Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

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...

Buffs throttle Rams with second half rejoinder - 

Through 20 minutes of basketball Sunday afternoon in Fort Collins, it was not looking good for our CU heroes.  Despite a flurry of three pointers out of the gate, the Buffs had allowed near 60% shooting from the floor (78% from deep) to the archrival Rams, falling behind 52-39 at the break.  At that point, Moby Arena was rocking, and Colorado looked just about done for.  Some savvy coaching changes and good old fashioned grit and determination, however, flipped the script in the second half, springing CU to blow past little brother en route to a 88-77 final.  Puff out your chests, BuffNation, we have ourselves a hell of a basketball team to cheer for.
Wes Gordon and Josh Scott proved to be the difference on Sunday.  From the Post
The offensive disparity between the first and second halves for CSU is incredible.  Behind some red hot shooting and easy entry on dribble-drive penetration, the Rams poured in just shy of 1.5 points per possession. Gian Clavell and John Gillon were playing out of their minds, and Colorado simply had no answer for them as they combined for 29 first half points.  CU's perimeter defense was in shambles, and the coaching staff was, admittedly, bereft of answers.  The halftime break, though, gave them a chance to reassess, and they dug into the schematic barrel.  The solution they came to?  Switching everything at the perimeter, denying the CSU guards their leverage off of screens, and taking advantage of the Rams' offensively challenged big men.  Suddenly, when coming off of picks, Clavell and Gillon were looking at the 6-9 and 6-10 frames of Wes Gordon and Josh Scott, and they just couldn't adjust.  Gordon and Scott are more than athletic enough to make it difficult for even good guards to get around them easily, and are fantastic at defending without fouling.  With no strong interior scoring talent to turn to, CSU was suddenly in hot water offensively. The result: the pair of guards only combined for five second half points as the Rams' rates fell; 22% shooting in the second half, .667 points per possession.  There's some regression to the mean math going on there, but all credit to the staff for switching up the gameplan, and to the forwards for making life tough out on the edge.

All that was left, then, was for the offense to hit their numbers over the final frame.  They did just that, powered, once again, by the forward tandem of Gordon and Scott.  As successful as the duo was defensively (23 combined boards, three blocks, and a steal), they were even moreso with the ball.  For the first time in his career against the Rams, Josh Scott came alive, leading the team with 21 points on 15 shots. The Big Fundamental answered his critics, backed up his pregame talk, and played like Josh Frickin' Scott. Wes Gordon, almost more importantly, was a major contributor, as well, demanding the ball, working the offensive glass (five ORBDs), and lighting the offensive fires at the start of the second half.  In a game where CSU was not bringing double teams, the two Colorado Springs products did fantastic work in the paint one-on-one, and owned everything inside. Both recording double-doubles, they brought fire, energy, and consistent effort to bear, and the Rams had nothing in reserve left to throw at them by the end of the game. When those two are playing like that, it's going to be damn tough to beat the Buffs. Throw in a stellar, all-encompassing 16 point, six assist effort from Josh Fortune, and it becomes nearly impossible.
"Oh, the tears of unfathomable sadness... yummy!" From: the Collegian
Elsewhere, one of the subtle stories of the first half, and a key to why Colorado was struggling so much, was the early foul trouble of point guard Dom Collier.  He took two cheapies in the opening minutes, forcing himself to the bench, and backups Thomas Akyazili and Xavier Talton into the game.  Yaz played pretty well, all things considered, showing some fight in a tussle with Clavell, and otherwise playing his calm, steady brand of basketball. But Talton... well, let's just say there was a reason Gillon was getting to the rim so much in the first half.  Into the second frame, however, Collier stayed out of foul trouble (thanks, in large part, to the switching keeping him off the primary ball-handler), and in the action, expertly directing the Buffs for the vast majority of the final 20 minutes.  He would finish with seven points, seven assists, and three steals against just one turnover (an offensive foul at that... *shrugs*), which is exactly the kind of play you're looking for from the Denver East product, and the kind of play CU needs at the top of the attack.  It's also why Dom needs to cut out the cheap fouls, and stay on the court.  The Buffs simply cannot afford to dig too deep into the depth chart against quality opponents.

With the Rams in the rearview, Colorado continues to project well headed into the final stretch of non-conference play.  Now at 7-1, and with two big true road wins, Colorado hosts the feisty BYU Cougars this Saturday in what is their last important test prior to the trip to Las Vegas at the end of the month.  Don't be confused by their small conference (WCC) pedigree, BYU is damn tough, and will be a big challenge for CU.  If they can manage claim victory against the Cougars, and hold serve the rest of the way, the team very well could be ranked headed into the Las Vegas Classic.  At the very least, it would put a capper on a highly successful first month of the season, and set them up for a strong push towards the post-season in 2016. What that means to you, Johnny CU fan, is that we need a big-ass crowd Saturday evening.  If you haven't been planning on it, make sure you find your way to the building, and make the CEC as hostile as possible. The team is going to need it...

