Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, December 25, 2014

2014 Diamond Head Classic: Day 3

Honolulu, HI, the Diamond Head Classic, Dec 25th --

Mele Kalikimaka!  I hear there's a white Christmas in Boulder today.  I don't mean to brag, but that is not going to be the case in Honolulu.  80 and sunny.  The sacrifices I make for being a basketball fan...

Of course, all is not well in BuffNation after Tuesday's 53-50 loss to George Washington in the semifinal of the Diamond Head Classic.  After a rough start, CU fought back, and looked to have a shot to win before a final minute letdown saw the Colonials get the 'W.'  A final play that involved Askia Booker going 1-on-2 with a pair of tall GW defenders yield the expected results (a blocked shot), and the Buffs were left wondering 'what if.'
The team played better than a lot are giving them credit for, but the loss still stings.  From: the BDC.
For much of the game, I was pleased with Colorado's play.  They started out like crap - as Tad screamed, 'LOSING THE TOUGHNESS BATTLE' as the team fell behind by nine in the first half - but eventually began to find a comfort level, and closed the halftime gap to only four.  It only got better into the second half, as CU began to really attack the George Washington zone with the returning Booker (two quick fouls in the first had him on the bench).  By being aggressive, and working the ball, quickly, around the perimeter to open up holes, they built a six point lead with 10 minutes to play.  Given a few better bounces at the rim, it could've been more.

Unfortunately, however, timidity seeped back into the minds of the guards, and working the clock - trying to find the 'perfect' shot, rather than just a good one - really stilted to CU offense.  While the defense continued to play well (overcoming a soft whistle from the over-eager officials [to both sides]), points just weren't coming with enough regularity, and rhythm died.  GW would go on to get a few favorable bounces at the end, and made more plays than CU; a familiar story.
It didn't need to be this way.
The stat sheet is very negative on the offensive side.  1-12 beyond the arc, 11-17 from the line (Josh Scott was an uncharacteristic 4-8), and a 4:14 A:T ratio.  Just ugly.  Wes Gordon was fantastic - only 3-8 from the field, but an active presence - but few others come close to that praise.  All-in-all, a forgettable day. GW was throwing a few zone looks out there, but CU seemed capable, at times, of beating it.  Had they stayed aggressive, continuing to dribble-drive at the gaps, I think the team would've won.

The result is that we know no hardware is coming back on the plane with the Buffs, and the non-conference schedule is guaranteed to be devoid of quality wins.  The loss also drops them into the third-place game with the host Hawai'i Rainbow Warriors; an uncomfortable arrangement.  For their end, the 'Bows took the heavily favored Wichita State Shockers to the limit, forcing them into overtime through a joyous effort in front of their faithful fans.  They'd fall 80-79 in the end, but have proven through two games that they will not back down from a challenge.  While not a 'good' team, the Warriors are at least very capable on their home court, and will push CU this afternoon.
Hawai'i nearly pulled off the upset of the tournament against WSU.
Any road game is a terror, but Hawai'i does a few things that will really cause Colorado some problems. Namely, a combination of a 2-1-2 trapping press and a 2-3 zone should wreak havoc with CU's more patient guards.  Given a few consecutive TOs, the crowd will be in it, and runs will happen. The
'Bows don't have a front line to match up, but I'm worried it may not matter if the Buffs can't consistently get the ball up without it becoming a 'thing.'  Accordingly, I'm expecting a loss this afternoon; an unfortunate conclusion to a week that started with a lot of potential.

If you're wondering what happened in the other games... well don't, because they weren't interesting.  Ohio U laughed past DePaul, 99-78, and Nebraska sleep-walked through a 50-42 OT win over LMU.  Neither efforts were worthy of your time or consideration, and paled in comparison to the two from the winner's bracket.  I have higher hopes for Ohio/Nebraska today, however, which could wind up being interesting.

