Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: A Split in Las Vegas

I hope everyone had a happy and safe holiday week.  Mine had been, up to the point that nasty winter weather in Sweet Home Chicago canceled a swath of flights out of both Midway and O'hare, threatening to leave me stranded in the city of my youth.  Luckily, a quick audible at the line and a two hour 'L'-ride from the Southside to the North got me on one of the few flights out of town still on the schedule.  It was a long day (total of 18 hours, door-to-door; could've been much, much worse), but no real complaints; I'd rather be back safely than not at all.

Still struggling to remember where I am, I'll be slightly abbreviated today, as I wrap up the Las Vegas Classic and talk about the start of Pac-12 conference play. There'll be a full preview of Friday's game against Cal up later this week, however, so keep your eyes open for that.

Click below for the bag...

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

2015 Las Vegas Classic Teaser

It's finally time.  Time for Colorado's 2015-16 basketball season to get serious.  This afternoon, with the tip-off the Orleans Arena-based portion of the Las Vegas Classic, the Buffaloes will begin a stretch of games against good, quality opponents that will carry them through the rest of the season.  The cupcakes and small division also-rans are in the rear-view, and none too soon, either.  While it was nice to see a team with a lot of incoming questions find themselves and build confidence over the first month and a half, I'm ready to watch some truly competitive basketball.  To find an answer to the question of 'just how good are these Buffs, really?'
Let's get it on!
The early hints of the answer to that query will be revealed this week, first with this afternoon's game against Penn State, and then with tomorrow's game against an as-of-yet to be determined opponent.  Regardless of how it shakes out, CU is destined to be tested for the first time since at least the trip to Ft Collins, and probably in a way they haven't been since the season's opening week.

Up first: the Penn State Nittany Lions.  As you probably already know, PSU is not a basketball power, typically featuring in the lower ranks of the B1G each and every year despite geographic access to some rich recruiting grounds. Since randomly winning the NIT in 2009, they've made the postseason just once - a suspect berth in the 2011 Tournament - and previous history would not suggest an upswing is imminent. They've been improving on the recruiting trail, however, and are off to a decent 8-3 start to this season, something that looks to belie the reality of a young, developing team trying to deal with the graduation of a program legend (last season's B1G scoring champ, D.J. Newbill). If head coach Patrick Chambers can get them to win a few conference games, something that can be a brutal task in that league, he will have earned the extension granted him last spring.
Garner rules the roost in State College.  From: USA Today
While not a juggernaut, these guys do pose an interesting challenge for Colorado.  Namely, for the first time all season, the Buffs will be playing a team that really likes to slow it down, clog the middle, and throw some zone at you. Compared to the free-flowing ball the Buffs have willingly gotten themselves into this season, this game could strike as a painfully awkward knuckleball, and one that could really stretch everyone's patience (fans included).  The Lions rarely get out in transition (15.8% of all shots on the break), usually play their games in the middle 60s of possessions, and limit opportunities inside (only 43% of all points scored against them are inside the arc).  It's simply not a style these revamped Buffs are used to playing against.

Most of their offense flows through sophomore point guard Shep Garner.  The Philly product is very efficient in metering out the rock, and is the best shooter in State College. It helps that he gets to work off of a pair of swing forwards with good size in Payton Banks and Brandon Taylor.  The senior Taylor is the larger concern here, as he leads the team in scoring and can be a devastating slasher, but don't overlook Banks, who, while undersized (6-6, 220), can hold his own in the paint.  More interesting, at least to me, than all of them is big man Jordan Dickerson.  The 7-1, 245 center struggles with foul trouble (6.6 called per 40 minutes played), but is a key to PSU's ability to limit good looks at the rim.  He's a premier shot blocker (4th in the country in rejection rate), and, while not a scorer, lurks on the offensive glass. It'd be nice to see Josh Scott be able to get a quick whistle or two called on the hulking senior, because the Buffs will need him out of there to open up the post.  Regardless their matchup when CU has the ball will be telling.
Dickerson is a shot blocking machine. From:
The prescription here is ball movement.  Colorado has been much better this season at offensive rotation than they were in previous runs, and they'll need to lean on that ability against Penn State.  Quick rotations, inside-out passing, and finding open shooters; that's how they'll crack this nut open.  We can now trust the Black and Gold to hit those open looks, so trust the offense to create them.  After that, if there's anything that can be done to open up the taps a bit, and force some extra possessions into the proceedings, will benefit CU greatly.  On defense, PSU rarely shares the ball (334th nationally in A/FGM ratio), so I like the look of the bog standard man-to-man.  This will really come down to scoring points, and if the Buffs can crack 70 - the Nittany Lions have only done that three times this fall, and have yet to lose a game when holding their opponent under that level - then I'll say Colorado will eek out the ugly victory.

Looking forward to Wednesday night, the Buffs could either see Kent State or Southern Methodist.  The real trick of this trip to Sin City will be matching up with SMU.  It doesn't really matter how it happens, but if CU somehow misses a date with the Mustangs, it will be a wasted opportunity. The reason: RPI.  SMU, while still sitting on a post-season ban, is currently #16 overall in the rankings, and seemingly destined to hang around there through to March.  At the very least, they should be top-50 when all is said and done, which is a hefty prize, win or lose.  The Golden Flashes, meanwhile, are a respectable team currently in that RPI top-50, but their level is soft, and a typically weak MAC seems destined to drag it down to the top-100 line by season's end.  Playing the likes of Nicholls State and Hampton dropped the Buffs 16 spots in those same rankings over the weekend, and they need a game against the Mustangs to balance out that dead weight. By all appearances, that means CU will have to win in the opener against Penn State to secure the SoS boost. KenPom gives the Mustangs a 80% change of winning, and the oddsmakers on the strip have installed them as a 14.5-point favorite (FWIW, CU is a seven-point favorite against PSU).

