Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, December 31, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Utah Basketball Preview #1

Well, finally, at long last, we have arrived at conference play.  The distraction of an extra month of football season now pushed aside, with some great pain, the way is clear for basketball to take center stage, once again.  Some of you who haven't been paying close attention could be very confused by what you see.  The Buffs are exactly where I expected them to be in the standings, 10-3 overall.  They have a KenPom profile in the top-70, a similar RPI ranking, defensive efficiency in the top-50 of the country.  Looks OK, right?

Well, for a team that has been winning at the expected clip, Colorado has been doing anything but living up to expectations.  The basketball on display, night in, night out, has been stilted, frustrating, and largely un-entertaining.  This is where what the eye sees contradicts the raw numbers. While they have been winning basketball games, and only really losing one that they shouldn't, the whole narrative of the season has been a dour slog.

The inevitable question is: so, what's the problem?  There is both the tangible and the intangible answer. Tangibly, the twin issues are hitting shots and rebounding.  CU was top-25 nationally last year in 3-point shooting, hitting near 39% as a team.  This year, they're dipping under 34% from outside, a number which seems better than what we actually endure every game.  Everyone wants to blame this on the absence of Josh Scott, as the phenomenal forward got to be very good at kicking out to open shooters last year. The problem with that excuse is that the players are still getting open attempts -- they've just biffing them. Indeed, Colorado's offense continues to look great when the shots are falling, but when good shooters like George King are down 15 percentage points from their efforts the previous year, inconsistency persists, and the overall product suffers.  As for rebounding, we knew it was potentially a troublesome spot, with the lack of depth up front, but the rates are so pedestrian (middle-third around the country) in an area the team systemically relies on that it's hurting results.  The BYU loss alone can be chalked up to this issue.

Then we come to the intangible.  Something is just... off with this roster.  The mix of backcourt veterans that was supposed to lead with heady experience is not playing to expectation.  They just don't seem to have a feel for each other, and I get the general sense that they don't even really want to be there every night.  Now, a lot of that is projecting, and it's hard to be all bubbly and smiling when working your tail off to come back from a near-20-point deficit against Eastern Washington, but the lack of intensity, focus, and determination from the tip is glaring.  This is the result of something I did not expect to deal with this season; a lack of leadership.  Maybe a result of having too many chefs in the kitchen, maybe the result of the natural vacuum left behind J40 when he graduated, regardless, Colorado is in dire need of someone on the team to step up and take charge.

All those frustrations expressed, it is helpful to note that the team has had over a week to exorcise some demons and reset the mindset.  While not a true fresh start, because every game counts, I can't help but view the holiday break as a chance to effectively wipe the slate clean.  Maybe, just maybe, the threat of conference play, combined with a cleared head, will shake off the rust that has been holding the team back.  Maybe, just maybe, we'll finally get the Buffs we were expecting when the ball tips in Salt Lake City.  We'll all just have to wait and see...

--

Hype Music for the evening: "Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns

The New Year's traditional hymn 'Auld Lang Syne' is an adaptation of Scottish poet Robert Burns' 228-year-old stanzas.  Set to the tune of a popular folk song from the 18th Century, it has become the de facto incantation of the New Year for most of the English-speaking world.  I have as much of an idea of what it means as you do, but I mumble through it, none-the-less.  When the clock strikes midnight this evening, belt this one out, and bless the arrival of a fresh set of 365 pages on the calendar, that we might do some good with them.  Enjoy!

--

Tip-off from the Huntsman Center in SLC is set for 4:30pm on Sunday.  ESPNU will have the broadcast rights, and may even bother sending their announcing crew out to Utah for the game.  If they don't, however, mute their in-studio garbage, and turn up the radio call on 760AM.  Mark Johnson will actually be there, you know.

Click below for the preview...


Thursday, December 29, 2016

2016 Gameday Beer-o-the-week - Alamo Bowl Edition

Each week throughout the football season I'm going to suggest a good beer for the ubiquitous pre-game tailgate. Let's be honest, with tailgates it's not always top quality that you're looking for. To steal a phrase from the heinous beer terrorists at Budweiser, you want "drinkability." (or what a real beer connoisseur calls "a session beer") So, be warned, these may not be "the best" beers around. But, in the words of Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson "IT'LL GET YOU DRUNK!"

*sigh* Back to Texas.  I swore, upon graduation from CU in 2006, that I'd never go back to this godforsaken state, yet here I am.  I guess, if I have to dive back into Tyler's Folly, that I'll have to do this right.  As such, the beer this week is as big and nasty as the place itself.  It's a beer brewed to match the locale -- disgusting, rot-gut swill with no redeeming quality or value. Yep, it's Lone Star, and it's this week's gameday beer-o-the-week.
From: Wikipedia
Berthed in San Antonio itself, this beer has been around since the '40's.  Not brewed there any more, of course, Pabst bought them out at the turn of the century, and moved everything up to larger facilities around Ft Worth.  The flagship brew is an American Adjunct Lager.  You should know what that means, by now: it's a macro lager from a large conglomerate, akin to Bud Heavy and Coors Light.  As such, nothing of any substance has ever been within 500 feet of this beast.  Just processed extracts and fabricated 'flavor.'

I have some friends from college - idiots, really - who once tried to brew coffee with Lone Star.  It went about as you would expect, and they eventually had to fumigate the apartment.  Later, after the event, I asked them the obvious question, "why?"  Their response: "What else were we supposed to do with it?"

I guess I get the point.  Drinking this crap would be far down the list of any sensible, right thinking person.  It tastes like stale piss, if it tastes like anything at all.  The sweetness is all wrong, the bitterness is all wrong.  The whole package is watered down, which, in retrospect, is probably a good thing.  "The National Beer of Texas," indeed.  We should've left it all to Mexico.


Happy Thursday!  Go Buffs, beat Oklahoma State!

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

2016 Alamo Bowl Preview - CU vs Oklahoma State

Bowl games are stupid.  I know that's probably not the message you wanted to receive, here on the eve of Colorado's first bowl game in nearly a decade, but it's true.  Bowls are, in all but a few cases, pointless, corporate money grabs of the lowest order, and sporting culture is all the worse for having to put up with them over the final weeks of the year.

Sure, there is some value to having marquee events, like the Rose Bowl or the Orange Bowl, at the end of the calendar.  Occasional exhibitions between champions, like these, held out of tradition and as a showcase of football at its finest, are be fine.  I could do without it, but to each their own. The system as is currently in place, however, blows past them to instill an 'everyone gets a trophy` mentality to the sport, where even teams that go 5-7 are rewarded. There is simply no excuse for the 8th-best team from one conference to be playing the 7th-best team from another with absolutely nothing on the line.  It's pure filler -- a desperate attempt to grab some of your hard-earned cash, either through your eyes on a tire commercial or you actually traveling to the event.  I actually feel bad for the handful of fans who would allow themselves to be duped into something as foolish as the 'Famous Idaho Potato Bowl.' (I use this example for no particular reason)

"But, it's more football!' you might be saying.  My response to that is simple:

The lure of 'more football,' such as it is, is wasted here.  I can get myself to care about Colorado football, and I can even trick myself into paying attention to truly meaningful games with inherent history, but detritus like the 'Motel 6 Cactus Bowl' or the 'Dollar General Bowl' can't even come close to drawing my eye.

My appeal, then, is simple: end the bowl system.  Expand the playoffs, turn the worthwhile remainder into some kind of NIT or 'champions league,' and punt the rest into the sun.  ESPN will just have to go through life without the sunk costs of 20-or-so backwater bowls no one will miss anyway.

--

Hype Music for the Week: 'China Grove' by the Doobie Brothers

My first thought for this game was to go with a country track, but that just ain't me.  Thankfully, the Doobie Brothers wrote this iconic 70s rock anthem about a tiny suburb east of San Antonio.  It features one of the best guitar riffs of all time, built around some jumbled lyrics about preachers and sheriffs with samurai swords.  Enjoy!

