My full basketball preview won't be up until next week-ish (waiting til the last minute is my forte), but there was plenty of talk today about the impact of the Harris-Tunks ACL tear, and what it could mean to the Buffs postseason chances. To put it lightly, HT being out is a body blow to the Buffs Tourney hopes. No, as Coach Boyle pointed out to Thorburn yesterday, HT wasn't going to grab headlines with his numbers, but we needed his size to not match-up against larger opponents and grab some big rebounds to key the offense, but eat some fouls and possessions as well.
His replacements are none too encouraging. We know what we're going to get from Dufault, and Eckloff has shown some flashes of being able to play at this level, but both were valued under Coach Bz more for their shooting and ability to stretch the opponent than their defense or rebounding (which are emphasized under Coach Boyle). Beyond them, our low post options get crazy thin with the likes of Freshman 7-footer Ben Mills (who I can all but guarantee won't be ready for Big XII play) and a cavalcade of undersized swing-forwards/guards playing out of position. The team will often be forced to play very small this year, and, unlike Mid-Major teams like Drake who can afford to throw 5 guards out there and outscore opponents in a weak league, it's going to hurt for the Buffs to try and do so.
(Players like Trey Eckloff will have to pick up the slack in a big way.)
This team is as comfortable playing small as you can be, but it's a simple fact that you need size of some form to get through a Big XII season. Some times you just need a warm body to eat up minutes. Think of it this way: had CU even had a former big-man scrub like Julius Ashby last season, it probably would've been worth 2 or 3 extra wins on the season; not because he was necessarily any good, but just by the fact that he could eat some possessions with his size. Even when you are guard oriented, you need someone to eat up the block on each end of the court; these guys give you extra chances on offense and slow down opponents on defense.
It's the little things with HT that we're going to miss this year. His help defense, size threat, and (especially) his 5 low-post fouls. We all know of Dufault's penchant for early and compromising cheap fouls in the paint, which will put a major strain on the team this year, but the problems go beyond that; Without HT, you can probably expect to see an extra foul per night for Relphorde and even Burks. Because of their athleticism, they'll have to collapse to the rim on certain defensive possessions that they wouldn't normally have to, involving them in plays that lead to defensive fouls. This could cost us a game or two because a major cog of the offense is on the bench for crucial possessions.
As a result, I'm going to revise my season prediction. Expect a random loss in non-conference play and 12 non con wins (we play a crazy easy non-con schedule). I think .500 in the Big XII is now the benchmark (7-1 at home, 1-7 on the road, a la 2003) and 20 total wins. With our extra weak non-conference schedule, that will place us firmly on the NCAA bubble.
Speaking of warm-bodies filling up space in the lane, there is some-what of a dark horse replacement option; Casey Crawford is wandering around with a full year of eligibility left to use. He left the team last year for personal reasons, and still has one more to play. Realistically he's probably out of shape and wouldn't fit into the offense (or really Boyle's style of play at all), but at least he's tall-ish.... This will never happen in a million years (I'm not sure we have a schollie to give up anyway), but all I'm saying is that there is a Buff out there who is 6-8 with Big XII experience and can play one more year.
(Why'd you have to go Casey, we could sure use you right now...)
I'm just grasping at straws right now...