Let's not brusquely overlook KSU, however.  The Flashes are a conference power, frequent entrants in post season play, and a tough out.  Rob Senderoff's club is 7-2 this season with two understandable road losses, and boast a very efficient offense (1.08 ppp).  Key to their abilities, they are loathe to turn the basketball over, and rebound extremely well (top-30 offensively, top-50 defensively).  Those two factors alone make me think they'll give the high-flying Mustangs a better game that most expect.
Jimmy Hall: the happy warrior.  From: CBS Sports
They're built around the veteran Brooklyn-based front court of Jimmy Hall and Chris Ortiz.  Combined the pair averages 23/13, and should have a fantastic year in the MAC.  Hall is an especially versatile athlete, who is exceedingly unselfish (leads the team in assists) and can help make up for a makeshift backcourt. Fifth-year senior Xavier Pollard, a transfer from Maine, is probably the most interesting back there, and is the teams most reliable performer after Hall.

In the end, however, I don't think any of the Flashes will be enough to stem the tide of SMU athleticism that's about to head their way.  Head coaching legend (and Tad Boyle mentor) Larry Brown, fresh off his nine-game suspension for doing Larry Brown things, has built a power-house in short order.  Five-star talent that used to turn their noses at the Dallas-based school suddenly seem interested (gosh, I wonder why?), and Southern Methodist, who has a long and storied history of *ahem* magically getting good in a hurry, turned the trick again, only this time on the hardwood.  They've won 63 games over the last two-plus seasons - unprecedented in their basketball history - and seem destined to finish with a sizable total this season, even if it won't get them anything.
Larry Brown, a true living legend, turned SMU into a winner overnight.  From:
While I can scoff at they way their acquired their talent, there is no denying that it is there now.  The Mustangs boast one of the nation's deepest strings of athletic pieces, and they've used it to stunning effect on the offensive end.  KenPom currently has them as the 8th-best offense in the nation, scoring an adjusted 1.16 ppp, and a staggering total of eight players come into the week with an Ortg over 116.  They're deep, fast, and explosive (70% of all field goal attempts are at the rim), particularly in the backcourt.  How else do you account for a team that plays slow (300th in adjusted pace), but is 23rd in points scored (84.9 per game)?

The best player on the roster, and one of the best in the country, may be undersized, but 5-9 senior point guard Nic Moore holds an oversized importance in the SMU backcourt.  The reigning AAC Player of the year, and one time transfer from Illinois State, is their best shooter, passer and leader, and enters the week averaging a robust 14 points and five assists per game.  It must be easy for him to accumulate those assist numbers, what with talent like Keith Frazier (now coming off of a knee injury), Sterling Brown (an incredibly efficient player with a TS% over 82) and Jordan Tolbert (one of the best rebounders around right now) running at his flank.  All are versatile wing archetypes who can do a number of things on the court.  If they ever get center Markus Kennedy back, currently sidelined with a bad ankle, these guy will be really dangerous.
Moore is the real deal in Dallas.  From: USA Today
I'm interested to see what the result would be, should the Buffs get SMU in the final round of the LVC, but I'm afraid I already know the answer.  CU has been a good, but not great, defensive team this season, and don't really have an answer for the kind of ruthless offensive efficiency the Mustangs are capable of.  Oh sure, the Buffs would get their points, but would slowly fall behind the eight ball.  Southern Methodist simply shares the ball too well (65.7 A/FGM ratio), plays too balanced (seven players average in double-figure scoring), and rebounds essentially everything (#1 with a bullet on the offensive glass) for the Buffs to give them too deep of a scare.  Should we get this one, Colorado would lose by double-digits, I'm sorry to tell you.  It's a weird situation, wanting to see the matchup, yet dreading the result, but such is life when you're trying to game the RPI system.

Essentially, I see a split in CU's Las Vegas future, with a win in the opener before a steady drumbeat of efficiency from SMU guts them in the championship game.  Nothing to be ashamed of there, however, as SMU is an elite club lead by one of the masters of coaching.  If, however, Colorado could somehow pull it off, winning the pair and claiming the crown, that would finally be enough to convince me that, not only is this a good, fun group of BasketBuffs, but that they are Pac-12 title-contenders.  A tall order, sure, but certainly a possibility, however unlikely, from a quirky set of two games played over two days in the capital of excess.


Tip-off from the just-off-the-Strip Orleans Arena for Penn State vs Colorado is set for 8:30pm this evening. Unfortunately, due to some typical FOX broadcast blackout bullshit (only CBS is worse at embracing to intersection of modern technology and sports viewing), this game is not available on either television or internet stream.  I'm dead serious, in the year 2015, where I can get some stupid darts championship or the latest cricket match on my phone, a game between two Power 5 basketball teams will be played in the dark. Instead, Fox Sports One will be showing North Texas vs Creighton... make sure you lose the remote for that one! Thankfully, Mark Johnson has you covered with the radio call on AM 760.  This... this and traffic jams are why radio will never die off completely.

Tomorrow, modern day service resumes, with Fox Sports One finding time in their busy Big East schedule (*cough*) to fit in both games of the classic.  So, regardless of what time the Buffs play, you'll be able to catch them on the tube.  Should they lose to Penn State, CU plays at 6pm.  If they win, catch the action at 8:30pm.