--

So, after all that ranting and raving about how awful bowl games are, you'd think I'd be avoiding this one like the plague.  Well, you'd be wrong.  I actually am going to the Alamo Bowl, at great personal expense, but do not consider my trip hypocritical.  Colorado appearing in a bowl, a semi-worthwhile one, at that, is like seeing a unicorn.  You can't expect me to miss an opportunity to see a unicorn. When the draw is the Sun Bowl next winter, that's when I'll stay home.

For what it's worth, much of BuffNation seems to agree with me that a trip down to southern Texas is a good idea.  Based on ticket sales through the Athletic Department alone, at least 6,000 CU fans will be hitting the highways and airports en route to San Antonio this week, with even more expected who source their tickets through non-traditional methods.  Should be a big group of Buffs down on the Riverwalk tonight and tomorrow.

For the game itself, kickoff from the Alamodome is set for 7pm MT on Thursday.  Those not headed to San Antonio can catch the action on ESPN prime.  Mark Johnson and the radio call will be on 850 KOA.


Click below for the preview...


Saturday, December 24, 2016

Eastern Washington Wrap

There have been times this basketball season where I've had cause to wonder just how deep the rabbit hole will go.  These fits of worry and concern have usually coincided with dispassionate and formless effort on the court -- for example, the entirety of the CSU game, the stretch run of the BYU visit, and the second half of the Ft Hays State fiasco.  Well, we can add a fourth entry to that list, and it's the opening 10 minutes of the Eastern Washington game.
'Momma, there goes that man again.'  Bliznyuk started off hot. From: SeattlePI.com
Colorado simply came out flat and lifeless against the Eagles in this one.  The starters couldn't hit shots, defense was essentially nonexistent, and at one point EWU had built a 19-2 lead.  By the second timeout of that first half there was even a smattering of boos from the assembled crowd, and I really couldn't blame any of them for voicing their disapproval.  This was about as bleak and hopeless as the program had looked since the final visit to Wyoming in 2014, and those Cowboys were a hell of a lot better than these Eagles are.

The most frustrating aspect was that the Buffs were not keying on the one guy in Black and Red that could beat them.  Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Eagles' freaky 6-6 point forward, was getting every shot he wanted early, torching defenders like George King and Josh Fortune for seemingly uncontested looks. By the 9:37 mark, he had already accumulated 18 points, and seemed to be on his way to leading a shocking blowout over the home favorites.
Del Brown and the reserves stanched the bleeding in the first half.  From: the Times Call
Then, the Buffs started to make adjustments.  The ineffective starters were pulled out, and the reserves allowed to enter the fray.  Behind all-encompassing efforts from players like Deleon Brown and Dom Collier, Colorado started to chip away at the EWU lead, which had been hovering between 10 and 17 points.  CU also switched up their defensive focus on Bliznyuk, putting the longer frames of Wes Gordon and Derrick White on the versatile scorer.  Suddenly, his wellspring of points dried up, and the lead began to shrink (Bogdan would record just seven points over the final 29 minutes of play).  By halftime, Colorado was within three, and appeared to have a pule, if faint.

After the break, that pulse quickened sharply, thanks to some open looks finally falling from the outside. Josh Fortune would lead the spark with three made three pointers in the final frame, fueling the rise of the once recumbent offensive attack.  For the half, CU would shoot 54% from the field, up 20 points from their first half performance.  Combined with suffocating defense on Bogdan and the tiring Eagles (32% shooting after half), it was enough for the Buffs to pull away and stave off absolute disaster.  The final, 76-68, was more of a sigh of relief than anything else.
A much better second half performance staved off disaster.  From: the BDC
Overall, another lackluster performance against a sub-par team.  The Buffs struggled to find their scoring touch against a legitimately terrible defense, forgot to stop the one guy who could hurt them for 10 minutes, and generally just didn't seem eager or interested to be out there Thursday night.  And that's the sense I get from this team night in and night out -- that they don't seem excited about taking the court this season, and would rather be just about anywhere else on a particular evening.  I know that's not the case, but the aesthetic is unmistakable. It's why the 10-3 finish to the non-conference slate of the schedule is far more concerning than the 10-3 I envisioned at the start of the year.  This isn't entertaining or joyous basketball, at the moment. It's a slog, and one that doesn't seemed destined to end up in a spot representative of the talent on this roster.

That's not to say there's nothing about this team that I've enjoyed over the first two months of play. Derrick White is a treasure.  A capable scorer, willing passer, and eager defender, he's an All-Pac-12 kind of talent, and one who should continue to shine as we dive into conference play.  The development of Deleon Brown is unmistakable, as well.  Every minute of playing time that kid is getting right now is earned, and he brings excellent tools and an earnest attitude to the court every night.  The Wes Gordon roller coaster is also highly entertaining, if still exasperating, and I continue to marvel at the talent of Xavier Johnson, who is, rather quietly, putting in great shifts.  Throw in the return of Dom Collier, and there's still some joy to be found in the product.

With those bright spots in mind, the promise of a few weeks off to clear their heads, and the danger of the opening stretch of conference play immediately over the horizon to draw in the focus, there's a realistic hope that the sum of the whole to finally begin to snap into shape.  I fear, however, that the rabbit hole is far deeper than we've discovered through 13 games, and that the introduction of Pac-12 opponents into the mix will only lead to further frustrations.  I do hope I'm wrong, however.

--

Programming note:

As a reminder, there will be no Grab Bag next week, as I will be gallivanting around the Central Time Zone to both Chicago and San Antonio.  I will have a Alamo Bowl Preview, though (probably up on the morning of the 28th), and a Utah Basketball Preview (probably up on New Year's Eve), so keep an eye out for both. Normal service will resume the first week of the year.

Thanks all for your clicks in 2016, and I hope you have a happy and safe Holiday Week!  As always...

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Air Force Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs Eastern Washington Basketball Teaser

Coming off what Coach Boyle called the most disappointing win of his tenure at Colorado, an ugly 10 point result over D-II also-ran Ft Hays State, the Buffs tuned around to follow it up with... another ugly win over an inferior opponent.  Monday's 75-68 scalp of Air Force, however, was significantly more palatable, quieting, for the moment, the pestering voices from the back of the hall that warn that CU is not yet ready for prime time.
The return of Dom Collier is a welcome sight for the Buffs.  From: USA Today
We saw a number of positive things in the Springs on Monday. After a rough start, Wes Gordon proceeded to put together one of his best all-around performances of the year, recording 10/9/3/5.  He was a force in the paint through the heart of the game, scaring off shots from Falcons, and calmly collecting loose rebounds.  He didn't finish strong, and could've had so much more offensively, but it's still the most we've seen from him in a while.  Further, the continued blossoming of Deleon Brown can no longer be overlooked.  Following up on a career-high scoring performance against the Tigers over the weekend, the freshman guard from Michigan recorded another solid game with 10 points and four assists in 24 minutes.  He's not flashy, but Del makes smart plays, shoots well, and, above all else, plays defense.  There's no more debate, he needs to be stealing minutes from some of the starters who continue to slump, if not outright burst into the starting five.  Finally, the return of Dom Collier from multiple foot fractures was very well received.  Clearly still not 100%, Collier was still able to cash in a trio of three-pointers, then drawing the defense away from their entrenchments around the rim.  The more he can do to open up the court, especially against the pack-lines in the Pac-12, the better for the Colorado offense.

All that said, this was far from a perfect effort.  The Buffs committed 16 turnovers (most of them in the opening 10 minutes), allowed 15 offensive rebounds, and threatened to pull a 2015-16 late (i.e., cough up a solid lead).  The rebounds are probably the most baffling.  There's just no reason to play -5 on the glass to a team like AF, especially as they were missing a lot of shots.  15 offensive boards to a team that largely plays the Princeton is awful, and, combined with what we saw in Provo and against FHSU, is only worrying.  Colorado survived this fault by playing quality defense (36% shooting allowed), and hitting their outside jumpers (42% from deep), but, as we've seen this season, when either of those categories slumps, the rest of the package isn't enough to earn wins.
How did the Falcons get so many rebounds?  From: USA Today
Still, at the end of the day, a win is a win, and no road dub comes without a hearty pat on the back. While not a 'hostile' environment, the trip to Clune Arena is not 'easy,' and the Buffs did well to ward off another RPI disaster.  In fact, with the result the Buffs are just one win away from being pretty much exactly where I expected them to be at the end of non-conference play: 10-3.  I'll leave you to ponder how I can disappointed with this team on the verge of tallying the exact record I predicted while I turn my attention to Eastern Washington.

