Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, March 10, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: Onto the Postseason

I will admit to being absolutely unable to focus on work today.  I imagine the story will be the same tomorrow.  We're 48 hours away from the start of the Pac-12 tournament, and I have crossed the threshold into 'can't sit still because I'm too excited' territory.  I apologize to my co-workers, but my mind has checked out, and might as well already be in the MGM Grand.  See you next Monday!

While work will suffer due to the basketball distraction, this blog will not.  Tomorrow I'll have up my conference awards, with a tournament teaser up Wednesday morning.  From there, I'll have daily reports from the action in Vegas, with a quick run-down of how I view the next day's slate of games  You would also do well to keep an eye on my twitter account, as I'll be updating on the sights and sounds.


Today in the bag, I'm talking CU's late-game stumbles against Cal, the final standings in the Pac-12, and a few notes from around the world of college basketball.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs can't capitalize in Berkeley - 

I openly wondered after the win over Stanford why karma failed to make the Buffs pay for repeatedly leaving the door open against the Cardinal.  It seems that the basketball gods were just taking their sweet time, as Colorado was incapable of getting out of their own way over the weekend against Cal.  Given repeated shots at stealing the win, the Bears finally did so in overtime, taking home the season finale 66-65 despite not making a single field goal in the extra frame.  For the Buffs, who only needed a win to claim 3rd place in the conference and a bye for the tournament in Vegas, it was a painful defeat.
Cobbs got it done on his Senior Day. From:
Twice, in both regulation and overtime, CU had the ball with a chance to win and the clock running out.  In regulation, the Buffs came out of a timeout with 26 seconds, a relative eternity, and proceeded to nearly cough the game away.  Askia Booker came free off of a screen, but Xavier Talton's pass to him was about 5-feet off-target, and easily picked off by Cal's Justin Cobbs.  Luckily time was all but out at that point, and Cobbs' desperation heave was left wanting.  Execution was better on the conclusive play in overtime, but the result was similarly insufficient.  Ski drove into the teeth of the Cal defense, but was met by helpside defender Tyrone Wallace.  Recognizing the over-play, Booker dribbled out and found Talton (Wallace's defensive assignment) wide open on the wing.  The sophomore from Sterling was in rhythm and got a clean look, but left the shot short, sealing the loss, and consigning the Buffs to the 5-seed and a Wednesday game in Las Vegas against USC.

There was dissension online about the final play, with some frustrated that Booker, the team's lone remaining upperclassmen who receives any meaningful playing time, didn't force a shot into the teeth of Cal's interior defense.  Arguments about possibly getting a foul call, being in a position to grab a potential rebound, or even a whole new play were bandied about.  It's all nonsense, however - Ski did exactly what he should've done, and the play (isolation for Ski) was exactly what people were calling for when CU left the huddle. Booker was beaten to the point by the collapsing defense, so he hit the open shooter on the wing.  Further, since it was an isolation play, there were no other players in black under the rim to collect a rebound. If Ski forces a shot there, he looks like an ass.   It's ludicrous to bash Ski for occasionally playing selfish, and then turn around and bash the kid for giving up the rock when he absolutely should've. Talton missed, which sucks, but it was a good, open shot, and I trust the kid to make it going forward (45% from deep since becoming a starter), just as I'm sure Coach Boyle does.

While Ski and Talton struggled to put together a moment of winning brilliance, a few of the other Buffs were putting together strong games.  Xavier Johnson finally broke out of his slump, putting up 24/6 without turning the ball over once.  It was a fantastic display, featuring 3-4 shooting from deep that was a complete departure from his recent form.  Wes Gordon also had a good game, holding his own against the older, more experienced players on Cal's front line.  He put up 8/11, and showed off a series of advanced offensive moves that he has been reticent to use in recent weeks. Considering the waters the team is about to enter, to have those guys playing well is encouraging.
XJ had a fantastic game.
Taking a step back, while CU could've won, and probably 'deserved' to win, I'm finding a hard time getting too fired up over it.  Despite out-rebounding their opponent and holding them to under 40% shooting from the field, Colorado still lost.  CU is now 39-3 in such games; it's an outlier, and one that won't keep them out of the Tournament.  It would've been nice to win the 3rd seed and set a program record for regular season wins, but the campaign will not be defined by it.  Chances are, these two teams will meet again on Thursday, so CU will have a quick shot at revenge.  Given a choice, I'd rather win the game in Vegas than lose sleep over an essentially meaningless loss in Berkeley.