Monday, December 21, 2015

Monday Grab Bag: Buffs Head to Vegas on High Note

A quick site announcement: I'll have a teaser for both road legs of the Las Vegas Classic up tomorrow morning. After that, however, the next post in this space will not be until Tuesday, 12/29, when I return with a post-holiday grab bag.  In the mean time, I wish you all a happy and safe Holiday Season.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over Hampton, the recent results from the world of Pac-12 hoops, and the continuing coaching carousel in Boulder.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Nicholls State Wrap and 2015-16 CU vs Hampton Basketball Teaser

Well now, wasn't that a little bit of a surprise.  After a week off from finals, our Colorado heroes struggled mightily against the Nicholls State Colonels, one of the worst teams (statistically) in DI basketball.  The Buffs were so sluggish early on - and a bit lazy - that they managed to find themselves down five at halftime. Never in my wildest nightmares did I envision such a start.  Eventually the gears would click into place, and the team would finally surge ahead in the second frame to a 85-68 final, but this was far from the resounding win that everyone in the CEC was expecting.  Nine in a row is nothing to scoff at, but this was, certainly, the ugliest of the bunch.
From the opening tip, this one was a surprising struggle.  From: 9news
This wasn't the first time CU has failed to answer the bell in the first half, though, and it probably won't be the last.  Everything seemed contagious, as missed shots turned into half-assed efforts on the glass and defensive let-downs.  As a whole, the team shot under 39% in the opening half, clanking 12 of the 15 threes they launched.  Conversely, they allowed the Colonels to bust their chops to the tune of 50% from the floor. Those stats would reverse themselves over the final 20 minutes, but there was no reason that NSU should've been able to come into the CEC and do that to Colorado.  The Buffs were simply off their game, especially on the defensive end.

No one was immune, even the normally reliable Josh Scott.  While he would go on to put up a solid 20/6, he wasn't really initiating anything on either end through the first 25 minutes, or so, and was getting abused on the boards.  Everyone has off nights, and he's certainly entitled to one every once in a while (20/6 is a pretty nice 'off' night), but I don't think it's an accident that the Buffs slumped early while their undeniable leader was busy reaching to find his fastball. Who did spark Colorado, however, was Josh's front court mate Wes Gordon. With CU down about 10 early in the second half, Wes started to get into it, blocking shots like he had a cheat code (seven for the game), and putting in the effort defensively.  He kick-started the Buffs, who suddenly hit the gas on both ends. Wes' defense paired well with some nice attacks off the bounce from Josh Fortune (who finished with 17 points on 12 shots) to first earn a lead, then grow it.  Before you knew it, Colorado was up 10 themselves, and the game's momentum had flipped for good.
Wes' block party sparked the Buffs.  From: the Ralphie Report.
I'm not sure how seriously you can take both the effort and the result.  The 17-point final spread, certainly, belies the real timbre of this game; Colorado was simply atrocious in the opening half.  What I do know is that what we saw last night against the Colonels was not the best the Buffs have to offer. There are excuses that can be made, but that fact is plain.  Luckily, the turnaround is quick, so the team can get the taste of this one out of their mouths in a hurry.  So quick in fact, that the next game is this evening, as the home portion of the Las Vegas Classic concludes with a visit from the Hampton Pirates.

The first thing you should know about Hampton is that they are miles ahead of where the Colonels are (not hard).  A conference champion from a year ago, the Pirates are 4-4 on the year, and have actually beaten a few DI opponents (although, no one of note).  If CU comes out like they did Friday night, they could very well get beat on their own floor in a game that, on paper, they should dominate.  There is a danger here, with head coach Edward Joyner, Jr's bunch, and one the team would be well advised to heed.
Reggie Johnson leads the Pirates into Boulder. From: the Sporting News
Overall, the Pirates have returned four senior starters from that NCAA Tournament team of a year ago. The primary focus is on point guard Reginald Johnson, as the 6-2 senior from Chicago takes 33% of shots, and is involved in about 29% of all possessions.  It's not just that the second year transfer from Miami (OH) provides 18/3/3 each night, though. He's a steady, veteran presence for the team, a 'coach-on-the-court', if you will, and one that is at the heart of everything Hampton tries to do.  He combines well with backcourt mate Brian Darden, another senior, who is the team's big shot taker.

One limitation for both, and something that really jumps off the stat sheet for the team as a whole, is that they are not particularly strong outside shooters.  All told, Hampton only scores about 26% of their points from deep (mid-200s nationally), and only hit about 31% of all attempts beyond the arc.  Instead, they use Johnson to spark and facilitate off the top, making him the kind of presence at the top that could really push CU. Collier will have his hands full taking him out of the game, hopefully without fouling.
Chievous is the kind of play unafraid of scrapping it up on the floor. From:
Working off of Johnson and Darden on the wing is senior Quinton Chievous.  Another Chicago product, the one time Tennessee signee has been crashing the glass this fall, particularly on the offensive end where he as been grabbing 13% of all opportunities.  A versatile double-double threat, Chievous is a highly skilled, highly athletic guard who can pose a number of threats on the court. The Pirates move him around a lot, and you should expect to see him play a number of positions tonight, even down low. He's a gritty, scrappy talent, one who puts in the unseen work, while also stuffing the stat sheet.  The CU frontcourt is really going to have to work to keep him off the boards, certainly harder than they were working in the first half last night.

