would hope you understand that I use it here with love)

Of course, the very subject - the quality, or lack there of, of various collegiate pep bands - is itself highly subjective.  There are no right or wrong answers here, and, much like beauty, what you like in the arena is a very personal concept.

For me, I key on a few areas:
  1. I need to be able to hear you.  You could be the most technically brilliant set of performers around, but if you're not playing loud enough for a noisy, distractive environment, that brilliance is wasted.  Remember - you're at a basketball game; play like it.
  2. Play fast, damnit.  Get in, get out. You have my attention for about 80 seconds... get moving.  In my day, the CU band used to whip out 'Minnie the Moocher' each and every night.  Great song, but it dragged ass, and killed the mood.  Give it some gas, kids.
  3. You must be brass heavy.  All apologies to woodwinds, but... MOAR BRASS! Bonus points: The louder and fatter your tubas sound, the better.  
  4. Play the hits. Don't play some intricate, jazzy/blues track to indulge your music majors; I better know what I'm listening to.  Also, if you've got a great song you're known for, I'd better hear you playing it.  USC - I want to hear 'Tusk.'  Stanford - light up 'All Right Now.' Oregon - Stone Cold's entrance song, if you please.  But don't play something modern and popular just to play it.  You'd better have a good arrangement.
  5. ...but not just the top-40.  You should have more than a few songs that you play every game.  I used to mock Oklahoma mercilessly for having one - and only one - song in their book (you know the one).  Expand your horizons.
  6. Appropriate genres. In general, I prefer the following genres - funk, blues rock, disco, soul, 80s hair metal, big band/swing, and ska (highly underutilized).  Some hip hop, R&B, metal, and modern pop tracks (but those can get you in trouble with flobby arrangements).  These aren't requirements - the odd country song can be fun - but just what I prefer.  If you have a lot of ska tunes in your folder, you will win me heart over immediately.
Ideally, you should hear the bands in person, in their home arenas.  Judging a band over television is particularly unfair. A few years back, with CU playing WSU in Spokane, I commented on twitter that the Cougar band sounded like a middle school group.  That was more than hasty on my part - for all I know, the Pac-12 Network had some random intern setting up the band mic for that broadcast.  It's also unfair to judge a group based solely on their performance in tournaments.  Boiling a group down to fewer than 30 players removes a lot of the character and life of a full-piece performance. For example, while still very impressive in tournament scenarios, the 2012 CU band was far more impressive in the CEC, with their full 90+ tucked in the corner of a roiling mass of students.  The wall of sound that group created was unlike any other, and needed to be heard live.

Unfortunately, while I've heard every band in the league play in person (via the Pac-12 Tournament), I'm still deprived of their full-force effort.  (I'll be looking to rectify that in future years, eyeing more travel during January and February.)  Still, at the very least, the tournament in Vegas provides an equal-footing setting. While not perfect, it will at least provide a standard for comparison.  And so, based on my impressions from last month in Sin City, I have compiled a ranking of the league's pep bands for 2015.

A caveat - This is a particularly brutal way to judge musical groups, and I ask that you take this with a grain of salt.  It's purely a reflection of my id's interpretation of the tournament, obscured, in no small measure, by alcohol and sleep deprivation.  Really, there are no winners and losers here. Bands are there to enhance your enjoyment of the event, and, to that measure, every band in the Pac-12 hit their marks. Basketball in the Left Coast wouldn't be the same without any of them.

Without further ado:

1) Stanford

The Cardinal are the gold standard in the Pac-12.  No one has more fun, and that bleeds into my enjoyment of their product.  The damn Tree - notably the band's mascot, not the team's - also helps.  Leaves flopping, always spinning, it's an endearing part of the ensemble.  Oh, and don't forget the cowbell.  You can never have too much of that.  Loud, exuberant, fast-paced, and with a varied book. Just wonderful, the whole package.

2) Oregon

They have a great book, a great arrangement of players.  I kept wanting to turn against them, for Dana Altman reasons, but, damnit, they kept winning me over.  Out-played every band they came up against in Vegas; not kidding. That first trumpet either needs to learn to hold that high note on Stone Cold or hand it off to someone else, though.

