Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, January 31, 2013

Quick-Post: 'Dre's Magical Penguin Hat

Shabazz Muhammad's Gucci backpack, meet Andre Roberson's Magical Penguin Hat:
ALL PRAISE PENGUIN HAT!  MASTER OF ALL IT SEES!
No compliance investigation needed, no violation here.  That's all 'Dre.

I just want every Pac-12 wanna-be scorer to remember: that dude who just rejected your shot, ripped your board, or stole your ball feels comfortable wearing that around campus.  He is more of a man than you are.

It's 'Dre's world; we just live in it.

Happy Thursday!

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

2013 Off-week Preview #1

With CU taking the travel-partner bye this week, my Wednesday and Thursday night schedules are starkly devoid of Buff-centric things to do.  No preview to write, no game to watch or attend.  What to do, what to do...

Ah ha!  I know! There's still plenty non-CU basketball to watch!

Specifically, there's seven games I'll be playing close attention to over the next two evenings, five for their impact on the Pac-12 race, and two for their impact on CU's RPI.  Below the fold, I'll be giving each of them the light preview treatment, and predicting their outcomes.

Click below for the preview(s)...


Tuesday, January 29, 2013

On the C-Unit

Ah, the C-Unit.  What was once a merry band of maybe six kids has turned, in a little under a decade, into a force of nature.  Of they myriad of reasons why the Buffs enjoy one of the nation's best home court advantages, their presence is certainly near the top.  It's largely hyperbole, but they can often be the difference between winning and losing.  (I'm sure Arizona would rather not have to drive into their face on a last-second possession ever again.)
Welcome to Boulder.  From: the CU Independent.
In an attempt to defend last year's designation as a "Student Section of the Year" finalist, they've been pushing for votes in this year's contest.  If you're so moved, you can vote for them here.

That's all well and good, and I'm proud of how far the group has come since their humble beginnings.  The crew running the show deserves all the praise they have received from the mainstream media (even some more).  However, unlike last year when I voted for them on multiple occasions, I will not be casting a ballot for the C-Unit in this year's Student Section of the Year competition.  The fact of the matter is, they haven't earned it.

Sure, the core of the group, built around the famous 50 who traveled to LA last March, is as loud and active as ever.  Their use of the Big Heads has only improved with experience, and the first 10-or-so rows in the student section are legit and engaged. From a larger standpoint, the packed student section for the CSU game was one of the more impressive sights I've ever seen (the roar at tip-off will stay with me until the day I die).
Students, on students, on students.  From: the BDC
 There's no doubt that the C-Unit is quite good, and has the potential to be the best in the country.

The problem is consistency.  Sometimes they just forget to show up to games.  Against UCLA, one of the biggest home games of the year, the section was half-filled (at best).  Against Cal, a crucial conference test, that number ticked up to maybe 2/3rds full.  That's just not acceptable, not when compared to what the students have been doing the last few years.

"Oh, but the slopes just got some snow!" "The X-Games are in town!" "It's the Saturday before classes start up, and I don't want to be on campus yet!" "It's cold outside!"  These are but a sample of the excuses I've heard as to why the student section has been sporadically filled outside of two games this season (CSU and Stanford).  (My eye-rolling response is implied)

Excuses are fine, and no one is saying that the C-Unit isn't a good student section. But, as the old adage says, "90% of life is showing up."  Attendance is what separates the best from the rest, and the C-Unit has let themselves down this season.

You want my vote?  You think I'm full of shit, and don't know what I'm talking about?  Fine, prove me wrong and fill up sections 13-17.  Not just when it's convenient, but EVERY DAMN GAME!   It's not as if the team doesn't deserve it.  I know that 3,000+ are going to be there for Arizona in a fortnight, but what about ASU on the 16th?  Can anyone in the lead C-Unit group honestly tell me they think they'll have a full section that day?  ("The slopes beckon, brah..." *bong hit*) 
The team needs this rowdy setting every night.  From: the BDC
That ASU game may end up being just as important, if not more, then the 'Zona tilt for CU's final standing.  If you bother to show up on the 14th, then there's no reason not to show up the following Saturday.  We need you, GET YOUR ASS TO THE STADIUM!

The C-Unit has set a pretty high standard over the last two season, now they just have to learn to continue to live up to it...

Monday, January 28, 2013

Monday Grab Bag: On a roll

It's been a complete turnaround for the Buffs post-Seattle.  The team, once seemingly stuck in neutral, has found it's offensive mojo, and is deservedly back in the top-half of the Pac-12 standings.  The question now is: can they build on it?
Home cooking did the trick.  Can the Buffs carry the good feelings out onto the road? From: the BDC
The trick will be to translate the momentum gained over the last two home victories, including the relative offensive explosion, into road victories.  The Buffs now embark on their longest true road trip of the season, playing three games in Utah and Oregon over the next two weeks.  Two of those games, against Utah and Oregon State, are seemingly strong pick-up opportunities.  If CU can go 2-1 on this trip, putting them at 16-7 (6-5) overall with a great RPI, their path to the NCAA Tournament becomes a lot more clear.

Today in the bag, I'm talking the big win over Cal, Xavier Johnson's breakout weekend, and the Pro Bowl.