Up front, Jervon Pressley and Dionte Adams are big bodies posting some nice block rates this season. Pressley, the senior starter from Charlotte is especially worrisome, as he also does a good job helping Chievous out on the offensive glass.  Not necessarily a scoring threat, however, meaning the Buffs really need to focus more on defending the perimeter and limiting dribble-drive.  If they can do that, then defense inside will take care of itself.
Pressley can be a force in the paint. From: USA Today.
In the end, this should be another double-digit win for Colorado.  Certainly, after last night's scare and an ass-chewing from Coach Boyle, I anticipate that the team comes out ready to go from the onset.  If early shots fall, then Hampton could be pushed aside quickly.  If they aren't, and the Pirates are able to gain a foothold, then the rebounding tandem of Chievous and Pressley could really frustrate.  I'll say they are about to hit their shots, and that CU cruses home to a 15-20 point win.


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm tonight.  It's another Alumni Band performance, so look to the south stands to catch a glimpse of yours truly vainly attempting to remember the fingerings to the fight song.  For those of you unable to make it up to Boulder, televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on AM 760.


Thursday, December 17, 2015

2015-16 CU vs Nicholls State Basketball Teaser

You may notice that tomorrow's home game against the Nicholls State Colonels, as well as Saturday's against the Hampton Pirates, is labeled as part of the Continental Tire Las Vegas Classic (not to be confused with the Continental Tire Las Vegas Invitational... *woof*).  While that's true, you won't need to hop on a plane to watch the Buffs. Nope they're still at the CEC, and only head to Las Vegas next week for the serious part of the tournament.
Hey, look! It's that thing that starts in not-Las Vegas!
"But how? Why? What?" you may be asking.  Well, the LVC is something that the NCAA dogmatically calls  a "Qualifying Regular-Season Multiple-Team Event," or QRSMTE. Us laymen know these events more colloquially as non-conference tournaments, but the nomenclature is largely irrelevant.  The crux of the matter is, by competing in a QRSMTE, the Buffs get to take advantage of an intended scheduling loophole in NCAA bylaw  Normally, a team can only play a maximum of 29 games in a regular season.  This loophole artificially cuts that number to 27, but then allows participation in a QRSMTE.  With these events, and their cap of four games played over no more than 14 days, teams can expand that overall total to 31.  he best part? There's no geographic or bracket continuity requirement; hence the Buffs first hosting, then traveling, with the games in Boulder not counting towards the truncated bracket in Las Vegas.  Really, all you have to do is get a group of teams to play each other, call it the same thing, and *boom* you got yourself a 'classic.' That the Buffs get to go to Sin City at all is a bonus -- just two years ago they 'hosted' all of the portions of the 'Global Sports Main Event,' which... yeah. I guess they can't all be the Maui Invitational.

So, everyone on the same page now? No? Well, whatever.  The long and short of it is that CU gets two home games against doughy-soft competition before heading out to Vegas to play two, and they all collude to allow the Buffs to play a few extra games, while collecting the associated home ticket revenues. Yay, money!
He's baaaaaack...
The problem is, those extra two games, starting with tomorrow's visit from Nicholls State, are frickin' duds. Take the Colonels, for example. Simply: these guys stink. There's no way to spin it, there's no way to hide from it; head coach J.P. Piper's squad is just a bad college basketball team. The figures speak for themselves. Nicholls has yet to beat a D-1 team this year; over their six in-division losses (including yesterday's 44-point humbling by LVC co-combatant SMU), they've been losing by an average of 30.5 points per; almighty Kenpom has them as a bottom-40 club on both offense and defense; the Colonels are not in the national top-150 of any major statistical category.  

Worse, for Colorado's post-season purposes, these guys are a RPI drag.  Currently just inside the RPI 300-plus, by the time conference play rolls around (the Southland is, routinely, one of the five worst-RPI leagues), they're destined to settle into the national cellar.  If the Buffs cannot find a way to meet up with SMU next week in Nevada, cancelling out the negative effects of this RPI-anchor, then there's really no value to the game against Nicholls whatsoever.  Might as well have the Ft Lewis Skyhawks back in, who, come to think of it, could probably beat NSU...
The Colonels are used to getting pushed around, like they were in Dallas this week. From: the Houston Chronicle.
Practically, however, this stands as yet another opportunity to see the budding Buffs in action against... somebody. *frantically looks at their stat sheet* How about Ja'Dante' Frye, the Colonels leading scorer? The 6-4 junior wing from Nicholls' hometown of Thibodaux, LA gets to the line well, rarely turns it over, and pours in about 18 points per.  The Buffs are going to have to figure out how to stop him, that could be entertaining.  And they got a senior point guard, too, in T.J. Carpenter.  I'm sure he can do... things (although shooting is apparently not one of them; 38% eFG on 32% of his team's shots). What about inside?  They got a 7-0, 300 behemoth in Kyle Caudil, a one time Boston College reserve.  He combines with the Ben Mills-sized 7-0, 200 lbs Australian import Liam Thomas to give the Colonels a lot of height in the paint.  The Buffs could struggle with that, or something.  LOTS OF QUESTIONS!  WHO KNOWS HOW CU WILL COPE!

Aw, who am I kidding? I cannot even imagine a scenario where Colorado struggles for more than a few minutes here or there. The Buffs should roll, handily, to another high-flying victory.  Think 25+ range, Larry Bird All-Stars in early, with me asleep by the second media timeout in the second half. Anything less, and the narrative will, assuredly be, finals week distractions.  Or, simply, pure boredom.  Either way, a win is a win, and CU should have no trouble claiming one tomorrow.


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm Friday night.  Those not willing to brave the weather and the traffic can follow the action on Pac-12 Mountain or 850 KOA.


Tuesday, December 15, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

Late Sunday night, I saw the following score scroll across my phone's sports app:


Oh... oh my.  That's a loss to the same UNC squad that the Buffs whupped by 30 without really trying, and who had, prior to Sunday, yet to record a win over a D-I school this season.  The Bears and their porous defense, currently 351st in KenPom's ratings system, were able to hold the Rams to just .96 points per possession, making me wonder if CSU was playing the full compliment of five players on the court. Granted, it was on road hardwood in Greeley, but that's just... that's just not good.

