Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 16, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: Where have all the students gone?

Another busy, holiday-shortened week, another brief intro. Straight to the action!

Today in the bag, I'm talking the big win over the Huskies, the weekly peek around the other Pac-12 results, and student attendance.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs survive Huskies, earn sweep of Washington schools - 

Saturday afternoon, in front of a nice crowd (but essentially no students), the Colorado Buffaloes were facing an uphill battle against the Washington Huskies.  Josh Scott, the superlative senior power forward, was still out with an ankle injury.  Without him the team was facing the same UW bunch that cracked them by 12 points in the first meeting, and were just 38 hours removed from a two-overtime struggle with the worst team in the Pac-12.  In that light, there were a lot of justifiably nervous faces in the stands just before tip; even yours truly was predicting doom.  Then, the ball went up, and all that garbage faded away. From the opening seconds to the final horn, Colorado came to play, playing gritty, intense basketball throughout.  While the final ticks of the clock got a little nervy, with a number of mistakes putting the team on the verge of blowing a much-needed win, the Buffs held true, and walked away with a vital 81-80 victory.

For a moment, it seemed like the game would finish in a nauseating case of deja vu.  If you can remember back to last season, UW came to Boulder and stole away with a last-second victory thanks to an Andrew Andrews buzzer-beater.  Down just a single point with the ball and eight seconds to play on Saturday, Andrews and the Huskies seemed to be in position for a gut-wrenching repeat performance.  He took the inbounds on the wing, dribbled left to the elbow, stepped-back to create separation from Xavier Talton and Wes Gordon (who, weirdly, stepped off the trap), and... missed.  It was almost an exact replica of the action from the game in '15; he just shot from the opposite elbow and bricked it long.  It was stunning.  Given the time and circumstance, I would've put a lot of money on the veteran heart of the Washington attack cashing that shot, but it wasn't to be.  Feel free to thank the basketball deity of your choice.
Wes Gordon was nasty under the glass.  From: the BDC
But, while the Buffs were lucky to watch Andrews' shot sail wide, they were not merely lucky to enter this one in the left-hand column. No, they earned this win through a foundation built on rebounds.  Lots and lots of rebounds. Even without the great Scott, CU wrecked the Huskies on the boards, grabbing a total of 55 off the glass, 20 of which were offensive, to forge a +20 advantage in the rebounding battle. It was with activity, determination, and hustle that they proceeded to out-work their purple-clad opponents under the basket, fueling a number of key put-backs and second chances.  Wes Gordon and George King lead the charge, each in double figures for a combined total of 23.  We've seen this before from Wes, who now has three straight games with a double-double in J40's absence, but for George King this was refreshingly new. He has always had the physical gifts and understanding of the game required to be a good rebounder, he just, admittedly, hadn't been focusing on it this season, eschewing the effort required to instead stay intent on his shooting.  That changed this week, however, with King making a point of competing for every available rebound.  With Josh Scott out, it was vital to have this extra production off misses, and King's effort was a true difference maker.

Even with that rebounding advantage, however, the Buffs still struggled to put the game to bed. Leading by as many as 17, Colorado would give all their gains back in the second half, mostly thanks to another unending series of turnovers.  This time it was 22 total, which UW turned into 27 points, that ate into CU's ability to win the game (Josh Fortune posted a team-leading seven, FWIW).  There's really no explanation for it at this point, it just is what it is.  The Buffs are careless with the basketball, this team's true Achilles heel.  It's not just a point guard problem, either, it's an every player on the roster problem.  Every possible scenario has played out over the past few games:
  • bad calls, 
  • careless passes out of bounds, 
  • careless passing straight into the waiting arms of the opponent, 
  • dropped passes, 
  • dribbling the ball off a foot/knee, 
  • reckless dribble-drive turning into a charge, 
  • reckless dribble-drive leading the attacker to leave the ball behind, 
  • getting straight ripped by a defender, 
  • simply dropping the ball with little to no provocation, 
  • etc.  
If you can dream it up, CU has used it in-game to get rid of the basketball over the past month of play. At this point, the only thing - I repeat THE ONLY THING - keeping this team from a credible title challenge (besides the healthy return of Josh Scott) is limiting turnovers. It'll be a frustrating footnote on this season, whenever it ends, to realize things could've been far better if only the team had figured out how to beat their turnover addiction, but they've proven at this point that the issue is beyond solving in the immediacy. They're just going to have to learn to play and overcome this wasting disease.
Turnovers continue to frustrate.  From:
And so, a very interesting home stand ends with a Colorado sweep.  It wasn't easy, and at times it was hard to watch, but you have to give the team a lot of credit for brushing off the absence of their best player to find a way to get the job done.  As a result, much of the pressure on this upcoming trip to Los Angeles is lessened.  Even with two losses, very minimal damage to the Tournament resume would be done, while just a single win in SoCal will keep them in the running for a top-four bid in Las Vegas. USC's up first, with another 9pm tip on Wednesday.  I'll have the preview up tomorrow morning.