Click below for the bag...

Friday, January 25, 2013

Cal Basketball Preview #1

Turnabout is fair play.

Last night was an eerily similar reprise of the CU/Stanford series from last season.  The game ended in a 21-point blowout, there was a massive rebounding disparity (18), and one of the teams comfortably shot over 50%.  Of course, the big difference was that it was the Buffaloes doing it to the Cardinal, rather than the other way around.
It was good to get back into the CEC.  From: the BDC
Questions about toughness and competitiveness melted away over 40 minutes of pure domination.  There was no "home whistle" pushing the Buffs to victory (quite the opposite, in fact), no streaky shooting fluking the scoreboard.  CU simply out-manned the Cardinal.  The resulting 75-54 win not only excised some of the Stanford pall still draped over memories from last season, but it also hints that the team has recaptured it's lost swagger.

It was the best start to finish game I've seen the team play since Charleston, and it marked the first time in weeks that I thought the team was really having fun out on the court.  All five starters notched double digits, and even Ben Mills found a way to chip in four points as the clock ticked towards zero. They shared the ball well (12 assists), and spread the scoring around.

While every player in home white played a fantastic game, it was Andre Roberson who stole the show.  12 points, 20 rebounds, three blocks, three steals, and two assists - it was the best individual performance by any one CU player this season.  He was flying everywhere after the ball, and nobody - Cardinal or Buff - was going to stand in his way.  Hopefully, when it comes time to vote on Pac-12 defensive player of the year someone slips this game film in front of the voters, because further discussion will become mute.
Whose ball?  'Dre's Ball!  From: the BDC
The only question remaining after last night: can they carry the momentum forward?  We'll find out SaturdaySunday against Cal.

--

Tipoff from the CEC is set for 1:30pm MT tomorrowSunday.  Those of you with DirecTV are in luck, because the game can be seen on ROOT Sports/FSN.  If you can't even find that, Mark Johnson will have his radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

Thursday, January 24, 2013

2013 Stanford Basketball Preview #1

Thorburn did a pretty good job yesterday highlighting just how awful the team was against the Cardinal last season.  22-point average margin of defeat, out-rebounded by a total of 32, 51% shooting allowed from the floor ... they essentially kicked the snot out of the Buffs for 80 minutes.  Or, as Ski put it today, "They didn't just handle us, they destroyed us.  They put our heads in the dirt and kicked us in our head."  Exactly.

But the BasketBuffs aren't alone in their struggles with the red horde from Palo Alto.  CU, across the six head-to-head varsity team sports that it still competes in, has yet to defeat Stanford in anything since the start of the Pac-12 era.  0-13. While the athletic department has been similarly futile against UCLA over the last two years, Stanford has historically been an imposing hurdle for Colorado Athletics.  All told - between football, men's and women's basketball, volleyball, soccer, and tennis - the University of Colorado has posted a 10-39 all-time record against the Cardinal, with the last win coming in 2002 (the women's sweet-sixteen victory up in Boise).  Prior to that, you have to go back to 1990.

Sure, much of that history of futility comes from the fact that they weren't regularly scheduled prior to last season, but the point remains. It's time that the University finds a way to break through against their NorCal rivals.  The Cardinal women's programs are far superior to their CU courterparts, and we all know the disaster that resides in Folsom, so the task falls at the feet of Tad Boyle and crew.

Tip-off from Boulder is set for 8pm MT.  Tickets are still available; no excuses, pack the CEC! Coverage for the out-of-town set can be found on ESPNU, with Mark Johnson and his radio coverage on 850 KOA.

Click below for the preview...

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

The Pac-12: A 1/3rd-of-the-way heat check.

As if in the blink of an eye, the first third of conference play has passed.  I figure that this third-pole offers a convenient opportunity to assess where the Pac-12 race stands, and how I see it developing.

This is how the conference sits after the first three weeks of play:
  1. Oregon - 16-2 (5-0)
  2. UCLA - 15-4 (5-1)
  3. Arizona - 16-1 (4-1)
  4. Washington - 12-6 (4-1)
  5. Arizona St - 14-4 (3-2)
  6. USC - 8-11 (3-3)
  7. Stanford - 11-7 (2-3)
  8. Cal - 10-7 (2-3)
  9. CU - 12-6 (2-4)
  10. WSU - 10-8 (1-4)
  11. Utah - 9-9 (1-4)
  12. Oregon St - 10-8 (0-5)
The first thing to note is that Arizona and UCLA have been playing to expectations.  Good for them, and good for the reputation of the league.  The Pac-12 needs the perceived front-runners to play to their level, and, so far, they've held true to form.  I can't wait for Thursday's meeting in Tucson. 

As solid as the Wildcats and Bruins have been, however, it's the Oregon Ducks who have looked, far and away, like the conference's best team.  Of their five wins, four of them have come against the league's top-half, including blockbuster belt notches over UCLA and Arizona. Through all of that they're unblemished, and have been posting the second-best offensive and defensive numbers in the conference. Their top-of-the-table standing is unquestioned at this point.
The Matt rushed against Arizona.  Now the Ducks are the hunted.
As a bonus for the quackers, they don't have to play return games against either Arizona or UCLA.  They'll ride out the season with two huge tie-breakers in their back pocket, ensuring that the title chase will be decided on Oregon's terms.  As it stands right now, it's hard to imagine a version of the final standings that doesn't have the Ducks in the top-two.

