Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, November 22, 2014

2014-15 CU vs Wyoming Basketball Teaser: the First Road Trip

This will be the last meeting for CU and Wyoming on the hardwood for some time.  Coach Boyle, having sweated it out against the Cowboys the last three meetings, has decided to let the series expire after the four-game contract concludes on Saturday.

Part of me is sad to see this series fade away.  I look at it as a tough, regional rivalry that adds character to the non-conference schedule, if not gravitas.  It's a good contrast in styles, and generally an entertaining contest. Of course, the other part of me is more than happy to put the 'Pokes in the rearview.  With the home win last November, the Buffs improved to 7-16 against Wyo since 1982.   I've taken it as a humbling test of will; CU has a nemesis, and it wears Shit Brown and Piss Yellow. They've always played Colorado tough, and the risk involved at this point - a win over the Cowboys usually doesn't do much for the RPI - just isn't worth the effort required.
Who wouldn't like to keep fun moments like this one on the schedule *sigh*
Going forward, Boyle hinted that he wants to get other regional programs involved.  Specifically, he name-checked Northern Colorado and Denver.  Fair enough, but, if CU is going to stay in region, I'd much rather them aim higher, like New Mexico, or even, *cough*, Nebraska.  Why not play the Lobos at the Pepsi Center?  I bet that'd draw a decent crowd. (Look at me try to give away the best home court advantage in the West, *sigh*)

But, that's for the future; the present is all about this afternoon's visit to Laramie.  It's an important game for both sides.  Obviously, for CU, this is all about resume building, and, as the first road test of the season, it marks an important right of passage on the path to the Dance. For the Cowboys, this is the red-letter date of their non-conference schedule.  They have some tough games remaining on the road (against SMU and Cal), but the visit from Colorado is, by far, their sexiest home game before New Year's Day.  Not only is this a big rivalry game for them, but also a big night for their fan base, who will have to sit through a slew of contests against teams currently in the KenPom 300+ in the coming weeks.
Shayatt's second run in Laramie has been increasingly successful.
Much like with the Buffs, the soft home schedule is probably a factor of teams simply not wanting to climb up the 7,000+ feet of altitude to take them on.  With good reason, as, not only is the trip to the Gem City of the Plains a difficult one, but the Cowboys are a good team this year, to boot.  Head coach Larry Shyatt, who has had his bunch in the CBI each of the last three seasons, may finally have the pieces in place to break into the NIT, or even, *gasp*, the NCAA Tournament.  They return four of five starters from '13-'14, and should contend in the top-half of the Mountain West.

Key to their success is the healthy return of senior forward Larry Nance, Jr.  The lanky 6-8 Ohio product was First-Team All-MWC a year ago, as he lead the team in points (15.4), rebounds (8.6), blocks (2.1), and steals (1.4) per game.  An ACL tear in his right knee, however, derailed what was a strong junior campaign, and really hurt the Cowboys.  Without him, Wyoming went 1-6, and tumbled out of NIT contention.
Nance, Jr. is easily the best player on Wyoming
Assuming he's made a complete recovery, the senior's presence in the lineup makes the 'Pokes a much more difficult animal to take on.  A completely different challenge from Auburn Cinmeon Bowers, Nance will give multiple looks from the forward slot, shifting from the post to the wing as necessary.  I still would take either Josh Scott or Wes Gordon over him, but there's not many other forwards in this timezone who can hold a candle to Larry. Nance will pair up front with Derek Cooke, a bulkier forward who stays inside.

The backcourt features Colorado native Riley Grabau.  The hero of Boulder High's 2011 run to the state final is a strong shooter (shot 42% from deep last season), and really feeds off of kick-outs from forwards like Nance and Cooke.  He pairs well with another Colorado product, junior Josh Adams.  The 6-2 spark plug is also a good shooter, but aditionally adds an athletic dimension to the guard corps. Between them, they can rain threes if you're not closing out the perimeter.
Boulder's own Grabau has come into his own at Wyo.
What makes this matchup so difficult for CU is the slow, measured pace that the Cowboys like the employ. They revel in possession basketball, and generally take over 20 seconds per set.  Since Shyatt came back to Laramie, the Cowboys have finished no higher than 343rd in average possession length, making every trip down the court a battle of wills.  For a team like Colorado, who likes to get out and run a bit, it can be very frustrating. The 'Pokes will also throw some zone out there, which really gets in CU's head.  If the Buffs can steal out of Wyoming with a win, it will tell us a lot about this team.

