Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

2014-15 CU vs Air Force Basketball Teaser: Why Do We Fall?

"Why do we fall?" The classic question from Batman Begins leads to the knowing response, "So that we can learn to pick ourselves up."  The Buffs certainly fell hard Saturday in Laramie, getting smacked around by the Cowboys in a game that ranked up there with the Kansas trip two years ago, or the Tournament letdown against Pitt last March.  My view of this team is not essentially changed by Saturday, but my eyebrow is raised.  I saw regression, I saw exhaustion, I saw questioned looks, rather than leadership.  As Will Whelan said, I'm just confused; for a veteran group who has been through the wringer before, I didn't think what we saw over the weekend was possible.

Luckily, that is not the final word on the matter.  Given a few days of practice, and few sessions in the video room, CU has an opportunity to learn an early lesson about responding to adversity.  The team on the floor in Wyoming is not the team that I expect to see tonight, next week, next month, or beyond.  I expect them to force tempo through their dedication on defense; I expect them to share the ball, and be aggressive on offense; I expect them to dictate their will, rather than accept what's at their feet.  I expect the Buffs to learn from what happened, and pick themselves up.
Pilipovich is up against a wounded CU team, looking to regain their mojo.
Hopefully hitting the reset button, the Buffs welcome the Air Force Falcons this evening.  This is head coach Dave Pilipovich's fourth season at the helm in the Springs.  While he seems to be a much better (certainly, better received) option that predecessor Jeff Reynolds, he's struggled to keep up with the surging Mountain West, and has posted a sub-.500 record since taking over.  This season, Pilipovich is at the head of a team in search of confidence and consistency, despite returning four starters.  While the Falcons are 3-1 on the year, they've only played two Division I opponents - splitting with Army and The Citadel in the All-Military Classic.  I'm not sure anyone has a great read on them yet, but it'd be a stretch to assume that they'll go on to sniff the upper table in the MWC.

The Falcons lost a lot when their leading scorer from 2013-14, 'Tre Coggins, and an emerging post threat, Darrius Parker, decided to transfer.  Coggins, who already seemed to be on his way out after an extended suspension last season, would've been particularly useful as a reliable scorer.  In his stead, senior guard Max Yon is headlining the show in Colorado Springs, chipping in over 17 points per game.  The 6-4, 200 lb Texan is over 50% from three through four games, and will need to be watched off the screen.  That actually goes for all of the Falcons, as 95% of all their attempts from deep are assisted.
Yon is the best the Falcons have to offer.
Yon pairs with 6-5 senior Kamryn Williams.  A local kid from the Springs, Williams boasts a high work rate, and is currently 7th nationally in offensive rebounding percentage (yes, I know, sample size...). The undersized forward picks his spots, but is the kind of player who loves to frustrate you with his hustle and positioning.

Beyond Williams, the team really only has two other forwards of any size - 6-9 senior Marek Olesinski and 6-11 junior Zach Moer (a role player who should see a little more action against the taller Buffs). Neither, however, should be much of a challenge for the CU front line; watch Olesinski on the perimeter, though, as he takes almost half his shots from beyond the arc.
Olesinski is one of few Falcons with any real size.
Beyond the obvious, the departure of Coggins also opened the door for freshman Matt Mooney to lead the team from the point guard spot.  He's still struggling with the transition to collegiate ball, particularly on the defensive end, but does have a nice assist rate (3:1 - A:T).

There's a few similarities to Wyoming, at least stylistically.  The Falcons will play slow (282nd in adjusted tempo), throw some zone out there, shoot a lot of threes, and move the ball around.  Athletically, however, the similarities cease to exist. The Cowboys are a much more dynamic team, have a lot more inside the paint, and hit the boards with much more authority.  Hell, Air Force gave up 12 offensive boards of Colorado Christian; there's just no excuse for the Buffs not owning the post tonight.

As a result, I just can't see anything but a solid CU win coming out of this one.  My guess is that Colorado will storm out out of the gate before hitting a lull, giving Coach Boyle just enough ammunition for halftime. The final 20 minutes will be a measured pounding, nothing too obscene, that gets the Buffs back in the win column.  It's all about speeding the game up from the defensive end, and using the home crowd.  Let's see how nasty CU is after getting bruised up north.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7pm this afternoon. Ah, finally, back to normal service!  For those without a ticket, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks.  The radio call, now with more Mark Johnson (!), is back on 850 KOA


Monday, November 24, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: The Return of the Wyoming Curse

I'd like to first state, for the visiting fan, a roadie from Denver/Boulder to Laramie is ridiculously easy, given good weather.  The total round trip is four hours, and, if you take 287, the drive is worth it from an aesthetics standpoint.  Laramie itself is little but a blip on the map, but it has some nice spots to hit and hangout before the game (I went to the Crowbar).  The Arena-Auditorium is also a nice place to watch a game; a comfortable Pit-esque facility with good sight lines.  It it weren't for CU constantly getting their ass kicked up there, I'd have no problem with the series getting extended.

That said, however, after what I saw this weekend, it'll be a cold day in hell before I'll want the Buffs to trek back up there.  I give in, the Wyo curse is real and insurmountable.  I'd rather go back to Lawrence.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the debacle on the high plains, the perfunctory loss in Eugene, and the Banana Stand salvaging a tough Saturday.

Click below for the bag...

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.