The final standings in the Pac-12

10 weeks later, we've come to the conclusion of an outrageously entertaining conference season.  The time goes by so quickly, so I hope everyone got their fill while they had the opportunity.  With everything now decided, here's how the league finished:

1 - Arizona - 15-3
2 - UCLA - 12-6
3 - Arizona State - 10-8
4 - Cal - 10-8
5 - Colorado - 10-8
6 - Stanford - 10-8
7 - Oregon - 10-8
8 - Utah - 9-9
9 - Washington - 9-9
10 - Oregon St - 8-10
11 - Washington St - 3-15
12 - USC - 2-16

First off, congratulations to Arizona.  Three games clear of UCLA... damn.  It honestly should've been more, as no one was even close to the Wildcats in 2014.  They were a hulking death machine all season, and deserve to not only win the league crown, but claim it in convincing fashion.  Kudos.
'Zona was clearly the class of the joint. From: Bleacher Report
Looking farther down the table, there are a few surprises.  Oregon disappointing and Utah becoming good are the biggest, although the Ducks turned their ship around later in the campaign. UCLA finished in second, which is absolutely fair. I had thought they'd struggle to adapt to their new coach, but instead they flourished.  Five schools finished in 3rd, which is also fair since none could get a definitive performance to separate themselves from the pack. The muck makes polemic arguments difficult, but I will note that I had those teams finishing 3-7 in my preseason predictions.  Condolences to Washington and OSU, as their 17 combined wins would usually be worth more than 9th and 10th, respectively (for example, a 9-9 record got Arizona 6th last season).  That said, the eye test confirmed that's where they should've finished. USC and Washington St were a collective disaster, and deserve their basement.

My only nit to pick is with the 3rd place logjam, and the tie-breaker resolution.  I'm not complaining; hey, those are, apparently, the rules.  It just strikes me as odd that you wouldn't do a one-time seeding of all the tied teams, rather than decide each seed in succession (looking at the ties last year is inconclusive, as they would've broken down the same either way).  Teams, including CU, that were short-changed, however, could've done themselves a favor by winning key games down the stretch, and have no one to blame but themselves.
The Buffs had trouble rising above the competition for third. From: the CU Independent.
Bill Walton famously said last week that the top eight teams from the league deserve to go to the NCAA Tournament.  I wouldn't go that far.  Cal and Utah are unworthy in my eyes, leaving six teams to hear their names called next weekend.  That's a pretty strong statement from the league, coming from just two years ago when they only sent two (barely) to the Dance.  All-in-all a good showing from the Pac-12; 2014 is a year we can all be proud of.

Around the world of college basketball - 

- Oregon 64 - Arizona 57 - 

Arizona played exactly like a team that had the league crown all sewed up this weekend in Oregon.  They struggled to put away Oregon State on Wednesday, before dropping the season finale to the Ducks on Saturday.  Not their best basketball, and not indicative of what they'll have on display over the rest of the month.  That said, good job Oregon on getting their 7th straight win to all but clinch a spot in the NCAA Tournament.  They've come from nowhere to regain respectability, which is a testament to their talent and tenacity.  I wouldn't want to see them in Vegas this week - good luck with that, UCLA.
Oregon has come from nowhere to stand as the hottest team in the Pac-12 headed into Vegas
- Nebraska 77 - Wisconsin 68 -

Staying on the bubble, Nebraska beat the Badgers over the weekend to all but punch their Dance ticket.  I like Tim Miles, and respect the job he's done through out his career, including the time spent at CSU.  I just cannot be happy for him, however, as the red still sets my blood to boil, and I just can't look past the stupid 'N' (which, remember, is for 'Nowledge) to enjoy the success of a man I respect.  I was rooting against them this weekend, and will continue to do so throughout March.  I hope they get pounded by 50 when they play Ohio State this week in the B1G tournament in Indianapolis.

- Wichita State 83 - Indiana State 69 -

Normally, the Missouri Valley Final is not topic for much discussion on this blog (assuming Bradley or SIU isn't involved), but the Shockers made history this weekend.  In beating the Sycamores, they finished the season a perfect 34-0, becoming the first team in over two decades to enter the NCAA Tournament with a clean resume (UNLV, '91).  They didn't play many teams worth a damn this season, and none in league play, but the feat is impressive none-the-less.  A defending participant in the Final Four, they may not be a favorite to win the title, but they've proven they belong in the ranks of the elite programs around the country. Congratulations!
It's hard to argue with perfect.  From: the Trib
- Western Carolina 99 - Davidson 97 -

One of the best games to watch over the weekend took place on Sunday, when the Catamounts upset national darling Davidson for the SoCon title.  Back and forth they went, going to overtime to decide a winner.  WCU had to come back from 15-points down, and won on a pair of free throws from Trey Sumler with just three seconds to play.  It's the kind of engrossing shit that March is famous for.  I can't get enough, and it's only the 10th!

Happy Monday!

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