Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Air Force Teaser

If you have any doubt that early season rankings are useless, check out's current RPI standings.  The Buffs currently boast the #1 RPI in the country, ahead of teams like Duke and Indiana which, I'm obligated to say, are much better than the Buffs are.  We all know that the RPI is generally a joke, and a poor indicator of how good a team really is, but that's a little absurd.

Included on that list is tomorrow's opponent Air Force, quietly tucked in at #3, and benefiting from wins over three bottom-feeding D-1 opponents.  That lofty standing certainly won't last, as not only will Air Force eventually struggle against higher-level opponents, but the three teams they beat will eventually begin to rack up some pretty horrifying losses.  For the record, all-mighty Kenpom has them at #139.

Still, this is the type of game I love to see pop up on the schedule.  A regional opponent from a decent conference means a positive addition to the resume.  Air Force won't blow the barn doors off this season, but they have enough talent to challenge for a top 150 RPI finish, making for good November value.

Tip-off is set for 6pm tomorrow evening, with television coverage set for Pac-12 Networks, and radio coverage on AM 760.  If you're planning on going, you'd better get some tickets fast, because they're going to be very scarce at the door, if available at all.


The Buffs, of course, are coming in off a week of rest following their spectacular run to the title in Charleston.  Just because games weren't being played, however, doesn't mean the Buffs were deep in hibernation the last seven days.  Sophomore sensation, and Charleston MVP, Askia Booker crushed the gym mere hours after returning home, and the coaching staff were quick to remind all the Buffs that four quick wins are not a guarantee of future success.  As Ski noted, "we're going to get everybody's best shot now."
Success breeds challengers, and a tournament title and an early-season ranking will certainly do that.  From: the Daily
The Falcons will certainly bring theirs Sunday evening, looking for only the second 6-0 start in program history.  The Zoomies are coming in off of a 14-point win against Montana State, and are looking for a big non-conference skin to boost their post-season resume.  The Buffs now provide just that opportunity.


In the middle of a tough 2011-12 campaign, Air Force fired five-year head man Jeff Reynolds.  AF Athletic Director Hans Mueh was particularly blunt when discussing the reasons behind the move:
"I could care less if they don't win another game. I care a lot about their atmosphere and attitude out on the floor. I want them to jump up and high-five each other. I want them to smile when they're playing.  I can't continue to allow the athletes on the court to just go through the motions and not have fun playing the game." - link
Yeesh, sounds like Reynolds had worn out his welcome, big time.

His interim replacement, career assistant Dave Pilipovich, had his interim tag ripped off at the end of last season.  Good feelings quickly returned, and the team managed an upset over then-#15 San Diego State last February.
Coach Pilipovich has the Falcons soaring high in the RPI to start the season.
He hasn't changed much, in terms of on-court style, settling rather on "simplifying things," and "pushing the ball up the floor a little more." (emphasis mine) Still the Falcons, as is tradition, favor a measured offense (the program has been ranked in the high-300's in possessions per game since even before Jeff Bzdelik's tenure), preferring low-possession games, while eschewing any hopes of an offensive board in favor of getting back on defense.  Your basic Princeton-style ethos.


The Falcon bench features a dizzying 21 kids, most having matriculated through the USAF's prep school as a pseudo "redshirt" year.  The blessing and the curse of recruiting for military academy athletics - scholarships are nebulous since everyone's receiving free tuition anyway, but the military commitment limits the inherent recruiting advantage. 

Of the 21, Michael Lyons is by far the biggest Falcon threat.  The 6-5 senior guard out of Virginia torched the Buffs last season with a 31/7 night, and he's more than capable of duplicating that feat tomorrow evening.  Despite an ankle sprain last season which both cost him six games, and continued to plague him during conference play, he's shown consistent quality when healthy.  Through the team's first five games this season he's been averaging over 22 points per.
Michael Lyons is a legit scoring threat.  He's the kind of guard who can play on almost any team in the country.
Other players to watch for are senior forward Taylor Broekhuis and senior point guard Todd Fletcher.


A veteran team like the Falcons, favoring a slow-measured pace, should pose an interesting challenge for the Buffs.  Generally, it would behoove the Buffs to crack 70 points.  Over the past four-plus seasons the Falcons have lost 32 of 37 games where their opponents scored 70 or more.  The Buffs should look to get out in transition, squeeze some extra possessions out of the notoriously slow Falcons, and see if they can be the first to 70 on the evening.

Nothing less than total domination on the defensive glass will be acceptable.  With the Falcons rarely going after second-looks (worst offensive rebounding percentage in the country last year), the Buffs can't afford to gift them any.  To that end, last season the Buffs grabbed 32 defensive rebounds on 37 Falcon misses.  That  level of production needs to, and should, continue tomorrow.

On a side note, it'll be interesting to see how freshman Josh Scott, the son of two former Falcon athletes, plays against his home-town team.  The matchups certainly lend themselves to a big game from the Springs native.  He's going to be pumped up for this one, and the Buffs should focus on getting him the ball early to settle him down, and get him into the game.

I think all of the above happen.  The Buffs crack 70 before Air Force, they dominate the defensive glass, and receive a big game from Jelly.  Michael Lyons will go off for near 30 again, but his teammates won't be able to equal his efforts.  Add it all up, and they should defend the #23 ranking by shaking off the pesky Falcons for a solid win.

CU 74 - AF 65


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