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...

Las Vegas Classic Wrap - 

Two games in Sin City, two similar score lines, two decidedly dissimilar results.  Through grit, determination, and a mixed bag of luck, the Colorado Men's Basketball Team earned a split in the Orelans Arena-based portion of the Las Vegas Classic, putting a capper on non-conference play, and setting themselves up for an interesting winter.  It could've been better, it could've been worse.  At least, with Christmas approaching, it wasn't a big dose of coal in the proverbial stocking.

In last Tuesday's 'semi-final' against Penn State, the opening 20 minutes were a struggle.  Outside shots drew mostly iron over the first half (1-7 from deep), the team was fighting another losing battle with the turnover bug (nine total), and were left searching for anything resembling offensive rhythm, as a result (just 25 first half points).  Luckily, into the second half, the Buffs' shooters came alive, and offensive flow returned.  Strong shooting from the floor (46%, 67% from deed) buoyed the cause down the stretch, and ownership of the glass (+13) kept the result on Colorado's terms.  The Nittany Lions would push late to steal the win, but CU hit just enough free throws to claim a 71-70 final.
Well, at least photogs had cameras at the first game. From: the Post.
This whole game was played to just the fans in attendance, as Fox Sports 1 decided they didn't need to use their broadcast rights to actually, you know, broadcast the proceedings, so I can't say too much about the result.  It did sound like the game was a slow, ugly affair plagued by scattershot offense on both ends.  For both Colorado and Penn State, had shooters (CU's Josh Fortune and Dom Collier, PSU's Shep Garner) not gotten going late, this could've ended up in the high 50s; just ugly.  Maybe, then, it's for the best that the nation didn't get to witness the struggle (which is always real).  Just know that Josh Scott and Wes Gordon had strong nights (28/14 and seven blocks, combined), and move on.

The following evening against the #18 SMU Mustangs, Colorado seemed to have put themselves in a similar position.  Hot three-point shooting in the first half (6-12) had kept them in it, but CU had otherwise been thoroughly beaten down by Larry Brown's crew, and were lucky to only be down five at the break.  A 14-0 run halfway through the final frame, however, flipped the script, and put the Buffs up eight with as many minutes to play.  Suddenly, this flattering stretch promised to earn them a statement win over a very strong club that just minutes prior seemed far-fetched.  Down the final stretch, however, SMU re-took control, putting together a 14-1 run of their own.  Dominating both ends, and watching Colorado miss free throw after free throw, the Mustangs didn't look back, and pushed home a 70-66 final.
Nic Moore and the Mustangs did just enough to slip past CU at the post.  From: the Review Journal.
It's opportunity lost for the Buffs here.  That 14-0 run should've been enough to give them a solid foothold on the game, but they gave it right back at the line.  For the game, CU was 8-17 on all free throw attempts, with the usually reliable Josh Scott going 2-7, bringing back memories of his time in Hawai'i last December. Misses from the stripe always stick in your mind, but these were especially painful for a team that entered as the #1 free throw team in the Pac-12.  The letdowns at the line seemed to seep into other areas, as the Mustangs got second looks off of offensive rebounds, and the Buffs committed more than a few turnovers. They were their own worst enemy, plain and simple, and it cost themselves a big upset victory on neutral hardwood -- the kind of wins that conference title challengers claim with regularity.

At the end of the day, CU did what they needed to do in Las Vegas.  With the win in the 'semi-final' against Penn State, they got the needed date with SMU, which keeps their RPI ranking in the top-25.  On Selection Sunday, assuming the Buffs don't do something silly like crap out over the next few months or outright win the Pac-12 Tournament, just playing the Mutangs will look like a huge victory. Yes, in an ideal world, they would've held onto the second half lead over Southern Methodist to head into conference play winners of 12-straight (and probably ranked in the top-25), but beggars can't be choosers.  What needed doing got done, and it's all forward thinking from here on out.  Win at least nine games in league play, and you're in the Dance. With Pac-12 play starting Friday, the real work starts now.

Pac-12 Primer - 

The AllBuffs crew asked for me to participate in their Pac-12 Prediction Round Table.  I, of course, said yes, and submitted the following responses to the team this afternoon.  Take a look at how I see the league playing out:

1) Pac-12 Order of finish:

Oregon State

2) Each team's 'player to watch:'

UofA - Ryan Anderson
ASU - Willie Atwood
Cal - Ty Wallace
CU - Brett Brady
UO - Chris Boucher
OSU - Gary Payton II
Stanford - the Tree
UCLA - Bryce Alford
USC - Jordan McLaughlin
Utah - Jakob Poeltl
UW - Andrew Andrews
WSU - Josh Hawkinson

3) Surprise 'riser' team:

USC - The Pac-12 is very deep this year, but most of those involved are familiar faces.  Even Oregon State showed they had a pule last season, before a tough final stretch stunted their growth.  The Trojans, however, have been a true doormat since the expansion to 12 teams.  That will not be the case this winter, however. USC has proven to be a competent ballclub through non-conference play, and could fight for a middle-of-the-pack finish.  Maybe "Captain Bucktooth"... er, Andy Enfield, has a clue, after all.

4) Surprise disappointment team:

Stanford - It's not all that surprising, per se, to see them dropping games with regularity, as the last few waves of talent have spent themselves upon the rocks, but Johnny Dawkins' squad is just... *meh*.  I can't even bring myself to care about anyone on that roster.  It's UW syndrome all over again.  Bottom-quarter for a program that should be doing soooo much more.

5) Player of the Year:

Josh Scott - I'm not kidding.  The Buffs don't use him enough.  He's special, and is playing like a special senior should be.

6) Coach of the Year:

Sean Miller - Arizona - The man is a witch doctor.  How are they always this good on the glass?

7) Freshman of the Year:

Tyler Dorsey - Oregon - I'm taking KEYSER SOZE over Jaylen Brown, mostly because I think Dorsey is the better player right now. Hampered a little by injuries, he's still a really nice, efficient fit in Eugene.

8) Defender of the Year:

GP2 - Oregon State - I think you have to give it to him, right?

9) 1st Team Pac-12 (Starting 5):

G - Bryce Alford - UCLA
G - GP2 - Oregon State
F - Ryan Anderson - Arizona
F - Josh Scott - Colorado
C - Jakob Poeltl - Utah

10) Pac-12 teams that make the Dance:

The Pac-12 currently owns the #2 best league-wide RPI, only slightly behind the Big XII.  They've been so impressive through two months, that none other than CBS's bracket guru Jerry Palm has the conference earning seven bids this March (with CU winning the league, *cough*).  With the Committee so reliant on RPI in recent years, that seems like a fair number to me, although I slightly disagree on who those seven will be.  Give me the following:

Arizona, California, Colorado, Oregon, UCLA, and Utah solidly in, with USC and OSU fighting over a final, play-in/bubble bid.

Happy Tuesday!

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