Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Charleston Classic preview

The Buffs once again find themselves in a strong early season tournament.  Last year in Puerto Rico, CU was included in a field that went on to produce six Tournament teams.  The challenge in store for the squad in Charleston this season may be even greater, as Coach Boyle discussed earlier this week by relaying one NBA scout's favorable opinion:
"[...] the Charleston Classic field - it also includes Boston College, Baylor, Dayton, Murray State, Auburn, St. John's and Charleston - features more individual talent than any other early season tournament." (-link)
It will certainly be a big early test for the young team, and how they handle it will go a long way towards telling us how they'll perform during the difficult post-Thanksgiving portion of the non-conference schedule.

In a general sense, I think the Buffs will do well in Charleston.  The program hasn't won more than one game in an early season tournament since the America's Youth Classic of 2007, and I think they could finally break the streak this season.  2-1 is the goal, and I'm going to tell you how they get there.

Click below for the preview...

The full bracket can be found here.  All times in the bracket are listed in ET, and all games can be found on some version of ESPN.

Round 1 (Nov 15th): CU vs Dayton, 10:30am MT, ESPN3

When first announced, this was a matchup that had every BasketBuffs junkie nervous.  Powered by potential A-10 POY Kevin Dillard, the Dayton Flyers are a sneaky good team, capable of beating anyone, on any night.  However, the outlook improved greatly when news that Dayton's starting center from last season, Matt Kavanaugh, was suspended for the entirety of the '12-'13 season, leaving the Flyers a little less imposing up front.
Dillard is the talismanic guard in Dayton.
That's not to say the danger is gone.  The interior load is being carried by capable 6-9, 228lb big man Josh Benson, who went for 14/8 against ASU last week.  In addition to Dillard and Benson, the Flyers will also trot out two high-impact BCS transfers in the form of guard Vee Sanford (Gerogetown) and forward Matt Derenbecker (LSU).  Sanford, a pure scorer, actually lead the Flyers in scoring during their season-opening win over Arkansas State, shooting a very efficient 7-10 from the floor, including 3-5 from deep.  He didn't grab a rebound in 30 minutes of work, however, which raises more than a few eyebrows.

They're coached by Arizona coach Sean Miller's little brother Archie.  The similarities in game-management style will be quickly apparent, even down to the pack-line man-to-man defense that the Flyers will utilize.  Dribble-drive will be limited by the sagging D, and it'll be important that CU knocks down open perimeter shots early and often to open things up.
I can't help but wonder if wasteful timeout policies run in the family.
This will be one of those talent vs execution games for the Buffs.  They have the talent to beat the Flyers, maybe even easily, but whether they execute will be the deciding factor.  The Flyers shot 53% from the floor in their opener. A Dayton team shooting anywhere near that won't be beaten by the Buffs at their current stage. With CU as focused as it is on reducing opponent field goal percentage, however, I doubt if they have any hope of keeping up that pace. The key will be marking the fantastic Dillard.  If he goes off - both hitting his shots, and opening up easy looks for his teammates - there may be no coming back.

Beyond all of that, what I keep thinking about is the unfortunate early morning (Mountain Time), East Coast tip-off.  It will hurt the Buffs more than the regionally closer Flyers, and leaves the door open for a painfully sluggish start from CU.  I actually think that alone will be the deciding factor, and the Buffs fail in the 2nd half comeback bid.

DU 65 - CU 61

Round 2 (Nov 16th): CU vs either Baylor or Boston College, 10:30am or 12:30pm MT, ESPNU

A win against Dayton on the 15th would almost certainly ticket the Buffs for a death-match revenge game against Baylor. No Buff fan worth their salt keeps Baylor on their Christmas card list, and many have been licking their chops for a rematch.  You know the old saying, be careful what you wish for...

Baylor, despite losing three stellar players from last season's Elite Eight squad to the NBA, are still a very strong and athletic group.  Pierre Jackson is still there, Scott the Dick is still there, and they've added blue-chip front court prospects in Isaiah Austin and Rico Gathers.
Do I want another bite at the Baylor apple?  Absolutely, if only because I want to see Heslip cry should CU beat them.  But I can't imagine beating them on a neutral court.  You want to kidnap them, sneak them into the CEC, and ask me to expect an ass-whuppin?  Sure, but not in Charleston.

On the flip-side, Boston College is a beatable proposition.  Coming off a 9-22 season last year, the very young Eagles are still learning to fly, and are still probably a year away from true respectability.

That doesn't mean they're devoid of interesting pieces, however.  The seven sophomores and four freshmen that make up the bulk of the team could make them a dark horse contender in the second-tier of the ACC next season.  The best player is probably Ryan Anderson, a 6-8 power forward who is a strong scorer with good rebounding skills, but who can fall in love a little too much with his below-average outside shot.  Additionally, German import Patrick Heckmann will benefit from a full, healthy season on the court, and true 7-foot center Dennis Clifford provides a solid foundation on the front line.
Anderson can get the job done in the paint, and will be a force to be reckoned with in the future.
The Eagles are a team capable of putting up some strong offensive performances, with a very efficient set-up.  Defense, however, is the problem, which is why they'd make for a nice matchup in the second round for the Buffs.  While I predict a first round loss for CU, a date with BC in the second round will make for a nice rebound opportunity.

CU 81 - BC 71

Round 3 (Nov 18th): CU vs either St. John's, Charleston, Murray St, or Auburn, TBA, TBA

Murray St is the presumed class of the lower half of the bracket, with star guard Isaiah Canaan capable of carrying any team with his NBA-caliber game.  Chalk would have the Racers in the title game, if you believe in such things.  I do, in this case.
The headline grabbing Canaan will carry the Racers to another strong season.
College of Charleston could spice things up a bit.  They haven't played in their home tournament since 2008, and, with a very partisan crowd behind them, are looking to pull some upsets.  Senior point guard Andrew Lawrence will help, coming off time spent playing with Great Britain in the London Olympics.  I actually think they have a better than decent chance of sniping St John's in the opening round before falling to Murray in the semi-finals.  Coaching legend Bobby Cremins is gone, however, leaving the Cougars a mostly unknown quantity.

Auburn will, most likely be left to the bottom rungs of the tournament, fighting it out with Boston College for last place.  I actually got to see them in Hawai'i last season, where I saw Long Beach St make a mockery of them.  That game was indicative of the '11-'12 season, which saw the Tigers score only .91 points-per-possession in SEC play; they simply have a difficult time scoring the ball. Some nice incoming freshmen talent will help bolster the ranks, but they're still a third-tier SEC squad.

That leaves the Johnnies.  After the predicted first-round upset against Charleston, they should have no trouble running past Auburn.  Assuming that my predictions above are correct, that would leave a date with CU in the 5th place game.  That would make things interesting, considering current CU assistant Tom Abatemarco was a rumored candidate for an open assistant position with St John's (which lead to a distracting blow-up between Coach T and beat-writer Will Whelan).
Harrison is expected to lead in Manhattan.
On-the court, the action would be equally enticing.  Much like the Buffs, they're long on talent, but short on execution.  They're probably still a year away from a top-quarter run in the Big East with big 6-3, 200lb sophomore point guard D'Angelo Harrison and sophomore combo guard Phil Greene.  Harrison was benched to start the season, but is still seeing starters minutes; it didn't seem to phase him as he dropped 22 in 29 minutes in St John's opening win against Detroit.

I got the feeling watching them against Detroit Tuesday afternoon that CU is just slightly ahead of them in terms of translating talent into on-court production.  That combined with their roster juggle gives the Buffs the chance to come out of Charleston with two wins.  Sounds good to me.

CU 73 - SJU 70


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