Day 3 -

Loyola Marymount vs DePaul - 11:30 am MT, ESPN3

Ohio University vs Nebraska - 2 pm MT, ESPNU

Colorado vs Hawai'i - 4:30 pm MT, ESPN2

George Washington vs Wichita State - 6:30 pm MT, ESPN2 


Tuesday, December 23, 2014

2014 Diamond Head Classic: Day 2

Honolulu, HI, the Diamond Head Classic, Dec 23rd --

I felt a certain amount of relief when I realized, about 10 minutes in, that DePaul had no chance to win yesterday.  Yes, the Blue Demons were able to pull within three points at halftime, but that was more due to silly CU mistakes and poor play from the subs than anything those in black and blue were doing.  With a little help from #TournamentSki, those mistakes were, largely, patched over in the second frame, and the Buffs cruised to a breezy 82-68 win on Day 1 of the 2014 Diamond Head Classic.
Grind of a few gears aside, CU had little trouble with DePaul.
It's important to note that DePaul is just not a very good basketball team.  They're sloppy, don't really play defense, can't shoot - really at all - and could only score by attacking the rim for cheap foul calls.  The Buffs made a significant amount of hay by forcing them to take long jumpers, and collecting on the resulting misses.  Combined with turnovers (DePaul had 18 of them), it helped Colorado kickstart the fast break, allowing them to keep the pace of the game high.  All told, the action in the Stan Sheriff Center went for 75 possessions - a pleasing tempo to ward off any of the occasional offensive malaise common to non-conference tournament play.

Really, though, this game belonged to Askia Booker.  'The little spark plug,' as MommaRumblin coined him, was a constant source of energy for Colorado, forcing the pace, and helping to break the Blue Demon press. He would go for 27/6/6 in 31 minutes, only committing one turnover.  It was the re-emergence of #TournamentSki, as the lead guard played his role perfectly.  It helped that DePaul was compliant in putting him on the line, as Booker went 14-14 from the stripe, but his was a very efficient performance overall (6-12 from the field against one turnover)
Ski had it rolling Monday afternoon.  From: the BDC
Booker wasn't alone, as Xavier Johnson, Wes Gordon, and Jaron Hopkins also cracked double-digit scoring. XJ was particularly effusive, putting up 20/7.  Gordon continues to show offensive improvement, putting up 11/5.  About the only one of the starting five Buffs to struggle was Josh Scott, who still looks to be recovering from his shutout against CSU.  This wide open affair largely passed him by, and he appeared a little lost on select offensive sets.  I hope he hasn't completely checked out, however, as Colorado will need him today against a very good George Washington team.

For their end, the Colonials blitzed a woefully under-skilled Ohio U squad in the early game, 77-49.  I was very impressed by GW's center, Kevin Larsen, who went for 19/15.  Not a big leaper, Larsen is just a quality big man.  He knows his role, demands the ball in good positions, and George Washington does a good job scheming to take full advantage.  He will be tough to contain.
GW is a whole different animal from the woeful Blue Demons.
Generally, I'm really nervous about this one, because the Colonials are not going to beat themselves, as DePaul was happy to do yesterday.  They don't turn the ball over (8 yesterday, under 18% for the season), take a lot of smart shots, and play good defense.  GW may not be a 'good' three-point shooting team, but the ones they take are well worked, and within their offense.  I'm expecting a CU loss, possibly even an ugly one, but would be happy to be proven wrong.  More #TournamentSki would help. Anything from Jelly would be even better.

In the action after dark, the Wichita State Shockers smashed Loyola Marymount 80-53 (raise the roof!), but Nebraska... well, the Huskers ran into a bit of trouble with the hometown Rainbow Warriors. As the red horde struggled against the press (18 turnovers), the feisty hosts scrapped and clawed their way to the only upset of the day, 66-58.  Not that I was biased in any way (*ahem*), but I fell hard for those in white, rooting right alongside with the hometown fans.  There is one downside to seeing Hawai'i win, however. With the loss, Nebraska falls to the second tier, leaving the afternoon games today significantly less dramatic. I guess you can't have everything.


