I hope we never get to the point that we as fans take for granted what seeing the name 'Colorado' in the field of 68 means. This should be a joyous time for all true basketball fans, and, as the program continues to progress, and the Dance tickets become more and more common place, it would be a shame for us to lose perspective. Anytime you make the Tournament is special, even when you've strung together more consecutive appearances than anyone else in your conference (*cough*).
So, enjoy tomorrow. Take the opportunity to skip out on work and meet with your friends to cheer on the team. It's America's national sporting holiday, after all, and, even if only for the briefest of moments, everyone's attention should be on Orlando and our Buffs.
Hit it, Barry!
Tip-off from the Amway Center in Orlando, FL is set for Thursday at approximately 11:40am MT. Televised coverage can be found on both TBS and March Madness Live, with the radio call coming on 850 KOA.
Click below for the preview...
When last we met -
Contrary to what the athletic department first reported this week, CU and Pitt have met on the hardwood before. We'll excuse the SID's office for spotty record keeping in this case, because the game took play all the way back on the day after Christmas, 1931. Considering the country was suffering through the height of the Great Depression, it's understandable that a few game reports would get misplaced.
For the now updated record, Pitt won a 25-23 barn-burner. Nope that's not a typo, there were only 48 points scored (and you though DU was an unwatchably slow mess this season...). In the game, Colorado's Fenton Challgren lead all performers with nine points, which is an average half from most modern stars. Of course, this was in the era before the jump shot and the shot clock, when passing the ball around midcourt for two minutes was a viable offensive strategy, so the minimalist scoring totals are understandable.
|A look back to a long-forgotten era of hoops. From: CUBuffs.com|
I have to say, that's a pretty chickenshit way to win a ballgame. There is a reason, after all, that the shot clock was invented. Had that garbage continued into the television age, basketball would be about as popular as cricket is in this country (no offense, @JennBerg).
Regardless, thanks to CU Associate SID Curtis Snyder and friend of the blog @BupsJones for doing a little digging into CU's distant basketball past. It made for a delightful little trip through the ages.
The Panthers in '13-'14 -
Returning to the modern era, the Pitt Panthers strike me as a criminally under-seeded team. Not only are they a top-20 offensive and top-40 defensive club, but, of their nine losses this season, only one of them (an ugly seven-point home loss to NC State two weeks ago) came against a team outside of the KenPom top-40. While the RPI has them as the #39 team in the country, every other rating system has them in the top-20. They are legit and a threat, not only to Colorado, but the overall #1 Florida, who loom as the third-round matchup for tomorrow's winner. If I'm the Gators, I'm pissed that a team of the Panthers' caliber could be my opponent on the Tournament's first weekend.
|I'm really not happy to be seeing these guys in round one (or two, if you care what the NCAA thinks).|
Probably the biggest concern for me is the fact that Pittsburgh looks to be able to negate CU's biggest advantage on the floor: team defensive rebounding. Throughout all the trials and tribulations this season, defensive rebounding has remained a constant source of strength for the Buffs. They only allow a shockingly-low 26% offensive rebounding rate (7th nationally), which has sustained them since the Dinwiddie injury. The Panthers, however, are about as good as they come on the offensive glass, leaving the winning margins decidedly smaller against Pitt. If CU can't win the battle of the boards, they're going to lose, and probably lose by a big margin - a fact Coach Boyle understands.
|Pitt knows how to come up with the difficult rebounds.|
The big key for Pittsburgh is that they're getting healthy and playing their best basketball at the right time. Much like CU with Spencer Dinwiddie, the Panthers suffered through their own devastating season-ending injury to key reserve wing Durand Johnson. Coupled with some knocks and bruises to bankable stars Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna, the team was in a bad way in early February, and lost five of seven ballgames. But they learned to play without Johnson, and Patterson and Zanna eventually got healthy. Now, with the calendar flipped to March, their losing February is behind them, and I'm damn scared.
Star Players -
It'd be disrespectful to the Panther program to say they're a two-man team, but it's hard to look much farther down the roster than the superstar inside-outside combo of Lamar Patterson and Talib Zanna.
