Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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...

Buffs blow the Pirates out of the water - 

Just 24 hours after a surprisingly dour struggle with the bottom-feeding Nicholls State Colonels, the Colorado Buffaloes were back on home hardwood, seeking to expunge the memory of that ugly first half from everyone's mind.  In resounding fashion, the Buffs did just that, stomping on the accelerator from the opening tip, and controlling the action with the Hampton Pirates all the way through.  The final, a 95-53 shellacking, seemed effortless at times; hell, even Coach Boyle seemed happy afterwards, saying in the post game press conference that he wished that all the games could be like that.  While every date on the calendar can't be this decisive, there's nothing that says we can't enjoy this one while we can.  Lap it up, 'cause it all gets more difficult from here on out.
Collier and Scott snuffed out any fear of a repeat performance quickly.  From:
Compared with expectations, this weekend's games seemed to have been developed in reverse.  It was the Friday night game against the Colonels that was supposed to be the 42-point blowout, not this one against Hampton.  The difference was a perfect storm of excellence on both ends of the court, and a full 40 minutes of effort. Colorado held the visitors to 32% shooting in each half, were +15 on the boards, and scored 1.27 points per possession.  You can't get much better than that, with the dominating stat lines helping to boost the Buffs up a full 11 spots in the KenPom rankings (now coming in at #44).  They were lead, once again, by Josh Scott, who posted a near-flawless 21/8 in 25 minutes of play.  As a team, CU only committed six turnovers all game, powered by point guard Dom Collier's clean eight assists against zero TOs.  With those two providing the inside-outside combo of promise, Colorado becomes a nightmare to matchup against, and clearly one of the teams to watch in the upcoming Pac-12 campaign.

Really, though, the big story to emerge in the wake of this game was the injury to Wesley Gordon.  The redshirt junior power forward only played 11 minutes Saturday night, emerging from the halftime locker room with ice on his right knee.  The initial word is that he just banged it, twice, in the first half, and that it's nothing serious, possibly just a bone bruise.  He's still a question mark for Tuesday's affair with Penn State, shortening CU's roster at a very inopportune time.  Luckily, however, sophomore center Tory Miller seems to be stepping up at just the right moment.  He posted a monstrous 19/10/3 off the bench against Hampton, missing only two shots on the evening (one from the field, one from the line).  Colorado will need that kind of production to hold over into the week, as the Nittany Lions are a very strong defensive team in the paint. If the Buffs are really short of Wes' versatility, passing, defending, and rebounding acumen in Las Vegas, it'll be Miller asked to step up and carry the load.
Hopefully, Wes will be back in time for Tuesday's affair with Penn State.  From: the BDC
This is a real tricky time for Colorado to be juggling injuries, because, as Coach Boyle is fond of saying, "the price of poker is about to go up."  The 'easy' part of the schedule is now done and dusted, with nothing but strong, Power Five opponents remaining from here to post-season play.  To their credit, the Buffs held serve against their filler-heavy early slate, winning all but one of their first 11 games, but that's only the first third of the season.  Starting with Tuesday's trip to Las Vegas, there are no more 'gimmies' remaining on the schedule; the Buffs will have to earn everything from here on out.  That's actually a good thing, as some unresolved questions still need answering.  I was hopeful that we'd know all we'd need to know about this team by now, but that simply isn't the case.  CU has yet to be tested like they will be over the next two weeks, with the non-conference slate in Sin City and the first conference trip of the season to play the NorCal schools.  How they perform from here until the Utah game on January 8th will be very informative.

Around the world of Pac-12 Basketball - 

- Utah 77 - Duke 75 (OT) -

Check out the Utes, going into a hostile Madison Square Garden and stealing a win from the #7 Blue Devils. Not too shabby. They struggled against the setting, oscillating whistle, and internal drive to choke the result away, but some key baskets and solid shooting from the free throw line in the overtime period proved to be enough.  Ute forwards Kyle Kuzma and Jakob Poeltl combined for 40/22 against a Duke front line that could not keep up; I can't wait to see them match up with Colorado's tandem of Scott and Gordon.
The Utes swarmed Duke in the paint. From: USA Today
It's a huge win, not only for Utah, but for the conference as a whole.  It was the highlight result of the weekend for the league, and one that will serve everyone well in RPI calculations.  I'm still not sold on Utah, overall, and continue see them as a second-tier competitor for the Pac-12 crown, but I can't deny the difficulty of this win, and what it says about the character of the team.  Wherever their road takes them, they will be a tough out this March.