The Eagles went and did a very neighborly thing this week -- they went on the road to Xavier on Tuesday night, giving me an opportunity to scout against a common opponent. The result didn't go well for EWU, either.  After some fireworks early, they settled into steady suffocation at the hands of Xavier, eventually tapping out at the end of an 85-56 drubbing.

The big thing that really jumped off the screen for me is how much they rely on isolated dribble penetration in their offense.  Not entirely sure if that's a key for head coach Jim Hayford every night, or just in this particular case against Xavier, but it didn't really strike me as an effective strategy, long term.  Simply, EWU doesn't have the skilled dribblers to pull that off every night, and it'll lead to a number of turnovers as quality teams adjust.  In fact, in this game the Musketeers quickly started bringing delayed traps to the dribbler at the top of the key -- sure enough, turnovers soon followed. Elsewhere, I noticed standard man-to-man defense, but one that got into a lot of trouble against hard cuts and quick passes; poor recovery overall.  Coupled with the fact that the Eagles don't have a true rim protector or a major rebounding threat in the paint, and this is a team that can give up buckets of points.
Xavier blitzed EWU on Tuesday.  From: the Charlotte Observer
Most of these observations are supported by their statistical profile.  Eastern Washington is 295th nationally in assist rate, tying into their isolated dribble-drive.  They're also 340th in defensive efficiency (giving up about 1.14 points per adjusted possession), and among the bottom-third in the nation in rebounding rates.  Really, the only thing that doesn't hold up is my comment about rim protection.  EWU is 28th nationally in defensive block rate, buoyed by the performance of senior forward Jacob Wiley underneath (11.3% individual block rate, 39 on the season).  The eye test, however, didn't really lead me to believe that, but what do I know.

Speaking of, Wiley had a strong game against Xavier, dropping 16/6/4/5.  The 6-7 senior grad transfer was All-America at his NAIA school last winter, making his a story akin to Derrick White -- coming up from a lower level of play to run with the D-I bigs.  He's averaging 14/8 so far for the Eagles, and really shines as an impact player on both ends.  It'll be interesting to see how Wes Gordon matches up with him.  'Good' Wes should have no issue, but 'Bad' Wes could get burned.

Working with Wiley up front is Aussie swing-forward Felix Von Hofe.  Hailing from Melbourne, he's more of an outside threat, as Alex looks to get up about 8 three point shots per game (40%). Colorado better be ready to defend him all the way to the arc, and hound him off open looks.  Still, Von Hofe can be a liability on the other end of the court, and highlights a major vulnerability in this roster -- just one player is listed over 6-7.  While there are no 'undersized' players, per se (no one listed under 6-3), they just don't have the bigs CU is used to playing.
Bliznyuk is the Eagles' best.  From: the AP
The best player on the roster, however, is clearly point guard Bogdan Bliznyuk.  I say point guard, as he dominates the majority of on-ball action when in the game, but the Ukranian product is much more of a point forward in the Kyle Anderson mold.  He's got great size for the spot (6-6, 215), and has the glidey, paced attacking style of UCLA's former square peg.  In some ways, he even reminds me a bit of the aforementioned Derrick White -- his speed and athleticism isn't going to 'wow' you, but he brings a lot to the table, and makes for an awkward matchup for many teams.  Bogdan is a prolific scorer, to boot.  He has seven games of at least 20-points this year, four of which were of at least 30.  It goes along with the theme that the Eagles really key off him; Bliznyuk eats up near 31% of possessions and 30% of shots.  Trapping off his dribble-drive, especially as his back turns, seems to be the way to counter him, however.

Long story short, this is a team that CU can plot a path to a solid win against, if they come out with focus and intensity.  The Buffs should be able to score as many as they want, while owning the glass, and taking advantage of the dribbler-focused offense of EWU.  Assuming nothing gets stupid, I'm anticipating a big win to close out the non-conference campaign.

--

Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6:30pm MT Thursday night.  Coverage for those not coming up to Boulder can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 850 AM.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE EAGLES!

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ft Hays Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs Air Force Teaser

Early Saturday afternoon at the CEC, the Colorado Buffaloes found themselves in a battle far tougher than expected with the visiting Division II Fort Hays State Tigers.  After a generally positive first half, they had come out of the locker room for the final frame with waning energy, and were paying the price on the scoreboard.  As the minutes ticked by, the Tigers refused to go away, and the Buffs refused to put them away.  While, ultimately, Colorado was able to hang on for the 81-71 win, few home partisans left the gym that day feeling satisfied.
Coach Boyle pulled no punches after the game on Saturday.  From: the CU Independent
Coach Tad Boyle certainly wasn't.  Viewing just the latest slumping performance from his talented charges, he took to the post-game press conference like a pyro with a flamethrower, torching everything he could see.  In a rant eerily reminiscent of those from the 2014-15 season of woe, Tad started with this doozy: 
"This coaching staff has been here for seven years now, and this team has two things going for it right now. First they own the most disappointing loss in that seven-year span, vs. Colorado State a few weeks ago and now they can add to that the most disappointing win which is today’s win against Fort Hays State. I need to apologize to the fans of this team for the effort in the second half because it was terrible."
But he didn't stop there.  Continuing:
“Right now the way our team is playing right now, we’re a below average Pac-12 team. At least by the standards that I feel Colorado basketball has risen to over the past few years. We’ve got the capability to be as good as we want to be and we are able to beat anyone in the league. We don’t have the mental toughness to put anybody away. If we don’t figure it out it’s going to be an up and down year.”
He's not wrong, either.  My opinion of this collection of parts, as individuals, remains unchanged - they are undeniably talented and capable.  The problem is the product a whole is not working.  Like a soufflĂ© jostled during the baking process, the mixture falls flat upon presentation, and settles into an unappetizing mess of once-promising ingredients.
Deleon Brown had a nice game, but the rest of the Buffs were out of sorts by the final whistle.  From: the BDC
A win is a win, but there's just no excuse for struggling with the Tigers this weekend, as focused on winning as they were.  You always knew Rob Davis would get his - which he did to the tune of 29 points, all coming in the second half - but the rest of that roster is one that CU should've chewed up. Yet, by the end of the game, the Buffaloes appeared cowed and distracted, looking like they wanted to be anywhere but on the court at that moment.  It's a performance that, when viewed in conjunction with the the CSU disaster and the other inconsistent meanderings throughout the first month of the season, only confirms that Colorado doesn't have it this season.  They aren't tough enough, combative enough to win the kind of games you need to to live up to the recent vintage of this program.

The hammer is coming, too.  Conference play looms over the horizon, and, as down as the majority of the Pac-12 is this year, the opening stretch of games (@ Utah, @ ASU, @ UofA, vs UCLA, vs USC) now looks to muddle this bunch into a fine paste.  Barring some light switch moment, this is all going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Those discomforting thoughts aside, its now time to consider tomorrow evening's road tilt with Air Force in the Springs.  The Buffs have had the run of this series of late, winning the last six meetings, including last season's 81-70 romp in the CEC.  A trip down I-25 is never easy, however, and CU had better bring an improved intensity with them Monday if they want to avoid another embarrassing in-state defeat.