It's going to be tough, but I think the Buffs should be able to earn that big victory.  A good, deep veteran team like Colorado should perform well on the road, and the forward strength on the team should neutralize the versatile Nance.  Believe me, it's going to be ugly, it's going to be tense, it's going to be #TadBall, but I see a close CU win.

Tip-off from the Arena-Auditorium in beautiful Laramie is set for 4pm this afternoon. For those making the drive up, it's supposed to be a clear day, so we all caught a break. Coverage for those who aren't making the drive can be found on ESPN3 (the streaming service).  The radio call, sans Mark Johnson, will be on AM 760 - because: football.


Friday, November 21, 2014

Friday Beer Post: 2014 Gameday Beer-o-the-week - Wyoming Edition

Each week throughout the football season I'm going to suggest a good beer for the ubiquitous pre-game tailgate. Let's be honest, with tailgates it's not always top quality that you're looking for. To steal a phrase from the heinous beer terrorists at Budweiser, you want "drinkability." (or what a real beer connoisseur calls "a session beer") So, be warned, these may not be "the best" beers around. But, in the words of Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson "IT'LL GET YOU DRUNK!"

All apologies to the football team, but I'm headed up to Laramie tomorrow for the basketball game, leaving any hope of a football watch party non-existent.  That doesn't mean that beer isn't on the menu, however.  I fully plan on getting up to the home of the Cowboys with more than enough time to put away a few before entering the stadium.  When in Rome...

So, what will I be drinking?  Well, I think it needs to fit with the ouvre of the region.  I hate to be stereotypical, but, when I think Wyoming (after I get past the gusting winds and barren terrain), I think rednecks hunting game.  With that in mind, there's only one option: Busch in a trophy/camo can.  It's this week's gameday beer-o-the-week.

Oh my, is this a nasty pick.  Not only am I painting with a broad brush about our rural neighbors to the north, but Busch is a truly horrible beverage.  This is the stuff that Budweiser doesn't think is good enough to get the full 'King of Beers' treatment, watered down and re-packaged for consumption.  An 'economy' version of an already terrible product.  *LOL*, I bet you weren't expecting to see this pop up in the beer post today.

This is, of course, an American adjunct lager, otherwise known as a macro-brew.  The ingredients are sub-par and homogeneous, the taste is off-putting and slightly metallic, and it'll give you a wicked upset stomach. If that isn't a hard sell for this beast, I don't know what is!  You can find it everywhere third-rate beers are sold, often in quantities you'd rather not admit to purchasing.  Why not buy a rack of these, and get weird!

Happy Friday!  Go Buffs, beat the Cowboys (and Ducks too)!

2014 Oregon Football Preview

Not much to say before this.  The Buffs face a massively difficult road test in Eugene this weekend, in essentially an 'us against the world' scenario.  No one thinks CU has a chance in hell of even competing for a few minutes tomorrow, and the rest of the college football landscape sees this one as a rest stop on the way to Santa Clara for the Ducks.  But, as Chris Berman famously says, 'that's why they play the game.' Weirder things have happened...

Kickoff from the house that the Swoosh built is set for 2:30pm on Saturday.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Quick Post: Auburn Wrap

I tweeted out mid-way through the first half that the Auburn Tigers were in a bad spot.  While only down a few at the time, it was clear to me that, with a lack of interior size, and absolutely no ability to defend Colorado up front, it was only a matter of time before the flood gates broke open.  While they would find a way to get some joy on the boards (thanks to big Cinmeon Bowers), Auburn's defensive level continued to be atrocious throughout the game, and CU was able to get whatever they wanted in the paint.  As the Tigers, who had, predictably, tried to run with the Buffs at altitude, began to tire and lose interest in the second, the game began to get out of hand.  By the end, all that was left was a resounding 90-59 Colorado victory, and a very happy, if sleepy, crowd.
Coach Pearl knew he was in trouble from the opening tip, and so did his shirt.  From: SBNation
Speaking of the crowd, they were fantastic last night/this morning.  The students did their part, as the C-Unit was packed and rowdy from well before the opening tip through the final whistle.  Even the rest of the stadium was mostly full, which surprised me for a 11pm tip.  BuffNation did themselves proud with this one, and the team was appropriately grateful.

The Buffs certainly needed the support, as, don't forget, this was a four point game at halftime.  It took a dominating performance over the final 20 minutes to turn it into a 31-point blowout.  In that second half, CU shot over 65%, living in the paint against the smaller Tigers, while holding the slumping shooters from the SEC to only 18% from the floor (58% to 29% for the game). That discrepancy keyed a 24-0 run that ended all doubt, and had those in attendance on their feet. If there's been a more perfect half played in the Tad Boyle era, I'd like to see it.

