Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Friday, December 28, 2012

Hartford Teaser

The end of non-conference play is upon us.  After beating up on an obviously exhausted and out-classed NAU squad the Friday before Christmas, the Buffs finish the "pre-season" portion of their schedule against another minnow, the Hartford Hawks.
Spencer and the Buffs hope the romp over NAU speaks of good things to come.  From: the BDC
Just think, less than a month ago, the Buffs were in Lawrence, KS, playing the crème de la crème of blue-blood basketball programs in their historic arena.  Tomorrow, they get the University of Hartford at the CEC - a program which, until the schedule was released, I could of sworn was D2. I guess you could say that it's part of the beauty of non-conference play in college basketball, that you get to see a wide swath of the competitive spectrum, but that's a serious drop-off in degree of difficulty.  Much like the NAU game, regardless of outcome, CU's RPI will drop.

I don't intend to demean the Hawks (and their empty wikipedia page), who I'm sure are rightly proud of both their school and program, and you only have to look back to the Texas Southern game to see what can happen if you let the little fish get acclimated to the water, but holy hell it's tough to get excited about this one.  The Buffs play at Arizona Wednesday.  How are they not looking past the lowly Hawks towards the Pac-12 title rematch in Tucson?  I certainly would be.  Shit, up until 10 minutes before writing this teaser, the #4 Wildcats had been dominating my hoops-related thoughts.

You can talk all you want about how the next game is the most important, and how you can't look ahead, but human nature dictates that Hartford would be getting second-billing in the minds of the players.  They're certainly getting second billing in mine. 

Therein lies the danger.  It's cold, campus is dead, the players have spent more time at home with their families than on the court practicing, and the opponent looks like a cake-walk.  I'm not going to come out and call this a trap game, 'cause CU should win easily regardless of how focused they are on the Hawks, but the avalanche of distracting factors is enough to give me pause.  Hopefully, the Buffs come out red-hot, like they did against Northern Arizona, and put to bed any hope of a competitive effort the Hawks may have.

Tip-off is scheduled for high noon tomorrow.  For those out of town, you can watch the proceedings on the Pac-12 Network.  Radio coverage is set for 850 KOA.

Third year Hartford coach John Gallagher seems to believe in two things: creating turnovers, and taking buckets of three pointers.  In that vein, the Hawks are quite successful.  Over Gallagher's tenure, Hartford has routinely posted defensive turnover rates near 24% (well above the national average), and in his first two seasons at the helm, the Hawks bordered on taking 50% of their shots from behind the arc (top-3 in 3ptA/FGA in '10-'11, and '11-'12).
Coach Gallagher loves to see some threes.
Still, those two and a half years as head Hawk have been mostly losing years for Gallagher, as the team struggled through 42 losses in his first two seasons.  You can kind of excuse last season's struggle, as the team was mostly freshmen, including three frosh starters, in '11-'12, but the numbers don't lie, and 42 losses is a huge anchor.  Throw in one of the worst offensive efficiencies in the nation (consistently right around .9 ppp), and ugliness has followed the losing.

The ship may be righting itself, however.  Starting with conference play last season, the Hawks have been on a strong run of 16 wins in 30 games.  None of the wins are against any team that will ruffle feathers, but you can at least notice some improvement as Gallagher continues to mold the program.

For a team that is so reliant on taking (and sometimes making) three pointers, it's surprising that their primary scoring option is a post-forward.  6-6 sophomore post Mark Nwakamma leads the team in both points (12.8) and rebounds (5.3) per game, and winds up taking nearly 32% of his team's shots when he's on the court.  The Austin, TX product was an America East Conference All-Rookie selection last year.  His biggest problem is not only struggling to get to the line enough for his position and volume, but also missing nearly half his attempts when he gets there (54% on the year).
Nwakamma is a good small-conference power forward.
Sophomore Yolonzo Moore II is the primary deep threat.  The 6-2 sophomore makes over 48% of his outside shots, and is the team's best pure shooter.  Fellow sophomore Wes Cole is more of a volume shooter, as he's taken nearly twice as many 3's as he has free throw and 2pt attempts combined.  The 6-0 sophomore is not an Omar Strong-level hucker (no one else is, for that matter), but he could still hurt if he gets hot. 6-0 freshman Evan Cooper rounds out the back-court, and makes over 43% of his deep attempts.  Perimeter defense, long a hit-or-miss prospect with the Buffs, will be key.
Moore II is the primary back-court threat.
The final starting piece of the Hawk puzzle is 6-6 swing forward Nate Sikma.  The sophomore also appeared on the AEC's All-Rookie team last season, and posts a respectable 7/5 each night.

The big thing to note about the Hawks is their youth.  All of their key contributors are either freshman or sophomores, with only two upper classmen, junior Oren Faulk and senior John Peterson, seeing any meaningful action.  Combined with the recent turn towards .500 play, that makes me believe that the future bodes well for the Hawks from the University of Hartford.  It wouldn't surprise me at all to see them take the AEC's automatic bid in either of the next two seasons, and appear as a 15-ish seed in the Tournament.

For tomorrow, however, they look to be a long-shot to challenge CU.  Nwakamma isn't nearly enough to scare CU inside, and the shooters don't make up enough of a volume to frighten with the "streaky" factor.  Unless they all get outrageously hot, the Buffs should claim victory. 

CU 81 - Hartford 61



Since you're all going to be up at the CEC tomorrow watching the man's team take down the vaunted Hawks, why not stick around after the conclusion to check out the #23 CU women's squad take on New Mexico?  The tentative tip for that one is 2:30, and your men's admission is good for both games.

Go Buffs!

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