Air Force has been struggling in recent years under the tutelage of head coach Dave Pilipovich. The program that had been an early-2000s juggernaut has had just one winning season since 2008-09, and seems destined for another low-table finish in the Mountain West this winter.  After a 5-0 start to the season, they've won just one game since Thanksgiving, taking losses to shrug-worthy sides like East Carolina, Army, and Denver.
Kocur is a lights-out shooter that could sting Colorado.  From: Trib.com
Still, they are an interesting bunch that returns a number of starters from a year ago, including their entire backcourt.  Leading the charge is senior Zach Kocur, a native Denverite with a sweet shooting touch.  His numbers this season are not dissimilar from Ft Hays' Rob Davis, as Kocur is shooting 56% from deep with an eFG near 77%.  He can stroke it, and will knife Colorado for lazy shows off screens and otherwise slumping coverage beyond the arc.  Teaming with juniors Jacob Van, Trevor Lyons, and CJ Spiles, this is a very capable core, one that can put up a lot of points and hit a lot of jumpers.  Overall, Air Force is the #2 three-point shooting team in the country, hitting on over 44% of their takes.

The real key for the Zoomies, though, is what, if anything, they can get from their post players.  They don't really have what you would call a 'real' center, and give up a lot of size in the paint.  Still, forwards like Hayden Graham and Frank Toohey provide some capable options when defenders neglect their duties to spy on the shooters on the perimeter.  The 6-5 Graham, especially, is having a nice season, leading the team in scoring and rebounding through 11 games.  A solid swing forward, the senior can shoot, attack off the dribble, grab some rebounds, and defend in the paint as needed, despite giving up some size.  He plays well with Toohey, and they pair could give Colorado's inconsistent forward corps fits for not bringing energy and focus to the court.
Graham is a fun wing with good versatility.  From: News OK
Of course, when I talk about Air Force, I'm also talking about the style of basketball they play, namely the Princeton.  By now, you should be familiar with the brand -- a style that values each possession, that relies on versatility from each of the players on the court, and that lives and dies by structured off-ball motion. On Monday there will be back cuts, there will a crap-ton of passes out on the wing (assists on most made baskets), and there will be extended possessions deep into the shot clock. The emphasis is on finding the highest quality shot available, and the Falcons will be willing to wait Colorado out in the pursuit of just that (280th in offensive possession length, over 18 seconds per). More importantly, it will test the focus of the Buffs' defense, who have to know where man and ball are at all times, lest they get burned bad.

As uncomfortable as playing the Princeton has made me in years past, Colorado has done well against it, even in down years.  As such, I'm cautiously optimistic that they will be able to grind out a win against the hosts on Monday, though the affair will probably be as ugly as possible.  The Falcons won't contest the offensive glass, giving the Buffs a good shot at hitting their rebounding numbers, and will give up a lot to Xavier Johnson in the paint.  Unless AF gets blazing hot from deep, which is still very possible, I think the Buffs eek this one out.  Believe me, though, I'm nervous.

--

Tip-off from Clune Arena in Colorado Springs is set for 7pm Monday evening.  Not a terrible drive down for those of you thinking of going, I would expect a solid grouping of Buffs in the stands for this one. Coverage for those who'd rather avoid the jaunt along I-25 will be on CBS Sports Network (note: not regular CBS, but their cable outfit buried deep in your channel catalog), with the radio call on 850 KOA.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE FALCONS!

Friday, December 16, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Ft Hays St Basketball Teaser

Now comes the point of the basketball year where I get to pretend to know anything about a DII school. Let's be honest - and I like to be honest in this little corner of the internet - I haven't seen the Ft Hays State Tigers play this year.  Hell, I've only even heard of one of the opponents on their schedule to-date, the Colorado Mines Orediggers, let alone having seen any of them play.  I'm coming into this one blind as a bat, just as you are.

But, as you well know by this point, our own Derrick White started at the DII level, so the assumption I'm working off is that there must be some other capable players hooping among those ranks. As such, it wouldn't pay to just blithely chalk this one up as a win and move on.  No, I know that on any given Saturday, this game can bite you in the ass, so here I go delving into the stat sheets and media guides of the Sunflower State's third-largest university.
They got a head coach and everything, guys!  From: the Great Bend Post
Now... let's see here... clicking on the 'media guide' link on the FHSU webpage only brings up last year's document.  Not very helpful.  The team is coached by... Mark Johnson?!?  Like "Touchdown! Touchdown, Colorado!" Mark Johnson? "Right between the eyes!" Mark Johnson?  That doesn't seem very fair to me... oh, nevermind. Different dude. This MJ has been coaching at Ft Hays for 16 seasons, which is just crazy.  Over that period, he has set the school record for wins with 311, and led the Tigers to seven Tournament appearances and nine 20-win seasons.  That's a record you can be proud of, even at a small school.

In addition to a page that accurately lists their head coach and his accomplishments, their website also features a stat sheet that seems to be updated, so bully for me.  The Tigers are 7-4 this year, and some quick math shows them getting about 1.17 points per possession on about 67 possessions per night. Extrapolate that out, and they pump in just shy of 80 points per game, shooting near 50% from the floor and 43% from three.  Not too shabby.  This is a team that likes to see the ball go through the hoop, and all but one of their losses this season have come while they couldn't crack the 70-point barrier.  Stopping their dynamic shooting will be imperative... I would assume.  Again, never seen any film on them.

The key talent seems to be lead guard Rob Davis.  The 5-11 spark plug from Detroit leads the team in scoring with 24 per contest, and is shooting over 56% from beyond the arc.  You read that right, fifty-six percent.  The senior was All-Conference last season (Which conference? The Mid-America Intercollegiate Athletics Association, duh.) and is the kind of shooter you lose sleep over.  He already has three games of at least 30 points this year, and usually takes at least five threes each game -- only Washburn has kept Davis without a long-range attempt this season.  Sure, he's under-sized, but Rob will give CU fits outside on Saturday.
Davis is an excellent, willing shooter.  From: FHSU Athletics.
Out on the wing, swing forward Hadley Gillum has some interesting numbers, as well.  A Hays-area local, the junior from Plainville, KS is averaging 14/6 this season, and has the second-most rebounds on the team. He'll be up against it in this one, though, as the 6-5 Gillum will be looking to rebound against bigger, more athletic forwards in Wes Gordon, Xavier Johnson, and Tory Miller.  On that note, their best post player is 6-9 center JaQuan Smith, who spent some time on a D-I roster last season with Stephen F. Austin.  He's tenacious on the offensive glass with a ORB% over 17% this year.  The Buffs can't afford to give him second looks to kick out to Davis on the edge.

Overall, it's about what you'd expect.  The roster is a little undersized, and Colorado should be able to get what shot they want, when they want it.  The only thing that gives me pause is some of the offensive efficiency numbers I see, particularly in regards to Davis.  If he gets his, and Colorado struggles with their own shooting performance, this could be uglier than most fans are expecting. Ultimately, though, no reason to predict or fear the disastrous -- Colorado should win walking away. Time for Mitch Lombard and Josh Repine to shine.

--

Tip-off from the CEC is set for high noon on Saturday.  It's going to COLD for the game, and I'm not expecting a whole lot of people will brave the frigid temps to watch Colorado take on a D-II squad. If you do make it up to campus, however, you can consider yourself a true fan.  For those unwilling to cut through the elements, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the real Mark Johnson on 850 KOA with the radio call.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE TIGERS!

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: I Went To Provo For Basketball, And All I Got Was This Maple Doughnut

In most ways, watching a basketball game at BYU in Provo, UT lives up to expectations.  There's a pregame prayer, the crowd is whiter than Wonder Bread, and the only sense of hostility you feel is when you ask if they have any soda that's not caffeine free.

Still, I couldn't help but marvel at the ways the fans in attendance found to surpass my expectations.
My favorite in-game entertainment piece was the air guitar cam set to tame tracks from the mid-80s, which immediately brought me back to the days of this disaster in Manhattan, KS.  Then, a young father in front of me, with his young daughter in tow, bought me and my friends a giant maple doughnut (quaintly called a Cougar Tail)... just... out of the blue.  But, taking the prize was the pre-teen behind us who, I swear on my life, continued to randomly belted out church hymns throughout the game; they even seemed to line up with BYU runs, which was probably the desired effect.

