Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

NIT game #3 Preview: Kent State

I continue to wonder: if CU wins tonight, do they cut down the nets?  In the Tournament, when a team wins their regional, thus advancing to a Final Four, they cut down the nets.  With a win tonight in the quarterfinals of the NIT, the Buffs will have won the bottom-left "regional" of this years tournament, securing themselves a place in the NIT final four.  So I ask again, would CU cut down the nets this evening after a win?  I doubt it as it seems like such a small accomplishment, winning three home games over lesser opponents in a "forgotten" tournament, but tradition is tradition.  Damn it, I want a ladder, scissors, and some cut-up nets.
It's a ritual that Buff fans have been unable to enjoy in a very long time.
Regardless, whoever wins the NIT championship next Thursday in Madison Square Garden will have certainly earned the right do some net-cutting, and the Buffs are only two quality performances away from playing for that right.  After two convincing wins to start the NIT over Texas Southern and Cal, the Buffs find themselves playing the regular season champs from the MAC: the Golden Flashes of Kent State.  Yes, the program is most famous for producing an NFL star (Chargers TE Anotnio Gates), but it isn't without some recent success, having posted twelve 20+ win seasons in the past 13 years.
Gates is, by far, the most famous player to come out of the KSU basketball program.
Kent State have followed an interesting path to Boulder.  They come into the game having jumped across the country on their way to two consecutive road upsets in the NIT.  First traveling to California, then quickly to Connecticut, and then back across the country to Boulder has to be draining, but young kids recover quickly, and I'm not expecting anything less than the best from the blue and gold version of KSU. 

CU, of course, comes in having, so far, successfully avoided the NIT let-down that has felled so many decent teams in the past (and even some this year).  Seemingly easy victories over the past week have left many Buff fans, myself included, dreaming of a trip to NYC and a shot at the NIT title.  But it's not over yet.  This KSU team can do some damage to CU, and will not be a push over.  The Buffs had better be taking the Flashes seriously if they want to reunite with hoop-father Chauncey Billups in the nation's basketball capital.
'Dre and the Buffs have flown high in their first two NIT games, but there's still 3 games on CU's radar.  From: the BDC
This will be the first time ever that CU has faced off against the Golden Flashes from Kent State, but this is also the 3rd straight year that CU will play a MAC school, having faced Buffalo and Miami(OH) in '09 and '10 respectively (1-1).  Tip-off is set for 7pm this evening, and the game can be seen on the ESPN.
That's right, truly national TV.

I once again renew my plea for Buff Nation to fill the CEC.  We've done a great job supporting the team so far in the NIT, but a lack-luster crowd tonight could kill all the momentum that has been building.  If you're in the area, please, PLEASE, come out.  The students are gone for spring break, and we'll need all the butts in seats we can scrounge up to make the CEC as intimidating an arena as possible.
Cory needs to hear that CEC roar one more time if the Buffs are to make it to NYC.  From: the BDC

Click below for my preview

Opponents season so far - The Flashes are the type of team that some pundits point to when they bemoan the conference tourney structure.  The Flashes were the regular season MAC champs, and entered the conference tournament as the favorite to earn the automatic bid to the Dance.  Upon reaching the final, they fell in overtime to the 5th-best team in the conference, the Akron Zips.  It was the Zips who barely made the Notre Dame Irish breathe hard in the first round.  The long and short of the story is that the best team in the conference gets relegated to the NIT while the 5th best gets to play chum to the sharks in the Tournament; not entirely fair, and it gives credence to the "regular-season doesn't matter" argument that I hear all the time.
Akron was able to deny the flashes a Tournament berth.  I'm essentially cool with it.
The same thing happened to Texas Southern, but no one really cares about the SWAC champion.

As a fan of a big-conference team, I will never have to face this issue.  Should CU ever win the regular season in the Pac-12, I have no doubt that the Buffs will be in the Tournament.   But, you do have to feel sorry for a team that proved to be a champion over the course of a season, only to get overtimed in the final.

For the record, however, I do approve of conference tournaments deciding automatic bids.  I like the idea that a winless team going into their final game of the season can reel off 10 or 11 wins to earn a national title.  There's something poetic about the David vs Goliath possibilities.  Yes, some undeserving teams get to play, but is that so bad?  Who would've heard the names Bryce Drew or Jim Valvano had they not won their conference tournaments?  It's for the better.

Regardless, the Golden Flashes had themselves a darned good season.  Roaring to a 12-4 conference mark, the team has now won 8 of their last 10 games en route to an overall record of 25-11.  They didn't take many chances with their non-conference schedule, however, and their best win may be a semi-neutral court victory over MAAC second-place finishers Iona in the first week of the season.  They took games against Florida and UAB, but never really competed in them.  In an interesting note, while the team had gone an impressive 7-8 in road games (all of their wins in conference play and the NIT), prior to last week's 1-point win at St Mary's, the Flashes hadn't traveled past the Mississippi River.  It's a big country guys, get out and explore all of it!
The Flashes were able to shock the higher-seeded St Mary's Gaels in their only other trip west.
Offensively they rely on the interior work, where they get nearly 58% of their points.  Additionally, they look for second chances as they have a decent 35% offensive rebounding percentage.