It's easy to look at the Buffs - who were projected by many to wind up in the top-quarter - as an early disappointment.  I can make all the excuses available (front-loaded schedule, road difficulties, tilt), but the fact remains that CU has already dropped three games they should've won.  Stanford has also failed to live up to preseason hype.  All is not lost for the Buffs and Cardinal, however, and things could be much, much worse.
Boulder is not alone in their concern over a poor start to Pac-12 play.  Hair is being pulled in Palo Alto.
How much worse?  Just look at Oregon St.  Coach Craig Robinson's stalling bunch stands alone in the winless basement of the conference.  After a mostly ho-hum non-conference run, they entered conference play with hopes of competing for a solid mid-table finish.  Instead, they've bottomed out.  Granted, it's 0-5 against five of the current top-six, but, faced with a similar schedule, the Buffs were at least able to scrape out two wins.

The Beavers' collapse was probably hinted at by a late-December loss to, of all teams, Towson.  Yes, that's the same Towson Tigers who went one-for-the-season a year ago.  The Tigers are better this campaign (above .500, in fact), but I still consider a loss to Towson the rough equivalent of 'Dre losing a game of 1-on-1 to his sister.  In that light, we all should've seen the writing on the wall.
Towson's stunner in Corvallis set the tone for a horrific post-Christmas run by the Beavers. From: Towson Athletics
I watched the OSU/UCLA game last week, and found Bill Walton still talking up both the Beavers, and how competitive they will be. (Specifically, he called them "intriguing" and repeatedly said they were a "good basketball team.") Certainly, Oregon St isn't as bad as their standing indicates, but good 'ole Bill over-sold the pony.  While they should make in-roads towards .500, the start is crippling.  OSU should avoid the basement come March, but that might not matter when the butcher's bill comes due at the end of the season.  Craig Robinson, you might want to keep the movers on speed dial.

--

Re-calculating the final standings

Considering the start, I've revised my Pac-12 predictions to the following:
  1. Oregon (in a tie-break)
  2. Arizona
  3. UCLA
  4. Washington (in a tie-break)
  5. CU (11-7, 21-9 overall)
  6. Stanford
  7. ASU
  8. USC 
  9. Cal
  10. OSU
  11. Utah
  12. WSU
Expect a massive gap between the top-three and the rest of the Pac-12.  Think three with 14+ wins, and no one else above 11. The top three have shown they deserve that recognition.

There's still hope that CU could finish with the 11-7 record I predicted at the season's onset, with 9-9 as a worst-case. With seven home games remaining, is there any doubt that winning at least five is a probability?  Adding an upset over either Oregon or Arizona ('Zona is more likely) would then make for six.  Beyond that, there are three strong opportunities for road wins.  Utah, OSU, and Cal are undeniably vulnerable, even when factoring in CU's misadventures away from Boulder.  Sweep those (a leap, but not a long one), and the Buffs slide home with 11 Pac-12 wins and bubble consideration.  Not too bad, all things considered. 

Washington is kind of an enigma for me.  They don't pass my smell test, but I have no concrete reason for dropping them - they've been winning games, including their first three on the road.  That has to count for something.  Arizona St, on the flip side, reeks of fluke.  Their wins include a one-point overtime win over Utah, an overpowering comeback against a mentally broken CU squad, and a road win over the hapless Beavers.  If I were in Vegas this week, I'd be betting heavily on their under.

I expect USC to lose some questionable games, and slip below mid-table.  The coaching move has to break them down eventually, even though they've looked good in the post-Kevin O'Neill era. (*cough* JT Terrell *cough*) I like Stanford to take their place, and round out the top-six.
    I'll revisit all this in three weeks to see how wrong I am.

    Monday, January 21, 2013

    Monday Grab Bag: Har-bowl? Super Baugh? Harboughl?

    I'm happy for the Harbaugh's.  Their teams looked the best on Sunday, and earned their berths.  I'm certainly happier with San Francisco vs Baltimore then I would've been with yet another New England choke job.  Fresh faces, fresh story-lines. At least we have a full two weeks to have those fresh story-lines thrown in our collective faces! (*sigh*)

    In the bag today, I'm recapping the men's first Pac-12 road win, the women's domination over Arizona, and the NFL's Championship Sunday.

    Click below for the bag...

    Friday, January 18, 2013

    2013 Washington State Basketball Preview

    A trip to Pullman doesn't have to be like pulling teeth.  Just ask the football team (Remember them?  No?  Yeah, me neither).  Pulman was the site of CU's lone gridiron win in 2012.  The Palouse should get an award from Better Homes and Gardens, because that's a level of guest accommodation that goes above and beyond the call of duty.

    Hopefully that warm embrace of weary travelers extends to the basketball court as well, because the BasketBuffs are in desperate need of a slump buster.

    Tip-off from Beasley Coliseum in Pullman is scheduled for 8pm tomorrow.  As usual, Pac-12 Network has the telecast, with Mark Johnson's radio call emanating from 850 KOA.