Even a died-in-the-wool cynic like myself, however, would strain to keep a cold heart when everyone you pass throws you an over-earnest cry of 'welcome' or 'we're glad you're here.'  Sure, spending an entire basketball game watching your tongue while sober and surrounded by children isn't my first want in life, but it was certainly an experience I will never forget.  I'm glad I went.

--

Today in the bag, I'm talking the loss in Provo and what it means going forward, the continuing dominance of the Women's Team, and what looks like the end for the greatest marching band in all of the world.

Click below for the bag...


Friday, December 9, 2016

Xavier Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs BYU Basketball Teaser

It's amazing how good everything looks when shots fall.  Going into the game between the Colorado Buffaloes and the #13 Xavier Musketeers, I had postulated that anything short of a blazing-hot shooting performance would end in defeat for the Black and Gold.  Colorado got exactly what they needed in the second half, shooting 15-27 from the floor, including 5-7 from deep, to fuel a stunning, come-from-behind upset over XU.  68-66, season saved... for now.

Even from the tip, there seemed to be a different energy from the Buffs, as compared to the last time we saw them on home hardwood.  There was no slumping shoulders, no lackadaisical body language. The team, particularly the starters, came to play Wednesday night, and brought some of the best intensity seen so far this year.  Outside of a few defensive breakdowns, some stretches of action where both Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon were sitting with foul trouble, and the final minute when XU was allowed to make it interesting, it's the closest we've come to seeing the team play to their capability.
D-White went off again.  From: the AP
Of course, even as positive as the play was throughout the night, it all would've been for naught without the timely scoring touch of Derrick White in the final frame.  The senior point guard put up 18 of his team-high 23 points in the second half.  Derrick was dropping daggers from the top of the arc, gutting the musketeers with a pair of threes and long two that were simply cold-blooded. It was the kind of activity I've been begging for from White -- commanding scoring leadership with the game on the line.  Not a perfect game, per se, with a bizarre turnover bug still plaguing his contributions, but the exact kind of lead guard play this team needs down the stretch against good opponents.

Beyond just White's efforts, though, I was impressed by the performances of a number of players that had been hit-or-miss this season; guys who you go into games wondering if their switch will be on or off.  For George King and Wes Gordon, their switches were decidedly in the 'on' position Wednesday. King put up an excellent 16/10, again proving he has it within himself to provide on both ends of the court.  I still saw some defensive lapses, fewer in the second half, but he played off Gordon and Xavier Johnson particularly well on the defensive glass.  For Wes, it was easier to see his impact when he was off the court.  Colorado really struggled to both rebound and defend with him on the bench (he played with persistent foul trouble for most of the evening, eventually fouling out), and I kept noticing the little moments he would bring to the game.  Against the smaller XU front-court, he had a very strong performance, even scoring on a pair of post-up moves and chipping in five assists.
Uh, George?  Maybe just stick to the jumpers.  From: the Post
Finally, I really liked what Xavier Johnson provided.  Along the same lines as Gordon, his absences from the court made you realize just what he meant to the team, as the Buffs had nothing behind the pair in the paint.  You could see the Musketeers really struggling to match him up defensively, as he put up 18/7, including 3-4 from deep.  And, every time a Buff hit a big shot, there was X, leading the cheers, and air-planing his way back down the court.  The fiery heart of the roster shone bright in this one, and the modest-sized, if still bellicose, crowd roared with delight.

The win goes some distance in repairing the damage left in the wake of the CSU disaster, especially from the resume perspective.  With Texas struggling to start the year, the Buffs needed another big non-conference win to hang their hat on, and the team delivered against Xavier.  The work in that department is not yet done, however.  Colorado can claim another juicy RPI prize this weekend in Utah against Brigham Young.  It won't be easy, though.  BYU is a strong team in need of a big win themselves, and playing them in Provo will be the single toughest environment CU will face prior to the trip to Tucson in a month's time.

The first thing you notice when looking at their profile is that BYU plays fast; capital F-A-S-T fast. Getting nearly 80 possessions per game, and completing them in an average of under 14 seconds per, the Cougars love to score early in possessions.  They're 11th nationally in percentage of all shots taken in transition, and will not hesitate to get out on the run.  Probably the biggest challenge yet for Colorado in terms of competing on the offensive glass, yet still keeping an eye on stymieing leak-outs.
Dave Rose has his Cougars running a lot this year.  From: Getty
The all-out running attack does leave them open to some subpar efforts, though, like against local rival Utah Valley over Thanksgiving weekend.  The Wolverines game into the Marriott Center and put up 114 (!) over 96 (!) regulation possessions in a 13-point win over the Cougars.  Games like this one, along with high-scoring losses to Valpo and USC, show you that getting into a shootout with them is not necessarily the worst thing in the world... if you can keep up.

There's a lot of turnover in Provo, though.  Head Coach Dave Rose was tasked with replacing the Kyle Anderson-esque talents of Kyle Collinsworth (graduated) and the scoring touch of Chase Fischer (transfer), among others, this offseason.  In total, there are five fresh faces expected to see significant playing time this year, making this a young, if still explosive, bunch.
Emery leads a very effusive attack in Provo.  From: the SL Trib
The principal returner is feisty 6-2 guard Nick Emery.  You may remember him from last season as the 'guy with the sleeves,' as he wears long sleeves on the court to help with circulation issues stemming from a compression of nerves and blood vessels in his upper joints.  What I most remember him for, however, is an elite scoring ability, paired with a nasty-streak that has lead to on-court blowups. When not throwing punches, Emery is usually flirting with 20-point games, as he combines a quick first step with a solid outside shot to tickle the twine.

Giving the Cougars a dimension they didn't have last year, though, is big 6-10 center Eric Mika.  The sophomore is back from a two-year mission trip, and filling it up.  He's averaging over 21 points per night, to go along with nearly nine boards per game and a block rate over 7%.  Key to his performance so far has been his ability to draw contact -- he's #1 in the nation with 10.2 fouls drawn per game, which is grotesque.  It has led to 84 free throw attempts in just nine games; for comparison, no one on CU has more than 55 this year.  Keeping him off the line will be a serious concern for the Buffs, making it vital that Wes Gordon keep a clean sheet in defense of the Alpine, UT product.
Mika has the scoring touch this season.  From: the Deseret News
Elsewhere, TJ Haws came to BYU with a lot of fanfare.  The younger brother of program-legend Tyler, he set all kinds of high school records, and is a capable, versatile scoring threat. The coach's son, LJ Rose, is the heady senior point guard, setting the pace and steering the ship.  He has 48 assists against 14 turnovers in the early going.  Senior forward Kyle Davis will probably come off the bench, if at all, while still recovering from a knee injury. He provides good depth up front, though, assuming he's near 100%. Transfer Elijah Bryant was supposed to play a big role this year, but is fighting with a meniscus injury at the moment.

All told, a good team capable of running you out of the gym if you aren't careful or attentive defensively.  I think Colorado will hold their own on that front, though, as defense is always a focus. Sure, there'll be some Cougar runs that'll make my blood boil, but I just don't see BYU being able to hang a hundred on them, or anything silly like that.  So, to win in Provo, the Buffs will need to score. No amount of defense seems capable of holding BYU under 70 points, and Colorado will need to rollover their hot shooting from the second half of the Xavier game if they hope to win in Utah. Figure 80-85 points to have a shot.  Not easy to walk into an unfamiliar gym and put up those numbers, but BYU has given up at least 91 in each of their three losses this year.

I'll say CU puts up the requisite points, keeping them in the game late.  The problem then becomes front court depth.  With extra possessions and opportunities allowing Mika to earn his whistles, how long can Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon really be expected to stay out of foul trouble?  Past them, Colorado's strength up front disappears, and it'll be difficult to finish without the pair on the court. This will be where the game breaks - in the foul column - and I just expect BYU to get the calls they need at home.  The Cougars hit their free throws, and eek out a high-scorer.

