Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: What's this? A win!? Now I'm really confused.

I don't want to let this slip through the cracks.  The CU men's basketball program did a pretty cool thing last week when they 'signed' six-year-old Cason Turkaly to the 2015 recruiting class (I know Tad likes to go after early commits, but damn).  Of course, this was an event coordinated with Team IMPACT, a non-profit organization working to make once-in-a-lifetime dreams come true for chronically ill children.  They even had Cason, who suffers from Schwachman-Diamond Syndrome, sign a NLI, which may have been the cutest damn thing I've ever seen.  Good on the Buffs for making this happen, and helping to bring a smile to little Cason's life.
Cason Turkaly, the newest commit to the #RollTad army.  Hear he's got a mean handle. From:
Side note: inspired by their new signee, CU went on to beat Stanford over the weekend, ending a three-game losing streak. Karma, man.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over Stanford, the world of Pac-12 basketball, and Spring Training.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs back to .500 with win over Stanford - 

Sunday afternoon against the Stanford Cardinal, the Colorado Buffaloes were fighting to change the narrative. CU had been bogged down by the mental scars of a three-game slump, and, as losers of seven of their last nine, had spiraled into the basement annex of the Pac-12 standings.  Considering the recent run of play, you'd be forgiven for expecting the worst as the game neared its conclusion. Indeed, it seemed like deja vu all over again as they coughed up an early second half lead, struggling to hang on against the oncoming horde from Palo Alto.  Instead of another dour collapse, however, the Buffs rewrote the conclusion behind some key contributions from the reserves and a forceful performance from Xavier Johnson, managing what they had so seldom been able to this season: make the plays that mattered down the stretch to earn a damn win.  64-58, their first in February.  Indeed, take your tree and go home.
Don't know why Nastic is smiling, 'cause his ass is about to take an 'L.'  From: the BDC
The proceedings turned on a key late game sequence that highlighted the rollercoaster ride of 2014-15. With CU still clinging to a three point lead with just 20 seconds to play, they stared down a closely defended baseline out of bounds set. XJ was on inbounds duty, and wasn't finding anyone open as the count pounded towards five.  Instead of calling a quick timeout (Colorado still had two), he panicked, and forced a pass into traffic.  Stanford's Chasson Randle was there to pounce on the wayward pass, and began to drive the gift possession towards the basket. It seemed as if, once again, the Buffs were going to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory. Johnson, however, was not done with the play.  He was looking to atone for his gaffe, and stepped over to challenge Randle's aggression. Chasson ran headlong into him, and Xavier earned the charge call from the refs.  Buffs' ball, game: blouses. In an instant, Johnson had gone from throwing away the game to sealing it.

The win was built on a lot of little moments like that.  Colorado had been getting good at finding ways to lose this season, but never-say-die moments, like XJ's, showed a team finally finding ways to win. Another example: down the stretch, a previously silent Jaron Hopkins came alive, attacking the rim (rocking the baby to sleep!), and turning three consecutive plays in Colorado's favor.  Yet another: similarly late in the action, Xavier Talton grabs a huge offensive rebound, but only because he wasn't scrambling to get back on defense. A little fluky, sure, but fortune favors the bold, and all of that.
A well earned sigh of relief. From: the BDC
What was not the least bit fluky, however, was the declarative display of #TadBall on hand. The Buffs dominated the glass, winning the rebound battle by nine (a margin entirely made up on the offensive end). They also smothered the normally effusive Cardinal, holding the highest scoring team in the conference to 33% shooting from the floor (only 26% from deep), and a paltry 58 points.  Sometimes such advantages are the result of luck, but not in this game. Misses were the result of getting a hand in their face, rebounds were the result of positioning and effort. For the most part, Colorado just flat out-hustled Stanford, making them uncomfortable, and exhausting the undermanned visitors; a refreshing return to the roots that fed the program's revival in the last half-decade.

Strong performances in 2014-15 had, to this point, mostly been a product of superb individualism.  The top four players, usually whoever was hottest, would carry the team, while the bench played Ed McMahon at his least funny. That was not the case on Sunday, however, as almost the entire roster has a say in the result. Colorado's five off the bench almost universally provided strong minutes against Stanford, contributing nearly 40% of the offense and rebounding.  Headlined by the moonlighting Xavier Johnson's 10/13 double-double (despite still not being 100% on that bum ankle), the group would score 25 points, while getting after the startled Cardinal on defense.  The Stanford reserves, on the flip side, were almost nonexistent, failing to score a single point.  Don't kid yourself, at altitude this makes a difference, with starters forced to log heavy minutes; only one Cardinal sub played more than 10 minutes.
It was the little plays, like this sideline save from Ski, that stopped the losing streak.  From: the BDC
In the grand scheme of things, Sunday's win didn't change much.  The squad is still flawed, and they're still a long shot to make the NIT.  With a longer view, however, you could see a growing group finally get their heads on the same page.  It wasn't pretty, it wasn't perfect, but it was the Buffs beginning to play team basketball again. Oh, and they got a win out of it, to boot.  Now, it's time to see if they can take the momentum gained out onto the road.  Preview for the Oregon series to follow later this week.

