Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Sunday, March 1, 2015

2014-15 CU vs Arizona State Basketball Preview #2 - The Final Day of #SkiSeason

Normally in this space - the weekend preview of the Pac-12 two-step -  I would recap the previous game. Well, in this instance, the previous game was utter shit.  CU had nothing for Arizona, dropping their 6th game in seven tries by a 82-54 final. As good as the 'Cats are (they wrapped up the league title last night in Utah), it was a particularly empty performance from Colorado.  So empty, in fact, that I am utterly speechless.

Luckily for me, Coach Boyle was in fine form after the game, and his quote-pocalypse conveys the timbre of the evening far better than I ever could.  Take it away, coach!
It’s February 26th and we’re not executing offensively. We’re not doing the things we’re supposed to do, we’re not making plays and we haven’t gotten any better. If you look at the teams that I’ve had here as a head coach, I feel that each team, outside of my first year, had progress and got better throughout the year. I don’t feel like that with this team. I don’t feel like we’ve gotten any better. We’re still making the same mistakes that we did in November and we’re not any better, offensively or defensively.
The fact is that we didn’t execute. Arizona had a lot to do with that, they’re the No. 7 team in the country and don’t beat themselves. Coming into the game, we knew we had to make shots, but then we couldn’t make a shot. Even passing and catching the ball was in hard whether it was in transition or the half court. It’s just not there right now. 
Ball screen defense was a big part of the game tonight. [Arizona] made plays offensively and they tore us up. We didn’t make plays and didn’t execute. Games like this in February and March are won by the team that execute and Arizona executed offensively and defensively. We didn’t and that’s why we lost the game, but what’s frustrating is that I see us execute in practice against ourselves. When the lights come on for some reason, we don’t. I don’t think that there is one guy that I can look at and say that he played well tonight. Not one. Not one guy. Usually we have one or two guys and if it’s good we have four or five. Looking at Arizona, they had five guys in double figures, we had one. We don’t have guys making each other better, our team just hasn’t improved. That’s on me, that’s the responsibility of the head coach and I haven’t done a very good job. 
There has to be some fight in the locker room and right now there isn’t. It’s like a submissive, beat us now while you can kind of mentality. That’s embarrassing. These guys are young men and they haven’t been through what they’re going through before. They’re finding out a cruel life lesson: life isn’t going to give you anything. Division one athletics teaches you that it’s a very humbling and unforgiving arena. If you want to step into that arena you had better be willing to sacrifice and do whatever it takes to win and we aren’t willing to do that.” 
I’m tired of this, I am. I want our players to know it, our fans to know it and our officials to know it. I want to fight somebody, I really do, but I know you can’t do that and I won’t do that in the locker room. I’m sick of the way we’re playing. The world doesn’t owe us anything, we have to go out and get what we earn. Right now we’re not earning the scholarships we’re on or the paychecks we get. We have to go out. It’s our pride, intensity, will to win, will to prepare to win and the will to do whatever it takes to get it done. If we play well, play hard, execute and get beat I’ll be the first one to shake our opponents hand and say, ‘You beat us tonight.’ I don’t like teams that beat themselves and we beat ourselves tonight.”
I feel badly for the players that have come before this team - and some of the members of this team were a part of those groups. It's disrespecting what they've done over the last four years, and that's disappointing, I would think that there would be more pride amongst our team, and I don't see that. That's disappointing. That's something that needs to be addressed.


I'm struggling to find some juice for the final stretch of play. To me, there's no practical difference between finishing 9th, 10th, or 11th, and the team has shown that they're not going to improve to generate some momentum into the offseason.  All that's left is to win one for Ski on his senior day.  Oh my, do I want that for him.  This season has turned into an unmitigated disaster, but that final shout before the retreat into spring would at least provide one last moment of real joy.

The Buffs have been robbed of final goodbyes for the two previous departing pillars of the #RollTad era. Andre Roberson had a bout with mono (or a mono-like sickness), and missed his final homestand.  Spencer Dinwiddie, likewise, wasn't able to make his final homestand, still recovering from his knee injury. Therefore, the opportunity for us as a fanbase to honor one of the best players in program history is not one we should be taking lightly.

Please, show up early this evening, cheer loud, and give Ski the send off he deserves.  The final ovation for the Scrat is the only result that really matters.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6:30 this evening. Televised coverage to come via ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview from the first meeting can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

Down in the desert, on the tail end of the Road Trip of Death, the Colorado Buffaloes were facing off with their own demons.  Locked in a see-saw battle with the Arizona State Sun Devils, the team had an opportunity to fight through many of the problems that had derailed the season to give themselves new life. But, as has too often been the case this winter, CU failed to seize the moment, slipping beneath a wave of points from the normally quiet bunch in Tempe.  Opportunity lost, the road trip ended with a 78-72 defeat.

All the old, familiar problems were on display.  Second half defense?  Colorado allowed ASU to shoot 71% from the floor.  From the perimeter?  For the game, the Sun Devils were 10-20 from beyond the arc.  A:T ratio?  Five assists against nine TOs in the opening half.  Bench scoring? Colorado was outscored 23 to 10. Poor closes to halves?  Buffs outscored by a combined nine over the final 10 minutes of each half.  None of that is a recipe for success, and all of it is a familiar tale of woe.
Ouch. From: USA Today
The defensive effort was particularly concerning.  ASU had been one of the worst offensive teams in the Pac-12 before this game, but couldn't be stopped over the final 20 minutes of action.  Players like Shaq McKissic were allowed nearly unfettered access to the rim, while others, like Bo Barnes and Jonathan Gilling (whose relative value outside of three pointers is minimal), were allowed to do the one thing that gives them purpose on the court.  Defending on the road is never easy (on the weekend, nonetheless), but the team was markedly less focused on the defensive end than they were a few nights prior in Tucson. Unfortunately, that is a trend that has continued.