Now, no one enjoys a good old 'little brother embarrassing themselves' story as much as I do, but not at the expense of CU's RPI.  Since we in BuffNation are back to caring about such things, we need CSU, and Colorado's road win over them, to stay viable and impressive.  That's not going to happen the way the Rams are going.  Their RPI ranking has slipped out of the top-100, and I'm worried about it ever recovering.  If that's not a top-100 win by the time Selection Sunday rolls around, then the Aggies will have done far more damage to CU's post-season hopes than they ever could've managed while facing them.


Today in the bag, I'm recapping the win over BYU, taking a look at how the rest of the Pac-12 did, and discussing a rabid anti-Linda Lappe fan's obsession with getting their point across.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, December 12, 2015

2015-16 CU vs BYU Basketball Teaser

This is a big one for Colorado.  With a win this evening over BYU, they're almost assured of sweeping the home portion of their non-conference slate.  What's more, they'll also be in excellent position to finish the first two months of the season with, at most, two losses.  That's the kind of resume they need, with the schedule they're playing, to head into Pac-12 play with NCAA Tournament hopes intact. The Cougars also figure to be a top-100 RPI prize, and a team who, themselves, are competing for post-season play.  It's an important scalp to have, looking forwards, and one the Buffs should be loathe to let slip through their fingers on home hardwood.  It's not a 'must-win' game, coming off the impressive performance up north, but one that could be the difference between a Dance ticket and a NIT invite, come Selection Sunday.

The trick then, is finding a way to stymie a pretty solid BYU Cougars squad. The Cougars have proven to be a fantastically resilient program the last few years, consistently finding themselves in the top-50 of the RPI for the better part of a decade, and entrants in the NCAA Tournament eight of the last nine seasons.  Head coach Dave Rose has built up a perennial regional power over his 10+ seasons at the helm, and, even with the semi-recent drop from the mid-major Mountain West to the small conference WCC, they don't appear to be slowing down anytime soon.
Dave Rose has built a hell of a mid-major power in the desert. From:
For Rose, however, much of that past success was built on the shoulders of those who are no longer in Provo. First, it was the legendary Jimmer Fredette, who tickled the twine over four magical seasons of some of the best shooting in college basketball history.  More recently, it was Tyler Haws, the wing who lead the nation in scoring for 2014-15, and who took 33% of shots with him out the door.  BYU simply does not have a special talent the likes of those two luminaries this season, which limits their ceiling a tad.  It's not a knock, per se - how many raw scoring talents like that are really running around on a year-over-year basis, anyways? - but it's a glaring hole in their resume as compared to previous years.

What they still have, though, is plenty.  The roster is lead by 6-6 senior point guard Kyle Collinsworth; a natural facilitator currently sitting with a 40.7 assist rate and 57 dimes on the young season. One of the more unique talents in the country, his ability to score, dish out some love, and haul in some rebounds (17.2 DR%, currently) allowed him to post six triple-doubles last winter, an NCAA single-season record.  He's damn near close to averaging one this go around, posting nightly 15/8/7 numbers.  Maybe not an outside shooting threat (only 10 attempts to-date in 2015-16) he's still a capable scorer and creator -- whatever the Cougars get offensively tonight will probably come off of something the Provo product initiated, making him problem #1 for CU's iffy perimeter defense. Think back to last Sunday in Fort Collins; the Buffs really only struggled when Ram point guard John Gillon was attacking off the dribble and creating opportunities for him teammates.  A different style from Collinsworth, to be sure, but a word of warning, nonetheless.
Collinsworth is one of the more unique talents in the country.  From: USA Today
What really differentiates BYU from the CSU team Colorado just finished waxing, however, is their post presence. More to the point, the Cougars actually have one, giving them a balanced attack that could really stretch the Buffs at times.  Forwards Corbin Kaufusi (a true sophomore, also from Provo) and Kyle Davis (a junior transfer from Utah State) are a powerful tandem in the paint, one that excels at both ends of the court. Kaufusi is especially potent defending the rim, and comes in with a top-75 block rate, while Davis spends more of his time cleaning the boards (11.3 rebounds per game, with a top-50 defensive rate).  Offensively, the two combine for about 21 points per, and are more than enough of a threat to make you think twice about fronting the post and switching on screens.

Elsewhere, look for shooting threats Chase Fischer and Nick Emery.  The pair are the leading scorers on the team, and have, together, hit 40 threes on the season.  Unlike the Rams' shooters, they're not volume threats; true shooters, then, they're very capable of getting red hot from deep.  Fischer, formerly of Jeff Bzdelik's Wake Forest program, works well off of the offensive creativity of Collinsworth, and has posted a true shooting rate near 60%. You'll probably recognize Emery's name from his recent one-game suspension for a cheap shot on Utah's Brandon Taylor, but the freshman is actually more dangerous as a pure scoring threat pouring in daggers from above.  Either are nasty, competitive shooting talents, and will be a handle beyond the arc for Colorado.  This is where rebounding margin comes into play -- you don't want to routinely give these guys second bites at the three-point apple.  Clearing Collinsworth and Davis off the glass, then, is key.
You have to defend Fischer on the perimeter. From:
After those five, however... the roster starts to get a little light.  Nate Austin and Jake Toolson are interesting pieces off the bench, but there's next to nothing after them that can hurt Colorado. There's a reason, after all, that the Cougars are 0-2 in true road games this season. In their losses to Long Beach State and Utah, BYU struggled to find good fifth, sixth, and seventh options to step up when needed (remember, rare is the night when all five of your starters are on their game). This is where the Buffs can help themselves by staying out of foul trouble, and keeping their depth a viable threat.

