Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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...

Buffs get it done against UNC - 

Colorado Basketball was in desperate need of a happy day.  With the natives getting restless, and the season starting to spin out of control, the team needed to rally and claim a smooth victory.  A few early defensive struggles aside, that's exactly what they got Saturday afternoon, as the Buffs made the leaky Northern Colorado defense look like a sieve to more than make up for their own issues.  93-68 will do nicely, and CU heads into finals week with smiles on their faces.

I talked before the game how UNC possessed one of the nation's worst defenses, and the normally pedestrian Colorado offense took advantage.  For the game, CU would shoot 63% from the floor, including 67% from deep, to average 1.52 points per possession.  If you're not familiar with the ppp stat, let me tell you that 1.52 is really good.  I've been looking, but, through the KenPom era (since 2001-02), I can't find another game in which Colorado even cracked 1.5 ppp.  The closest is the 104-59 win over Longwood in 2010 (1.49 ppp). We saw some wild, crazy stuff against the visiting Bears.
I was a bit too easy for Ski and the free scoring Buffs.  From: the BDC.
Everything seemed to be working.  Outside shooting?  Everyone who attempted a three hit at least one (including Ski Booker who was 5-9). Inside? CU scored 36 points in the paint.  Sharing the ball?  The Buffs had 21 assists on 31 made baskets. About the only thing that didn't work was the lobs, which were typical garbage. That nit-picking aside, five Buffs would finish in double-figure scoring, and all who saw the court, save Eli Stalzer, got on the score sheet.  All this does is reinforce the fact that, when the team swings the ball around, and is actually able to get creative on offense, it works.

The best offensive performance, with all credit given to Ski Booker and Josh Scott (each over 20 points), may have come from Jaron Hopkins.  CU has been in a continued search for consistent play from the point guard slot this season, and Hopkins showed some flashes of what could be.  He finished with 10/5/5, and did a great job of attacking with the dribble-drive, and forcing a reaction from the defense.  Based off of that reaction, holes opened up, and the points flowed.  I'd want to see it against a better team, but a combination of Hopkins and Collier (who has missed the last two games) could be the point guard solution BuffNation has been looking for.
That's about the best that J-Hop has looked in a CU uniform.  From: the BDC
Of course, the flip side to that offensive brilliance is that the defense struggled a bit.  The Bears are a good, efficient offense, but there's just no excuse to allowing them to shoot 80% from deep in the first half.  En route to their own, solid, 1.11 ppp effort, UNC managed to suck the Buffs into trading shots throughout much of the first frame.  They hit some tough looks, but, for the most part, it was just CU not playing Boyle-level defense.  Shooters were getting free, switches were catching the forwards out of position, and the Bears were making it look too easy. To the Buffs' credit, however, things tightened up n the second half, as Northern was held to 32% from the field, and just 2-8 from beyond the arc.

Look, all of this needs to be taken with a grain of salt, as UNC is a small conference squad that simply couldn't hang with the Buffs once they started to play a little defense.  But, headed into finals week, you couldn't have asked for a better send-off to the tournament in Hawai'i.

Around the world of Pac-12 Hoops - 

A lot of hoops being played in the Pac-12 on Saturday, here are the highlights:

Kansas 63 - Utah 60

Poor Utah.  They worked their asses to come back from 21-points down to take a lead 55-53 with just under five minutes to play, but went scoreless for the next four, and wound up taking a tough loss in Kansas City. Technically a 'neutral site' game (the damn Jayhawk logo was at midcourt... *smh* 'neutral'), the Utes missed an opportunity to grab a declarative win, not just for themselves, but for the Pac-12 as a whole.
I'm uncomfortable with happy Jayhawks.
This single loss aside, Utah is enjoying a strong season.  Their two losses (@KU and @San Diego State) are each more than understandable, and they have a pair of nice wins (vs Wichita State and @BYU) which tell you that they're for real.  With CU stumbling, they're a solid #2 behind Arizona in the league.

Arizona 80 - Michigan 53

Speaking of the Wildcats, they dismantled the Wolverines on Saturday, making a mockery of a program that has been a national power in recent years.  Not that the result should come as a surprise, mind you. Michigan is worst in the nation at attacking the rim; unsurprisingly, 'Zona took it to them inside, outscoring them 42-16 in the paint.
Arizona is about the worst matchup possible for Michigan.
Michigan ain't what they have been (remember, they recently lost at home to something called NJIT), but this was another big win for the desert bunch, who seem to be on the prowl for a second-consecutive monster regular season campaign.  From what I've seen, no one in the league can match them this year, and it's only a matter of time before they claim the Pac-12 crown.

Oregon 77 - Illinois 70

Good one for the Ducks, as they beat a very solid U of I team in Chicago.  They even did it with Joe Young benched for the start of both halves, too. Freshman forward Dillon Brooks picked up the slack for Young, as he chipped in 25/5/4 in 27 minutes.  In case you haven't noticed, Brooks has been on fire for Oregon, scoring in double figures each of his nine games this season.  With him playing off of Young, the free fall for Nike U may be cut short.  Shame, that.

Gonzaga 87 - UCLA 74

Less helpfully, from a conference perspective, UCLA got beaten around by the zone-busting Bulldogs, leaving the Bruins without a real quality win on their resume.  They've given up over 1.1 ppp in their losses this season, and have struggled to contain offensive juggernauts like UAB (who are 243rd nationally in efficiency).  I'm just not sold on what I'm seeing in Westwood; instead, liking what upstart teams like Washington have showed much more.  It wouldn't surprise me to see UCLA drop below the bye-cutoff, come Vegas time.
The 'Zags had no trouble in Pauley.
Army 85 - USC 77 (OT) -
While things in Pualey have been inconsistent, across town, things are much worse.  The Trojans have now lost to Portland State (home), Akron State (neutral), Penn State (same), and the Black Knights (back at home).  Outside of one happy evening in Albuquerque, USC hasn't shown much, in this, the second year of the Andy Enfield Era.  While the freshman McLaughlin has been fun, other imports like Katin Reinhardt have been trash.  If you think CU has offensive issues, just peep the next USC game.

A West Coast Heisman - 

Congratulations to the newest member of the Heisman family, Oregon Ducks superstar Marcus Mariota.  In a landslide decision, the voters overwhelmingly went for the Pac-12 rep, giving him over 88% of all the first-place votes cast.  While a few, weirdly, left him off their ballots, his 95% inclusion rate was the highest of all time.  In a year with few other viable options, it was more than deserved.
Uh huh.
No one else even came close to Mariota's dominance this fall. He produced a total of 52 touchdowns, including at least four per game over his final six in 2014.  But, more than just his on-field exploits, he was a model citizen off of it, and stands as a stark contrast to the previous two winners - Johnny Manziel and Jameis Winston - who were decidedly... less graceful in victory.

With Heisman in hand, Mariota nears the end of one of the great careers in the history of college football. Through 39 starts, he's only been beaten four times, and has a 101 : 12 assist-to-turnover ratio.  All that's left: a national title.  I may not be able to stand the Ducks, but I have a soft spot for Marcus, and hope he ends up at the top of the pile in January.

Happy MondayTuesday!

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