CU must now turn it's collective focus to the ISU Cyclones. It's an interesting time to be playing ISU; they're coming in off of their own 4 game losing streak (including an exclamation-point loss at home to Texas Tech) and they sport a similar to CU 14-8 overall record (although the Buffs have 2 more conference victories). There is just no excuse for losing back-to-back home dates against Oklahoma and Tech, yet I still think ISU is capable of beating any team if they're on their game.
Both teams are looking to grab a desperately need win to stop a string of bad play, and it should be a battle. Bundle up tight and head for the CEC; tip-off is set for 7pm. If you're unable/unwilling to brave the cold you can watch the game on FSN (Hey a channel most people get!).
|CU tries to bring back that winning feeling tonight at the CEC. From: the BDC|
Click below for my preview
Opponents season so far - If you're very selective when peeking at this ISU team, you can see a lot of things that are easy on the eye. They don't turn the ball over (17% on kenpom) grab a decent number of rebounds (38.5/night, good for 42nd in the nation) and hit a nice percentage of their free throws (72.9%, 2nd in the conference). Their defense even looks alright on paper, 44th most efficient on kenpom, 20th in effective FG%, and in the top-40 in defensive percentages from the floor. However, this is not a good basketball team, and they have a hard time keeping up with Big XII opponents.
Outside of their dominating win over Baylor in Jan 15th, it's been a rough defensive start to conference play for the Cyclones. Giving up over 80 points per conference game, they've imploded over the past 2 weeks, going 0-4 and giving up an average of just under 90 points per night. The defense is in shambles, and it's all hands on deck.
|A solid dismantling of Baylor is the only bright-spot in ISU's conference season so far. From: the Ames Tribune|
I can't stress how bad this 4 game stretch has been for the 'Clones. Before the start of it they were 1-3 in the conference, however they had lost to Nebraska by a single point, nearly clipped Kansas in Ames, and soundly defeated Baylor by 15. While they didn't have nearly as impressive a start as the Buffs 3-0, ISU was playing some decent basketball. Then they hit a wall.
Over the next four games they would lose by an average of more than 14/night and give up 48% shooting while only netting 27% themselves. This run was lowlighted by a 33 point loss at the hands of the pissed-off Missouri Tigers; Mizzou grabbed 61 rebounds and generally pounded the hapless Cyclones into the ground. The 'Clones regained some composure over the next two ballgames, even taking OU to overtime, but the damage had been done and the team is reeling.
Coaching - The team is lead by first year coach Fred Hoiberg. "The Mayor" is a local legend, and I remember him fondly from his days as a reserve on the post-Jordan Bulls squads. The Ames native made a name for himself in a Cyclone uniform back in the early-90s, and, much like CU's football program, the ISU faithful are hoping he can bring back some of that old magic to rebuild a once proud program.
|He looks very dapper in that polo, but is he the right man for the job?|
It was kind of a surprise hire in many respects. Hoiberg has no prior coaching experience at any level, and came to the Cyclone bench from a front office job with the pathetic Minnesota Timberwolves. Maybe you don't need experience to win, but I can imagine it being a hard sell to recruits on playing for a guy with no track record. Wouldn't ISU and Hoiberg have done everyone a favor if they stashed him in an assistant spot for a few seasons? Honestly, the only way I can look at this is that it's a cheap grab for fan sympathy during a rebuilding period, and an attempt to save money.
Key players - There is a lot of veteran leadership on this team as they heavily rotate 3 seniors and a junior. While their coach may be a neophyte, the team is battle tested.
The 'Clones are lead on the court by 6-4 senior guard Diante Garrett. He chips in nearly 18/night and also dishes out nearly 6 assists. Over 28% of the teams possessions go through him, and he can be frustrating to defend if he's on. In their lone conference win against Baylor, Garrett posted an outstanding line of 16/5/11 on 7-15 shooting. He also has 27 points against KU on his resume. He's a solid guard with good size, and he will be a challenge tonight. On the flip side he throws up a ton of bricks from behind the arc, and only makes 29% of them.
|Garrett gets the ball on most possessions and can score in bunches.|
Fellow senior guard Darion "Jake" Anderson is a tough player as well. A transfer from former CU coach Ricordo Patton's NIU Huskies, the 6-2 Anderson grabs an impressive 8 boards/night for a guard. CU will have to think about where he is on every shot attempt.
The final guard in the main rotation is Scott Christopherson who is the team's 3-point specialist. He already has 59 makes on the season, and has twice this season had 7 made 3s in a game.
The front-line is lead by 6-11 senior forward Jamie Vanderbeken. The big Canadian had an impressive 3-game stretch against KU, Baylor and OSU where he averaged 20 points and 7 boards, so he can play in this league. To make matters worse, Vanderbeken can rain 3's on an unsuspecting opponent as he shoots 43% from beyond the arc on the season. He may have a huge game tonight if CU isn't careful, although he can fall into a trap where he settles for outside jumpers. He also grabs over 2 blocks per game.
|Vanderbeken is a big guy who can rain 3s on you head if you're not careful.|
Rounding out the 'Clones big threats is freshman sensation Melvin Ejim. Yet another Canadian, the 6-6 Ejim has chipped in some nice minutes for the 'Clones so far this year. He averages 11/7 per night and is coming off an impressive 19/12 double-double against OU on Saturday. He's got a lot of potential and compliments Vanderbeken well.
FYI: freshman reserve forward Calvin Godfrey has been suspended by Coach Hoiberg, and will miss tonight's game.
Prediction - ISU's wheels have begun to fall off in recent weeks, and a strong offensive team like CU should be able to run them pretty hard at altitude. If Tech can drop 92, then CU should at least get back over the 80 point plateau that has been so illusive over the past few weeks. The Buffs are a much more explosive offensive unit then they've shown in the past 4 games, and I expect them to get back to those high-flying ways tonight.
Overall it's a tough sell to try and convince me that ISU can win tonight. Unless ISU gets real hot from downtown CU should win this game. I do expect a high-scoring affair, but at altitude that should suit CU's game. CU 88 ISU 80.