All told, this is a BYU team that loves to play fast; get in, find their shot, and get out.  So far, they've been getting about 75 possessions per night, firing off their shots after an average of only 14.3 seconds into the shot clock (8th fastest, nationally).  We here in BuffNation typically love when teams try to come into the CEC and run with CU, but this may be a different case.  The Cougars can just flat out score, especially when Fischer and Emery are stroking it.  With a dynamic threat like Collinsworth fueling things, I just figure that they're going to get theirs, even if the Buffs are on their defensive game.  That means that, once again, we're looking at another boat race.

Eventually, I think this game will turn in the paint. The Cougars are strong along the front line, but I think Colorado's pair of Scott and Gordon are simply better.  If the Colorado Springs pair hits their numbers, and the scoring wings knock down their typical share of three-pointers, I have no doubt that CU, at home, will be able to outscore the Cougars.  At some point the Buffs will have to defend, to be sure, but I just see this one as another instance of 'first to 80 wins.'  And, once again, I'm going to say it's Colorado.  83 - 75.


Tuesday, December 8, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Conquering the Fort

I'm out and about on business this week (in Mississippi... don't ask), so scant time for pleasantries.  Straight to the action!

Today in the bag, I'm talking the big win up in Fort Collins, taking a look a look at how the rest of the Pac-12 is dealing with the non-conference slate, and discussing some coaching moves on campus.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, December 5, 2015

Ft Lewis Wrap and 2015-16 CU vs CSU Basketball Teaser

What else can you say?  The Buffs got the result they were looking for Wednesday night against the Fort Lewis Skyhawks.  They may have allowed 55% shooting in the first half, 40% from beyond the arc overall, and only found themselves up two at the break, but they clamped down defensively in the second half, and cruised the rest of the way to a 95-71 win.  In a game that doesn't count against the RPI, and comes immediately ahead of the two biggest games on the pre-Vegas non-conference slate, it's all that was needed: a win.
The Buffs toed a fine line on Wednesday, but none-the-less got the victory against Ft Lewis.  From: USA Today
Other than Kody Salcido's mustache, what I was most impressed with was the play of Josh Scott.  He didn't have much competition down low, but it's fun to see anyone in any circumstance put up 24/15 in only 27 minutes.  He was 11-15 from the field, and effortlessly dictated everything that happened inside the arc -- both offensively and defensively.  Josh Fortune also had a fantastically smooth game (17 points, six assists, no turnovers), but it was all about J-40, and he played a fantastic game.  Luckily, he was at his best, because FLC is a pretty darn decent squad (for a D-II), and, at least in my estimation, better than some of the other flotsam populating the schedule over the last few weeks (looking at you, UNC).

But, this post is not really about what Colorado did this week against a D-II school, as feisty as they may be. This is about looking ahead to Sunday's war in FoCo, the biennial trip north to face the most openly hostile crowd left on the schedule.  It still chaps my ass that CU lost last year, coming up short at home despite a combined 38 points from Ski Booker and Xavier Johnson.  You never want to lose to the Rams, but to lose at home, with everyone else in a CU uniform playing soft and timid, was... well, embarrassing, to be honest. The Rams came into Boulder and pushed the Buffs around in their own gym.  They were the big brother that night, something I never want to see happen again.

So, tomorrow afternoon, Colorado is looking for revenge.  For all the good momentum they've engendered over the last few weeks, all the good basketball they've been putting on film, they need a win up north.  They need to prove that last year is not how this series operates.  With a new found offensive energy and a dominating set of forwards, the Buffs need to command the floor, quiet the crowd, and strangle the life out of the Rams in Moby.
Eustachy and the Rams have done a great job in recent years of negating Josh Scott. From: ABC 7
First and foremost, that means a positive answer to this question: does Josh Scott make the trip?  No, I'm not saying that the Young Fundamental is quietly injured, and potentially out for Sunday's action.  I'm just wondering if, for the first time since arriving on campus, Josh Frickin' Scott manages to show up against the Rams.  In case you haven't noticed, and it would've been easy to miss his presence on the court the last three times these teams have met, Scott has been all but silent in his career against Colorado State.  Larry Eustachy has been putting on a master class of interior defense against Jelly; fronting and denying the big man the ball, battering him physically, knocking him off the glass, bringing the double-team at every opportunity, and generally making Josh's life a living hell.  Don't believe me?  Here are Josh's game lines by year:

2014 - 2 pts, 0-7 from the floor, Ortg 63, 8 rebounds, 0 blocks, 1 steal, 2 assists, 2 fouls - 35 minutes
2013 - 6 pts, 2-4 from the floor, Ortg 102, 7 rebounds, 3 blocks, 2 steals, 0 assists, 4 fouls - 32 minutes
2012 -  4 pts, 2-8 from the floor, Ortg 63, 3 rebounds, 1 block, 1 steal, 0 assists, 4 fouls - 27 minutes
*Averages over three games - 4 points, 6 rebounds, 21% from the floor, 1.3 blocks, 4.3 fouls/40 min

Woof. That's not All-Pac-12 caliber. That's barely even registering a pulse. If Josh is 'not a fan' of the Rammies, as he proclaimed this week, he needs to show it by putting little brother in the corner.  This is a brutal, physical rivalry.  The attention, offensively, for both sides may be on the perimeter this year, but the final result will still be earned in the trenches.  For CU, that has to start with Scott playing to his capabilities, and having a positive, practical impact on the game from a statistical perspective.
Back-to-back losses have CSU desperate for a win.  From: their stupid website.
A tiny, incremental amount of the juice for this game was lost to CSU's back-to-back losses to UTEP and Long Beach State.  Those two defeats were endemic of a Rams team that has not lived up to expectations this fall, and that, so far, does not look like a typical Larry Eustachy squad.  They have not been playing tough basketball, relying almost entirely on outside shooting, and have really struggled after a season-opening road win over a very strong Northern Iowa squad.  Oh, sure, they'll still rebound and scrap, and Larry will always try to put his unique stamp on things, but they have absolutely no inside presence, and are susceptible to some surprising turns on the scoreboard if their shots stop falling.