    Click below for the preview...

    Thursday, January 17, 2013

    Quick Post: Washington wrap - On Tilt

    Tilt.  In the poker world, it's a term meant for those who can't get over a bad beat, and who recklessly chase winning cards instead of playing the way they had been before.  Anyone who has ever sat at a poker table has fallen into tilt, and lost good money to it's demon.

    In the two weeks since a collapse in Tucson lead to the win-that-wasn't, the only thing that has become clear is that the Buffs aren't over that loss.  They haven't looked the same since before those fateful final two minutes in the desert, and mostly seem to be feeling for their game, instead of letting it come to them.  It's a textbook case of tilt.
    The plague of bad basketball continues to burn.  From: the BDC
    Last night's 64-54 loss to the Washington Huskies was only the latest example in a fortnight of horror for the young Buffs.  Over 40 minutes, CU displayed an inability to take care of the basketball, a disinterest with challenging for rebounds, and complete impotence when trying to score.  It all boiled down to a team who looked frustrated with their new normal, yet were at a loss with how to change it.

    As a result, the season has all but slipped away from the team once penciled into the Pac-12's top-quarter.  Sitting at 1-4, even with a home-heavy final 2/3rds of the conference schedule remaining, it's tough to see how the team can now live up to it's early season promise.  I don't think they're broken; the team is still talented, and Coach Boyle didn't suddenly become incompetent.  They're just stuck in a rut.

    I can't help but be reminded of last season when, coming off of a 1-3 collapse to close the regular season, senior guard Nate Tomlinson called the team to carpet for their bullshit, saying "I don’t think we’re that good. I’ve played against Kansas, Texas. We’re just not that good. The only chance we have is if we guard, rebound and compete our (fucking) tails off."  If only there was someone in the locker room who could say that today, because that sentiment is blatantly relevant.

    Wednesday, January 16, 2013

    2013 Washington Basketball Preview

    OK, so the season is in danger.  There's no denying that a 1-3 in-conference record, with a difficult road trip to The Evergreen State on the table, has a better chance of turning into 1-5 than 3-3.  A 1-5 start to Pac-12 play, even considering the bloat of home dates remaining, would be a disaster.

    Staring that danger in the face, BuffNation is starting to lose it.  Just Monday I saw articles talking about team-only meetings, and prescribed changes to the rotation.  (If more Xavier Talton is all this team needs, I'll eat my hat... again)

    We've gone Farrell on everyone:
     
    (Imagine Mike Bohn: "There will be no refunds! Your refund will be escaping this deathtrap with your life!")

    The good news is that the team is a road win this evening away from breathing life back into the season.  It won't be easy, however, as the team pays a visit to one of the league's best this evening.

    It's late-night with Coach Boyle and crew.  Tip off from Alaska Airlines Arena in Seattle is set for 9:30pm MT.  If you can stay awake long enough, Pac-12 Network has the video, with Mark Johnson and the radio coverage on 850 KOA.

    Click below for the preview...

    Tuesday, January 15, 2013

    The Freshman 15: Josh Scott

    After only 15 games, I believe you can begin to get a sense of what kind of player a freshman starter will turn into.  How quickly have they fallen into the rhythm of collegiate life?  Has their been play consistent?  Are they showing improvement?  The answers to those questions can go a long way towards determining if a first year starter will have just a strong collegiate career, or a legendary one.  You can't necessarily build a definitive judgement off of those early results, but they often attest to a player's future trajectory.

    You can also use those first 15 games to begin to put a player's talents into perspective.  Much like last year, when I compared Spencer Dinwiddie's first 15 games with those of his recent star-guard predecessors, I'm interested in comparing Josh Scott, the star of CU's heralded 2012 recruiting class, with a recent high profile post.  With last Thursday's USC game, Scott and the Buffs crossed the 15 game mark this season, making this an appropriate time to begin that process. 

    CU, along with many other programs, have long been searching for a true "star" post player.  While there were ample recent examples to compare Dinwiddie against, there's really only one player in the post-Billups era who can hold a candle to Scott's skill and prowess in the paint.  I've had to go back over a decade, but I've dug out the stats on the one, the only, David Harrison.

    Below the fold, I'll touch on each player's narrative before discussing how Jelly compares to Big Dave, and what that means for the future.  A little history, a little analysis.  What could possibly go wrong?

    Monday, January 14, 2013

    Quick Post: O'Neill out at USC

    In case you weren't paying attention on a lazy Monday afternoon, let me be the first to inform you that USC kicked coach Kevin O'Neill to the curb.  Assistant coach Bob Cantu will take over the team on an interim basis.

    In my USC preview last week, I doubted that a .500, middle table finish in Pac-12 play would be enough for O'Neill to keep his job.  Indeed, the Trojans were on pace for just that, having won two of their first four conference games.  USC athletic director Pat Hayden must've been taking a longview of O'Neill's tenure, especially to fire him in the wake of a Saturday's road win at Utah.