--

Tip-off from the massive, 19,000-seat Marriott Center in Provo, UT is set for 8pm on Saturday.  I'm taking the trip out for this one, so expect some lousy photos from the town's lone bar post-game.  For those not following me out west, ESPN2 will have the television coverage, with the radio call on 850 KOA


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE COUGARS!

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Xavier Basketball Teaser

For those of you that don't know, Xavier University boasts a very storied basketball program.  The pride of northeast Cincinnati, XU can claim 17 conference championships (most of them from their days in the A-10), 26 Tournament appearances, and a pair of Elite Eight runs (2004 and 2008).  In fact, they have the most wins in the Dance of any program to have never made the Final Four, and have featured in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments.  Thad Matta, now of Ohio State, got his coaching start there. Sean Miller, who hates all things fun, got his coaching start there.  At every level, the Musketeers are a serious basketball program.
Chris Mack continues a line of outstanding coaches at Xavier.  From: hoopscoop.com
More importantly, the 2016-17 edition is a top-flight team, legitimately one of the best in the country. The assembled press has certainly noticed; previously in the top-10 in the AP poll, they will arrive in Boulder #13 in the nation after their first loss of the season, suffered over the weekend.  In fact, many of those same media members voting them highly also picked them as both the Big East front-runner and a dark horse candidate for the Final Four.  Strong offensively, strong defensively, head coach Chris Mack (the reigning USBWA national coach of the year) and his bunch should scare the daylights out of you.

Overall, this is a tough, physical, versatile bunch.  They are battle-hardened, possessing a good work ethic and a tenacity on both ends of the floor.  Above all else, they will fight for every rebound, loose ball, and 50-50 opportunity in the game.  It's why Xavier has been so successful away from home in recent years (13 of their 28 wins last season came either in neutral or true road settings), and they will not shy away from the challenge of playing in Boulder on a frigid, snowy Wednesday night.

The roster is led by standout junior guard Trevon Bluiett.  The 6-6 machine from Indianapolis dipped his toes in the waters of the NBA Draft last summer before deciding to return for a 3rd lap around the collegiate pool.  The Musketeers are glad he did, as he is one of the best wings in the country.  More than just a basic 2/3, however, you will see Bluiett all over the court this evening, rotating from the point all the way into the paint.  Good size, speed, and strength, with a nasty three-point shot, he's a national POY candidate, albeit a fringe one.  Bluiett's averaging 18/6 through eight games, and is capable of putting up monster numbers night-in, night-out.
Bluiett and Sumner are an outstanding pair of guards.  From: Banners on the Parkway
Trevon plays in tandem with another guard with great size, 6-6, 186 Michigander Edmond Sumner. He's mostly been manning the point this season, playing on-the-ball 84% of the time (according to KenPom), but he had been used more as an off-guard in previous seasons.  The tweak in role might have lead to a little exposure of his game -- a team-high 25 turnovers, or about 3.1/game. Regardless, he's still an outstanding player.  He's nightmarish in attack of the rim, a flash of navy and silver as he flies into the paint.  It'll be hard for any of Colorado's guards to stay in front of him this evening.

Playing off the two stars are a further pair of guards, JP Macura and Malcolm Bernard.  Macura, a 6-5 junior out of Minnesota, is the gritty beating heart of this team.  He was the Big East 6th Man of the Year last winter, but has surged into the starting lineup this season, even averaging over 15 points per game in the early going.  Bernard has stepped into the vacuum left by Davis. He's a graduate transfer from Florida A&M, and came to the program with a lot of basketball already under his belt.  Good versatility, but not necessarily the standout-type of messrs Bluiett, Sumner, and Macura.
Macura can flat out fill it up.  From: FOX Sports
Even with the players already mentioned, the Musketeers are still down a big backcourt talent in the form of point guard Myles Davis, who is suspended indefinitely after multiple domestic violence charges. They haven't really missed a step with Davis out of the lineup, however, and this is still an elite guard corps -- about as good a grouping as CU will face this year, and one of the best in the entire nation. They're constantly rotating through roles and alternating looks, making them very difficult to matchup with, especially as none of them gives up that much size, 1-4. If you can't defend the perimeter against this bunch, or deny penetration, you will lose, and you will lose big.

Up front, the best true forward is RaShid Gaston.  A wide 6-9, 240, he carries the load up front, especially when XU drops into four-guard sets. RaShid boasts impeccable rebounding rates, and will really push Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon up front.  A transfer from Norfolk State, you may not have heard of him before, but he will be making a name for himself come March.  Also featuring off their bench in the paint is 6-10 center Sean O'Mara, who just happens to hail from my hometown back in Illinois.  He went to Benet, though, so screw him.

As strong as the side is, their most recent result does show some vulnerabilities.  They lost by 15 in Waco to the Baylor Bears, with Scott Drew's crew steadily pulling away in the second half.  Xavier got a little Bluiett-happy, coughed the ball up way to much (17 turnovers), missed a number of second half free throws, and didn't defend the perimeter well enough.  It burned them in the end.  I don't know if the Buffs will be able to duplicate the feat, however.  I think they could isolate Blueitt, but CU has rarely forced large numbers of turnovers, have been hit-or-miss from deep through the first month of play, and have free throw issues of their own to worry about.  What's more, that Baylor team looks to be the truth down in Texas, and the Buffs don't appear to be capable of holding a candle to that team.
Xavier comes in off a loss to Baylor, but I don't see a repeat in the future this evening.  From: USA Today
No, in the end, I expect Xavier to come in and dictate their will.  Colorado has not shown to have the heart or discipline to battle gritty, willful foes this year, and anything short of a blazing hot shooting performance will probably end in defeat.  There's no shame in losing to a team as good as Xavier, but that won't stifle the gnawing feeling that the season is starting to slip away.  Give me the Musketeers by a bunch.

--

Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening.  That snow that's coming down right now is supposed to die down right before tip-off, but I won't pretend that your commute to Boulder won't suck just a bit.  For those unable/unwilling to brave the conditions and head into the Valley, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 760 AM.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE MUSKETEERS!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quick Post: On Rashaan

In a year where the Colorado football program rose from the ashes, it also lost one of it's proudest sons.  The great Rashaan Salaam, winner of the 1994 Heisman Trophy, passed away Monday night. He was 42.

Few in BuffNation will forget what his play meant to them, inspiring a generation of fans to want to become Buffs, including yours truly.  Few also are those whose lives he touched that will forget him and the impact he had off the field. My condolences to his friends and family.


Tuesday Grab Bag: A Rose By Any Other Name Is Apparently The Alamo Bowl

Pressed for time, it's straight to the action this morning. Today in the bag, I'm talking the result in Santa Clara, the Bowl Selection process, and the BasketBuffs responding in Portland.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, December 3, 2016

CSU Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs Portland Basketball Teaser

Welp.  That sucked.

Over an interminable 40 minutes of largely listless, vaguely passionate basketball, the Colorado Buffaloes lost any and all good will they had built up this season.  In their own gym, with their own fans at their back, they came out and laid a whopper at mid court, getting out-worked, out-executed, and out-played by little brother.  72-58.  I have no words.

... OK, so I have a few.  I talked in the teaser Wednesday about how I had been making excuses for the team in trying to stay optimistic this year, overlooking some faults in the foundation in the interest of positive thinking.  That was just poor analysis, and an error on my part.  No excuses now, however. It's clear that Colorado isn't nearly the team that I, or many other commentators, thought they would be. Oh, sure, there's still talent on this club, and I still don't see the oncoming horror of 2014-15 in the tea leaves, but this season will not finish in NCAA glory.
*A stream of swearing* From: the Post
I don't mean to get so negative after just seven games, but it is disappointing.  That Colorado State team who earned the win Wednesday night was not particularly talented, but they were able to push the Buffs around by showing far more heart and determination than the guys in Black and Gold did. They executed on both ends (hit their first 18 free throws, nailed numerous desperation threes against an expiring clock), took advantage of the little moments here and there, and seemed to confuse CU at every step.  As Colorado was incapable of hitting anything from the free throw line (17-31) or behind the arc (3-19), you could see a tensity fall over the team, squelching their ability to play freely like an asthmatic attack.  All throughout, I kept hoping for a light in the darkness, a sudden blast of energy, a light switched flipped on, but it never came.

