Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Nervous fidgeting over finals break

Finals break sucks.  I had gotten used to the new-normal of life with basketball, only to have it rudely ripped away for me while the team "studies" and "practices."  Lame.  I want to see the Buffs in action, damnit!

Since basketball is now set for slow-drip until conference play starts, I've been left to pour over stat sheets to get my hoops fix.  That can only lead to one thing: freaking out over minutia.

Ever since the champions of Charleston returned from their victorious southern swing, the team has slowly dipped into stretches of inconsistent basketball, and less-than-appetizing play.  The Daily Camera's Ryan Thorburn touched on this last week, but the primary culprits have been three factors: The Pac-12's worst turnover-to-assist ratio, anemic production from bench players (only 18% of scoring comes from the bench), and woeful free throw shooting (66.4%, 230th in the nation).

Assist-to-turnover ratio is certainly worrying on the surface.  Turnovers have been abnormally high over the last two weeks (averaging 15 per game since returning from Charleston), and, while Coach Boyle's system has never relied all that heavily on dishing dimes (CU was in the 250's nationally in Assist/FGM each of the previous two seasons), this year has been especially bad (A/FGM of 39.2, good for 341st nationally).

I just chalk it up as a product of an offense that emphasizes individual creativity, while still relying on underclassmen.  Juniors and seniors have dominated the backcourt in each of the previous two seasons, and it all may just be a factor of Nate Tomlinson withdrawal.  I would expect the assist-to-turnover number to improve as the year progresses, and the young players get used to their roles (especially Spencer at the point).  Essentially, I am unconcerned.

I'm also not overly concerned with the lack of production from the bench.  Sure, only 18% of team scoring has come from non-starters, and anyone paying attention can see the team gets drastically weaker when the starters are resting, but that drop-off from the front-line is not necessarily out of the norm.  Last year, bench scoring made up only a slightly higher 24% of total production, while the Burks/Higgins year featured only 17% scoring from the reserves. 

I just don't get the feeling that it matters in the long run. The reality is that Coach Boyle has never relied on a deep bench, with bench minutes staying largely consistent over the last three years (if trending downwards) - usually in the 26% range, good for about 250th nationally.  Boyle will try to get the reserves into the flow a little more over the next two games, but I think that's more a reaction to the level of opponent and time of year. 

Honestly, is anyone really clamoring for more of what currently resides on the bench?  That'll just result in repeat appearances of the dreadful Talton/Stalzer/Chen/Booker/Harris-Tunks lineup that has popped up recently.  God help me if I have to watch any more of that garbage. 

That just leaves free throw shooting.  Nothing is more aggravating than missed free throws, and that is especially true when you consider that CU is extremely dependent on production from the line.  To date, CU scores nearly 26% of its points from the free throw line (top-20 nationally), and is 5th in the country in FTA/FGA ratio.  With that level of dependency on makes from the line, a team average just over 66% is inexcusable. 

Outside of Josh Scott, who is shooting a very respectable 76%, everyone is under-performing.  Spencer is 8% off his average from last season, Ski is an even more depressing 14% off, and Andre Roberson, who I begged to get close to 70% in my season preview, is barely cracking 50% (even worse than his freshman campaign). 

Luckily, the free throw woes have yet to cost the Buffs a game, but they will if this keeps up. There's just no shrugging off 66% shooting from the line. 

Still, in spite of these deficiencies, the Buffs have an excellent chance to enter conference play at 10-2, leaving them in prime position for a third consecutive 20-win season, and yet another post-season run.  It's easy to forget, but the program also played excruciatingly inconsistent ball in the doldrums of non-conference play in both '10-'11 and '11-'12, only to explode once conference play began. To be in this position in mid-December should be very encouraging by itself.

In addition, CBS has CU with the 5th toughest schedule in the nation, which is not surprising when you consider that, as TZISK pointed out last night, CU opponents are 69-25 in games not against the Buffs, and five of the 10 opponents have received at least one AP vote this season.  That difficult schedule may have a lot to do with some of the head-scratching statistics that have emerged over the first 10 games.  The comfort and familiarity of Pac-12 play could release some of the pressure.

In retrospect, I should probably just shut up, trust in Tad, and be happy.

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