Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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...

When last we met - 

It's a special player that can run their mouth before the game, and back it up during it.  The great Spencer Dinwiddie was an expert troll during his tenure in Boulder, particularly when it came to all things CSU.  He was constantly poking them, calling them little brother, and directly antagonizing their fanbase.  The thing is, once the curtain rose, he was always able to back the chatter up, routinely playing his best basketball against the local Ag school.
The Mayor was always too good for little brother.
Last year's meeting with the Rams was his masterpiece. As Spencer's teammates struggled to find comfort in hostile territory, he took over the action, going for 28 points (19 of them coming in the second half), 11-11 from the line, with four assists, two rebounds, two steals, and zero turnovers.  He literally silenced the crowd:
“I was in a very, very, very polite manner going to the student section that was heckling me constantly during the game and telling them to please be quiet. We just won the ball game and now they have nothing to say to me.”
With the Mayor at the helm, the Buffs, who otherwise would've gotten killed up at the Fort, came back to Boulder with a dramatic 67-62 victory.  Simply: perfect.
He even had the finger-roll going! From:
I can't help but notice that neither team has a player like Dinwiddie stirring up the emotions leading up to tonight's tilt.  Certainly, Spencer was a once-in-a-generation combination of trash talk and follow through, but the lead-up to the game, outside of some solid contributions from the C-Unit, has sorely lacked the spice of some good bulletin board material.  It makes sense from CU's side - Josh Scott isn't a talker, Ski, while talkative, usually doesn't do it in the press, and XJ has a gag order since his miss-step in the Arizona series - but where's the CSU bravado?  They're coming in 8-0; why aren't they talking about turning the tide against the Mayor-less Buffs?  As highly anticipated as this meeting is, I miss the drama.  God help me, I really do.

**NOTE - after I finished writing, CSU's Daniel Bejarano made a soft guarantee on victory**

The Rams in 2014-15 - 

As if to underscore my point, Coach Boyle had this glowing thing to say about the Rams:
"Larry Eustachy's (men's basketball) team is 8-0. They're off to the best start in school history. They're the best team we will play to this point in our season. They're better than Georgia. They're better than Wyoming. ... They're better than every team we've played." -link
How neighborly. The man ain't just having a laugh, though.  While I would expect the Cowboys to brutalize them inside this winter, as I said on Monday, the Bulldogs didn't really strike me as anything really special, so it's not out of the question that CSU is the better side.  They're a damn good team - motivated, too - making them a deadly opponent for a Colorado squad still in search of their identity.
CSU has already earned hardware this season.
The Rams are tough, physical, and efficient.  They do a lot of things that good basketball teams do well - getting to the line (top-15 in FTA-to-FGA ratio), sharing the basketball extremely well (assists on nearly 70% of their makes, 4th in the country), and rebounding as you would expect from a Larry Eustachy club (top-35 in defensive rebounds, top-60 in offensive).  There is a point to be made that they've yet to play a true road game, or a team from a power conference, but wins over Georgia State, UCSB (winning the Great Alaska Shootout, in the process), and UTEP are far from cheap.  Their resume is nothing to be ashamed of, and doesn't belie any weakness.

Probably most concerning for me, the Rams pound the offensive boards, and hit a lot of their three pointers (40%).  As we saw at the close of the first half in Athens, a team that gets second chances on the glass against Colorado is poised to make a run.  Second chances that turn into three points could leave CU dead in the water.  The Buffs have been awful this season hedging against high ball screens, and perimeter closeouts remain a challenge.  If CSU starts making trips hurt, time after time, all the homecourt advantage in the world won't make up for it.  CU needs to man up, and take back the glass.  And, for Tad's sake, guard the perimeter!
CSU is a solid team, possibly the best CU has faced, to date.
As good as they are, the Rams are not perfect.  Much like the Buffs, they don't force many turnovers (318th in steal rate, 245th in over TO rate), they don't shoot free throws particularly well (67%), and have some offensive gaps inside the arc (only 33% of all shots are at the rim, 44% of points from 2).  Colorado can exploit each of these areas.  CU has proven to be very effective sharing the ball at the CEC, limiting opponent trips to the stripe, and can, at times, play solid interior defense.

Overall, there's a lot for Ram fans to be proud of with this bunch.  They play hard, 40 minutes, end to end. I don't know if they are really capable of pushing for the Mountain West title, or anything like that, but I could see a top-four finish (and a Dance ticket).  They're a team that CU would be well advised to respect, ad bring their best effort against.