You would see sparks here or there -- a flash from Derrick White in the first half, Thomas Akyazili trying to fire the ignition with some penetration in the second, and a burst of fury from Xavier Johnson with about 10 minutes to go -- but it wasn't nearly enough.  With a laughably tight whistle descending from old pal Randy McCall (my voodoo doll apparently has had no effect), there just wasn't enough open play down the stretch for the team to mount a comeback, and frustration eventually lead to disaster.  The Buffs out-rebounded their opponent, held them under 40% shooting from the field, yet still lost.  At home.  To a rival.  And all I can say is that it happened due to a lack of intensity and execution. #TadBall, why have you forsaken us so?

But, with that dyspeptic result in the rear view, there's nothing left but to press on.  Colorado will have the opportunity to gain some spate of redemption in an odd place -- Portland, Oregon.  Well, Portland's not that odd, at least to a man from Boulder.  It's the opponent that's odd: the Portland Pilots.  As part of a contractual arrangement, the Buffs will be visiting the WCC's Pilots and their 4,800-seat arena; a rather, yes, odd move for a Power 5 program.  While CU will visit another WCC school, BYU, in a week's time, they're at least operating in the guise of a power program.  Portland has none of the institutional memory of success that the Cougars do, and a visit from a program like Colorado is a big date on their calendar.
Porter brings more than a name to the Pilots. From: the Portland Tribune
The Pilots are looking to rebound from a pretty ugly 2015-16 season, where they lost 20 games and finished tied for 7th in the WCC on a down year.  It was a series of results that cost their former coach his job, leading to the hiring of Portland TrailBlazer legend Terry Porter to the top spot on the bench.  Porter had seen some action as a coach in the NBA over the years, as well, bringing more than just a name to the position.

Making Coach Porter's transition to the college game easy is the play of senior point guard Alec Wintering.  The 6-0 star from Charlotte, NC is averaging nearly 23 points per game in the young season, and is an explosive shooter and point scorer.  Alec has a nose for the line, and is dogged in attack of the basket; he gets nearly 50% of his shots at the rim, which is incredible for a player of his size. More than that, though, he's also a deadly distributor and creator, making him the engine that drives the Portland offense (35% usage).  CU was able to keep him pretty quiet in their matchup with the Pilots a year ago, holding Wintering to 1-7 shooting from the floor, but don't expect similar results Saturday night.
Wintering is a fantastic small conference talent.  From: Getty
Elsewhere, Portland features experienced guards Jazz Johnson and D'Marques Tyson.  Johnson is a great accompaniment to Wintering, serving as the outside shooting spark to Alec's dashing, rim-attack bravado. The junior Tyson has been serving in a largely 6th man role this season, but is still a capable player off the bench.  Their frontline is anchored around giant 7-1 center Philipp Hartwich. The German international plays, as you would expect, mostly around the rim, and gets about a block per game.  He'll pair well with swing forward Gabe Taylor, who has the potential to creep towards averaging a double-double this winter.

Overall, the Pilots are a solid mid major team.  They play relatively fast, execute on offense, and have star power to lead them in Wintering.  They may struggle to rebound night over night, and their defense is nothing to write home about, but they will put up a sizeable win total this year.  So far, their results have been to expectation, beating the minnows like UC Riverside, then letting UCLA drop 99 on them in a boat race loss.  They may not have the complete package to compete with the big three in the WCC (Gonzaga, St Mary's, BYU), but they should move up the table a bit as the season grinds on.

As for the result Saturday... I have no idea.  The Buffs responded well in Brooklyn to the 1st half disaster against the Fighting Irish, turning around to close that game well and then beat Texas the following afternoon.  Maybe they have something similar up their sleeve this weekend.  I'm none too confident, however.  I would argue that Portland is better than CSU, and Colorado is playing in their gym.  If the shots don't fall, and the gears keep grinding, it could get really ugly.  Oh, and the Pilots hit their free throws (87%); someone get me some aspirin.

Flip a coin for a winner, if you must.  I did, and it came up heads.  I'll take the Buffs to win, but barely.

--

Tip-off from the Chiles Center in Portland, OR is set for 8pm MT on Saturday.  There's no broadcast television of this game.  But, this being the future, we have an internet stream of the affair available at TheW.tv.  If you don't want to mess around with that, you can catch the radio call on 850 KOA.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE PILOTS!

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016 Gameday 'Beer'-o-the-week - Pac-12 Championship Edition

Each week throughout the football season I'm going to suggest a good 'beer' for the ubiquitous pre-game tailgate. Let's be honest, with tailgates it's not always top quality that you're looking for. To steal a phrase from the heinous 'beer' terrorists at Budweiser, you want "drinkability." (or what a real 'beer' connoisseur calls "a session 'beer'") So, be warned, these may not be "the best" 'beers' around. But, in the words of Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson "IT'LL GET YOU DRUNK!"

OK, so I wasn't expecting to have to do one of these this late in the season, and have nothing prepared.  Short on time, and without a summer's worth of notes to supply me with last-minute ideas, I'm diving into the beer fridge for whatever I can find. Uh, let me see... *rummages* Ah ha!  It's... oh for crying out loud... Which one of my roommates left this in here?  *sigh* It's Not Your Father's Root Beer, and it's this week's gameday 'beer' of the week.

If you look at the label, NYFRB will tell you that it comes from tiny Wauconda, IL, a northwest exurb of Chicago.  Certainly, if you were to travel to Wauconda, there is a brewery there, called Small Town Brewery, that would happily sell you the stuff.  What you find in the well-labeled bottles on the shelves of your local booze palace, however, did not come from Wauconda, and definitely not from the tiny brewery located there.  Nope, what you're drinking was made by Pabst, the giant conglomerate most famous for the hipster brew of choice: PBR.  They partnered with Small Town shortly before you started seeing their hard root beer show up on shelves, which explains some things.

That's not to say there's not a craft element to the story, however.  Small Town was started by a single guy, Tim Kovac, after haphazard forays into the world of homebrewing in the late '80s.  The twist from craft to corporate machine is familiar and tired, as ubiquitous to the modern brewing world as beards and kitschy hop varietals.  I can't really blame the guy for taking the money, or wanting to see his product go national without the pain of having to build an empire himself. At this point, it is what it is.

Anyways, the Root Beer, which is brewed, but still not quite 'real beer,' carries with it a unique taste. Obviously, the flavor notes skew towards the well-known parameters of root beer, but it's more than just a can of Barq's.  Heavy with vanilla up front, it's very sweet, spicy, and root-y, with an alcoholic kick on the back end.  For what it is, it's kind of interesting, and people who don't like 'normal' beer sure seem to like it (it was one of the best selling beers in the country in '15).  For me, though, it's not a beer, just a beer alternative.

You can find it almost everywhere now, either in 5.9% or 10.7% ABV versions.  It's also got sister brews, like Not Your Father's Ginger Beer, floating around.  If you don't mind something sweet, either are probably worth a try, if just for the fun of it.  Don't know if I'll be going back, though.


Happy Friday!  Go Buffs, beat Washington!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 CU vs Washington Football Teaser -- The Pac-12 Championship

When the season schedule was first released, confirming that Colorado wouldn't have to play the Washington Huskies in the regular season, I breathed a sigh of relief.  UW was going to be a good team this year, now in their third season under head coach Chris Petersen, and it seemed like one fewer hurdle to clear in the pursuit of a bowl bid.  As the season progressed, skipping the Dawgs appeared to be even more of a blessing, as they started ripping through teams on a weekly basis. By Week 5 they were in the top-5 nationally, and have been in constant pursuit of a berth in the CFP ever since.  'Good for them,' I thought, 'at least CU won't have to face them... unless the Buffs make the Pac-12 Championship Game, which would never happen.'