Day 2 -

Ohio University vs DePaul - 12:30 MT, ESPNU

Colorado vs George Washington - 2:30 MT, ESPNU

Hawai'i vs Wichita State - 7 pm MT, ESPN2 

Loyola Marymount vs Nebraska - 9:30 pm MT, ESPNU


Monday, December 22, 2014

2014 Diamond Head Classic: Preview/Day 1

Honolulu, HI, the Diamond Head Classic, Dec 22nd --

Aloha!  This post comes to you from the island of O'ahu in the great state of Hawai'i. Mele Kalikimaka, BuffNation!

Of course, I'm here for the Diamond Head Classic (well, not just the Classic, but you get the point).  Three days of basketball spread out over four days of Christmas vacation sounded like a hell of a deal to me, so off I went.  Regardless of how the on-court action goes, at least I'm in paradise, relaxing in the Pacific breeze.  It sure beats working.

I'm very interested to see how the Buffs take to this tournament.  The season hasn't gone as planned, but there's a prime opportunity here to right the sinking ship.  In Honolulu this week there are a host of RPI prizes waiting to beef up the resume, if only the team can just get their shit together.  To my mind, this can only go one of two ways.  The team is going to be forced to share the same space for the better part of a week, which adds a certain dynamism to recent rumors of a discordant locker room and various levels of in-fighting amongst roster and staff.  That close proximity can either cause a blow up, leading to three straight games of horrific basketball, or force the team to look within, possibly helping them to refocus on playing their best basketball. ... and, no, I have no inkling of which one will be the result; your guess is a good as mine.

The field for the 2014 Diamond Head Classic is littered with strong basketball programs.  There aren't any national title contenders in this group, but there are at least three Tournament teams, and another couple who should challenge for titles in their smaller leagues.  In the end, I see the field split into three groups - the proverbial favorite, the flawed second tier, and the also-rans.

The favorite - 

The best on the island are, of course, the WSU Shockers.  A Final Four participant from just a few short years ago, they remain a strong program, one of the best mid-major names around. Head Coach Gregg Marshall, the Shocker successor to Coach Boyle's mentor, Mark Turgeon, is the goods, legitimately one of the best coaches in the country. He's lead them through a progression of NIT champion in 2011, to conference champion in 2012, to the pinnacle of the sport in 2013, and a #1 seed in 2014. For the record, KenPom has them as the #11 team in the land this season, and only an overtime loss @ Utah has kept their record from perfection.
Marshall is going to make a ton of money in this game.
WSU plays a little slow, savoring possessions (almost 19 seconds per).  Don't let that fool you, though, as they are deadly efficient with the ball.  Lead by All-American candidate Fred Van Vleet, their top three in the backcourt can rival any Power 5 trio, and can beat you in a number of ways with their fluid sets.  Off-guard Ron Baker is a deadly outside shooter, combining well with Van Vleet and Tekele Cotton.  All told, they average about 40 per game.  About the only thing I don't like about them is their inability to get to the line enough, but that can be addressed in the future.
Van Vleet may be the best player in the State of Kansas.
Van Vleet has been struggling a bit this year, possibly in reaction to a mountain of pre-season hype.  His ability to fill-up the stat sheet has a direct correlative effect on how far the Shockers can go this winter. Even without him playing his best ball, however, Wichita State looks to be the prohibitive favorite to earn the Classic's trophy on Christmas Day.

The second tier - 

One of the reasons the Shockers seem to have such an easy path in front of them this week is that each of the teams in the second tier is flawed.

Take for instance BufNation's old 'friends,' the Nebraska Cornhuskers.  They were solidly in the preseason top-25, expected to push for a top three spot in the B1G.  What has developed, however, is that Tim Miles' bunch can't really score.  They're just over an adjusted .98 ppp, struggling with turnovers (21.5%), offensive rebounding (28%), and three point shooting (30.7%).  Add to that and embarrassing loss to something called 'Incarnate Word' in Lincoln, and the pre-season luster has quickly faded.
Tim Miles is the main reason for optimism in Lincoln.
Sharing the bottom half of the bracket with WSU, the potential Day 2 matchup between the Huskers and the Shockers seemed like a doozy when the bracket was first announced.  It should still be pretty good, as Nebraska defends enough to stay in games, and swing forward Terran Pettaway is legit, but I don't expect the fireworks I once did.