For the Rams, it all starts on the perimeter.  43% of their shots taken are from outside the arc, and they rarely even try to get anything from two-point range on in (337th nationally in two-point jumpers).  They're a good three-point shooting team (37%, four players over 40%), but nothing special -- more a collection of volume shooters than anything.  Wings Gian Clavell, John Gillon, and Antwan Scott do most of the damage here, accounting for 126 of their 194 total attempts for the year.  If that trio starts drawing iron from deep, the Rams have no other viable options to turn to offensively.  Just look at that UTEP box score, a game they lost in double-overtime.  CSU was up by 17 at halftime, bouncing along behind 9-23 shooting from deep. After the break, however, they went cold, only hitting 3-18 over the final 30 minutes (second half plus two overtimes). All the Miners (how ya doin, Dominic Artis?) had to do was chip away, which they did.
I'm surprised Larry has allowed his team to become so perimeter-focused.  From: BSNDenver
This, then, will be a major test for CU's perimeter defense. The Buffs are currently 250th nationally in allowed three-point percentage, but there's a devil in that detail -- Colorado is only allowing about 27% of all opponent attempts from deep, 10th nationally and 16 points lower than CSU's rate.  Tad Boyle's crew has actually been running-off shooters well, forcing teams off the dribble and into the paint.  That has been it's own issue, with the Buffs allowing too many layups over the last few games against marginal competition, but, importantly, they have not been getting overwhelmed from three.  That could loom large tomorrow.  The Rams are going to chuck up their bombs; but are they going to be open looks, or will CU stay in their face throughout the action on the perimeter?

Ultimately, I think CU could live with their average volume at the arc, so long as the shots are contested. And, if those shots don't fall, and the Rams have to venture outside of their comfort zone, they will do so into the waiting arms of Josh Scott and Wes Gordon, who are swatting shots at a high clip without committing fouls.  This wold negate CSU's lone saving grace -- the home whistle and getting to the free throw line.  25% of their total attempts have come from the charity stripe, which is surprisingly high, considering how little offensive activity they get off the edge.  If they don't get those calls - it would help if Collier and Talton aren't in foul trouble here - then the Rams have nothing left but to take contested jumpers, something the Buffs would welcome.
Clavell is legit, and the Buffs will struggle to keep him in check.  From: the Collegian.
On the flip side, when Colorado has the ball, the story is about how weak the Rams have been defensively. They're 273rd in adjusted efficiency, allowing opponents to be just as prolific from the perimeter as they are themselves.  That plays right into the Buffs hands, as they've proven to be a strong three point shooting team, without having to put up the volume of shots that CSU has.  A combination of Josh Scott playing to form, and the three scoring wings of George King, Josh Fortune, and Tre'Shaun Fletcher hitting their jumpers could make it very hard for Colorado State to keep up.

Personnel wise, my biggest concern is Clavell.  The 6-4 senior is a very smooth player, and an elite Mountain West performer.  He's both the team's best scorer (21.3 points per) and a fantastic rebounder (8.6 per game from the wing).  Colorado will struggle to keep Clavell in check, and a big game from the Puerto Rican could keep the Ft Collins crowd into it throughout.  Elsewhere, Gillon is a really good point guard, and could be very difficult to guard without fouling (and hits 96% from the line), while Joe De Ciman, adds versatility and depth on the wing. Inside, I'm most concerned about 6-7 senior forward Tiel Daniels, who was, defensively, the driving force behind Josh Scott's poor performance in the CEC last December.  The Buffs need to find a way to counter his defensive activity in the paint.
Gotta keep Gillon off the line.  From: the Coloradoan
Essentially, I see this game as a boat-race.  With both teams offensively focused, and the homestanding Rams a question defensively, the first team to 80 probably wins.  I have every reason to believe that team will be the Colorado Buffaloes, and, if Josh Scott can provide even a little more than he has in the past in this series, I will guarantee it.  In the end, give me the Buffs, 85-79.  Let their insufferable fans choke on that.


Tip-off from Moby Arena in Fort Collins is set for high noon tomorrow.  I expect a large number of black-and-gold faithful to be in attendance, and an incredible atmosphere overall.  If you haven't yet committed to making the drive (or bus ride) up to the Fort, let me assure you that a solid number of tickets are still available, and that the Buffs need you!  For those not headed north, televised coverage can be found on ROOT Sports (hey, that's still a thing!), with the radio call on AM 760.


