Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, March 3, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: The Final Week

Well, we've come to the final week of the Pac-12 season, and almost everything is still up for grabs.  While Arizona has locked in 1st place, and USC and WSU will be the cellar-dwellars, seeds 2-10 in Vegas are still to be decided.  Laughably, CU still sits in 4th, clinging to a bye, but a tough roadtrip to the Bay Area awaits. Even a win this week, however, doesn't assure them of anything higher than 7th.  Regardless of how the final week turns out, you won't be able to say it wasn't interesting.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the loss in Utah, the Utes sudden rise up the post-season charts, and the 'olds' that the C-Unit isn't going to Vegas.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs fall in SLC - 

Unsurprisingly, Colorado found the Hunstman Center a tough nut to crack.  Two of my keys to the game for Colorado - rebounding and transition offense - tell the story perfectly.  The Utes finished +3 on the boards (which will happen when you only miss seven shots in the second half), and CU failed to score a single point in transition.  It was a complete reversal from the effort in Boulder.  Without an advantage in either category, the Buffs are never going to win a road game.  Such was the case on Saturday, as Utah defended their home court well, overwhelming the Buffs in the second half to earn a 75-64 win.

For a while, at least, CU managed to make a game of it.  Behind refreshing contributions from Dustin Thomas and Eli Stalzer (12 combined points in the first half), they pushed the Utes throughout the opening minutes despite foul trouble for three of their starters.  While early leads of as many as eight points evaporated to a 30-30 tie at halftime, I was pleased that Colorado was still in position to win after 20 minutes.
Utah raced past Colorado in the second half.  From: the BDC
The well had been tainted, however.  Starting with four minutes to go in the first half, and stretching seven minutes into the final frame, Utah would go on a 23-2 run that ended the competitive portion of the proceedings.  CU was 1-11 from the floor and turned the ball over 10 times during that stretch.  The struggles were definitive.

What had been a glaring deficiency in the first half, interior play, opened into a gaping wound after the break. All told, Utah dominated the paint, playing +16 basketball under the rim, and blocking six Colorado shots. For the second game in a row, an opponent was allowed to make a startlingly high percentage of their second half shots.  Last weekend it was Arizona shooting 85%, this time, behind their ownership of the paint, the Utes only made 71%.   I don't even know how that happens, especially to a team as focused on shot percentage defense as CU (Coach Boyle blames mental toughness and a lack of on-court leadership).  The issue has gone from being shocking to worrying, and is a major concern going forward.
The Utes managed to corral the Buffs. From: the Deseret News
Even with the recurring second half issues, I'm not going to lose all that much sleep over this one.  Utah is an elite squad (when playing in SLC), and the Buffs can be excused for failing where so many others have. Still, that ticket to Dayton is looking more and more likely as Selection Sunday approaches, and CU would be well advised to take at least one of their final set in the Bay Area.  Luckily, neither Stanford or Cal is nearly the home juggernaut that the Utes are, and I imagine the Buffs will find a little more traction in San Francisco.

On Utah, and their Tournament chances - 

Immediately after the game, I began to hear some noise from the Bracketologists around the country as regards to Utah.  Suddenly, the Utes were on the fringes of Tournament inclusion, or even included in the 'first four out' category for some.  That's some value for a perfunctory home win over an inconsistent Colorado team.

Am I missing something here?  We're talking about the same team, right?  The Utah team who played the 348th toughest non-conference schedule and has an RPI outside of the top-50?  They're now suddenly in Tournament contention?  Yeesh, our standards have dropped.
The Utes could Dance?  Not so fast!
Look, when I watch Utah play, at least in Salt Lake City, I see a team (potentially) capable of making some noise in future seasons, but they aren't there now.  They can't win on the road, haven't played anyone worth a damn outside of the Pac-12, and have their peripheral numbers propped up by two wins over St Katherine and Evergreen St (woof).  They even have a train-wreck loss to Washington St (a game which set basketball back a generation).  That is not the profile of a Tournament team, I don't care of the year or situation.

I'm sorry to be so blunt, but Utah put that dog of a schedule together with full knowledge of what it could mean come March.  Coming from someone who lived through the 2011 Selection Sunday disappointment, it's not unfair that their scheduling choice is holding them back now.  At least for the Buffs four years ago they could argue that it was the old coach who saddled them with the handicap.  Coach Krystkowiak did this to himself.
Coach Krystkowiak went with the team-building schedule, rather than a resume builder. From: the AP
Are the Utes (potentially) qualitatively 'better' than some teams that are going to make the Dance?  Sure, but to reward Utah for playing no-one would be confirming that non-conference play means absolutely nothing. In which case, we should end the charade, begin the season in January, and let every team over .500 in conference play in.

No, Utah will get exactly what they deserve in two weeks: a home game in the NIT.  They'll make the most of it, get on a run, and create the foundation for a serious run at the Dance in 2015... just like CU did four years ago.

C-Unit not going to Vegas - 

In the months-old wake of the news, Ringo decided to rub some salt into the recent wounds of the basketball program by emphasizing the fact that the C-Unit will not be getting their traditional all-expenses paid trip to the Pac-12 Tournament.  AllBuffs via a student section AMA had this in December, so the BDC is reporting news from last year... way to keep up.
The C-Unit used to dominate the atmosphere in neutral sites.  No longer... From: the BDC
To re-cap my sentiments, I had hoped that the tournament trip, a concept that has spread throughout the conference and received widespread positive press, would continue.  That said, I am not surprised that it has died under the new regime. You had to know when an old football hand was hired to helm the ship that basketball was going to get to lose some of the toys it had been gifted over the last decade.  I'm not saying hoops is being ignored under Rick George, it's just not getting the 100% support it had received in the past. Under Mike Bohn, the program had been given far more attention and support that could rightly be expected, so a little drawback is par for the course.

Back in 2012, it was announced that the total cost for the two trips to Los Angeles and Albuquerque was $67,200 in private donations (that's about $448/trip... not a lot of money, all things considered).  I don't know how what was once private donations translates to 'no longer having room in the budget,' but I'm sure the new Athletic Department was less-than-concerned with figuring the logistics out.  I think it could and should have been an easy save, but I'm admittedly biased.  There's bigger fish to fry, however, and I'm going to save my outrage over basketball getting the shaft for when it matters (Coach Boyle's contract, CEC upgrades, etc).

Happy Monday!

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