On the other side of the bracket, the second tier includes our own Buffaloes and George Washington.  As we all well know, Colorado is a schizophrenic bunch with the talent to compete, but they've yet to put it together on the court.  About the only surprise from them this week would be an 0-3 record, or a win over Wichita State in the final. Just as I could see them beating the other two in the second tier, given a good performance, a loss to DePaul and/or Ohio isn't necessarily out of the realm of possibility, either.  Really, anything is conceivable.

I like GW more than either CU or Nebraska, but I still see them as a solid step below the Shockers. Lead by coach Mike Lonergan, the Colonials project to be one of the stronger sides in the A-10 this season, and have a good shot to get back into the Tournament for a second-consecutive season. Kethan Savage is a really nice, athletic guard, Patricio Garino is a good scorer off the wing, and Kevin Larsen is a double-double threat up front (assuming both win today, Larsen/Scott should be a treat tomorrow).  Still, they don't have a lot of depth (only about 6.5 deep), and can tend to be a little one-dimensional.
Savage is a solid lead guard for the Colonials.
Their Achilles heel is outside shooting, as not one of their main starters has hit more than four treys this season. Looking ahead, this may be CU's best out against them, as teams routinely get at the Buffs from beyond the arc. Colorado has made even average three-point shooting teams look great this fall, however, so maybe this is GW's opportunity to stretch their legs a bit

Any of these three teams could wind up winning the Classic, but I just don't see how they hold a candle to the national power from Kansas.

The also-rans - 

What remains: DePaul, Ohio, LMU, and Hawai'i.  There seems to be a definitive gap in talent between the other four and this grouping.  That doesn't mean their can't be a 1st day upset, but the closest prediction of the opening round is Nebraska/Hawai'i (64% NU win probability, per KenPom), which is really only because the Rainbow Warriors are playing at home.  I'll pass on the lot; expect them all to lose day one.

Of passing interest would be the Blue Demons from DePaul, but moreso because CU drew them for the opener.  DePaul, once a regional power, suffered greatly over the last decade between the decline of their relationship with the Chicago Public League and the transition to the Big East.  Talent just isn't winding up in the Allstate Arena as it used to, and they haven't had the firepower to play the teams they've been scheduled against.
GAH! What the hell is that?!?
Coach Oliver Purnell brought in a decent recruiting class last fall, but Blue Demons haven't had a winning record since 2007, and I don't expect that fact to change in 2014-15.  Into the future, however, things may be different.  With the re-configuring of the Big East, the idea idea is that they may have a chance to get back into the race - leading to a new, dedicated $173 facility for the downtown Chicago program.

Their best player is probably Illinois transfer Myke Henry.  Averaging 16/6, the junior stretch forward takes a lot of shots, and is very active defensively.  He works well with sophomore guard Billy Garrett, who is more of your typical, slashing wing.  Up front is big 6-11, 255 lbs center Tommy Hamilton.  Garrett and Hamilton each draw a lot of contact, helping the Blue Demons get a lot of points with the clock stopped. Along with another wing, Jamee Crockett, all can shoot from outside (*gulp*), and make the defense uncomfortable.
Henry can ball, and needs to be canceled out.
Losers of their last three, including an embarrassing 31-point blowout in Corvallis, but holders of a very nice win over Stanford, I look at DePaul as a very inconsistent group.  On their best day they can make you pay for lethargy, but those best days are few and far between.  They love to play fast (15th fastest adjusted tempo), but don't rebound well (in the 290s both offensively and defensively).  That tells me that, barring a hot run from outside (certainly possible, as this team loves to bomb), one of their best days won't be today, as CU should have plenty of opportunities to counter-punch (27.5% of opponent's attempts come in transition).

The Buffs shouldn't lose today, but you never know with this bunch.  My breath will be held all the way up to tip, but I'm expecting a 'W.'