    Even though the timing is weird, the move makes sense to me.  It's not as if there wasn't ample justification to fire KO (link hat-tip to @BupsJones).  Attendance at Trojan home games was abysmal, and USC was coming in off of a 6-26 record in '11-'12.  This move can really be nothing but good for the Trojan program, which is what scares me.

    The only reason this news really peaks my interest is that USC has long been mentioned as a sleeping average-sized basketball program.  Basketball will never be the focus in University Park, but their LA location alone could make them an enticing destination for recruits with the right coach.  A good hire could be great for the Pac-12/bad for CU.  The conference could use another hoops program on the upswing, but a revitalized USC would mean tougher competition for both recruits and wins in Boulder.

    CU won't play the Trojans again this year (barring a post-season meeting in Las Vegas), and it's yet to be know what kind of impact this news will have on USC's performance going forward, so feel free to file this information away under "deep background."


    Monday Grab Bag: No one is happy.

    Wow, did this state get quiet in a hurry.  Saturday evening, I could've spoken in a normal voice on top of Flagstaff Mountain and been heard clearly in Grand Junction, such was the drowning silence that blanketed the state.  If I've learned one thing about life in Colorado, it's this: the Broncos are everything.  When the Donkeys take a gut-punch on par with Saturday's come-from-ahead loss to the Ravens, it shakes this place to it's core.  I understand the machinations behind that reaction (the Broncos were the only show in town for multiple decades), but holy hell is it eery in it's cult-like fashion.

    Combine the 'cos collapse with CU's expected loss to UCLA, and no one in Denver-Boulder is happy this morning.

    Today in the bag, I'm talking the Buffs' loss to UCLA, how disappointed I am with the CU fanbase, and the NFL playoffs.

    Click below for the bag...

    Friday, January 11, 2013

    2013 UCLA Basketball Preview

    There's many in BuffNation who were expecting a cakewalk last night, and they're gnashing their teeth this morning.  "How could that game be so close?" "Worst game ever!" ... and on, and on.  Even the CUBuffs.com game wrap-up headline is from the woe-is-us school, hedging "Buffs Outlast Trojans - With Much Difficulty."

    I, on the other hand, fully expected USC to make life difficult (that's kind of their niche), and predicted an ugly victory.  With the flu going around, and a sexier matchup with UCLA looming on Saturday, is anyone really that surprised that CU failed to look like the '96 Bulls last night?  Be honest...
    A win's a win.  From: the BDC
    Everyone I've heard from today is kicking the dirt, and declaring a win over the Bruins impossible in light of last night's rough finish.  How do you think BruinsNation feels after almost choking away a 12-point second half lead in Salt Lake City last night?  At least CU didn't pull a Stanford and lose!

    It's basketball.  Your not going to see everyone's best every night.  You just have to hope when the team isn't playing perfectly that they walk away with a 'W.'  Thanks to a favorable whistle, and some poor USC strategy in the final two minutes (why weren't they sending the young Buffs to the free throw line?), CU still got the desired result.

    66-60 win?  With USC only threatening to make it a one-possession game, not a loss?  If that is what passes for an off night in these parts, then I'll happily take it.

    --

    The quick turnaround serves up a high-profile matchup with UCLA on Saturday afternoon.  This is the kind of game that could determine whether CU makes the Tournament.  A loss doesn't necessarily hurt, but a win over a team currently in the RPI top-50 makes that resume all the more enticing for the committee.

    Tip-off from a sure-to-be packed CEC is set for high noon tomorrow.  The Broncos don't kick off til 2:30, so there's no excuse to miss this one.  For those unable to make it to the CEC, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network.  If you're at Mile High, why not tune to AM 760 and listen to Mark Johnson while you tailgate in the freezing cold?

    Click below for the preview...

    Thursday, January 10, 2013

    2013 USC basketball preview

    If there's any comfort to be derived from a week spent assessing life after an 0-2 start to conference play, it was that CU can still look forward to the remaining nine home games on their Pac-12 schedule.  Yes the win-that-wasn't in Tucson stings, and the stumble against ASU confuses, but CU's conference and Tournament resume was always going to be built around home cooking in Boulder.  7-2 is the baseline expectation, with 8-1, or even 9-0, possible and welcome.  Where does that confidence come from?  Under Coach Boyle, CU has won 90% of all games played in the CEC, turning the once cavernous concrete bunker into a feared destination.  At the end of the day, that strength at home defines the #RollTad experience, and it will be called upon to revive the momentum of a season suddenly stuck in neutral.

    Enter: the SoCal duo of USC and UCLA.  It still may be too early to call them both must-win games, but certainly tonight's dust-up with USC qualifies for that tired mantra. The Trojans aren't the steaming pile of dogshit they were last season, but this is still a game the Buffs should win - must win if they have any realistic postseason hopes.

    Tipoff from the CEC is set for 8pm MT.  Those planning to attend may want to show up early, because yours truly will be jamming with the basketball band starting at 7:30 (I apologize in advance).  Those without tickets or the ability to get to the game can catch the action on ESPNU.  Mark Johnson and the radio call are on 850 KOA.

    Click below for the preview...

    Wednesday, January 9, 2013

    Quick Post: On Bakhtiari declaring for the NFL Draft

    Fine, I'll talk about football.

