Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Puerto Rico Tip Off Primer

I don't usually do individual game previews for non-conference play, but I think it's important to talk a little about how I see the Puerto Rico Tip Off going down from the CU perspective.  The Buffs are in a tough bracket, paired up with top-40 caliber opponents like Alabama, Wichita St, and Maryland.  For a team still learning how to play with each other, the first two nights in Puerto Rico could be long ones.
It's off to the 51st state for some pre-Thanksgiving hoops.  I hope CU is ready, 'cause these guys are a lot stronger than Ft Lewis.
Full Bracket is here.  All times are listed in AT, and all games can be seen on the ESPN family of networks.

Round 1: CU vs Wichita St, 5:30pm, ESPNU

(Ostensibly the '3rd team' in Kansas, the Shockers have a passionate and loyal fanbase that rivals their state-wide cousins, personified on Allbuffs by Shocker Hoops, who granted Goose a lengthy interview that's worth a look.)

CU will face off against the Wichita St Shockers on Thursday night.  It was these same Shockers who went on to win the NIT last season over the Buffalo beaters from Alabama.  WSU was a fantastically gifted squad last year, finding themselves in the top-30 in offensive efficiency and top-40 in defensive efficiency.  They only missed out on a well-deserved tournament bid due to some untimely losses in conference play and in the Missouri Valley Tournament.

This season, despite a few major post contributors leaving due to graduation, most of the key players from that NIT championship team are back.  A quad-pack of quality senior guards form the backbone for a Shocker squad who should get to the Tournament and compete to advance.

This team will pose a massive early challenge for CU.  They're incredibly efficient on both sides of the ball, and have major-conference size in the form of post players Garrett Stutz and Carl Hall.  While CU's front-court is improved over last season, these two will make life hell on the Buffs inside.  The Shocker guard corps, headlined by senior Toure' Murry, is likewise too strong for CU to handle straight up.
Murry is a quality guard who could propel his Shockers into the Sweet Sixteen.
WSU is too talented, too veteran for CU to beat this early in the season.  The Buffs will grow and mesh as the season progresses, but the cohesiveness isn't there yet, especially from the neophyte guards.  Barring a shocking (pun intended) letdown from the Shockers, Coach Boyle's former program should roll easily.

WSU 79 - CU 65

Round 2: CU vs Alabama or Maryland, 4:30 or 7pm

I'd love to get a shot at some NIT revenge in the second round, but I don't think we'll get it.  They do everything you want on the defensive side of the ball: force turnovers, hold down opponents shooting percentage, and block shots.  If you get a shot off on these guys, take a picture, 'cause it may be your last.

Alabama also returns superstar JaMychal Green from the NIT runner-up squad from a year ago, and head coach Anthony Grant has put together a fantastic team.  I'd be very surprised if they can't beat a Maryland team learning under a new coach.  I fully expect that this team can 1-up last years squad and make it into the Dance.

Speaking of that new coach for Maryland, it's Coach Boyle's mentor Mark Turgeon, fresh from leaving Texas A&M.  Turgeon was the head coach back at Wichita State when Coach Boyle was passing through, and getting another shot at his mentor after narrowly losing to the Aggies in overtime last season would be a nice sight to see.

Maryland, besides dealing with the whole "new coach thing" after 22 years with Gary Williams, is also trying to replace departed NBA talent Jordan Williams.  He was everything to Maryland last season, but his departure doesn't mean the Terrapin cupboard is bare.  Guard Terrell Stoglin is back and ready to improve on his stellar freshman campaign, and if the Terps can find a solid second option for Stoglin they could challenge some teams, even in the brutally tough ACC.
Stoglin is a great young talent.
Assuming CU plays Maryland on Friday Night, CU may have a decent shot of pulling out a victory, simply because Maryland is stuck changing gears with their new coach.  They're probably more physically talented right now, but, as we saw last year, an abrupt coaching switch can wreck havoc on a team for a few games in the early going.  It'll be close, but since my breakfast apple tasted especially sweet this morning, I'll give CU the benefit of the doubt with a reversal of last years A&M score.

CU 73 - Maryland 70

Round 3: CU vs Temple, Purdue, Iona, or Western Michigan, TBA

Temple and Purdue are easily the class of the top-half of the bracket, and either could easily walk away with the tournament crown and eventually compete for a Sweet Sixteen berth.  Iona may be a small-conference sleeper, but they are loaded with BCS-level talent and capable of winning a game come Tournament time; don't be surprised if they stun any 'name' school they play in San Juan.  Western Michigan, while loaded with seniors, is from the basketball bottom-feeding MAC, and seems to have been included so that none of the big-schools walks away with an 0-3 record.  All told, this tournament is as stacked as any I've seen this year.  You'll see a lot of these names come March.

Should CU prevail against Maryland/Alabama, I'd probably peg them as getting Iona in the 3rd round.  If the Buffs fall on the second night, I would be shocked to see any team but Western Michigan end up in the losers bracket from the top side of the chart.
Arizona transfer MoMo Jones makes this Iona squad very dangerous.
I wouldn't be exactly shocked if the Iona Gaels beat CU on a neutral court.  They return a lot of talent from their 2011 squad, and they add Arizona veteran MoMo Jones, who transferred to Iona to be closer to family and received a transfer waiver from the NCAA  I'll say the Buffs go down, and leave Puerto Rico with a non-disastrous 1-2 record.

Iona 83 - CU 77


No comments: