Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: Wherein I Refuse to Acknowledge Spring Football

I've been assured by a number of sources that the CU football team is currently going through spring ball. A very important mile marker in the yearly existence of any football program, the seasonal stint of practices is, nonetheless, completely uninteresting to me.  I don't mean to go all Allen Iverson on everyone, but we talkin' bout practice, man.  I'm excited that the team has a chance to improve, to focus on finally handing in their bowl game V-card.  I really am.  But to expect me to give two shits about a series of practices six months from their first real game (with the expected starting quarterback still some 550 miles away) is like asking me to get excited about Arizona Fall League results.

And don't even start with me about the Spring Game.  If I turn up my nose at All-Star games, why would I care about a glorified intra-squad scrimmage?  If you're excited to get to Folsom two Saturdays from now to see 3/4ths of a program go through the motions, then God bless you.  Me?  I'll be in California, watching baseball games that actually count, and much better off for it.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the Final Four, some confusing movement on the recruiting trail for the Buffs, and a new coach for the Women's team.

Click below for the bag...

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: Leaving the Dance After Only One Song

With college basketball season winding down, I'm straight to the action this afternoon.

Today in the bag, I'm talking the end of the road for the Colorado Buffaloes, the wild and wacky happenings of a weekend of insane basketball action, and the weirdness that is the Adam LaRoche v. White Sox scandal.

Click below for the bag...

Thursday, March 17, 2016

2016 NCAA Tournament Preview: Colorado vs UConn - West Coast Bias

Let me state this off the bat: I did not watch one UConn game this season.  Why would I?  Their games are usually played at uncomfortably early times against regional opponents I don't care about on a channel I may or may not get (CBS Sports Network, or something).  They don't even hail from the Big East anymore, coming from something called the 'American Athletic Conference;' is that even a real thing?  More like C-USA-plus, if you ask me. Pshaw, essentially, I am too knowledgeable of a fan, and my time far to valuable, to spend my free hours watching any of that stuff.

Look, if those on the East Coast can use lethargy and regional bias to limit their understanding of the great game of college basketball, then so can I.  And so, I'm bringing my great West Coast Bias to bear on the problem at hand.  That's right, with ignorance as my guide, I'm going to blithely predict victory for our Buffaloes without even looking at KenPom; Buffs win 84-52.  Ha ha!  My shortest preview ever!

... Naw, I'm totally kidding.  Yes, of course I've seen UConn play this season.  Not only are they a good basketball team, easily on par with everyone short of Oregon that CU has seen this season, but I have oodles of respect for their program and their capabilities.  I'm going to give them the full preview treatment today, and they fully deserve it.  Don't be scared, though.  Unless you're a top-four seed, these are the kind of opponents you're going to face in the first round of the NCAA Tournament; it's a sign of the position Colorado has put themselves in this season.  Veteran, capable groups, ones equally as talented and dangerous as you are, are going to be your draw, and that's the way it should be.  The time comes, though, that you have to stop looking at the name on the front of the jersey, and start beating the names on the back. That's how you get Big Boy basketball swagger.  Time for the Buffaloes to earn their share.


Hype Music for the Day: "Safety Dance" by Men Without Hats

This beast, from Canadian one-hit-wonder group Men Without Hats, is an iconic New Wave hit from the 80s. I think it strikes a good message. Since we're going Dancing today, might as well do it safely.  Also, this song will now be stuck in your head for the rest of the morning.  You're welcome!


Tip-off from the Wells Fargo Arena in Des Moines, IA is set for 11:30 AM MT today.  Never heard of 'the Well' before?  I'm not surprised, 'cause the teams that play there are exclusively minor league: the NBADL's Iowa Energy, the Iowa Barnstormer's of the Indoor Football League, and the Iowa Wild of the AHL.  Also, it's in Iowa, which is the state equivalent of stale white bread (I can make these jokes, being a native Midwesterner).  The building is still a standard, modern, multi-purpose facility, however, and a fitting place to play a first round game.

Televised coverage can be found on TNT, with the radio call on 850 KOA.  The game can also be followed through CBS' March Madness on Demand website and app, giving you plenty of opportunity to spike work in favor of watching the game.

Click below for the preview...

Tuesday, March 15, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: The Dance Begins

Back from Las Vegas, I'm still wobbly on my road to recovery.  Looking back on the week, it was a wonderful time, as always, made all the more wonderful by the opportunity to meet so many Buff fans who admitted to reading this space; some who even claimed to like what they find here!  Thank you all for your continued patronage, and here's to many more years of whatever this is.

Of course, this season is not yet over.  As everyone is aware of by now, the Colorado Buffaloes are Dancing for the fourth time in five seasons -- something wholly unprecedented in the history of this program.  With the Madness officially descending this evening (the opening tip-off in Dayton has already commenced, as of the writing of this piece), it's officially March.  Whatever you thought you knew about this season is about to change dramatically, and I can't wait to cover it.  My preview of the first round action against UConn will drop Thursday morning, with hopefully many more to come in the following days and weeks.

But, for now, it's grab bag time!


Today in the bag, I'm talking the drowsy Pac-12 final, my All-Tournament Team and Best Band in Vegas awards, my view of the Buffs' NCAA Tournament seeding, and a shakeup to the Colorado coaching staff.

Click below for the bag...

Saturday, March 12, 2016

2016 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 4

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 12th --

It's the morning after, and I still can't completely grasp what I watched last night.  I talked about it before Day 3 began, promising insanity and ridiculousness from the Pac-12 semifinals, but I didn't really expect a pair of games going to overtime based on final-buzzer pandemonium.  It was electric!  It was intense!  It was random as hell and marred by officiating 'issues.'  It was pure distillate of everything it means to watch Pac-12 basketball over an entire season.  In essence, it lived up to the hype.

In the first game, the league champions Oregon seemed to be on the front foot for most of the action against Arizona.  They closed the half on a blistering 15-2 run, capped by a final-second exclamatory dunk, and expanded their lead out to 17 points early in the second frame.  But, in an effort to avoid foul trouble with their short bench, the Ducks stopped playing defense, and the Wildcats began to chip away.  By the 10-minute mark, momentum had shifted, and the heavily pro-Arizona crowd was getting back into it.  It would be a fight to the finish.

While the lead was shrinking, Oregon had always been able to keep the UofA at arms length.  Powered by the fantastic shooting of Tyler Dorsey, the energetic attacking of Dillon Brooks, and the all-encompassing fury of Elgin Cook, they continued to put up points, and went into the final seconds with a four-point lead. Arizona's Gabe York, who struggled for much of the night against the Ducks' length on the perimeter, hucked in a desperation three that went in with only .7 seconds to play, cutting the lead to one point. Apparently too little, too late.  But, the Ducks didn't call a timeout to set their inbounds play, and the wayward pass that followed went into the waiting arms of Mark Tollefsen.  The refs called a foul on his resulting frantic heave, and suddenly, with an 82% free throw shooter headed to the line, Arizona was in position to flat steal their way into the final.

Tollefsen never looked comfortable headed to the line, though.  With the extended review time acting as a natural freeze, he fidgeted and paced for minutes while he waited for his chance to shoot.  When he finally got the ball, he fired the first free throw off to the side, forestalling an Arizona win in regulation.  His second make sent the game to overtime, and the crowd was in a tizzy.  The Ducks, however, are made of stern stuff, and responded like the champions they are.  They dominated the extra frame, pulling away throughout. Buoyed by the return from in-game injury of Dwayne Benjamin, Oregon finally settled into a 95-89 final.  An incredible, dramatic stretch of basketball.

The nightcap, featuring Utah and Cal, was just as exciting.  There were 16 lead changes and nine ties; the action back-and-forth from the onset.  The atmosphere in the building was a little muted, with the Arizona hordes off to drown their sorrows in booze and gambling, but the game on the court was one of the better I've seen all season.  Heroes on both sides, it eventually devolved into a battle between Utah's Jakob Poeltl and Cal's Ty Wallace.  Poeltl had the run of the paint, as Cal refused to double-team him down low; he would finish with 29/11.  Wallace was a one-man wrecking ball, launching into the lane to open up options both for himself and others; he ended with 26/6.  Eventually, after another moment of Lorenzo Bonam last-second brilliance (BuffNation knows him well from that game in Boulder this season), the Utes pushed the game to overtime, and rode Poeltl's un-checked grace to an 82-78 win.

All-in-all, I couldn't have asked for a better, more dramatic pair of games.  The Pac-12 answered the bell, serving up exactly what was called for; I'm glad I was in attendance to watch.  The shame of it was, as exciting as the games were, they were played either too late or on a channel no one gets, keeping most of the country from joining in.  An ugly situation, the Pac-12 has purposefully sequestered themselves on a regional network of their own choosing.  It is what it is.


Best pep band of the day:  Utah

Why?:  Utah always surprises me.  As a former Mountain West program from what could be considered a "flyover state" (one that, per Trey Parker and Matt Stone, does not allow music), I just wouldn't think they'd be great off the top of my head.  But they come to play.  Fun, loud, brass-forward sound, built around a good tempo.  Much like Arizona, they get good crowd involvement, and are quick to jump into tags and cheers after playing a standard tune.  Loved my time listening to them!

I also considered Oregon, but they played "Walking on Sunshine" twice.  While a good arrangement, there's no reason to play a non-fight/cheer tune twice.  Expand your book!


Today's action:

- #2 Utah vs #1 Oregon - 8pm MT - FS1 - 

Well, here we are.  The final, the 'ship, the whole tamale.  The tournament has been chalk the whole way. While there's been some scares for the higher seeds, and both probably should've lost last night, but a win's a win, and there's a reason this bracket has played out this way.  The good news here is that it leaves us with a terrific final matchup to watch.  The Ducks took both meetings this year, including an early blow-out victory in SLC.  Utah is a completely different team now, however, and, on a neutral (leaning-Utah) court, things could be very different.

Real talk, the combination of Brooks and Cook is a difference maker, and I don't think Utah can answer.  If UO can hold Poeltl in even a little bit of check, probably by double-teaming, then the Utes will be in big trouble. As fun as the Ducks are to watch, I cannot bring myself to root for Altman.  While I think Oregon will pull it out, I'll be rooting for the Utes tonight.


Friday, March 11, 2016

2016 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 11th --

This season has been full of a number of 'what-ifs' for the Colorado Buffaloes.  Games against SMU, Utah (twice), Oregon State, and USC in the regular season were the difference between a good team and a standard-setting exclamation point for the program.  After yesterday's 82-78 loss to Arizona, our Colorado heroes have another rueful log for the 'coulda-woulda-shoulda' pile, as CU wasted a commanding second half effort on the coattails of a disastrous opening 20 minutes.

From the moment the ball tipped, you could tell the Buffs were tight.  They were missing bunnies, passing up open looks, and failing to stand up to the Wildcats in an admittedly tough environment.  Stumbling out of the gate, they committed the worst sin imaginable: they allowed the heavily pro-Arizona crowd in the MGM Grand Garden Arena to become a factor.  Possession after possession of stagnant, empty offensive basketball only made the situation worse (26% shooting, 0-6 from three in the first half), and they quickly fell behind an ever growing eight ball.  Coach Boyle threw the kitchen sink at the problem, taking an (I assume) personal record of three first half timeouts and swapping out the lineups constantly, looking for some traction. None was to be found, however. In all, the team would play -17 basketball in the opening frame, and, honestly, should've been down by more at the break.

Then, CU came out of the locker room, and looked like a completely different team.  Shots started falling, they gained some rhythm, and they leaned on typically tenacious defense and rebounding (finished +16 on the glass for the game).  Slowly, but surely, the gap between them and Arizona began to shorten.  By the time the final TV timeout hit, they were within striking range, and continued to push into the final seconds. That 17-point gap, however, proved to be too much of a hill to climb, and the team eventually fell into a four-point loss.

There's nothing to be ashamed of here.  Yes, the opening half was ugly, and I had hoped the team would've shown better in a big spot.  But that comeback was impressive, coming in the face of a hostile crowd and a tough whistle ('Zona shot 19 extra free throws, albeit while CU was in scramble mode).  They can head into Selection Sunday with their heads held high, knowing that not only will they be in the Dance, but in a position to make a lot of East Coast also-rans sweat when they draw the Black and Gold.

In the day's other action:

  • Oregon survived an early scare from UW to make the semi finals, 83-77.
  • Utah traded blows with USC, but eventually secured an 80-72 win.
  • GP2 and Derrick Bruce went off for OSU, but too much Ivan Rabb was enough for Cal; 76-68.

Much more entertaining day, overall, than Day 1.  Each game had some drama, even though chalk still reigned.  The nightcap was probably my favorite.  I was a little bleary-eyed, and on the verge of a walking hangover, but the sights of Gary Payton II (20/17, dismantled Jaylen Brown with his defense) mounting a desperate run at Cal was awesome.  Ivan Rabb, though, stepped up when he needed to (21/15/4).