    The news has broken that CU's best offensive set-piece, David Bakhtiari, has decided he's had enough of this losing crap, and is turning pro.  In doing so, he'll forgo his final year of eligibility, and become only the 7th player in school history to leave early for the NFL.
    Bakhtiari was the face of CU football, speaking for the team at Pac-12 media day last year.
    The 6'4", 295lb redshirt junior was CU's best offensive lineman the last two years, securing back-to-back second team All-Pac-12 nods despite playing with a shambolic, and mostly ineffective group.  With his departure, CU loses not only their anchor, but a returning captain.  It's a big roster loss.

    There's been a lot of resistance from the CU fan community to losing the biggest name on the O-line, with many questioning where he'll go in the draft, and if he wouldn't be better served staying another year.  I take the opposite view, and basically assume anyone questioning his decision is just selfishly bitter about losing the team's leader in the trenches.

    Despite what some may think, Bakhtiari is a strong NFL prospect.  CBSSports.com tabbed him the 12th best offensive tackle available (essentially a 3rd or 4th round pick), and, according to this ESPN article, Bak was told by the NFL evaluation committee that he's considered a 2nd or 3rd round talent.  Considering how high the draft usually values offensive tackles, I don't find this out of the norm.  For the record, CU's last early departure, all-time badass and Husker-killer Chris Brown, went in the third round to the Titans in 2003, putting Bak in-line with history.  His draftability is not in question.

    As to whether a return would help him, I'm not so sure.  From my perspective, it's all risk, no reward.  I can't imagine his stock really rising all that much higher with another year in college, while another season only offers more losses and a high injury risk.  With the change in coaching scenery (the third coach of his collegiate career) bringing yet another change in line scheme, now's as good a time as any for him to make the leap.

    Go get that money, Bak.

    Tuesday, January 8, 2013

    SKIBALL!

    Back during the Arizona game - before the clusterfuck at the end - BuffStampede.com's hoops guru, Will Whelan, got into an interesting twitter discussion with SI's Andy Glockner about the danger of Askia Booker having a hot first half.  The implication was that Ski, a volume shooter, will hoist up an extra pile of ill-timed, reckless shot attempts if he feels he's anywhere close to hot, and that those attempts have the potential to stall an offense if they're not falling.

    While Booker ended up having a decent game (4-7 from outside, perfect from the line, and 18 points to go along with some shaky play in the collapse), the whole thing got me thinking about the machinations of all things Ski, and how his performances affect the team. He is, after all, the team's leading scorer, bringing nearly 15 points per game to the table.  Surely, the Buffs can't be afraid of using their leading scorer.  His offensive efficiency is over 100, for the love of Tad!
    SKIBALL!
    By now, I think everyone in BuffNation has gotten used to SkiSeason; the rainbow jump shots, the jump-back 10-footers, the floaters in the lane.  Many of his shot attempts raise both eyebrows and blood pressures, and there hasn't been a game gone by where I don't mentally scream "what the fuck?!" at one of his 25-foot heat-checks. He's essentially fearless, ready to pull the trigger at a moment's notice.  Upon reflection, I find kind of dig it, actually.

    I'm fond of tweeting "SKIBALL" after one of his rainbow makes, and the exclamation is more on the nose than you might think.  In the game of skee - which, Dogma assures me, is God's favorite game - you always have the option of shooting at the tiny 100 holes in the upper corners.  Unless you play every day, it's damn difficult to hit that shot consistently, but, when you do, the tickets come flying out.  The flip side is, of course, that if you miss, the ball will rattle around before settling in the 10 hole at the bottom of the board (or, if you're drunk, you could miss the board entirely, cracking the plastic cover on your friend's lane).  It's high risk, high reward.  Such is life with both skee ball and SkiBall.  If you want the tickets, you're going to have to take some chances.  He's the BasketBuffs equivalent of Dave Kingman.

    So, what about it?  If Ski is "feeling it," is he more likely to jack up shots?  Could a good first half hurt CU?  Surprisingly, not really.

    His stats are split evenly between what I'd call good and bad performances.  He's been both above and below the 40% shooting mark seven times this season.  The difference between those seven games?  Only about one extra shot per contest. When he's under 40%, Ski has taken about 14 shots per game; when he's over, he has taken about 13.  Essentially, he's an aggressive shooter, whether he's making them or not.
    When hot earlier this season, Ski carried the Buffs in Charleston.  From: CUBuffs.com
    The difference then becomes how the Buffs fare in those games.  When Ski is over 40%, CU is 7-0, riding high, and looking to all the world like a top-25 team.  When he's under 40%, the Buffs are 3-4, and look disjointed on offense.  There's a full 18% shooting gap between his performances in wins and loses.  In victory, Ski shoots 47%.  In defeat 29%.  That's a massive drop off, speaking both to the style Ski plays, and the type of opponent CU has lost to.  A hot Ski is only going to make CU better, as he's going to take the same number of shots anyway.  It's essentially like riding out hot/cold streaks at the craps table.  Since he's taking those 13.5 shots per, regardless, the only real question is whether those shots are going to go in.  For CU, that's often a matter of winning or losing.