Catching up with the Pac-12 - 

It's been a while since I last took a trip around the Pac-12.  Considering that Stanford's loss to Colorado impacted both their league positioning and their Tournament hopes, I think it's high time to take a look at the teams ready to capitalize on their stumble.

UCLA 72 - Oregon 63 -

Both the Bruins and Ducks have been surprisingly strong in Pac-12 play, currently holding the 3rd and 4th spots, respectively.  Their tilt this weekend could end up deciding who claims a bye bid in Vegas. On Valentine's Day, it was UCLA who locked down the crucial win to split the season series, riding a 23/5 bonanza from senior guard Norman Powell. 
Norm Powell was everywhere on Saturday.  From: USA Today
The league doesn't boast a large number of credible NCAA entrants, but I like both of these teams.  Each is playing some of their best basketball at the right time, and each, while possessing a flawed record, can boast some strong points.  Oregon, while still floating along with a RPI in the low 60s, has some huge games ahead of them, and should end up with over 20 wins.  UCLA played one of the toughest schedules in the country, and doesn't really have a bad loss (CU? Cal?).  With Stanford dropping, I like both to vault into the Tournament conversation, with the Ducks riding the bubble till the end.

USC 68 - OSU 55 -

That the Beavers are where they are speaks a lot to both the quality of coach Wayne Tinkle, and the atrociousness of their offense.  Sitting at 7-6 in Pac-12 play, and only a game back of a bye slot in the coming conference tournament, they've had a legitimately strong season, far above what I would've considered them capable of in the preseason.  Yet, as they boast one of the top-10 defenses in all of America, they should be more capable in road trips. They've only won one league game away from Corvallis (@ Washington State), and took a brutal, humiliating, inexcusable loss at the Trojans this weekend.
This makes no Goddamned sense. From: the LA Times
In the game, the team that humbled Arizona in January allowed the Trojans to play +15 ball in the second half behind freshman Elijah Stewart and his five made three pointers. Stewart, by the way, came in averaging less than five points per game, and Jordan McLaughlin wasn't around to help feed him the ball.  What in the Wide World of Sports is a-goin' on!?  I've heard about struggling on the road, but that's something else.

Arizona 86 - WSU 59 - & Utah 76 - Cal 61 -  

Meanwhile, the leaders continued to separate themselves from the rest of the Pac.  Arizona demolished the Cougs, holding a 53-19 advantage at the break, and Utah cruised past the Bears behind an 18/8 night from freshman center Jakob Poeltl.  I don't see how these two don't meet on Championship Saturday.
But, but... the Cougars tried so hard! From: Yahoo
The race for the top was never going to be close. These two teams have always been, far and away, the best squads in the West.  What has changed, however, is that I'm starting to see how these two line up for post season play. Utah still has a chance to win the league title, which will make for its own headlines over the coming weeks, but both are currently cleaning up their rotations with March in mind. The Utes could still sneak out a 2-seed, but it would take one, if not two wins over Arizona before the Dance. 'Zona, on the other hand, seems locked and loaded for a protected seeding.  Either way, I'd hate to see either of these two on my side of the bracket.

Baseball starts this week - 

*sssshhhh* Be very quiet!  Don't tell anyone, but baseball starts this week. *squee* Yep, that's right, pitchers and catchers will start reporting on Wednesday, marking the unofficial start of Spring.  Ignore the snow outside, it's starting to warm up in this baseball fan's soul.

Now, of course, my White Sox won the offseason, landing a bevy of talent that is sure to bring another pennant to the South Side (my frienssss).  All kidding aside, adding Jeff Samardzjia, David Robertson, Melky Cabrera, Zach Duke, and Adam LaRoche to a team built around budding stars like Chris Sale and Jose Abreu completely turns the franchise around, and makes My Sox a solid contender almost overnight. I've been burned by 'sure things' on 35th and Shields before, and the lone trophy I've seen, in 2005, was a lightly heralded bunch in February, but it's hard not to get caught up in the excitement.  After years of embarrassment (See: Dunn, Adam *sigh*), the Boys finally seem to be headed in the right direction.
*cackles maniacally* From: the Trib
Beyond just my personal fandom, however, it's good to see the rights of Summer break through.  Baseball is such an interesting, overly obsessive sport, and the days just don't go by as fast without the relentless tolling of the 162. I'm sure the Rockies also boast some new changes to get their fans excited... or maybe they don't.  I don't know.  Either way, the eternal hopefulness of spring is about to step to the forefront.  CAN'T WAIT.

Happy Tuesday!

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