The Buffs, in all their wisdom, have decided to begin the 2015-16 campaign tomorrow afternoon at the luxurious (?) Sanford Pentagon in beautiful (?) Sioux Falls, SD. Why? Because that's where the Iowa State Cyclones will be. The things you do for an RPI boost... It's going to be a hostile environment, too, with most of the 3,250 seats taken up by those clad in ketchup red and mustard yellow. One thing's for sure: this is going to be a tough one.
|Well, the team has played in weirder venues...|
It's real fun to look back at this box score and see names like Alec Burks, Cory Higgins, and Levi Knutson leading the way for the Black and Gold. Alec, for his part, did as he was always wont to do and put up ridiculous numbers. His 29/15/6/3 line made me break out in giddy laughter when I peered at it for the first time in years, one of a number of games from his sophomore campaign where he proved he was far too good for college basketball. Burks played all but two minutes of the action, got to the line 14 times, and was the driving force behind every one of CU's mounted comeback attempts. Simply incredible! As a side note, he combined with another future NBA star - then-freshman Andre Roberson - to haul in 30 rebounds, just six less than ISU's total for the game. Damn, that team was stacked. How did they not get selected for the Dance, again?
|Burks could not be stopped that day in Kansas City. From: CUBuffs.com|
But, the 'Clones were stunned in the opening round of the NCAA Tournament by the UAB Blazers (thanks for ruining my bracket, dudes), and lost their coach, native son Fred Hoiberg, to the Chicago Bulls later in the summer. Suddenly, what seemed like such a sure thing - the Cyclones in '15-'16 - began to look like a surprisingly open-ended question.
|Hometown hero Hoiberg's return to the NBA threw the Cyclones for a loop. From: Bleacher Report|
Georges, who could've turned pro after averaging 15/5 last season, made the interesting choice to stay for his senior year, rather than leave Ames with the stain of that loss to UAB. The Cyclones are lucky he did, because I don't think the prognosticators would be nearly as kind to the team with him already in the professional ranks. The 6-8 senior forward from Massachusetts is, simply, the real deal on the offensive end. He can play pretty much every position (yes, even point forward), and can beat you in a number of ways. He is a difference maker, posting a 106 offensive rating, 56% true shooting rate, and 40% three point percentage in '14-'15. He's not a selfish player, either, with his 21.9% assist rate. He simply makes everyone around him more dangerous; a true weapon that ISU can exploit, and a leader that even his coach listens to.
|Niang is an elite talent. From: CBS Sports|
Primarily, at least under Hoiberg, this had been a 'score first, ask defensive questions later' kind of program. Recently, however, Coach Prohm has started to sound a little like Coach Boyle when it comes to the way he wants defense to lead into that offense in this, his first season in Ames. From their Blue Ribbon preview:
"We want to play half-court, tough, hard-nosed man-to-man. Get in the passing lanes, good ball pressure. We want to be really tough-minded in the halfcourt. The best way to run is to defend and rebound. Get the ball to your point guard and go."How well that change goes over with a team of offensive stars will go a long way to determining the timbre of their season.
|The defense is lead by McKay, who is a load in the paint. From: Grantland (moment of silence...)|
Still, I have no reason to believe that anything the Cyclones have shown the last few years is going to dramatically down-shift under the new coaching regime. They still have talent, the institutional memory of winning, and a hell of a fanbase at their back. Not only will they continue to roll in 2015-16, they should also roll Friday afternoon. Josh Scott and the Cyclone forwards will get into it a little bit early, and the teams will trade baskets for a few possessions, but I see ISU racing out of the halftime lockerroom to wrap up the win before the second to last media timeout. ISU 76 - CU 63.
Please don't let that dire prediction ward you off from either the game on Friday or this season, however. There's a lot of basketball to be played, and just one game - on the semi-neutral road against a top-10 opponent, no less - does not a year of basketball make. Stick with this team, they should get fun when they finally come back to Colorado for the home opener next Friday.
Tip-off between the Buffs and the Cyclones is set for 3pm MT tomorrow afternoon. Not making the trek out to the Mount Rushmore State, and worried about where to watch? Well, if you're already going to Friday's football game, the Athletic Department has you covered. They're going to open the doors to Balch Fieldhouse a little early to allow for a little watch party, football tickets required. Doors open at 2:45, and the concession stands will be open. If I could get out of work, that'd be where I'd be...
For those without football tickets, televised coverage will be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on AM 760.
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE CYCLONES!