    We think of Booker as mostly an outside shooter, and that is certainly a huge part of what makes him valuable, but he doesn't solely operate on the perimeter.  His slashes at the rim are a large component of his offensive game (he's taken twice as many two-point attempts as three-point attempts).  When opponents take away that component, turning him purely into a jump shooter, they limit both Ski and the Buffs.  Think of the teams CU has lost to.  Wyoming, Kansas, Arizona, and ASU all focused on cutting off transition and easy slashes at the hoop, forcing CU (and Ski) outside.  Percentages dropped, possessions were wasted through frustration, and loses followed.  It's a team-wide issue, but one that often manifests itself in ugly outside shots from Booker.
    Good things happen when Ski is able to attack the basket.
    In the end, I just think Ski takes a lot of "dumb" shots.  That's his game.  He takes them when he's hot, he takes them when he's not.  CU has to live with the good and the bad from "the Scrat."  When they're falling, CU wins.  When they're not...  Well, let's just hope they fall.  Coach Boyle isn't going to go up to him and say, "well, you've had a great first half, but we're going to shut you in the second because I'm afraid you'll start missing."  The team needs him to score, night in, night out, and needs to learn to play with his production waves.  With time, I believe he'll become more consistent (he's only a sophomore, remember), which will cure many of these ills.

    Monday, January 7, 2013

    Monday Grab Bag: A rough start to Pac-12 play

    It was a tough weekend for Buffs Basketball.  The men and women combined to kick-off their Pac-12 campaigns with a 0-4 record, leaving me in a less-than-stellar mood.  On the plus side, hockey is back.  That's a plus, right?

    I'll be discussing all of the above in today's bag.

    Click below for the bag...


    Friday, January 4, 2013

    2013 ASU Basketball Preview #1

    I'm not going to talk about last night.  Ever.  Don't even bother.

    --

    CU has to shake off that-thing-that-happened-in-the-place, and focus on beating the Sun Devils.  This is a must-win road game for any team hoping to Dance.  Luckily the scheduling gods thought ahead, and afforded the weary travelers an extra day to forget.  I hope the team can take advantage.

    Tip-off from Wells Fargo Arena is set for 6pm MT on Sunday.  Television coverage is scheduled for the Pac-12 Network, with the radio broadcast coming from 850 KOA.

    Click below for the preview...


    Thursday, January 3, 2013

    Quick Post: Wrapping Arizona

    Buffs won 83-80.

    That's all I have to say on the matter.

    2013 Arizona Basketball Preview #1

    Happy New Year!  I hope everyone enjoyed their break.  I certainly did, but it's time to refocus, and welcome Pac-12 play into our lives.


    The Buffs have been lounging for too long, feasting on fatty fare like Northern Arizona and Hartford.  The meat of the season is now upon us, and the challenges will come fast and heavy for Coach Boyle and the boys.  I like to think the brutally tough non-conference schedule as steeled the young Buffs for this day, but only time will tell just how ready CU is for the road ahead.

    The Pac-12 schedulers certainly didn't make it easy, handing the Buffs a mountainous challenge right off the bat.  The defending conference champions are tasked with marching into Arizona to take on the vaunted #3 Wildcats in a rematch of the 2012 Pac-12 title game.  Compared to what the team has faced the last two weeks, we've gone straight from rookie to All-Madden.

    In preparation for the action, I was tasked by Pac-12 hoops aficionado Adam Butler with helping to preview the game over at PacHoops.com.  Along with well known BasketBuffs gurus James Lucas and Jason Gilligan, I think I made a good showing in the ramp-up for the game.  I highly suggest you click on the link, and soak in the dialogue that covers everything from Spencer Dinwiddie's mustache to my Bulls-fan homerism for Steve Kerr.

    After clicking on that, come on back for my preview, which is typically exhaustive and exhausting.

    Tip-off from the McKale Center is set for 6pm MT this evening.  Televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with Mark Johnson hitting the airwaves on 850 KOA.

    Click below for the preview...

    Wednesday, January 2, 2013

    Quick Post: On 2012's non-conference attendance

    Last season, I rejoiced at the 6,060 non-conference attendance average the program enjoyed.  That was a 49% increase over the previous four-year average, and, when factoring in improvement in conference attendance, helped the program notch the nation's most improved attendance average over a four-year period.

    The thing is, those numbers pale in comparison to what we're seeing in 2012-13.  Despite playing one fewer home game than in 2011-12, CU crushed the non-conference attendance numbers from last season, 61,513 to 42,418.  Buoyed by record-setting season-ticket sales, the per-game average of 10,252 is a 69% increase over '11-'12's numbers.  That includes CU's all-time single-game attendance record: the 11,708 that showed up to see the CSU game.

    Hell, the Buffs drew 10,228 on a Saturday afternoon in the middle of winter break against Hartford.  That's right, despite the lures of ski season, the Hartford Hawks are now facing the same environment once reserved for only the KU game.  In fact, only one of the six home games played this season has taken place in front of a crowd of less than 10k (Texas Southern).

    It's been an incredible time to watch CU basketball, and the CEC is solidifying it's new-found reputation as a difficult place to steal a win from.  Yes, some of those numbers have appeared slightly inflated, probably coming from the "tickets sold" vs "butts-in-seats" debate, but the GA sections have been packed, and tickets are scarce.  I hope you've made your plans, and grabbed your seats already, because by the time Cal and Arizona come to town, there won't be any more room at the inn.