- North Carolina 89 - UCLA 76 - 

The Bruins got another big scoring night from Isaac Hamilton, but it wasn't enough as Brice Johnson and the Tar Heels torched them for a 13-point victory in Brooklyn's Barclays Center.  UCLA, however, doesn't have to prove anything else to me, having mostly survived one of the toughest non-conference schedules in the country.  They will head into January as claimants of wins over UNLV, Kentucky, Gonzaga, and that feisty Long Beach State team.  More than enough evidence that they're real players in the Pac-12 race.

- Arizona 82 - UNLV 70 -

With Kaleb Tarczewski still out with a foot injury, Arizona got a surprising 20 points from center Dusan Ristic, helping to propel them past the Runnin' Rebels.  Behind Ristic, the Wildcats outscored UNLV by six in the paint, and dominated them by 12 on the boards.  This continues the basic, immutable fact that all Sean Miller teams defend and rebound like mad men. All told, they would only get four points from their bench, not entirely a surprise, making this advantage all the more definitive.
Arizona just keeps bouncing along, now sitting at 11-1 on the season.  From:

- Texas 75 - Stanford 73 -  

Finally, turn your attention to Stanford, where the Cardinal continue to struggle to find any rhythm in 2015-16. In this one, they were stunted at the buzzer as UT's Isaiah Taylor hit a runner to steal victory out of Maples.  This is nothing new for Stanford, who are now only 5-4 on the campaign.  While all of their four losses are understandable (SMU, St Mary's, Villanova, and, now, Texas), they've yet to claim a win of note, and are not setting themselves up well for the winter.  Unless something changes, I'm seeing a hard crash back to earth after two consecutive successful postseasons.

The Colorado coaching carousel continues to spin - 

The coaching ranks in Boulder continue to see some turnover.  The big news over the weekend was the official announcement of the departure of Toby Neinas -- the football program's now former special teams coordinator.  Many in BuffNation had been expecting, even hoping, for this announcement for some time, but it still means continuing shakeup on a football staff in desperate need of a winning season.  Neinas had overseen some shaky special teams performances in his three years at CU, including this season's that featured six kicks blocked and an inconsistent return game.  While I don't think he, specifically, was the problem, you can point to special teams as a factor in a number of Colorado's nine losses this fall, including the Hawai'i and USC games.
Chiaverini returns to Colorado.  From: LubbockOnline
While Neinas' resignation is not expected to be the last of the staff changes this winter, part of the solution to the hole left on the staff is the return of a familiar name to the eastern sideline of Folsom Field.  Yes, good ole #6, Darrin Chiaverini, is coming home to be a part of Mike MacIntyre's rebuilding scheme. Chiaverini, who had been the wide receivers coach at Texas Tech, will take on the same duties in Colorado, with the added flavor of a co-offensive coordinator tag.  He also had extensive experience with special teams while in Lubbock, and could potentially continue on that track here, as well.  Regardless of his final set of duties, it's a strong hire for CU, with Darrin bringing both name recognition and talent to the polo and khaki set in the program.

But, once again, football was not alone in shuffling their coaching deck.  Volleyball closed the loop left open after the dismissal of Liz Kritza by hiring Boulder native Jesse Mahoney to take up the reins in the CEC. Mahoney returns to CU, where he started his coaching career, from DU.  With the Pioneers, Mahoney helped claim back-to-back conference titles, along with the accompanying NCAA Tournament berths. Well traveled along the front range, he also claims experience with the vaunted CSU program, a history which promises to revive that long lost rivalry.  Time will tell, but this also seems like a good hire for CU athletics.

Happy Monday!

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