Leading the way for Colorado, and exemplifying the ease with which they controlled play on the block, was Wesley Gordon.  The redshirt sophomore had his best game in Black and Gold, claiming a 16/12 double-double, his first, while only committing one foul.  Beyond just Gordon, however, the whole forward corps had a fantastic night. Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott chipped in 17 points a piece, and the trio combined for 50 points, 26 rebounds, 6 assists, 5 blocks, and NO turnovers.  Seriously, Auburn needs to beg, borrow, or steal a forward to help, and soon.
We Gordon had a monster game.  From: the BDC
The problem is, with the Tigers as roster poor as they were, it's hard to take this win with anything but a grain of salt.  In fact, through two games, the Buffs have not faced the level of challenge that they will walk into Saturday afternoon in Laramie.  Facing the Cowboys has always been a program bugaboo, and this year looks to be no different.  I'll have a preview up later this week, but, sufficed to say, the upcoming road trip will be the first true test of the season.  We'll know much more about this team after those 40 minutes have been played.

Monday, November 17, 2014

2014-15 CU vs Auburn Basketball Teaser: Late in the Evening

So, just why is this game tipping off at 11pm?  Well, because it's part of ESPN's seventh-annual Tip-Off Marathon, a yearly showcase of more than 24-hour of continuous basketball action to celebrate the start of the season.  It's actually kind of an honor to be chosen to participate, even as part of the night shift. Believe me, it could be worse - Iona and Wofford tip-off at 7am ET.  I don't even want to think the student section would like with a early-morning tip.

Speaking of the students, this is their game tonight.  There's no doubt in my mind that the attention-span of the few adults in attendance will wane as the game progresses, so it'll be up to the C-Unit to keep the energy ramped up throughout the contest.  In fact, the more of them, the merrier.  If you're not going to the game tonight, because of the understandable intersection of work effectiveness and sleep, why not find a helpful young'un to give your ticket to?  It's what Coach Boyle would want.

But, enough of that noise, onto the matter at hand: Bruce Pearl, and his Auburn Tigers.  Basketball has never been all that much of a strong-suit on the Plains.  Outside of the brief blip of the Charles Barkley era, the program been largely indifferent, even though they play in the hoops-shallow SEC.  That's where the introduction of Bruce Pearl comes in.  Coach Pearl is a known quantity -  a proven winner at the higher levels of the sport. During stints at UW-Milwaukee and Tennessee, he routinely had his teams in the Dance, and winning. While basketball will always be second-fiddle at Auburn, the high-priced hire of Pearl (six-year, $14.7 million) signifies an honest investment in the sport.  Especially in a league that struggles to place more than a few teams at the big boy table, it seems like an opportunity for a high ROI.
Pearl's hiring signals a newfound commitment to hoops at Auburn.
There is some risk, however.  Even in the bootstrapping world of recruiting in the southeast, Pearl carries with him the stigma of a convicted rule violator, stemming from a few recruiting violations picked up during his time on the bench at Tennessee.  In the eyes of the SEC, it's only cheating if you get caught, and Pearl... well, got caught.  Covering up a few kids at a barbecue isn't the worst crime ever (hell, Baylor once picked up a couple cheating on equestrian recruits), but the fact remains. His show-cause penalty just expired a few months ago, but I wouldn't be surprised if the NCAA keeps their eyes on him, especially as he has immediately improved recruiting efforts at the school.

Those recruits won't matter much tonight, but the Tiger program has already been invigorated by the presence of a big time basketball persona.  It seems like just Bruce's name alone has gotten them on some pre-season watch lists.  Certainly, Pearl has a proven track record of coming in and making teams better in a hurry.  Case in point, at his previous stint in Knoxville, he took a team what went 14-17 the year before to 22-8 and a 2-seed in the Tournament.  With his hard pressing, wing-cutters style of play, teams are liable to look different overnight with Bruce at the helm.
The Tigers barely managed to escape the Panthers on opening night.
Still, there's a long way to climb for a program that hasn't had a winning season since 2009, and lives with the TCU's and DePaul's of the world in the hierarchy of major conference basketball.  It won't help their cause that the Tigers lost three high-profile seniors from last year's squad (14-16, 6-12), and are trying to improve a defense that finished at or near the bottom of the SEC in several major categories (allowing over an adjusted 1.06 points per possession).  They're off to a good start, at least, as the team kicked off the Pearl era in style with a 83-73 win over UW-Milwaukee.  In victory, however, you could see some growing pains. They were down by as many as 12 in the second half against their coach's former school, and had to get red hot from the floor to pull off the comeback (over 54% from the floor in the second half). There's nowhere to go but up, but there's a lot of up to go.