3) Oregon State

Oregon State stole Dana Biggs, CU's former director, a few years ago, and their product has steadily improved, as a result.  I've always like Dana's tempos - lightning quick, and impactful - and his players at OSU have really taken to them.  The notes are crisp, clean, and they have the noise to back it up.  It doesn't hurt that the Kentucky product brought many of my old Colorado favorites with him to Corvallis, either. Solid package.

4) Washington

In a surprise, the Huskies caught my eye by having some of the best tubas in Las Vegas.  My word, could they play.  I honestly didn't pay much attention to the rest of the band, my ear was tuned to the big heavies in the back.  Beefy, brassy sound that thundered throughout the arena. Hell of a show, kids, keep up the good work!

5) CU

In 2012, I though Colorado boasted one of the best basketball bands in the whole country.  You may say 'oh, that's just you speaking as a faithful alum,' but I'd put that group up against any (even mighty VCU).  The intervening years haven't been kind, however.  Three directors in as many years have upended the apple cart, and there has been some noticeable slippage in the product.  The new guy (Dr Dockendorf) seems to have things on a positive track, and further continuity will help them regain their standing near the top of this league.

Still, a fun group to listen to.  Generally fun, peppy, fast, and brassy.  I'm a little too familiar with the book at this point, but I still like to hear hits like 'Separate Ways,' and 'Hey Pachuco.'

6) UCLA

The Bruins are very technically good, playing all their songs at an elite level.  Some of the best pure musicians in the Pac-12.  If this were a concert setting, I'd have them much higher on this list. The problem is they're very quiet. I have to strain myself to hear them, even from good seats.  Maybe it's a product of playing for all the blue hairs in Pauley, but they need to be able to turn the amp up to 11 once they hit the Strip.

7) ASU

I found myself really liking this group, much to my surprise.  Nice and brassy, with a fun book.  They make for a really entertaining bunch. However, they have an Achilles' heel.  Wayyyyyyyy too much electric bass. It's distracting.  Pull that beast back in, yo.

8) Arizona

I really like the drummers from Arizona.  As long as I've been listening, they lay on the cymbals, creating a very unique sound.  I can always tell when 'Zona is playing, just from the tone of the kit. The rest of the band, though... *shrugs*.  Pretty quiet, and a little plain musically. The self-indulgent trombone in the first row doesn't do them any favors; dude loves himself some him.

9) Cal

Another band where I kind of just *shrug*.  With the hats and flair, they seem like a corporatized version of Stanford.  Kind of quiet and reserved, I lose track of them, and start staring at Oski... damn is that bear creepy.

10) USC

Speaking of corporatized fun, the USC band gets a lot of pub, but, much like their basketball program, are never what they could/should be.  They're probably down here simply because I expect more from a leading brand.

11) Utah

Honestly can't remember what they sounded like.  I've been wracking my brain, and simply can't remember. I had to sit in the cheap seats for both of their games, so maybe it's just that I was too far removed from their sound, but I'm drawing a blank.  I'll pay closer attention to them next March - they should probably be higher up this list, as a result.

12) WSU

No, they're not the middle school band I made them out to be a few years back.  Much better than that, really.  But, they're still solidly at the bottom of this list.  I will say, however, that they have the best free throw chant in the league.  'You let the whole team down' owns.

Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: The Final Four is set

The Final Four still lies ahead, but my brain is already sneaking peeks over the hill to the oncoming baseball season.  I'm so eager for the return of the National Pastime that I went ahead and did something ridiculous: I booked a ticket home for the home opener for My Sox.

'What's so ridiculous about that,' you ask?  Well, the trip will entail a 1am arrival in my hometown, having to essentially break into my Mom's house (with her permission; she's away that weekend), and an inevitable mad-dash through Chicago traffic to catch my flight back on Sunday.  Logistical acrobatics will be performed, all in the name of consuming baseball at it's blurry, April best.

There is a method to my madness, however.  See, I've never been to an opening day.  Sure, I've been to opening week before, but never an opening day of any kind.  When I went on the Sox website late Sunday night, and found one - and only one - ticket available for the affair, I took it as a sign.  That streak needed to end. So here I go; I hope the weather is passable.