Around the world of Pac-12 Basketball - 

Utah 83 - BYU 75 - 

Speaking of the Cougars, they waged into battle last week against their archrival, the University of Utah. Much like little brother, though, they proved incapable of handling the in-state flagship, falling behind by as many as 23 in the first half to curtail any thoughts of victory.  They fought back a bit in the second half, but the Utes kept them at arms length until the final horn. Shooter Chase Fisher lead the way for the visitors in defeat, collecting 26 points on 15 attempts.
Taylor and the Utes got the last laugh over BYU.  From: the SLC Trib
Beyond just the boxscore, however, BYU guard Nick Emery earned himself a brief vacation for landing a sucker-punch on Utah's Brandon Taylor.  As a result, the freshman starter from Alpine, UT sat out the Cougars' game with Weber State, and earned the nation's attention.  Expect him back in the lineup Saturday, however, and hopefully the Buffs remember the old boxing adage and 'protect themselves at all times.'

UCLA 87 - Kentucky 77 - 

A big win for the Utes, to be sure, but the biggest story of the non-conference season in Pac-12 land was the emphatic Bruin win over #1 Kentucky.  Lead by Thomas Welsh's 21/11 double-double (the kid is keeping the midrange jumper alive and well in Westwood), UCLA shot near 55% from the field and essentially dominated the action from start to finish. Coming just less than a year after a humiliation at the hands of the same UK program, it had to feel good for UCLA to exorcise some demons like that. In celebration, they even made a half-hearted attempt at rushing the court... awwwwww.
Welsh is developing into a hell of a threat in LA.  From: Yahoo.

UNLV 80 - Oregon 69 -

Friday night on AM 1190, I talked about how I though Oregon had been making the biggest waves of any Pac-12 team over the totality of non-conference play.  Of course, that very night, the Ducks went out and laid an egg on the road against UNLV.  The Rebels are a pretty good team, to be sure, and they were playing just blocks from their campus at the MGM Grand Garden, but they controlled the action from the onset, and never really looked all that threatened by the normally effective UO defense.  Scarier than just the loss, however, freshman super guard Tyler Dorsey (aka, KEYZER SOZE) took a spill, and wound up with a knee sprain.  He missed the following game against Navy, but, thankfully, otherwise looks to be back in the action sooner rather than later.
Not so smooth sailing for the Ducks in LV.  From: the AP

Arizona 68 - Gonzaga 63 -

Rounding out the Pac-12 reports, the UofA and Zags renewed their hardwood rivalry in Spokane over the weekend.  The Bulldogs seemed to have complete control of this one early, as they rolled to a 10-point halftime lead behind expert performances from their front court against the Kaleb Tarczewski-less Wildcats. Arizona is made of stern stuff, however, and stormed back in the second half. Gabe York was the story, scoring 14 quick points out of the locker room to spur the comeback.
Gabe York, yo.  From:
If you get a chance, take a peek at Arizona's KenPom page.  Yep, once again, they're one of the nation's best defensive clubs, only allowing about an adjusted .91 points per possession.  I may not be sold on them, coming into their first year post-McConnell, but damn it if they can't defend like wild men.  Sean Miller knows what the hell he's doing down there, that's for sure.

Coaching shakeups on campus - 

It's December, which means only one thing for college athletics -- coaching moves.  One of the first dominoes to fall nationally was Oregon offensive coordinator (and former Husker QB) Scott Frost taking the head job at UCF.  Normally, this wouldn't be too big of a deal for the Buffs, but Frost reached into Boulder to grab prized position coach Tory Walters off of CU's staff to be his offensive coordinator in Orlando.  It's a huge loss for Colorado, as Walters had become a beloved figure in practice, on the recruiting trail, and in social media for BuffNation.  It's not necessarily a surprise, as Walters was too talented to stay here as just a receivers coach for too long, but I was hoping to get at least one more year from the former Stanford Cardinal standout.
The Buffs will miss Troy Walters.  From: the BDC
The departure of Walters wasn't the only shakeup on the east sideline of Folsom, however.  Mike MacIntyre dropped strength and conditioning coordinator Dave Forman Monday, looking to replace him in the near future. Strength coach is typically one of the more important positions on any staff, as they spend the most time with the players over the offseason.  Maybe this is just the first of many active changes for Mac, as he looks to tweak a staff that has yet to produce that long sought after bowl berth.

Coaching upheaval hasn't just been limited to the football program, however. In a somewhat surprising move, Rick George dismissed head women's volleyball coach Liz Kritza after a season that just barely ended outside of the NCAA Tournament field.  Kritza had been moderately successful in seven seasons at the helm of the program, going 57-41 over the last three years, which included a pair of postseason berths.  The program seemed to be headed in a steady upward direction, which is why the move seems so shocking, but you never really know with these things.  Being in the Pac-12, the nation's premiere volleyball conference, the gig could hold a lot of appeal for some talented coaches; hopefully the Buffs can nab someone good to continue that vball success.

Happy Tuesday!

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