    GO BUFFS!

    Wrapping non-conference play

    Last Saturday's win over Hartford was hardly filling fare.  The 80-52 final belies how truly non-competitive the game was.  The Hawks had nothing on their roster that could push the Buffs, and a series of poor stretches from the CU bench was the only reason the score didn't look more like the NAU game.
    Jelly and the Buffs didn't have much difficulty with Hartford.  From: the BDC
    I'm a little concerned with how many minutes the starters had to play (they saw a combined 26 additional minutes compared to NAU), but that concern is mitigated by the fact that the team will have played only two games in 22 days by the time tip-off in Tucson hits tomorrow.  In all reality, they probably needed the additional playing time, simply to keep the competitive juices flowing.

    The starting five did look good out there, so it's not as if Coach Boyle was forcing it.  Josh Scott and Andre Roberson each chipped in a double-double (21/10, and 14/14 respectively), Askia Booker notched 19 points buoyed by 3-of-5 shooting from behind the arc, and Spencer Dinwiddie stuffed the sheet with 11/6/6.  Sure, it was against an athletically inferior opponent, but they seemed to still be clicking, none-the-less.

    Other than offering an opportunity for the starting five to pad their stats, however, about the only thing of note that the game did was conclude the non-conference portion of the 2012-13 schedule.  Sitting at 10-2, I'd be hard pressed to say anything other than that the Buffs are exceeding my expectations. In my season preview, I set the bar at 8-4, essentially the same as what we saw last season.  The tournament title in Charleston has proven to be the difference, as the rest of the schedule fell mostly into place (the Wyoming game proved to be much tougher than expected, the CSU game much easier).
    The sweep in Charleston is the kind of performance that separates the men from the boys.  From: the BDC
    Those three victories in Charleston alone make the non-conference slog a successful one.  They provided the program with three things that it was in sore need of:

    1. Revenge over Baylor.  God, that was delicious. 
    2. National headlines, including the team's first AP ranking in 15 years
    3. A serious RPI boost, that may end up being the difference between Tournament and NIT come March.

    It was the program's best performance at a pre-conference tournament in a decade, and it sets the team up for a strong season.

    When you pull back a little farther and realize, despite playing the sixth toughest slate in the country, that CU has emerged from December with 10 wins out of 12, the feats over the past two months become even more impressive.  Coach Boyle fretted before the season started that the schedule was too difficult of a cross to bear.  Other than an ugly blip in Lawrence, and an understandable loss at undefeated Wyoming, the team seemed to rise to the challenge, which certainly bodes well for the oncoming crush of Pac-12 play.  Are they perfect? No.  They are, however, much farther ahead of schedule than I thought they'd be.

    As a result, while both Boyle and I preached calm headed into November, I'm now ready to ramp up the hype machine.  I've re-calibrated my expectations, and a top-3 finish in the improved Pac-12 is within grasp.

    There are still a few things that could derail that mission.

    As James Lucas, the AllBuffs hoops guru, pointed out last week, the bench can, and probably will, cost the Buffs a game they should win at some point this season.  While it's true that minute-share from the bench is in-line with what you'd expect from a Boyle-lead team, it's becoming more and more apparent that, outside of Xavier Johnson, the bench mob adds very little when they come onto the court.  Jeremy Adams hasn't taken the next step as many had hoped, Shane Harris-Tunks, if anything, seems to have regressed, and the freshman point guard subs (Xavier Talton and Eli Stalzer) are stop-gaps at best right now.  Regardless of what compels Boyle to have to rely on his bench - injuries, foul trouble, exhaustion, etc - they aren't ready to step up right now.
    Outside of XJ, the bench hasn't showed much.  From: the BDC
    Additionally, a team like Oregon could jump up and play spoiler.  They've mostly crushed the patsies they've scheduled, so you can still consider them a wild-card, but they have the talent and veteran depth to win games they "shouldn't" (exemplified by their road win at UNLV).  They also have one of the "easier" schedules in the conference, as they only have to play Arizona and UCLA once.  If they manage to pull an upset in one of those games, they have the ability to make that tie-breaker count at the end of the season.  I continue to love Dana Altman as a coach, and they have the outrageously deep bench that CU lacks.  I don't think they're a "better" team then the Buffs, but enough things could fall into place for them to finish above CU.

    Still, I like CU's chances to reach #3.  The way the team is playing at home right now makes me think an 8-1 run through the home portion of the conference slate is a bare minimum.  Add to that very doable pick-up opportunities at ASU, Washington, WSU, Utah, OSU, and Cal, and the Buffs could be looking at 12 or 13 conference wins this season.  At that point, a second consecutive trip to the Dance, a feat that hasn't been performed since the Ken Charlton era, would be a mortal lock.

    Road games are still a bugaboo for the program, but CU has the talent to take most of those opportunities.  We'll know much more after the trip to the Washingtons.  It's a pair of games that CU should sweep on paper.  If they can manage that, then top-three here they come.

    Onwards and upwards.