Patterson, a 6-5 senior, is a stud wing, and one of the premier offensive pieces in the country. Averaging a healthy 18/5/4, he comes in 8th in KenPom's Player of the Year standings, and has essentially carried the team all season long. He takes nearly 40% of his team's three-pointers, and boasts an efficiency rating above 113 despite taking nearly 30% of all shots when he's on the court, all while still boasting an assist rate in the national top-75. For his efforts, he was selected as a second team All-ACC performer, which may actually be underselling his season. The Panthers depend on him to ignite the attack, and the ball will touch his hands on most, if not all, possessions.
|Patterson is a hell of a talent.|
While Patterson is clearly the lead dog in Pittsburgh, Zanna, the beefy senior power forward from Nigeria, may be the more dangerous of the two. Posting a 13/9 this season, he's coming off of a spectacular ACC tournament where he averaged an even better 17/13, including a MONSTER 19/21 performance in the Panthers' quarterfinal win over North Carolina. During the tournament, Patterson acknowledged that it's Pitt's intention every game to get the big fella going, saying "when you see him going, it just gets the ball rolling." It's easy to understand why. A forceful performance from Zanna keeps defensive attention inside, allowing Patterson a freer hand at running the offense.
|Zanna will pose an interesting challenge.|
Beyond the primary duo, the remainder of the Pittsburgh starting lineup consists of James Robinson, Cameron Wright, and Michael Young. Robinson, a 6-3 sophomore, is the team's point guard, and has played to an efficient 122 ORtg. Wright, a 6-4 guard, is the only other player on the roster averaging double-figure scoring, while posting a steal rate in the national top-50. Young, a 6-8 freshman, plays off of Zanna in the paint, and looks to be a similar terror for the ACC in future years.
|Wright leads the second tier of Pittsburgh's talent.|
Head coach Jamie Dixon has been ruling the roost in Oakland for 11 seasons now, and has established a tradition of success that has cemented a once dormant program in the national consciousness. Over his tenure, the Panthers rank in the nation's top-5 for winning percentage, surpassing coaches blessed with far more talent and resources. There's a reason BasketBuffs around the fanbase groaned when the Panthers popped up in the bracket - Dixon has made a name for his program as being physical, tough, and, above all else, successful.
|Dixon has been one of the more successful coaches in the nation.|
Here's to hoping Dixon's postseason struggles continue tomorrow!
(My record on the season: 16-5. Against the spread: 11-10. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +0.86 pts/gm)
Lines as of Wednesday @ 9pm - CU +6 1/2
I just don't see it. Pittsburgh is grossly under-seeded and skilled in the areas that the Buffs would need to exploit (rebounding, transition defense) in order to advance. Sure, they're a little too star-centric, and a poor game from either Patterson or Zanna could end the proceedings immediately, but I'm expecting a Colorado loss, nonetheless. It shouldn't be a 'blow-out,' per se - the pace will just be too slow - but an 'upset' of the lower-seeded Panthers just doesn't seem to be in the cards.
As for a score, maybe a reverse of the 59-56 score this team seems to like so much? Sure, that would just be too damn fitting.
Pitt 59 - CU 56
If you're looking for a path for victory for our Buffs, however, consider the ultimate game of #TadBall. Possession by possession, CU turns the game into a battle of inches, with open sets and easy looks about as frequent as a rainy day in Boulder. The Buffs are a bunch of opportunistic bastards, after all, and an inside game, such as in this scenario, may be their only opportunity to steal a win. The sport of basketball would take a hit, with Colorado winning the most unwatchable affair in the history of the Tournament, but it would still be a win.
Even then, Pittsburgh isn't exactly uncomfortable down in the muck. They played in a 48 possession affair with old Big East rival Cincinnati earlier this season, which might as well have been broadcast in black and white. The ultimate game of #TadBall wouldn't necessarily bring the desired result, which would make the unwatchable mess even uglier. Still, it's worth a shot...
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE PANTHERS!