Day 1 - All games on ESPNU

Ohio University vs George Washington - 12:30 MT 

Colorado vs DePaul - 2:30 MT 

Loyola Marymount vs Wichita State - 9 pm MT 

Nebraska vs Hawai'i - 11 pm MT 


Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Tuesday Grab Bag: Relief Before Finals

It's off to Hawai'i for yours truly.  Having planned this for the last few years, I'm traveling to Honolulu to take in the Diamond Head Classic for Christmas.  Mele Kalikimaka, indeed.
Honolulu, here I come!
While in the 50th state, I'm going to try to tease each day of games.  The Islands being what they are, however, you never really know how much time I'll find to write.  At the very least, I'll have a preview up later this week to break down the tournament, and explain how I see it going down.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over Northern Colorado, the goings on with the rest of the Pac-12, and a Heisman for the Conference of Champions.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, December 13, 2014

CSU Wrap and 2014-15 CU vs Northern Colorado Basketball Teaser

Pain.  Just a hollow, numb pain.  That's all I have to describe how I felt after the clock hit zeroes on Wednesday.  The 62-60 loss itself isn't that bad - CSU is a good ballclub, after all - but the final realization that I was wrong, and this team, as currently constituted, is absolutely incapable of living up to their ability, sucked the energy out of me.

The issues are many, that much is obvious.  In this single stretch of 40 minutes alone, the shocking lack of anything from Josh Scott was paramount.  Both on the Colorado Springs product, his teammates, and his coaches, for the best post player in the West to not have a single meaningful touch within 10-feet is inexcusable. But this is about larger faults in the foundation.  What had been the hallmark of the RollTad era - the sum being larger than the whole of the parts - is just no longer the case; in fact, the reverse may be true. The pieces don't fit (well, at least), and the whole operation is too disjointed to work properly.
Whither Josh Scott?  From: the BDC
This is not a Tournament team, and, while there are no bad losses yet, I'm starting to really worry about what will happen once conference play starts.  From what I've seen to-date, I wouldn't expect a road win over anyone (save maybe Washington State and USC), and more than a few teams will be able to walk into the CEC and secure a win.  If the Buffs take two losses in Hawai'i, they could find themselves at season's end at .500, or worse.  ... and now I'm having a 'sad.'

Getting better?  Well, it's going to take something completely different.  Disparate attempts to infuse off-ball movement and passing into the offense seem to go nowhere (quickly forgotten under pressure), and good teams are getting better at denying Josh the ball, daring CU to shoot themselves to victory.  After eight games, it's pretty clear that the backcourt mix can't cut it, leaving rhythm to sag.  Outside of Askia Booker, no one in a guard spot seemed to have any ideas on Wednesday.  You just can't win games like that, especially as the defense is no longer dynamic enough to cover continuing offensive struggles up.

Don't get me wrong, what I'm talking about here is all the expectation game.  This is not a 'bad' team by any measure.  They'll win some games, put some scares into teams, etc.  But this is not a group that is playing up to the level of Colorado Basketball that we've all come to expect.  After four years of some of the most entertaining hoops in program history, a mulligan is due, but it's going to be an uncomfortable one, with repercussions to follow.



Negativity disposed of, it's time to turn to today's game against Northern Colorado.  I think for everyone - players, coaches, fans, ushers, etc - the opportunity to get the taste of the CSU game out of the mouth will be a welcome relief.  Make no mistake, however, the local Bears are a feisty club, capable of making things uncomfortable for the reeling Buffs.
Coach Hill brings his Bears to Boulder for the first time since the start of the #RollTad era.
Of course, this is the program that gave us Coach Boyle.  The Greeley native coached his hometown school in the years immediately proceeding is tenure in Boulder, and avoided a meeting for four years while the players he recruited matriculated through the system. There's still a strong connection between Boyle and current UNC head coach BJ HIll (once an assistant under Tad), and I expect today's affair to be hard on both. Said Hill:
"There is nobody that I owe more in my professional career than Tad Boyle. He paved the way for me to be the head coach at Northern Colorado. I owe him everything. So that is not going to be easy. There is a different pull there, and it makes it difficult."
Coach Boyle reciprocates, saying, "I wouldn't be at Colorado if it wasn't for B.J. Hill," but maintains that "there is no friendly rivalry."

