Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, November 17, 2015

2015-16 CU vs Auburn Basketball Teaser

Back in my Massive Season Preview, I blithely predicted that the Buffs were destined to lose this afternoon's game with the Auburn Tigers.  Heading out on early season road trips against Power-5 competition, I reasoned, was never a good omen for Tad Boyle's charges, and it just seemed like the safe bet that they would slump home 0-2 after their trip to Alabama.

Now, however, I'm not so sure.  I really kind of liked what I saw from the team in Sioux Falls. Turnovers were and issue, and it's always worrying to see the Buffs get worked like that in the paint, but they showed a lot of grit in coming back a number of times against a top-10 Iowa State team, fighting against a hostile crowd the entire way.  Outside shots were going in, the team looked active on the boards, and half-court defense was passing the eye test on most possessions.  Given a few of Josh Scott's missed bunnies going in, and they might have even won the damn game. Yes, it's only one small spate of action, and it was still a loss, but I like the look of the early-season Buffs a lot more than I thought I would headed into today.

More to the point, they're going to be facing an Auburn team that does not appear, at least on paper, to be nearly as intimidating as the Iowa State Cyclones are.  The Tigers certainly weren't last year, when they finished 12-19 in the regular season, only winning four games in all of SEC play.  They were a miss-matched mess all season, under-sized and under-talented against almost everyone they played.  It was no fluke, after all, that the inconsistent 2014-15 Buffs ran them out of the gym in that 90-59 Midnight Madness game last fall.  Going further, Auburn lost their entire three-man backcourt from a season a go - including bucket-getter KT Harrell, one of the most prolific scores in the south - making roster turnover and attrition a pressing issue.
Sweat, Brucey, Sweat!  From: SBNation
But, if there's anyone who knows how to turnover a roster in a hurry, it's Auburn head coach Bruce Pearl. A master at squeezing Tournament-caliber performances out of under-performing rosters (previously at UW-Milwaukee and Tennessee), he's back for his second year on the Plains, trying to instill the old football power with some basketball passion.  So for... not so good, but don't count him out just yet.  The SEC has a soft underbelly, and even a modest jump in quality could have them eating into the middle of the pack.

To that end, he went out and hit the recruiting trail hard (... once he was allowed to, that is).  He wasn't satisfied with just bringing in some young talent, and waiting for them to develop, either.  Coach Pearl brought in a trio of transfers that now form the backbone of their starting lineup.  Kareem Canty, a high-scoring point, formerly of Marshall, now runs the show in the Harrell/bucket-getter role. 6-10 senior Tyler Harris, from Providence, adds some much-needed size and strength up front.  Finally, 6-5 JuCo transfer TJ Dunans - one of the most highly coveted JuCo recruits in the country last year - adds a ton of athleticism on the wing.  These are not the same small, one-dimensional Tigers of a year ago; they now look like a Power-5 team should from 1 through 5.
Bowers is a sizeable problem int he paint.  From: 247 sports.
One interesting piece that remains from that '14-'15 starting five, though, is 6-7, 255 senior forward Cinmeon Bowers.  Yep, he's the same high-energy interior bowling ball who put up 11/13 as sort of a one-man forward corps against CU a year ago.  Cinmeon is a bit undersized at 6-7, playing as more of a true center's role, but he has the body of an SEC defensive lineman, and is a mountain of a problem to deal with on the block. Now with a real running mate up front (Harris), and an interior protégé (freshman Horace Spencer) he should put up some huge numbers this year, and could push the Buffs' front line still reeling from their lickin' in South Dakota.

With all that new talent centered around Bowers, Auburn's off to a good start, at least.  They downed a well thought of UAB squad at home on opening night, winning 75-74 at the buzzer.  Not the prettiest of games (few are this time of year), the Tigers got by with 62 points from their 'Big Four.'  They got out to a big lead, and survived a number of comeback attempts from the Blazers to earn a nice early-season win.  Overall, I like this Tiger group as a potential mid-level sleeper in an always weak SEC, but they're still probably some true depth away from being anything close to relevant.
Happier days ahead for Auburn? From: the AP
This, then, is a game between two teams looking to flip the script on some disappointing performances the year prior.  One major difference is that this game is not up at altitude.  The Tigers made the mistake of trying to run with the Buffs at 5,345 last fall, and got smacked around in the second half, as a result.  Don't expect similar results this time around.  Oh, they'll still try to run, but CU won't have the thin air playing a factor in their opponent's fatigue. More practically, I'm not sold on how strong a rebounding team the Tigers are. Bowers will get his, and they're not dramatically undersized like they were last season, but I look at this as an opportunity for CU to crash the boards, and really make Auburn work for possessions.  The Buffs, once again, looking to stay in the half court, while their opponent tries to get out and run.

I said on Friday that if Colorado played like they did against Iowa State - showing intense grittyness on 'D,' rebounding the ball well, and knocking down outside jumpers - they'll beat Auburn by 15.  Maybe that was a little bit of hyperbole (OK, a lot), especially considering CU's historical struggles away from Boulder and the turnover worries, but I really think Colorado showed me something on Friday, something that bodes well for the rest of the year. Further, I just can't see Josh Scott staying quiet for a second-straight game, and, with if everything else stays the same, that alone should be the difference between victory and defeat.  Throw in a better showing from the guards, especially in keeping the ball in Colorado hands, and I will predict a slightly more demure three point win in Auburn.


Tip-off between the Buffs and the Tigers is set for 1pm MT this afternoon. Tell your boss you got a doctor's appointment, and spend the early afternoon watching some hoops; could anything be possibly better in the middle of the day? Coverage as part of ESPN's annual College Basketball Tip-Off Marathon will be on the mothership, with the radio call on AM 760.


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