Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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.


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