On the court, the Bears are a deep bunch.  Only one player, senior Tevin Svihovec (the lone remaining Boyle recruit), has played more than 60% of available minutes this season, and 10 players average double-figures in playing time.  They also spread the scoring around, with nine of those averaging more than six points per game. That said, the 6-2 Svihovec leads with over 11 points per game.
Svihovec is the last on-court reminder of Boyle's tenure in Greeley.
Generally, they're a good offensive team.  UNC is 23rd nationally with a 57% eFG, and rarely turns the ball over (16th in TO rate).  While not slow, per se, they play measured basketball, working to find good shots within their sets.  It's all mostly inside the arc, as, surprisingly for a small conference squad, they only get about 25% of their scoring from deep. The biggest knock against them is their defense.  311th nationally, with and adjusted 105.6 points per possession is just not good.  With those numbers, maybe Coach Hill's hairline will start to resemble his mentor's.

Part of the core is built around a pair of Mountain West transfers: Cameron Michael and Dwight Smith. Michael, from Air Force, and Smith, from CSU, each bring different things to the table.  Cameron is a good scorer, adding 11 points per game, and taking over 35% of shots when he's on the court.  Smith is more defensively minded, posting a nice steal rate. The remainder of the starting lineup features Jordan Wilson and Cody McDavis.  Wilson, a 5-7 sophomore, is a jitterbug of a point guard, while the 6-8 senior McDavis plays in the paint.  Off the bench, Dominique Lee is a good rebounder (7th nationally in rebound rate).

As efficient on offense as the Bears are, their defensive inefficiency leads me to believe all but a train-wreck performance from CU will earn the 'W.'  Additionally, UNC doesn't have a lot of real good outside shooters, meaning the perimeter defense shouldn't be as under threat as usual.  At this point, all that really matters is the win.  Get that, and the team can release a little pressure before finals break.  After the scholastic distraction, the little trip to Hawai'i may do us all some good.

The last home game before the new year tips-off from the CEC at 4pm this afternoon.  Televised coverage is on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.


Wednesday, December 10, 2014

2014-15 CU vs CSU Basketball Preview: Return of the Blackout

This is a friendly reminder that, while I don't give two shits about any other sports they may play, I heartily acknowledge and encourage the understanding that, not only does CSU have a good basketball program, they are, unequivocally, a rival for the Buffs.  It's the nature of the beast in college basketball, you need regional, out-of-conference rivals to spice up November and December, and the Rams fit the bill to a 'T.' They're a decent RPI prize, a draw at the gate, and an opponent that will push the team.  What more could you ask for?

While I patiently wait the return of Nebraska to the football schedule, I look forward to the energy of the crowd tonight as they watch the two best teams in the state duke it out.  I'm actually excited to welcome the Rams to Boulder this evening - imagine that!  I've been at each iteration of this tilt since 2006, and rarely has it failed to entertain.  Can't wait, let's get it on!


Niceties aside, fuck those guys.  Fuck 'em, fuck 'em, fuck 'em.  The Buffs need this win, bad, and they're going to have to go through those shit-heels to get this season back on track.  Daggers drawn, blood in the water, I expect a brawl.  Whatever it takes!

It's important to note that tonight is a BLACK OUT, so you should wear some.  Don't have any black?  No worries, because the athletic department is handing out 10,000 black t-shirts. If there was ever a time when we needed the blackout mojo, it was for this one.  I don't want to think of the consequences should the Buffs fail to convert this game into a win... That means BuffNation needs to step up.  This ain't Lipscomb, my friends, we need the return of the best home court advantage in the West.  Loud and proud!

Tip off from the roiling Keg is set for 7pm.  See, unlike little brother, we hold our rivalry games at a reasonable hour, to let all who can attend without breaking traffic laws, or running over pedestrians. We also give away parking spots for free, like civilized adults.  The Rams, heathens and charlatans, move the times up to 6, and make you pay $5 (if they don't 'run out of spots').  I guess that's the difference between a flagship university, and a glorified University of Phoenix Online; we respect our patrons.  