There were some positives.  Jaron Hopkins continued his offensive tear through his home state with a Delon Wright-esque 20/7/5/4 (where has that been?).  Tre'Shaun Fletcher chipped in a very respectable 10/3, playing with boosted confidence for the first time in a while.  Ski Booker consumed 22 shots and committed four turnovers, but still chipped in 21 points. Those three didn't have enough support, however, and the lack of a team effort in cracking down on defense overshadowed anything gained with the ball.
BuffNation hasn't seen that version of Jaron in a month
This was the first point that I really felt the season jumping the rails.  CU was never going to beat Arizona or Utah on the road, but the ASU game was, at the time, a very winnable proposition.  That the Buffs would drop it, followed by a similarly embarrassing loss at home to Washington, was the final hint that not all was well in the State of #RollTad.

The Sun Devils since then - 

ASU, who had been 0-4 in the opening weeks of conference play, used the win over Colorado to climb back into respectability.  Prior to Thursday's trip to Salt Lake City, the Sun Devils had won seven of ten, and were in dark horse contention for the final bye slot in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament.  Their run even included a home win over their bitter rival from Tucson, as they stunned Arizona 81-78 at the start of February.  That momentum was slightly canceled out by a turnaround loss to Washington State in Pullman, but the point remains. They had been playing good basketball.
Arizona State beating the U of A is one of the more surprising upsets to-date.
I say 'had,' because that's all gone, now.  Against Utah this week, they turned in a performance that was far more embarrassing than CU's against Arizona.  They would score only nine points through the opening 20 minutes (on 15% shooting!), while allowing the Utes to score 41 en route to a 83-41 final.  For the game, Utah would hit 63% of all shots from the floor, bowling over any flailing attempts from the Sun Devils to defend their own basket. UU is damn tough on their home floor, but even CU, without Xavier Johnson or Josh Scott, gave the Utes more of a fight.

Statistically, you had to see something like the Utah game coming.  The Sun Devils have a lot of cracks in their foundation that are highly exploitable.  They're worst in the Pac-12 in turnovers, coughing up the ball on 21% of all possessions in conference play, allow 38% shooting from three point range (another league-worst), and only really excel on the defensive glass (75%).  When the Utes canceled out that final advantage by not missing any shots, ASU was doomed to embarrassment.
The Sun Devils had nothing for the Utes this week.
Still, they're a very dangerous team for the Buffs. In their current state, CU is so disinterested in defending that the Sun Devils, who score almost 30% of all points from beyond the arc, could have a field day.  Their overall attempts from deep dropped slightly in February (down about three per game from their numbers in the month prior), but they'll lean on open looks this evening.

Why things could be different - 

The injury factor is the primary point, here.  Xavier Johnson and Josh Scott will both be available today after not playing in the first fixture.  At the time, Scott was still sidelined with his back, while Johnson was resting his ankle back in Boulder, having been sent home from the road trip for 'undisclosed' reasons. Those two only combined for 12/7 against Arizona, however, and I continue to doubt how healthy or engaged either is.

Additionally, the current version of Jaron Hopkins, who was essentially invisible against the Wildcats on Thursday (2/2 with a turnover), is not capable of the 20/7/5/4 he put up against ASU in January.  I'm not sure what the deal is with Jaron, but it started when he missed the USC game with a bum ankle, and has completely consumed what had been a strong start to conference play.  It could be lingering issues with the ankle, it could be a mental checkout, but, whatever it is, it seems to have completely sapped the Arizona native of his capabilities.
Jaron has been struggling in recent weeks.
In the first meeting, at least, CU was still dialed in for most of the game; I don't expect a similar attitude tonight. Mentally, the Buffs are simply a much more fragile bunch then they were in the proceeding fixture in Tempe. Anyone who has watched them for extended minutes in February will tell you that this team is just not all there right now. It's fine if the coaching staff and players want to say they haven't quit, but I struggle to come up with other explanations for the massive number of mental and physical mistakes.  At the first sign of difficulty, the Buffs have been collapsing, submitting to whatever it is the opponent wants to do to them.  I have to assume the same will happen tonight.

Prediction - 

 (My record on the season: 11-6. Against the spread: 11-6. Optimistic/pessimistic: CU -0.06 pts/gm)

Lines as of Saturday @ 7pm - CU -2

Really?  CU is favored?  OK, sure, why not?

If the season ended today, with ASU in 7th and CU in 10th, these two would be forced to meet again in Las Vegas.  I can't really tell if that's a good thing or a bad thing.  Does it even matter?  The Buffs could be playing any Pac-12 opponent other than USC, and I'd be picking against them.

As for tonight, Ski will be rearing to go, being that it's his senior day, but he hasn't been on the same page as his teammates for a few weeks now.  If ASU can hit anything from deep - looks that will surely be, for the most part, wide open - they'll be able to walk out of snowy Boulder with the win.

It kills me to say it, but I'm tabbing the Buffs for a loss on the final day of #SkiSeason.

ASU 73 - CU 64


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