Wednesday, December 2, 2015

2015-16 CU vs Ft Lewis Basketball Teaser

I'd like to take a brief moment to consider how the year has started.  Here at the start of December, the Buffs are sitting pretty.  With the win last Sunday over Northern Colorado, they improved to 5-1 overall (coincidentally, exactly where they were a season ago), winners of five straight, and are now solidly in the KenPom top-60. They've hung tough with #5 Iowa State, throttled a very game Auburn team in their own gym, and held serve against the scheduling detritus in Boulder.  With a top-50 defense, and, rather surprisingly, a top-100 offense, the Buffs have quantitatively gotten their groove back. Maybe not to the point that I think they could reasonably push for the top-four of the Pac-12 this season, but enough so that I'm keeping a wary eye on things like RPI and 'resume-building.'
You can't argue too much with what the Buffs have been putting on paper this season.  From: Pac-12 Networks
Qualitatively, they're back to being a fun team to watch, as well.  With the mix of inside-outside offensive basketball - combined with a (little) ball movement - they seem to be the improved offense that we were promised a year ago.  The new rules help, and we probably would've seen some form of 'offensive improvement' regardless, what with three versatile scoring wings (George King and Josh Fortune, especially) taking the place of some offensively limited options, but I was not expecting the team to look this capable this quickly. You have to work to defend the Buffs now, which is probably the best compliment I can pay them, when compared to what we saw in 2014-15. Colorado has also also shown well on the defensive end, rebounding to historic norms, guarding without fouling in the paint, and blocking a strong 13% of opportunities.  Josh Scott and Wes Gordon are worth the ink spent on them for their defensive abilities alone, and they're anchoring Colorado down low.  All-in-all, a strong start to the winter.

There are some nits to pick, though, with guard play at the point the biggest concern.  Now a 5th of the way through the season, the Buffs are 321st in offensive turnover rate, coughing up the ball about 22% of the time for a team-wide A:T ratio of 87:100. With this in mind, I can't help but point some fingers in the direction of veteran guards like Dom Collier and Xavier Talton. They each have turnover rates above 28% - Collier is damn near 30% - which is a disquieting sign through the start of the year.  This, turning the damn ball over, is CU's Achilles' heel, something that will probably keep them from fully capitalizing on their improved capabilities. But, even here, there is some hope.  Freshman Thomas Akyazili has come in and played heady, simple basketball, and has the lowest turnover rate of any rotation guard in town.  The more I see of the Belgian import, the more I like, and I would imagine that we're going to only see more going forward.

Of course, after early troubles with the Cyclones and Tigers, the Buffs have yet to face any significant amount of adversity.  You can talk about the Omaha game if you must, but that was mostly self-inflicted (with all due respect to the Mavericks).  That's what makes the upcoming stretch, featuring a trip north to face little brother and a home game against a very strong BYU squad, so interesting.  If we've learned over the first few weeks that the team is indeed better than the 2014-15 vintage, then this two game stretch will go a long way towards determining exactly how much better they really are.  With at least one win out of the set, BuffNation could begin to reasonably expect the return of postseason play, and relevance in the Pac-12 hunt.  In short: an exciting winter.
The Cowboys would warn about overlooking FLC.  From
But, before we get to all of that, there's tonight's game with D-II Fort Lewis College to consider.  The Skyhawks aren't a joke, either, and I'd entertain arguments that they're a better caliber of opponent than, say, Northern Colorado.  New head coach Bob Pietrack, who's taking over for program legend Bob Hofman, has them off to a perfect 5-0 start, and looking like a very strong team. They even started the season with an (exhibition) win at Wyoming, which should speak volumes (although the 'Pokes have taken a step backwards in life after Larry Nance).  FLC is a tough, veteran, and, yes, dangerous bunch, not your typical D-II gimmie, by any means.

They're lead by five seniors, including 6-9 forward Austin Haldorson, the grandson of CU legend Burdie Haldorson.  Ft Lewis' best single piece, however, may be sophomore guard Rasmus Bach.  The 6-4 wing from Texas leads the team with 18 points per game on 61% shooting from the floor.  He plays well with shooters Joshua Blaylock and Will Morse, who are each hitting over 45% from deep this season.  Rounding out the heavy rotation is Longmont product Cade Kloster, another 6-4 senior wing with a nose for scoring the ball.  Their backcourt - Bach, Blaylock, Morse, and Kloster - are each averaging in double-figures this season, and make for a capable guard-oriented attack that should help the Skyhawks push for the upper-echelon of the RMAC this season.  Off the bench, watch out for Kody Salcido.  Mo-venber may be over for us mere mortals, but, for the 6-6 senior forward from Albuquerque, it lives on forever.
Bach is the biggest scoring threat out of Durango.  From the Durango Herald.
No, there's absolutely no reason for the Buffs to lose tonight, what with the athleticism, the depth, and the home cooking.  But, as Wyoming can attest, even games against D-II schools can end in frustrating fashion, and Colorado needs to come out with their heads screwed on.  Assuming a basic level of focus and attention at the outset, however, I fully expect a 25-to-30-point CU win.  The final score is not the point, though, just keeping the rhythm rolling into the weekend is what I'm most looking forward to.  Nothing excessive, nothing explosive, just a comfortable, fluid performance.

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6pm this evening.  Televised coverage is on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on AM 760.


Tuesday, December 1, 2015

Tuesday Grab Bag: Snubbed by the NCAA

Pour a quick one out for the women's volleyball team, who got straight hosed by the NCAA Tournament Selection Committee.  The team who finished 5th in the toughest conference in America, beat six top-25 opponents, and who finished the year on a roll by winning five of their last six was left on the side of the road by a committee who seemed (unsurprisingly) over-impressed by RPI.  Consider that three teams that finished below them in the Pac-12 standings made the dance, and understand how royally they were screwed.

I especially feel bad for seniors Alexis Austin and Nicole Edelman.  They deserved to go out with another trip to the tournament, not the heartbreak of a truly indefensible snub.  For that, I have only one word for the committee:


Today in the bag, I'm talking the hoops win over Northern Colorado, the end of the football season, and an uncomfortable anniversary.

Click below for the bag...