--

Today in the bag, I'm talking the Final Four, the NCAA and transfer rules, and the football program.

Click below for the bag...


Monday, March 30, 2015

The Attrition Files: Dustin Thomas

After a disappointing season, and with a number of players filling similar roles, there was a shared assumption across BuffNation that someone would be leaving the program early.  That assumption was confirmed when CU accepted two commitments for the upcoming recruiting class, with only one scholarship seemingly to offer.  The only question at that point was 'who will it be?'  The answer is a painful one, as it was announced that forward Dustin Thomas was the domino to fall, with the young Texan deciding to transfer out of the program after just two seasons in Boulder. An unexpected shot to the gut.
But, but... two years of DT is too few! From: the Texarkana Gazette
It would be a stretch to say Dustin was my favorite play this past year, but he was certainly in the top tier.  I was drawn to his effort, versatility, and aggressiveness; some qualities that were sorely lacking amongst his teammates.  Heading into next winter, I would've been predicting big things for the Texarkana product.  It really hurts to see him exit.

The average fan may not have appreciated his contributions, but DT was a hard worker and a constant contributor.  Whenever he came on the court, it seemed as if his energy was contagious.  15-ish minutes per game and 4/2 averages may not sound like much, but he was one of the few reserves that actually appeared to progress this year, and was the most consistent performer from the true sophomore group (which isn't really saying much...).  Believe me, Dustin was not pushed out; there would've continued to be a place for him at CU, had he wanted to stay.
Tireless, fearless, Thomas endeared himself to the faithful. From: the BDC
As far as I can tell, the choice to leave came down to playing time and position.  Coach Boyle said as much when Thomas' decision was announced: "I think he wants to play a little bit more on the perimeter than we were willing to play him."  With Colorado, Dustin was becoming, more and more, a 'stretch-four.' The Buffs were playing him in the paint, and having him guard other power forwards.  With a varied skill-set and a decent handle, it's easy to understand that DT would've preferred more of a small forward/wing role.

In that vein, I agree with Dustin's decision.  In a frontcourt dominated by the likes of Josh Scott, Xavier Johnson, and Wes Gordon, playing time would continue to be an issue for at least another year, besides the fact that he always looked to be out of position at the '4,' anyways. He'd pick up too many fouls trying to grasp defensive rhythm, and, much like former Buff Austin Dufault, seemed to play his best when situation took him out of the role set for him.  Maybe, given a new team and a new system, he'll find the minutes and role that he's looking for.
Whoever ends up getting Dustin will be in for a treat.  From: the CU Independent.
Per twitter, he's already visited Central Michigan, and may be well on his way to picking his new home. Regardless of where he ends up, I'll always think of him as a Buff, and remain a fan.  His best basketball is still in front of him, and I can't wait to see it.

Thank you, Dustin! I would've preferred a few more years of your tenacity in Black and Gold, but sometimes you have to get yours. Good luck in the rest of your collegiate career!

--

Best Remembered for - 

High energy, blue collar performances.  He took a lot of grief for his continuing foul trouble (over six called per 40 minutes played for his career), but most of those were the result of errors of commission, rather than error of omission.  The kid hustled and tried every minute he was on the court.


Best Aspect of his game - 

Versatility.  He can take guys off dribble (his spin move in traffic is a growing force), attack the basket, shoot (although his shot was always a bit streaky), guard multiple positions, and rebound.  Like a Swiss Army Knife, DT can be whatever you want him to be.  CU wanted him to be a power forward, which may not have been the best use of his skills, but he tried his hardest to fill that role.


Best game as a Buff -  

1/4/15 vs USCStill without Josh Scott, the Buffs needed a little extra from the reserve forwards, and Dustin obliged with a majestic 17/2/2/3 performance.  He posted an offensive rating above 190 for the game, making all three of his three point attempts, and staying away from any turnovers.  It was, by far, his best night in Black and Gold, and seemed to show the way for repeat performances into the future.

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:
YEE FUCKIN' HA!
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.

GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE REDHAWKS!