But it's not the offense that spells success for this squad, it's their defense and rebounding.  They cause turnovers at a clip (11%) that puts them in the top-50 of the nation, and they rebound pretty well on the defensive glass, picking up near 38/game, also good for the top-50 in the country.

Coaching - Head coach Geno Ford is an Ohio native who was, once upon a time, selected as Mr. Basketball in the state, and he scored more points in his high school career than LeBron James did(Thanks Wikipedia!).  He played basketball for KSU's MAC rival Ohio University before slogging through coaching stints at two small Ohio schools en-route to the Kent State job.  He's been mostly successful at the Flashes helm, going 66-36 in 3 seasons with a sterling 35-13 conference record.  He's now posted back-to-back regular season titles with no Tournament appearances to show for it, and was named the conference coach of the year in each of those seasons.
Coach Ford has produced 3 successful years so far at KSU.
KSU has, for some time now, been one of the better jobs the MAC has to offer, and, with the slight exception of no NCAA tournament appearances, Coach Ford has done a good job keeping the ship pointed in the right direction.  I'm not sure what he wants to do here, having spent his entire life playing and working in the state's basketball system, but he may eventually get the opportunity for a higher-profile position... assuming, of course, that he ever wins the MAC's automatic bid.  It'll be interesting to see if he would jump at a better position at a school not in the state.

Key Players - There is no doubt that the Flashes key player, and a tricky challenge for Buffalo defenders, is junior forward Justin Greene.  The 6-8 New York native is playing for the opportunity to play in front of his friends and family, and will almost certainly be difficult for the Buffs to contain.  He averages  15/8 per game with over a block thrown in for kicks.  Strong, athletic, and skilled, the power forward is the real deal; not surprisingly he was tabbed as the MAC player of the year.

Greene can be a load in the paint, and it wouldn't surprise me if he goes off tonight.
He's had some big games, the best being his season opening performance against Iona, going for 26/14.  Additionally, he recently finished a streak of 5 straight games of 10+ rebounds.  The caveat to this is that in his past 3 games he's only averaged 11/7.  Good numbers to be sure, but not up to his scoring standards.  To be fair, those 3 games have come in tournament settings against a slew of tall, talented players, but I think he may be getting tired after having played 7 games already in the month.
More often than not its the Flashes riding the performance of Greene.
Regardless, Green is the guy CU needs to stop at all costs.  If he's held under his averages, CU has a good shot.  If he's grabbing more than 3 or 4 offensive rebounds, or putting up 18+ points, the Buffs may get themselves into trouble.

Other key Flashes to watch out for include 6-4 Chicago native Carlton Guyton.  The 6-4 guard has been hot lately, going 5-10 from 3 over the last 3 games, and has recorded double digit points in 5 of the last 6 KSU games.  Overall on the season, Guyton averages 13/4.  Watch out for him on the offensive glass, as he's been averaging 4/game in those last 3 games.
Guyton has proven to be a quality scoring option when Greene can't do everything.
My final highlighted player is the versatile point guard Micahel Porrini.  At 10 points and 4 assists per night, the 6-2 Ohio native offers some balance to the offense if he's healthy.  The junior took a bit of a knock against Fairfield, and the KSU staff was worried about concussion symptoms, but he appears to be ready to play for now.

Prediciton - I'm a little worried about Greene.  He's been slowing down a bit lately, but the Buffs have been known to rejuvenate the play of many post players.  I expect him to have a big game to keep the Flashes in it far longer than they should be.  I'm also concerned about the probable absence of Nate Tomlinson (he missed practice yesterday, although the junior said in post-game comments last week that he'd be willing to shoot up to play).  We saw in the middle of the conference schedule what happens when he's gone from the rotation; and we've seen, especially in the Texas game, how good the offense can look like with him controlling things.

However, I don't think it'll matter.

Alec Burks and Cory Higgins are playing their absolute, last game at the CEC, and I don't think they're going to allow some MAC school to come in and push them around.  The Buffs seemed to have saved their best basketball for the right time of year, and if Al and Cory again combine for over 45 points, I don't see anyway that KSU could win.  The Buffs should see the bright lights of NYC next week after they secure a win in their 20th and final home game of the season.

CU 85 - Kent St 77



Rico said...

The game is in glorious HD on ESPN tonight. I'm just glad I can watch the game on a good ol' TV instead of my laptop. Go Buffs!

Barteld said...

Great write-up as always. Looking forward to tonight's game.