Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, April 12, 2012

2011-12 Review Part 2: The finishing touches

Following up on last week's narrative effort, I will conclude my look back at the 2011-12 mens basketball season by delving into player performance and team-wide statistical analysis. Let's jump right back in, shall we?

Click below for part two of my season review...

Player Performance

For sake of brevity, I'll only discuss the eight players who played significant minutes this season.

Carlon Brown -

Carlon's '11-'12 campaign saw the biggest swing in production of anyone on the team.

Over a challenging stretch of 11 games in the middle of conference play, the senior transfer from Utah averaged less than 10 points per game, and shot less than 35% from the field (19% from beyond the arc).  What's more, he seemed to allow his offensive struggles to carry over into his defensive effort.  He had lost his confidence, and CU's overall performance sputtered as a result.

Then, almost as if a light-switch had been flipped, he came out guns blazing once the calendar hit March.  Starting with the trip to Oregon, he would reel off eight straight games in double-figures, averaging over 15 per, and shooting over 50% from the field.  His leadership over the post-season run was vital.
He would end the season as the team's leader in points per game. 
What can Brown do for you?  He can lead you to a damn title.
Considering that he was brought in to help ease the loss of scoring from the '10-'11 squad, I'd say it was mission accomplished for the Pac-12 tournament's most valuable player.

Final Grade: B-, offensive struggles in January and February hurt overall team performance, but grade is saved by March dominance.

Austin Dufault -

Austin had struggled his junior year in a reserve role, which made his solid '11-'12 all the more enjoyable.  He re-gained his outside jumper, averaged scoring in double figures, and played some excellent interior defense.  He ended his CU career as a top-25 scorer, and the leader in games played and started.  
The ultimate role player, Austin did whatever was asked.  Of all the players on the team, I was happiest for him.
Final Grade: B, solidly above average in every possible way.

Nate Tomlinson -

It's hard to wrap your head around any season from the feisty Aussie, let alone this one.  Yes, he ran head-long into some ill-timed technical fouls, and, yes, he was still prone to the turnover, but individual mistakes don't overshadow his importance to the squad.  The thing is, his play was directly related to CU winning ballgames.  If you look at his +/- stats, when he played in "the plus," CU won, when he dipped into "the minus," CU lost.  I'd say he was pretty damn impactful.
How can anyone still question this dude's importance?
The biggest thing I note was his defense down the stretch of the season.  Every time CU needed a miss from a  jump shooter, there was Nate in his back pocket, making life hell. It was scary how good he came at locking down as a defender (with the exception of Scott the Dick, but no one had a shot against him that night).

Final Grade: B-, his calm, steady leadership at the point got the best out of this team, but still passed out of open offensive opportunities too often.  What happened to his outside shot?

Andre Roberson -

We all realize 'Dre's skill without the ball in his hands.  He lead the Pac-12 in rebounding (And when I say lead, I mean dominated.  He had 130 more than his closest competitor, and averaged near 3.5 more per game than anyone else), all while Coach Boyle was claiming he is "not a very good box-out guy." (The idea that 'Dre can greatly improve his rebounding ability is scary.) He was also top-10 in steals, and second in blocks while seeing a decrease in fouls per minute (barely over two per game after the start of conference play, with only two disqualifications on the year).  The only problem with his defensive resume is the fact that he didn't receive the richly-deserved Pac-12 Defensive POY award, which is more an indication of media stupidity than a hole in 'Dre's game.
Whose ball?  'DRE'S BALL!  From: the BDC
No, the questions surrounding #21 have always focused on his offensive game.  Despite plenty of offseason work, raw stats may lead you to believe he took a step backwards this year, with his '11-'12 performance dropping off a bit from '10-'11 (10 point drop in offensive rating, 7.2 point drop in eFG%, and his 2pt shooting was off 16% from his freshmen campaign).  The thing is, I think he actually took a big step forward.

His extremely efficient numbers from '10-'11 were doomed to drop.  Without the likes of Corey Higgins and Alec Burks drawing defensive eyes, 'Dre was a focal point of defensive schemes this season (share of minutes, possessions, and shots all shot up by at least 34%).  Still, he was able to score in double-figures 27 times.  Further, small additions to his game, like a respectable step-back jumper and his reliable flat-footed 3-point shot from the wing (38%, 2nd best on the team), required defender's attention all over the half-court. 

His overall offensive game really improved this season.  Look no further than his run of play in the postseason.  Scoring 14 points per game, he shot 62% from the field and 56% from deep.  If that's a sign of things to come, offense should no longer be a concern with him.