Luckily for the Tigers, there's a chunk of guard talent still in the cupboard.  While they lost those three senior starters from a year ago, one starting piece that remains, wing KT Harrell, is a star ready to shine.  The 6-4 senior from Montgomery, AL is a little undersized for his position, but stands as a pure shooter, and a capable scorer.  With a strong frame complimented by great form on his jumper, he averaged 18/4/2 a year ago, and looks to only improve on those numbers this winter.  He is, undoubtedly, the team leader, and the Tigers will need a lot from him if they want to do anything this season. As good of a bucket-getter as he is, however, his defense is suspect, and I'm interested to see what the Buffs can do to exploit him.
Harrell is one of the best scorers that CU will see all season.
Playing off of Harrell is transfer Antoine Mason.  The 6-1 guard comes to Auburn as the nation's leading returning scorer, having averaged 25.6 ppg for Niagra last year.  Of course, life in the MAAC isn't nearly what it is in the SEC (such as it is), so most expect that Mason will be taking a back seat to Harrell.  The pair combined for 39 points on opening night, mostly thanks to 16-22 shooting from the line.

Rounding out the backcourt is the other returning starter, 5-9 sophomore Tahj Shamsid-Deen, who also happens to be a good shooter, and 6-0 sub KC Ross-Miller, another incoming transfer.  With Shamsid-Deen running the point, the other three form the backbone of an intriguing 4-out-1-in attack that loves to get to the line.  Free throws could be key tonight, as Auburn's small guards look to penetrate and draw contact.

Really, about the only threat up front is massive 6-7, 270 lbs bruiser Cinmeon Bowers.  The dude is a classic inside banger, the type of player who used to give this program fits.  He's big, strong, and active, and went for 18/17 on opening night against UW-M.  The problem is, he's the only forward of any note for the Tigers, a fact which CU should be able to exploit.  While standing up to Bowers will be a challenge, the rest of Auburn's talent will defend and attack at a height disadvantage.  Aggressive Colorado forwards should have huge games inside.
Bowers is a BIG boy.
It's because of the interior disparity, and Coach Pearl's history, that you should expect to see a lot of press, and a lot of long- and mid-range jumpers this evening.  Bruce will take one look at CU's front line, and immediately try and neutralize them with tempo and outside play.  A possession game would be death, so #TadBall need not apply this evening.  The Buffs are going to have to run a little bit, which should suit them just fine at altitude.

Full court press worries aside (Talton will earn his stripes tonight), that defense is unconvincing, and Colorado should be able to take advantage. Barring a barrage of threes (not out of the question, considering continuing perimeter defensive concerns), I have no problem predicting a CU victory in a boat race.  That doesn't mean there won't be some nerve-wracking moments, however, should Harrell get hot, or the whistle start going the Tigers' way... At the very least, this should be an entertaining game to watch, worth the late night.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 11pm this evening (that is not a miss-print). I took the step of telling the boss that I'm not coming in tomorrow, as I would expect this one to go to at least 1:30am. Coverage for those who will still be awake, but not at the stadium, can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Monday Grab Bag: Off and Running

Whooo, it was good to get back into the CEC Friday night!  It may not have had the feel of a big game night, but it certainly felt like basketball season; a long overdue return. I'm excited to get back in there this evening for the CU hoops sleep over against Auburn.  I'm bringing my blanket and pillow, you bring the s'more fixings.
The Keg is open for business.  From: the BDC
Today in the bag, I'm talking the opening win over Drexel, a fantastic weekend across the entire athletic department, and a quiet signing day.

Click below for the bag...

Friday, November 14, 2014

2014 CU vs Drexel Basketball Teaser: The Curtain Rises, and the Show Begins

BuffNation, welcome back to all that is basketball.

It's been a long, strange, desperately boring offseason, but the countdowns have finally spun to zero, and it's time to open the 2014-15 basketball season.  As if to remind us all, the weather gods have brought a chill to Boulder, making it certainly feel like a ball night.  Thankfully, while the weather outside is frightful, the CEC is warm and delightful.  That is where our campaign begins, back at home for the first time since late February for a welcomed opportunity to wipe the taste of that night out of our mouths.

First up, the Drexel Dragons, a mid-major riser with a history that dates back over a century to almost the founding of the collegiate game.  Hailing from downtown Philadelphia, they promise to bring a tough-minded, defensive brand of basketball to the Front Range, and should be a feisty opponent for the Buffs on Night #1. Fearless, Coach Boyle never shies away from an opening challenge.

Bruiser Flint has been at the head of the program for what seems like an eternity.  After a spin with UMass in the late '90s, the Philly local was hired on at Drexel in 2001, and has been there ever since.  In that time, he's won a lot of games, 228 of them, in fact, but has never once gotten the Dragons into the Dance.  It's hard out there in the CAA, but I would've though he'd have gotten lucky at least one of those years.
The long-tenured Flint has struggled to overcome a series of injuries in Philly.
By far, Bruiser's best season at Drexel was 2011-'12, when the team won 29 games and claimed the league title. They fell short in the CAA tournament, however, stumbling against VCU in the title game.  The NIT came calling, and the Dragons managed to make it all the way to the quarterfinal.

Coming off of that successful campaign, it was expected that Drexel was on the verge of a string of postseason trips.  Unfortunately, that has not been the case, as, since 2012, the Dragons have slumped to three games under .500. Injuries have been the primary culprit, keeping a strong foundation of talent from reappearing on the Madness' radar.  It especially hurt last winter, as they had more than enough talent, on paper, to make the Tournament.  Without some their best players on the court, however, the team that pushed UCLA and Arizona to the brink in November of 2013 was all but gone by the time conference play rolled around last January.

Trying to turn the corner in '14-'15, the Dragons will be working to make up for the graduation of two of the best players in program history - Frantz Massenat and Chris Fouch.  The pair alternatively formed the backbone of the squad the last few seasons (trading injuries along the way), and helped make the team guard oriented.  It's never easy to replace a duo who combined to average 36 points per and placed in a school's top-10 scorer's list, so expect a change in philosophy from a year ago.  Without them, Coach Flint and crew should try to turn the focus inside in an attempt to take advantage of a core of long, athletic wings. Particularly, without the shooter Fouch, expect a lot fewer jumpers early in possessions.

Even with those graduations, they're picked to finish 4th in the CAA this season behind a rotation that features superlative talent Damion Lee.  A strong candidate for All-Conference honors, the 6-6 junior missed the vast majority of last year with an ACL tear, and didn't even resume basketball activities till this fall. When healthy, however, he's a reliable scoring wing.  Lee averaged 17/5 two seasons ago, despite missing extended time for yet another knee injury.  How aggressive he is with his lower body will be a key this evening, as he returns to a live action.  Eventually, I expect him to get up to a near-30% usage rate.
Damion Lee is the real deal.
Pairing with Lee is another big guard in 6-7 junior Tavon Allen.  He averaged 12/3 last season despite struggling from behind the arc.  Up front, they're lead by 6-7 sophomore Rodney Williams.  More on the athletic, rather than bruising, side of the power forward spectrum, Williams was on the conference's All-Rookie Team a year ago.  All told, these big three are legitimate talents who will push CU.

Beyond them, however, it gets a little dicey.  The Dragons are dealing with yet another set of injuries, having already lost returning point guard Major Canady and powerful forward Kazembe Abif to the injury bug. Replacing Abif is the easier challenge, as they'll probably go with defensive-minded center Mohamed Bah. Who will bring up the ball up, however, is a trickier answer, with some discussion that they could with freshman Rashann London over Seton Hall transfer Freddie Wilson.  Regardless, as a result of the injuries, they're still feeling each other out, particularly at the point guard spot, and will struggle with bench depth.  

Overall, while Drexel features a lot of headline talent, the depth and point guard question don't lead me to believe that the Buffs will face too deep of an upset scare this evening.  Not that there won't be nervous moments, though.  Flint is known for pairing solid defensive basketball with a slow, possession-based approach to offense. Usually, his teams have been in the low-60s per game, and over 19 seconds per trip, so don't expect this game to break out too fast, or anything.  It's a fascinating opening challenge for the Buffs, who have been rumored to be struggling with turnovers in fall practices.  Possessions will be sacrosanct this evening, and an excessive amount of turnovers would cause some headaches.

Either way, we're going to see a heavy dose of #TadBall. *smirks* I wouldn't have it any other way on opening night.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6pm this evening.  Tell the boss you're leaving 30 minutes early to insure you can beat the traffic up to Boulder.  Coverage for those who can't make it can be found on Pac-12 Mountain, with the radio call on 850 KOA.