Around the nation of Pac-12 hoops - 

- Stanford 76 - Oregon 72 - 

Let's start with the league leaders, who... well, they kind of shit the bed in San Francisco over the weekend.  It was bad enough that they lost in Haas to the Golden Bears, but as inconsistent as Cal has been this year, they've been dynamite at home.  What really stunned basketball junkies on the Left Coast, though, was UO walking into Maples, and walking out with a second-straight loss.  The Cardinal had lost four straight prior to that game, including a loss to the Oregon State Beavers, and had no right to be dumping an Oregon team that can be considered in Final Four contention.  Just another wild, wacky happening in the conference where randomness is the norm.
The Ducks proved incapable of seeing through the Trees.  From: Bleacher Report.
Rosco Allen, a dirty pleasure talent, lead the way for Stanford with 25/7.  He was relentless in attacking the Ducks, constantly putting their defense under pressure. They couldn't seem to stop him, or his Cardinal brethren throughout; in the second half alone, the Trees were allowed to shoot 68% from the floor, a stunning effort against the defensively explosive Ducks.  You'll note, though, that Chris Boucher was, once again, limited with severe foul trouble, keeping him on the bench for entire stretches.  The JuCo dynamo is the fuel in the belly of the Nike-clad beast, and the difference maker between good and great for those from Eugene.

- Arizona 86 - USC 78 -

With Oregon slipping in the Bay area, the Wildcats took advantage, surviving light scares from UCLA and USC to leap back up into a first-place tie with the Ducks.  Against USC on Saturday, the UofA only lost control for about four or five minutes, letting the Trojans sneak back in to within a single basket after the U8 timeout.  The 'Cats closed ranks, however, and sprinted to the finish, forcing USC to miss nine-straight shots down the stretch.  With the two-game advantage evaporated, you have to wonder how the young Oregon squad will cope over the season's final three weeks.  Both teams will face their lesser in-state rivals at home this week, though, probably meaning this race will hold in a state of detente for at least a few days.
'Zona eventually pulled past USC, and into a first-place tie.  From: the AP
For the Trojans, they really struggled in the desert, losing both games played, including an ugly one in Tempe.  Having slipped all the way behind Colorado and into a fifth-place tie, they will be desperate for wins this week on home hardwood.  One key for them will be the play of Bennie Boatwright.  He took home a goose-egg zero points against the Sun Devils, but was one of the main reasons the team stayed competitive in Tucson, dropping 18/7.  It's when he's contributing along with Jacobs, McLaughlin, and Jovanovic that USC really looks dangerous.

- Utah 88 - Washington St 47 -  

In a shocker (sarcasm implied), the Utes rolled over the Cougars, fresh off their double-OT effort against the Buffs in Boulder.  Jakob Poeltl was the star here, as he posted 25/10 against the same front court that had so befuddled Colorado in two meetings.  For the game, WSU was held to 30% shooting and turned it over 20 times.  They never had a chance.
"This is Air Austria, requesting clearance to approach."  From:
To be honest, while the Ducks and Wildcats are clearly strong teams, if I had to put my money on one group to win the league, at this point it would be Utah.  They still have games in hand against USC, Arizona, and Colorado, two of which are at home, and have been playing some seriously good basketball of late (with the slight asterisk of that Oregon trip).  The only problem: they lost both games to the Ducks, so would have to cleanly jump them over the final three weeks.  That path must include at least one win this week in Los Angeles.  Certainly, they seem to matchup well with UCLA, and I would expect them to put in a solid performance against the Bruins Thursday night.