For those who haven't figured it out yet, this upcoming season will be 'Dre's last.  In a recent Thorburn article, he asked 'Dre about his decision to stay in school, rather than test NBA waters this season.  After stating that he feels he has more in his game to work on, he tells the Camera, "I feel like being back one more year is going to help out a lot."  (While I'm on the subject, there's your answer to why Coach Boyle continues to pursue 2013 recruits, despite not having any "available" scholarships to offer.)

Final Grade: A, 'Dre was everything advertised, and more.  His ability to stay out of foul trouble later in the season sealed it for me.

Spencer Dinwiddie -

The raw truth is that Spencer had one of the better freshmen campaigns in CU history.  While I don't think it compares statistically to that of recent star Alec Burks, he was still a vital cog in the machine that won the school's first basketball conference title in over 40 years.  So vital, in fact, that when he struggled, so did CU.  In the final eight losses of the season, Spencer only averaged 6 points per game, and shot a paltry 28% from the floor.  (Combined with Nate's +/-, you come to the shocking conclusion that point guards are important)

I knew before the season that he would be good, I just didn't realize how good a player the program was getting.  Very cool under pressure, he stepped in and was immediately the teams most consistent outside threat (44% shooting from deep), and best free throw shooter (82%).  Once he learns to finish at the rim better (only 38% shooting from inside the arc), and begins to dish out more assists (nearly a 1:1 A:TO ratio), he's going to be a deadly force worthy of Pac-12 POY consideration.
Spencer's career should only skyrocket from here.
Final Grade: B+, I feel that Spencer could've helped CU more at times, but his '11-'12 campaign is still one of the best from a freshman in recent years.

Askia Booker -

"The Scrat" was instant offense and energy off the bench.  More than a few times, his role as the 6th man jump-started a stalled CU offense.  He excelled at using his athleticism to create his own shot, making him one of the few on the court who could consistently do so.  This is why it's unsurprising to see this super-sub at the top of CU's usage chart on Kenpom.
Askia's endless energy on the court sparked the Buffs.  Exactly what you want from a 6th man.
We'll see how he does next year with more minutes; his 21.5 average should bump up to near 30.

Final Grade: B-, his energy was sometimes a double-edged sword, with him running headlong into mistakes that cost the team.  However, there was much more good than bad in his performance.

Shane Harris-Tunks -

I will cop to creating a very mean game called "Shane vs a giant boulder."  The idea is, based on SHT's performance on a given possession, who would've helped the team more: Shane, or a strategically placed 7-foot tall boulder? (I am not proud of this)  The problem is, early in the season, I figure the boulder was winning most nights.  The big Aussie's confidence was down, and his performance was often error prone. 

In my eyes, he had yet to recover fully from the ACL injury that truncated his '10-'11 season.  His leaping ability seemed limited, and his mobility on defense was suspect at best.

Then, as the season progressed, his health and confidence returned, and he became a key contributor, rather than just a minutes eater.  The evolution of his baby-hook makes me giddy, as does his deft passing skills.  His knees keep his game subtle, but I think he's learned how to make it work for him.  With a full offseason of recovery ahead of him, I think he'll only continue to improve.
Shit just got real. 
Final Grade: C, improved performance down the stretch saved a much lower grade.  Shane proved very valuable in the final weeks.

Jeremy Adams -

It was a tough year for Jeremy.  From early season concussion issues, to his battle with diabetes, he never had a chance to really settle into a consistent role.  Coach Boyle has admitted to poorly handling his minutes, thereby not allowing him to work through mistakes on the court, and he hopes to rectify the problem next season.
Jeremy began to get comfortable at the end of the season. 
There were some flashes, however, of the player who earned scholarships from CU and Texas A&M. More time is needed before his true ability can shine through.

Final Grade: C-, Much like SHT, you could see him regain confidence towards the end of the season.  Hopefully, this will carry over into next year.

Sabatino Chen -

Oh, that hair!  Flowing locks aside, Sabatino is best remembered from this past season for bringing energy off the bench.  His role was to play defense, and to burn some clock with the starters getting a breather.  Still, I would like to see the development of a jump shot that can give defenders pause; he was 0-11 from beyond the arc this season.
"You know what the is difference between you and me? I make this look good."  From: the BDC
Final Grade: C-, While the hair is an A+, his actual impact on any particular game was minimal at best.

Statistical Trends

Offense - 

Losing 75% of scoring from the previous year had many pundits predicting doom at the beginning of the season.  From a purely offensive prospective, CU did take a step back from '10-'11.  What had been the 10th best offense in the nation (scoring near 80 points per night, and 1.14 per possession) in the Burks/Higgins year, dropped all the way to 130th this past season (67.5 ppg, 1.02 ppp).  Shooting was way down, particularly from the free throw line (what was 78%, good for 5th in the nation, dropped to 68%, good for 210th), and the rest of the O was particularly average.

