Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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.


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