Anyways, CU is suggesting that you arrive early, as traffic flow in and out of campus will be rough with rush hour, classes getting out, etc.  The Club Room and the lots open at 5pm, with the main gates opening at 6.  There's also free shuttle from East Campus, should you not want to fight the 36 mess - again, respecting our patrons.

For those without tickets, the action will be televised on Pac-12 Networks.  The radio call is on 850 KOA.  Mark Johnson!

Click below for the preview...

Monday, December 8, 2014

Monday Grab Bag: Forever

If you haven't seen it yet, the latest from @CU_Video - "Forever" - is fantastic, and worth your time. Give it a look:
FOREVER from CU Football Video on Vimeo.

Lawrence Vickers is the best!


Today in the Bag, I'm talking another disappointing road trip for the basketball team, the volleyball team making us all proud in Ft Collins, and the college football playoff.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

San Francisco Wrap and 2014-15 CU vs Georgia Basketball Preview

Something is up with the usually defensive-minded Buffaloes.  While defensive rates are (mostly) on par with what we've seen with in the #RollTad era, the on-court play has been strikingly inconsistent.  A new-found tendency to switch on screens has everyone in Black and Gold confused, leaving opponents bizarrely wide open, and the rim, oftentimes, unprotected.

This was on full display in the first half of Wednesday night's game with San Francisco, as CU's defense took on a Benny-Hill-ish tone.  Would-be defenders ran scrambling around, especially on transition, while numerous Dons got free releases to open space (including a number of runouts after missed shots, which nearly killed Tad). One possession even saw Josh Scott, Colorado's great post defender, lost (like a little puppy) some 30+ feet from the basket trying to defend a guard.  He looked as confused as those in the stands did. Capitalizing, San Fran would take the shambolic misadventures of the Buffs, and turn them into a 10-point lead at about the nine minute mark of the first half.
Tad was less than pleased with the defensive effort in the first half.  From: the BDC
Luckily for CU, this did not turn into a repeat of the Wyoming debacle.  After a pair of first half timeouts (a rarity for Coach Boyle), the Buffs did a better job sticking with their assigned Dons, at least to the point that the run of broken possessions stopped.  They started forcing some turnovers, too, scoring 29 points off of 18 TOs for the evening.  From then on, it was a matter of reclaiming normalcy via the offense, which the Buffs did, climbing back to within two points at the break.

In the second half, it was all about Askia Booker, who, if you're counting (and I am), has now produced three-straight efficient outings.  With Xavier Johnson out of the lineup with a hamstring tweak, CU needed someone to step up with the ball, and the lone scholarship senior was happy to oblige.  Booker would score 21 points on 8-12 shooting (5-6 from deep), leading the Buffs to a 72-55 win.  I'm going to go out on a limb and say that Colorado is unbeatable when Ski is going 5-6 from three point range.
#SkiSeason is starting to heat up!  From: the BDC
Certainly, lapses like the second half against Wyoming and the first half against San Francisco are concerning, but not all is bad.  One of the big keys coming into this season was sharing the basketball, and the Buffs have been pretty good through six games.  They're 112th in the nation in assist:field goal ratio, which is a massive improvement over the 247th the team posted a year ago.  Since the trip north, where they couldn't generate anything on offense, CU is actually assisting on 64% of their made baskets, which is unheard of from #TadBall.  A positive reaction to the Laramie nightmare.

Of course, that has all happened against some (mostly) underwhelming competition.  The lax portion of the schedule is about to come to an abrupt halt, however, as the team will now embark of their toughest pre-Hawai'i stretch.  First up: the Georgia Bulldogs, and the longest true road trip of the season.

Tip-off from Stegeman Coliseum in Athens, GA is set for 10AM MT tomorrow.  Coverage is on the SEC network, which will finally give me reason to tune into that channel.  Station #s: Dish - 404, DirecTV - 611, Comcast (Boulder) - 706.  For those who can't figure that mess out, or don't otherwise get any of those, the radio call will be on 760 KKZN.