Well, miracles doth occurred, and here we are.  Ducking the best all-around team in the league is no longer a possibility, and Colorado has to put their new-found reputation on the line in a showdown. Win, and at least they're slated for the Rose Bowl.  Lose, and they could end up being forced into a trip to Texas.  *shudders*  Better just win, baby.

--

Hype Music for the Week: "The Imperial March" by Epica

The Buffs are in the all-whites this week?  Ah, the storm trooper look.  With Colorado getting all Imperial, where else to go by John Williams' classic musical rendition of evil? I prefer Epica's version, as it confirms that double bass improves anything.  The Dutch symphonic metal band does the piece justice, and revels in the brassy outro.  Enjoy!

--

Kickoff from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is set for 7pm MT.  Those making the trip will be pleased to know that the forecast is calling for clear skies and mild temps, though the thermometer is going to dip severely after sundown.  Those not making the journey out west can catch the action on FOX's national broadcast, or with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the teaser...


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Colorado State Basketball Teaser

OK, so how do I, the guy who likes to pretend the CSU football program doesn't exist (and I would challenge you to come up with evidence that it does in this post-truth world), manage to pivot around and embrace the CU/CSU rivalry on the basketball court?  Simple, with the basic understanding that someone has to fill these non-conference dates.

See, real estate on a football non-conference schedule is limited and dear. It's even to the point now that games are scheduled decades in advance. You can't go spending such a precious resource on detritus that isn't carrying its weight -- charity has no place in football, after all.  It's just not in Colorado's interest to perpetuate the series, so I turn my back on it.

The opposite is true in basketball, however.  With 13 dates to fill before Pac-12 play starts, it's imperative that Tad Boyle and the Buffs find a handful of opponents each year that will accomplish three things: put butts in the seats, provide the team with a requisite challenge that requires emotional investment, and help in the RPI calculation. Colorado State, normally, checks off all three boxes. Therefore: bring them on... and the horde of slack-jaws that follow them, if you must.  It sure beats playing some RPI 300+ minnow.

--

There was a time, not too long ago, that the CSU Rams played some of the best basketball in the region.  Between Tim Miles' last two teams and the burgeoning start of the Larry Eustachy era, the program up north racked up 108 wins in five seasons, legitimately pushing CU for status as the elite program in the Centennial State.  They appear now, however, to have arrived at a precipice.  2015-16 was not kind to those from Ft Collins, with the Rams barely squeaking out an above-.500 record while finishing 7th in Mountain West play.  That makes it two years in three that little brother has struggled, with 2013-14's train-wreck 16-16 season preceding their paper-tiger 2014-15 campaign (when they went 27-7 against a garbage schedule).  With that in mind, I feel State entered this year with some pressure at their backs -- win now, or the mojo may fade away completely.
If Eustachy drags out that orange top of his this evening, I may vomit.  From: The Coloradoan 
So far, so... meh? Yes, they come to Boulder with a 5-1 record, but they have yet to beat a single team worth a damn, with their best win coming over... I guess New Mexico State?  Their one result against an opponent with a pulse -- a 56-49 loss at Stanford -- certainly isn't anything to write home about, either.  A gritty, close affair, it was one of the most unwatchable games I've tried to sit through in the past few years.  The basketball on display from both teams, chaotic, without any sense of rhythm or purpose, made me wonder just what the two coaching staffs were doing in the lead-up.  I half expected billy clubs to come out at one point, and the teams just end it all by whaling on each other. That game sure showed that a Eustachy team will still play you tough (which we already knew), but it didn't show much else, at least in terms of ability.

Part of my dismissal of their early play comes from the construction of their roster. They were supposed to be led this year by Gian Clavell, a dynamic 6-4 guard who was granted an extra season for a medical hardship.  The return of the team's 'heartbeat' was, in theory, going to help cover up the loss of lightning-quick point John Gillon, who transferred to Syracuse.  The theory, however, dissolved just before the start of the season as Clavell was arrested for the second time in 16 months on charges of false imprisonment with domestic violence.  He was suspended immediately, and doesn't appear to be coming back anytime soon; as well he should not. Without Clavell, the Rams are built around JuCo transfers, fresh faces, and a hodgepodge of other bits, and it doesn't look all that promising.
Gillon is gone, along with much of the backcourt spark that made the Rams dangerous a year ago.  From: Syracuse.com
Not to say there isn't any talent left, though.  Indeed, there are some good pieces in place in FoCo that could really push CU this evening.  Heading that list is their lone returning starter, 6-8 power forward Emmanuel Omogbo. A rebounding powerhouse, Emmanuel has a relentless motor to go along with his 14/12 averages. He's grabbing nearly 30% of all defensive rebounding opportunities in the early going, and will be the sternest challenge yet to the still developing Colorado front line.  In fact, if Tory Miller, who missed the Wofford game with a rolled ankle suffered in the final minutes against Texas, is still out, the Buffs could struggle to match Omogbo at all.

Elsewhere, keep an eye out for guards JD Paige and Prentiss Nixon.  The pair of sophomores form a pretty decent backcourt duo, and also hold the distinction of actually having started their collegiate careers in Ft Collins, rather than somewhere else (12 of the 15 players on the roster transferred in at some point).  Maybe not capable of the shooting prowess CSU displayed, at times, a year ago, but certainly capable of hurting a team playing soft on the perimeter.  Paige is the primary distributor, and already has 25 assists this season.  Nixon, as he showed last season, can be a great shooter, but has been struggling so far, and hasn't hit a three in a week.  Omogbo going off would be painful enough, but if Nixon starts hitting from deep, this could be a very uncomfortable evening.
Omogbo is dangerous inside.  From: the Coloradoan
Rounding out the cast of characters in the starting lineup are serviceable wing Devocio Butler and versatile big man Braden Koelliker.  Butler has good size (6-5, 205 lbs), and has shown to be a solid defender, early on. He probably needs more time in D-I ball, though, coming in from the JuCo ranks. Koelliker is the kind of player you expect to find on a Eustachy roster -- feisty and capable of frustrating.

Ultimately, I see the Rams as a competitive team that's still a few pieces short of being a complete threat. Oh, sure, they'll rebound and fight you on defense. Centered around Emmanuel's abilities in the paint, CSU is, once again, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about what they could do on the glass this evening. You'll also sweat out anything offensively, as they're holding opponents to 40.8% eFG through the opening weeks.  But, without the scoring punch of Clavell, they're missing that certain something, the something they'd need to come into Boulder and beat Colorado on their own floor.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.  So far, I've been making a lot of excuses for the Buffs. Citing middling competition, and latching onto sporadic bright spots, I've excused indifferent performances against teams they should be blowing past.  On the verge of this rivalry tilt, however, I'm suddenly nervous that the merely sufficient play we've see so far won't be enough against an opponent desperate to make a name for themselves. Remember what happened against the Rams two years ago, when the Buffs lost a bad game ugly, then went on to spiral out of control for the next two months?  The Buffs better bring their best to bear this evening, or we could be in for a rough fortnight of basketball, and possibly much worse.  Losing to the Rams, ahead of the trip to Portland and the Xavier/BYU do-si-do, could be inviting non-conference disaster.

That fearful dive into morosity aside, I'll still land on the optimistic side of the spectrum, and predict a win.  It won't be easy, though.  Into the under-eight timeout of the second half, this will be a brutal game.  Physical, cut-throat, and ugly.  CSU may even have the lead at that point.  When push comes to shove, though, I expect the four redshirt seniors - Gordon, Johnson, Fortune, and White - to make winning plays with the game in the balance.  It'll be enough to get the Buffs the win, if barely, setting them up for a big trip to Portland.  As always, a win is a win, and I'll take what I can get.

--

Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening. For everything we say about the Rams, this fixture is always one of the premiere dates on the non-conference calendar; this year should be no different. You want to be in the arena for this one, you know you do.

Those still intent on denying their innermost desires can catch the game on Pac-12 Mountain, or with the radio call on 760 AM.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT LITTLE BROTHER!