- UCLA 78 - Arizona St 65 - 

UCLA's contribution this weekend was putting the fear of #DaddyBall into Arizona, but they still took the loss in McKale (done in by some suspect refereeing).  Their follow-up performance in Tempe was much better, however, with power forward Jonah Bolden playing fantastic ball, posting a slick 16/9 to dominate the Sun Devils in the paint.  More importantly, though, the team actually played some defense in the second half, holding ASU to 31% shooting after the break to finish the game convincingly.
UCLA has all the talent in the word, but remains inconsistent, at best. From:
If you haven't been paying attention, the Bruins are a schizophrenic nightmare to project.  They have oodles of talent and one of the best clutch scorers in the league (Bryce Alford), yet routinely do stupid stuff, like lose to Washington State, or get swept by USC for the first time in years.  They are incredibly dangerous, from a numbers standpoint alone, but strike one of the more enigmatic poses in all of college basketball.  CU's game with them this weekend will make for a very interesting case study, and could be a pivot point for both teams' seasons.

On student attendance - 

In a mystery worthy of ACME and their pursuit of Carmen Sandiego, someone has absconded with the C-Unit.  As I looked to the south end of the CEC Saturday, they were nowhere to be seen, leaving a cavernous hole in the stands behind the first few rows (later to be filled by transient hordes of children and their parents looking for open space).  Quick, call the Chief, I'm on the case!
This reference is far too dated, I apologize.
With an announced crowd of 9,476 on hand, the only thing separating BuffNation from a sellout against Washignton was the presence of those currently enrolled in the school.  This was not the first time that has happened, either.  Outside of, oddly, the Oregon State game, student attendance for the entirety of conference play has been hilariously suspect.  Now, this problem will 'magically' fix itself (temporarily) a week from tomorrow when Arizona comes to town, but the long-term issue remains. Half, third, and even quarter-full student sections have become the norm, with butts-over-seats dwindling as the year has progressed. How, why?  The once venerable C-Unit has been reduced to a shadow of its former self, and everyone, from the administration, to the alums, and the C-Unit brass themselves, seems lost as to the cause.

Certainly, there is an easily decipherable excuse for this particular incident of collective student absence.  Against the Huskies it was a noon tip-off, leaving me to assume most of the kids were still in bed sleeping off their Friday night antics.  No harm no foul here, shoot your shot.  But that doesn't explain the lackluster attendance for the Washington State, Cal, Stanford, Oregon and even Utah games. The C-Unit used to be the bedrock of fan support in the #RollTad era, yet now, besides a close-knit cadre of die hards, they're nowhere to be found.  What's going on?

Attendance, et al, is a tired old subject, and I'm not here to blame the students who, when left to their own devices, would rather do anything other than watch a basketball game.  This is a special place, afterall, with a number of special and distractive opportunities.  I'm just honestly befuddled in search of a solution.  The only thing I can think of is the decline in student outreach (read: bribes) since Mike Bohn's tenure as Athletic Director went the way of the dodo.  Rick George's entire focus has gone towards the football program (that IPF sure is shiny), and maybe this case of student indifference is just the canary in the mine telling us all that there is a non-monetary price to pay for trying to raise the rotting corpse of the football program from the dead.
A few minutes before tip-off on Saturday, and the kids were nowhere to be found.  This is a problem.
I am a big fan of the life of Bill Veeck, the great, long-dead baseball owner who ran, among others, the St Louis Browns, Cleveland Indians, and My Chicago White Sox in the middle of the last century. A natural-born promoter in the PT Barnum style, he understood the tenant that winning can only go so far to breed attendance; at some point you need to give the people 'bread and circuses' if they're going to make the commitment to show up on a continuing basis (read this masterpiece for more information). College basketball is a product, like anything else, and Colorado athletics is apparently missing the mark in the way they're selling it to what should be their key demographic.  We've got the wins, but where are the bread and circuses?  Where's the added incentive for the students to come watch basketball?

Now, is getting 3,000 students into the stadium every game a money-making strategy.  No, not in the immediacy with the price-point of those tickets.  What it is, however, is an investment in the future, along with a cheap, efficient way of creating in-house atmosphere.  Simply put, Colorado Basketball needs the students more than the students need Colorado Basketball.  You can't just throw open the doors and expect them to come like this is Dyersville, IA. My argument: it's time to, once again, pony up a relatively small amount of juice each game to get them in the door.  More giveaways, more pizza for the first 1,000 kids, and the return of the paid trips to the tournaments for the most loyal and hardworking of the C-Unit staff.  Believe me, you'll get more in return of future donations and self-flagellating promotion (see: distraction, curtain of) than you'd ever spend on some cheap t-shirts.  Make it fun.  Make it an essential part of student life here in Boulder to truck up to South Campus, even on a powder day.  The program deserves a full student section, and the administration has the power to nurse it back to health.

Happy Tuesday!

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