Click below for the preview...

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

2014-15 CU vs San Francisco Basketball Teaser: A Turn Inside

With a difficult stretch on the horizon, the Buffs are back in the CEC this evening for a tough game against the San Francisco Dons.  No pushover by any measure, San Francisco appears, at least to me, to be the strongest opponent to visit Boulder, so far, this fall.  Colorado would be wise to take this matchup seriously.
An intense Rex Walters brings his Dons to the CEC tonight.
Leading the Dons is Head Coach Rex Walters.  Once a national power, scandals forced the San Francisco program to shutter in the early-80s, and it's only been recently that they've begun to make some noise in the always difficult WCC.  A 21-win season last winter signaled a rebirth of relevant hoops on the hill, a testament to the job Walters has been doing; his peers agreed, and named him WCC Coach of the Year. That prize came with some warts, however. As good of a campaign as the Dons enjoyed, Walters came under fire for some overly intense tactics that have driven 21 players to transfer away from his program during his tenure, including recent starters Cody Doolin and Avry Holmes.  It's hard to continue to build a program when you keep driving talent away...

Of those still there, the best are forwards Kruize Pinkins and Mark Tollefsen.  The junior Tollefsen is a dynamic threat, capable of playing almost every position on the court with his 6-9 frame.  He's long, athletic, and a good shooter.  Pinkins, a 6-7 senior, will be more attached to the paint than Tollefsen, but can also stretch out to the perimeter.  Combined, they average 32/13 each night.  Big 6-10, 242 lb transfer center Darrell Robertson will also feature up front.
Tollefsen is a high flyer.
The backcourt is centered on another pair of veterans, junior Tim Derksen and senior Matt Glover.  Derksen is the better scorer.  Both rebound very well for their size and position. Past them, the Dons have a deep bench, with 11 players having appeared in all six of their games this season. Expect a heavy rotation from the southern end of the CEC, especially with the altitude factor in play.

After weeks of playing games against teams with a perimeter focus, tonight's against San Francisco will be a different story.  The Dons possess a strong front line, and are more than willing to lean on them throughout 40 minutes of action.  To-date, they're only allowing 40% shooting on all 2-point attempts, and take over 55% of their shots at the rim (best in the country, at the moment). They're also a good rebounding team, easily the best that has come to the CEC this season. San Fran has been particularly strong on the defensive glass, where they've been cleaning up over 75% of all missed-shots.  Sure, a factor of who they've played compared to their size, but that's not an outlier, compared to recent years.  Generally, they're a tough team inside the paint, a reality that will push the Buffs this evening.
Good forwards, like Pinkins, will make life in the paint difficult for the Buffs.
Another thing that pops off their stats page is that, with all those forwards getting touches, they really struggle from the line. Through six games, they're shooting under 56% on their free throws, good for 343rd nationally. That's small sample size, certainly, as Tollefsen, Derksen, and Glover, while not great from the stripe, are not nearly as bad as they've shown.  Still, as they're top-50 in FTA/FGA ratio, I expect foul shots to have a say tonight; the longer San Francisco continues to brick freebies, the better for CU.

I think the Buffs will struggle with this one.  This is a forward-focused roster, meaning Colorado's best players will be in focus, both offensively and defensively, tonight (assuming the guards can get them the ball...). If the Dons can come in, and prove to be effective up front (checking that front-line strength), it could make for a nervous evening.  I think the game hinges on Wes Gordon, who practically sleep-walked through portions of the Lipscomb game. His effort on the offensive glass and defending San Francisco's versatile forwards will be vital. The Buffs should still win, but Gordon will go a long way to defining the timbre.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 8pm this evening.  Coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, for those without tickets.  The radio call, with no football to compete against, is back on 850 KOA.


Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Tuesday Grab Bag: 70% Good

Late on a Tuesday, I'm straight to the action today.

In the bag, I'm talking the bored shrug against Lipscomb, the 70% good of the football program, and women's action against little sister.

Click below for the bag...