Coaching - 

The Rams were brutalized with roster turnover last year, losing the entire starting lineup of that entertaining 2012-13 bunch that beat Missouri in the NCAA Tournament.  Not unsurprisingly, they slid back into the bottom-half of a loaded Mountain West in '13-'14, finishing at .500, and missing out on post-season play. Not content to rebuild the roster the old fashioned way, head coach Larry Eustachy has gone the transfer route.  A full 10 of their 13 scholarship players started their collegiate careers elsewhere - whether at another D-1 school, or the JuCo ranks - allowing the third year coach to get his team back to competitive status in a hurry.  While they did lose Jon Octeus in the process, Eustachy did a good job re-molding a solid roster out of almost nothing.
Eustachy is one of my favorite coaches to hate.
Generally, I like Eustachy.  If not for a mistake-filled evening in Columbia, Missorui over a decade ago, he could be listed among the great coaching names of his generation.  He's a battle-tested, tough-minded coach, whose approach rubs off on his charges.  Just like when he was running Iowa State, you have to earn what you get against his teams.

One knock against Coach Eustachy - he looks terrible in orange.  Seriously, dude, burn that shirt.

Star Players - 

The Rams are lead by senior guard Daniel Bejarano.  Once an Arizona Wildcat, the 6-5, 210 lb Bejarano has come into his own in the wake of the departures from the '12-'13 group.  He was Second Team All-Conference a year ago, proving to be one of the better rebounding guards in the West.  One thing he's improved on is his outside shot; he's up over 40% this year.  One knock against him is that he doesn't get to the line enough for his importance and positioning, but that's just nit-picking.  A really good lead guard.
Bejarano provides solid, veteran leadership in the CSU backcourt.
Up front, the focus is on JJ Avila.  He reminds me a lot of old Oregon State warhorse Joe Burton in the way, at 6-8 and a suspect 250, he doesn't look like much in a basketball uniform, but earns your respect the second the ball is tipped.  Damn, can he score.  Avila, a one time member of the Naval Academy, who took the long route to stardom in Ft Collins, leads CSU in both scoring and rebounds.  He's got a plethora of paint moves, everything from the drop step to the up and under.  Josh Scott, et al, did a good job of forcing misses from him a year ago, though (4-19 from the field), and I like their chances at a repeat performance.

The biggest change in green and gold is the addition of transfer Stanton Kidd to the active roster.  A long, athletic 6-8 wing, Kidd can play multiple positions in the front court, and will stretch the Buffs suspect perimeter closeout.  Not necessarily a prolific shooter, he's an efficient 10-21 from deep this season, but is a pure scorer (124 offensive rating).  If he got to the line just a little bit more, he'd be deadly - as is, he's a First Team All-Mountain West candidate.  The matchup between him and Xavier Johnson, on both ends of the court, will be key.
Kidd is a dynamic addition to the roster.
The rest of the heavy rotation features Joe De Ciman and Gian Clavell.  Coach Boyle was particularly glowing about Clavell after practice on Tuesday, calling him one of the best guards CU has seen all season. He starts off the bench, and adds a nice dimension on both ends of the court - 3.2% steal rate, and is best on the team at getting to the free throw line.

On thing about the Rams - their top six, maybe seven, are really good.  After that, however... CU could have an opportunity to stretch them thin with their deep rotation, especially if the Buffs are getting a nice home whistle against Avila.  Get him in foul trouble, and the middle should open up dramatically for Wes Gordon (his offensive game is starting to come along...) and Scott.

Prediction - 

(My record on the season: 1-0. Against the spread: 1-0. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU +0 pts/gm - *cough* nailed the spread in Georgia *cough*)

Lines as of Tuesday @ 7pm - CU -6

My initial instinct was to pick the Rams to win.  What do you want from me?  They're a good team, and I'm nervous.

Then, I thought about it.  The memory of 2012 popped into my mind, when CSU cowered in fear in front of the blacked-out C-Unit, and I suddenly remembered that the game is being played in the Keg. The great factor in this game is location, and the Buffs have the honor of hosting this season.  For me, that's the difference.

I'll say the Buffs win, but don't cover.  Ski shoots exactly 40%, Josh gets a double-double, and XJ plays to a draw against Kidd.  The win is sealed on the free throw line.

CU 64 - CSU 60


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