To be sure, this is not the start most CU fans hoped for when the Buffs took the court Nov 12th. A middling 4-3 record (with all 3 painful losses coming on the road) and an RPI of 285 (essentially saying we're the 285th best team in the nation) is not the way this season of a return to relevance was supposed to go. Individually there have been some high-points; Levi Knutson has really impressed, Freshman Andre Roberson has really earned some playing time, and Al Burks is averaging near 20 points/game. However, as a team the Buffs have stumbled out of the gate. The first 3 games of the season (home win over Idaho State, road losses at USF and Georgia) were shoddy performances of piss-poor defense, individual as opposed to team play, and poor coaching. Even the opening night win against Idaho State was worrisome as we allowed a middling Big Sky team (who has yet to beat a D-1 opponent) to push us all night, and allowed some random point guard to damn-near drop 40 on us when he can only manage 4 against the great basketball powerhouse of Montana Tech. Boyle was disgusted enough with the season's start to call himself out, saying "I`m the first one to look at myself and I know in my heart I can do a better job coaching them and I told my team that," after the San Francisco debacle.
(While Alec has had some highlight moments this season, the team as a whole has struggled.
From: The BDC)
Things have gotten little better after that opening road trip. Coach Boyle tried to make a point about defense and rebounding keying the team this year by benching star guards Cory Higgins and Alec Burks to start the Alcorn St game. While the effort that night was much better (the team grabbed 50 rebounds and held the Braves to under 30% shooting), Alcorn St is not a good basketball team and was just here to collect a paycheck; it wasn't a test, and really proved nothing about the teams desire to defend or rebound. Accordingly, 4 days later in Boston, the Buffs got pounded by the Harvard Crimson. While Harvard is a decent team (they were even favored in that game) the Buffs shouldn't be losing by 16 to an Ivy League team.
(Harvard had too many open looks, and shot over 50% against the scrambling CU defense)
The recent home wins over Texas-Pan American and Oregon State (who suck, and will probably get their coach fired) have been encouraging, but it's no small note that the 4 wins on the season have come against the 4 teams with the lowest RPI's on the schedule.
So why have the Buffs struggled so much early in the season? To be sure, a lot of it is the transition from a paced, Pricenton-style offensive scheme (with the accompanying zone defensive sets) to Boyle's favored fast paced offensive style (with his favored man-to-man defensive sets). The styles are almost polar opposites, and it's probably not that easy to change gears so quickly. However, that's not the whole story. Assists are wayyyyyyy down, and team has been out-rebounded (always a concern with this bunch) in the 3 road losses; the opposite is true in the home victories. Simply put, when this team shares the ball and grabs some rebounds the team wins, when they don't, they lose. While rebounding has long been an issue for the undersized Buffaloes, sharing the basketball should be second nature to this team, and it's damn near inexcusable for them to struggle in that area.
Sure, road vs home can contribute to those issues, which is why it'll be interesting to watch the CU/CSU game at Coors tonight. Neither team is that good (CSU's RPI is only 272), but CSU cares enough about this match-up to make them a harder test than the stats would indicate. They certainly showed last year up at Mobey Arena that they care enough to whup us on the boards if we're not paying attention. If we get out-rebounded at home by this group, which is a very strong possibility, then we know where we're at for the season. If we can hold our own, share the basketball and rebound a little bit, then we might be able to write off some of those rebounding and assist issues as road/early-season related.
So far, I'd rate the season as a D+. Sure we've beaten the teams at home that we need to beat, but the road struggles have been painful. I'm really afraid of what will happen when good competition shows up on the schedule, and the team has only a few weeks to go before we face New Mexico in the Las Vegas Classic. Tonight is key. I expect a large contingent from up north, and the atmosphere should help the boys get fired up. Unlike last year, this team knows what to expect from Tim Miles' CSU team, and will hopefully not get caught off guard by their opponents giving a shit. I expect the very best from CSU tonight; not only is there the whole butt-hurt rivalry thing, but they play Kansas on Saturday and would probably like a win going into to that anal violation. We need to hit the floor running, share the ball, box out, and get in the Rams face.
Go Buffs! Beat the Lambs!