But that wasn't unexpected.  I'm almost impressed that it wasn't a larger drop-off.  The offense retained 90% of it's potency (based on points per possession), which is good enough when the vast majority of production is from new sources.  In my season preview I had hoped to get back 85% of what was lost (points per game), in fact, the number was just a hair under at 84.8%.

I am a little concerned with the drop in offensive rebounding (Off reb % dropped below 30% this season), but that just goes to show how good Burks, Higgins, and Relphorde were on the offensive glass.

Defense -

A year under his belt, you could see the effect Coach Boyle had on molding the program with his style.  CU worked their collective ass off on defense, and were rewarded with wins throughout the season as a result. 
From day one the Buffs had to defend in order to win.  From: the BDC
His stated goals of leading the league in shot percentage defense and rebounding were almost achieved.  CU only allowed a tick over 40% shooting this season, which was good enough for best in the Pac-12.  The Buffs also lead the conference in defensive rebounds per game, buoyed by the other-worldly rebounding skill of Andre Roberson.
In terms of effect on the scoreboard, this was a vast improvement over '10-'11.  The secret of the Burks/Higgins team was that it was horrendous on defense.  That squad allowed over 73 points per game (11th in the old Big XII) and 1.05 ppg (10th).  This year, with the focus on forcing bad shots and collecting the resulting misses, the Buffs dropped their points per game allowed by a full 10 to 63 (5th in the Pac-12), with ppg dropping a tenth of a point to .95 (3rd). 

With the expected drop in offensive production, this increase in defensive output was vital.  As Nate Tomlinson said, "the only chance we have is if we guard, rebound, and compete our (fucking) asses off."


The change-over played out exactly as I expected it to.  Offense dipped at expected levels, while defensive efficiency countered by ticking upwards.  This was the only way the team was going to survive the roster turnover from the previous season, and, combined with the weaker slate of conference opponents, allowed CU to play title contending basketball. 


In 2011-12, the University of Colorado mens basketball team did what many thought was impossible: they became relevant.  Through a maddening two week stretch of tremendous basketball, they brought home a conference title for the first time since the Nixon administration, and a Tournament berth for the first time in 15 years.
Beyond incredible.
That title run lead some to call this the best season in program history.  It's a testament to the paucity of modern hoops success that a season like this is even in the discussion.  I am, however, not so quick on the trigger to label it as such.  While certainly in the top five, I have trouble comparing 2011-12 to other great years in CU's bygone past.  Final Four appearances in '42 and '55, the '40 NIT championship (back when that actually meant something), the '69 Big Eight out-right title holders, and the Chauncey Billups-led '97 squad all either equal or surpass this season in my eyes.

A two week stretch, while immensely exciting and satisfying, doesn't change the fact that the team was only slightly above average for most of the season.  Essentially, even with the post-season success, I still don't think this team was nearly as qualitatively "good" as the 2010-11 vintage.  Were this squad thrown back into the Big XII, I think they'd have had plenty of trouble staying near .500 on the course of the year.  The Pac-12 just wasn't ready for prime time this season, and I take it as no small note that a transitioning Big XII team ended up winning the league crown.

At the end of the day, CU finished the regular season about where I thought they'd be.  While CU had a good shot at the top four spots, the Buffs ended up in 6th, with an 8-4 record in non-conference play.  Take away postseason exploits, and the Buffs still beat expectations, but just barely.

That's not to diminish the squad's accomplishments.  This squad cemented CU's reputation as an up-and-coming program, with eyes towards top-40, or higher, status.  What's more, that's the first time a revenue program has won anything of note since I arrived in Boulder, making them the most successful bunch in a decade of CU athletics. 
This is now the expectation that the program has to live up to.
While it may not have been the best season in Colorado hoops history, I would argue that it was probably the most exciting.  Evidenced by the explosion in fanbase interest, no other year so captured Buff Nation's imagination.  The result is that CU has become, almost overnight, a feared regional destination.  The fervor that Buff Nation latched onto the program is striking, and people are starting to take notice.

For most programs, even certain small schools playing the one-and-done roll, a Tournament appearance is a matter of course.  For CU it was a monumental accomplishment, and to do it by winning the conference tournament for the first time ever only increased the outpouring of enthusiasm from the CU community.  There was genuine joy from the CU fanbase at even being included in the Tournament, one that many teams from major conferences just don't have that first weekend.  It creates an opportunity that the program can capitalize on going forward.
This level of excitement needs to be carried forward
It's funny, in a way.  This was supposed to be a year about building for the future.  Instead, it became about enjoying the present.  If this is what Coach Boyle can produce while restocking the cupboard, imagine what he can do with a grocery store's worth of talent. 

Go Buffs!

1 comment:

Tractor said...

SHT vs a giant Boulder is great. I thought you'd compare pre-mask SHT to post-mask SHT. Basically 2 different people.