Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, November 19, 2015

Auburn Wrap and 2015-16 CU vs Portland Teaser

I said back in October that we'd all know a lot about the 2015-16 Colorado Buffaloes by the end of their two-game, season-opening road trip.  I was right: we do.  More importantly, the returns are very promising.

What started with a solid, gritty effort in Sioux Falls, SD against a top-10 Iowa State club only continued down in Alabama against a re-imagined bunch of Auburn Tigers.  In front of a hostile, energetic mid-day crowd, the Buffs fought and battled through a series of wild swings, showing a determination and steeled spine that had not been present a year ago.  They had to come back from as many as 15 points down in the first half, but eventually pulled away for a well-deserved 91-84 win.  It marked their first victory on the year, and a strong statement that things are going to be a little different this winter.
Josh Scott and the Buffs looked like a dangerous basketball team against Auburn.  From:
This kind of victory would not have been possible a year ago.  Midway through the opening frame, the Buffs were killing themselves, turning the ball over (11 times in the first half) and helping to fuel a 13-1 Auburn run. At that point last season, down 15 on the road, Colorado would've packed up the tent, and allowed the inevitable to ride over them.  But they didn't let the deficit get them down against the Tigers, and they didn't try to get it back in one gulp.  CU chipped away, dragging the gap back to only four points at the break, and keeping the action even through the first few minutes after.  Much like in their effort against ISU, they just hung around, looking dangerous and capable. And so, when the Tigers' composure slipped up in the second half, right about the time freshman forward Horace Spencer got T'd up for spiking the basketball after a dunk, there were the Buffs, ready and waiting to pounce.  A barrage of scoring would follow, and Colorado never looked back. By the time Auburn could really mount a response, the Buffs were up 13 with about six minutes to go, and the game was essentially over.

The saving grace, both against Auburn and Iowa State, has been one of the things that was frequently mentioned as a reason for optimism this winter: improved outside shooting.  As a team, the Buffs are hitting about 45% of their three-point attempts through two games (8-of-15 against the Tigers alone).  Now, that's not going to last, and regression to the mean can be a bitch, but I don't think it's such a fluke that we're going to see this group crash all the way back to where they were last season.  The reason for my optimism here: different personnel.  The shooters on the floor are more consistent and shooting more within the flow of the offense than in years past. Key to this stretch has been the play of George King.  The redshirt sophomore has been on fire, NBA Jam style. He may not have an assist, but he's averaging 21/7 early on (buoyed by 8-14 shooting from deep), and is already streets ahead of where he was as a freshman two years ago.  Against Auburn, he put up an obscene 27/7 line, knocking down big shot after big shot. It's a completely different offense with him prowling around the perimeter, one that actually looks... potent? Coach Boyle's quote after the game pretty much summed it up: “That’s why I believe in redshirting. He’s improved. He spent a lot of time working on his game. Now we get him three more years … I hope.”
George King had it going on against the Tigers.  From: the Post
Of course, beyond just King's heroics, the Buffs also benefited from their constant heartbeat in the paint: Josh Scott.  The Young Fundamental had himself a bounce-back night in SEC-land, riding 8-10 shooting from the floor to a 24/9/3/2 statement that put to bed the memory of his frustrations in South Dakota.  With Josh doing the work in the paint, and King knifing teams in the back from beyond the arc, suddenly the Buffs boast a powerful inside-outside attack that is forcing defenses to actually have to think while Colorado has the ball. Yes, just like you, I'm interested to see how the team responds when the shots aren't falling, but, if the defense keeps up (allowed under 40% shooting in the second half against the Tigers, only 2-10 from beyond the arc), and George King stays a viable Robin to Scott's Batman, this team could be far more interesting that any of us thought a few weeks ago.

The attention then shifts to Friday night and the home opener.  The Buffs will welcome in the Portland Pilots for the first of five-straight home games (nine-straight in the State of Colorado), looking to keep the good times rolling.  To be very honest, much like the rest of the pre-CSU stretch, this one shouldn't be much of a problem.  The Pilots are not a bad basketball team, per se, but they don't strike the pose of a crew that's going to come in and push CU around.
Wintering is a legit point guard, and could play for any team in any conference.  From: USA Today.
That's not to say they're devoid of talent, however.  Their best player, 5-11 junior point guard Alec Wintering, is a legit ball handler and leader.  He posted a top-25 assist rate last year on a well over 2:1 assist-to-turnover ratio, combining a key eye for distribution with a nose for the hoop (67.8% free throw rate, 173 FTAs). Wintering even has a talented wing to work off of.  6-4 senior Bryce Pressley shot 44% from beyond the arc last season, was 8-11 from deep in their season opener, and will really test CU's commitment to perimeter defending. Lesser tandems have given the Buffs fits in recent years, and I would not be surprised to see both guys go off a little bit.

Luckily, after those two, the talent floor on the roster drops off a bit. Sophomores D'Marques Tyson and Jason Todd (who weirdly have been coming off the bench) are nice players - good shooters to boot - but not anything extraordinarily special.  JuCo transfer Ray Barreno is really all they have in the paint -- he has nice size (6-10, 270 lbs), but is unproven.  Also look out for 7-1 center Phillip Hartwich, but, really, Colorado's front line should have no trouble here.

Overall, head coach Eric Reveno has some nice pieces in the back court that will serve him well once WCC play comes around, but, on the road in Boulder, he just doesn't have the horses in place to keep pace with a Pac-12 program.  The Pilots could get hot from deep, and make things nervous for a bit, but I have no trouble believing that the Buffs will eventually win by 15+ on Friday.


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm tomorrow night.  I can't wait to get back into the building, having only whetted my appetite for Colorado's hardwood when I saw my Bulls come to town last month.  Hopefully, everyone out there, and especially the students, are itching to get back inside the CEC, as well.

For those who can't make it up to Boulder for the action, you can watch the game on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 KOA.


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