What it all means is that we get the final four we all secretly wanted.  Oregon, Utah, Cal, and Arizona will make for a titanic semifinal Friday, one that projects to be the best of any Power 5 conference in the country. The atmosphere in the arena, with AZ and UT fans fighting over precious tickets, will be next level.  The talent on display will be enviable.  If these two games tonight aren't great, I'll eat my hat.


Best pep band of the day:  Arizona

Why?:  I didn't want to pick the same band twice in a row, so OSU is out (though they played quite well last night, particularly on "Radar Love.")  The UofA band's sound was nice and meaty, they worked well with crowd interaction, and seemed to be much improved over last year's version. Overall, very entertaining and at ease with the fact that a basketball game is not a concert setting.

Looking forward, their matchup with Oregon today is, by far, the most interesting of the band pairings today. Utah/Cal is, well, the equivalent of an 8/9 game (though that Cal bass drummer has my respect).


Today's action:

- #4 Arizona vs #1 Oregon - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

The reigning league champions vs the crowd.  This is going to be like a heavyweight fight where everyone in the audience wants to see the champ knocked on his ass.  I want to say Oregon is up for the challenge, having capped the 'Cats in McKale earlier this year, but Arizona hasn't lost a game in this gym since two years ago, and that was to a UCLA squad with oodles of NBA-ready talent.  I'm putting my money on the Ducks, mostly because the red-clad fans will move the line in my favor, but any result here is possible.

- #3 Cal vs #2 Utah - 9:30 MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Both teams played with their food a bit last night, and both teams are a bit lucky to still be playing today. Cal, especially, looked shaky, putting my tournament-winning bet on them into some doubt.  I'm still on their side, though, and expect that Jaylen Brown will have a much better game with GP2 in his rear-view.  Add in their ridiculous strength on two-point shot percentage defense, and I think Cal will get the best of this one.


Thursday, March 10, 2016

2016 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 2

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 10th --

Colorado had struggled twice this season with Washington State, succumbing to personal demons in two difficult, taught affairs with the league's worst team.  Yes, CU won both regular season meetings, but neither was convincing, and you could make an argument at the Cougs deserved to win at least one, if not both, games outright.  Facing them in the first round of the 2016 Pac-12 Tournament was a kind of a litmus test for the Buffs: is Colorado really ready for March?

Well, after a resounding 80-56 clubbing of the Cougars here in Las Vegas, I think the answer is 'yes.'  The Buffs controlled the action throughout, hitting all their numbers against the lower seed.  For the game, they held Washington State to just 35% shooting, grabbed an extra 11 rebounds, and limited turnovers to a reasonable 10.  Anytime Colorado does that, they've going to win.  In this case they won big by also knocking down 40% of their three point attempts and sharing the basketball on offense (17 assists on 30 made baskets). Really, there's nothing to complain about after this one.  It was a springy, bright little display from CU, one that even allowed them to play the 'Larry Bird All-Stars' late (Brett Brady even knocked down a three!).  Essentially, they looked like a 21-win team should.

Delving into the numbers, the big key, as admitted by WSU coach Ernie Kent, was that the Cougars focused a little too much on stopping Josh Scott.  While they managed to hold the All-Pac-12 forward to just six points, the Young Fundamental welcomed the double teams, and wrecked the Cougs with five assists on kickouts.   Throw in a dose of George King going off (21 points, most of those in the first half) and the Buffs were able to play about as clean a game as you could expect this time of year.  Elsewhere, big Tory Miller put up a huge 8/7, looking like a bull-in-a-china-shop should.  Some defensive lapses, sure, but that's the version of Tory we in BuffNation hope will translate into the future.

Of course, everything that happened yesterday against the Cougars can be thrown out the window.  As was always the case this season against those from Pullman, Colorado was expected to win, and win big. CU simply lived up to expectations... finally.  The trick will be translating that good mojo into what will be a very difficult test this afternoon against Arizona in "McKale North.'  The defending champs may not have had the most resounding season, indeed requiring a late push against Cal last week to avoid the indignity of a first round game, but they're still a very tough out (in fact, all mighty KenPom has installed them as the statistical favorite to win the whole tournament).  Falling back on an old crutch, my only advise for those in attendance today: gird your loins.

In the day's other action:

  • Washington rolled over Stanford 91-68.
  • USC thrashed cross-town rival UCLA 95-71.
  • Oregon State pushed past Arizona State 75-66.

A lot of chalk, a lot of blowouts.  Even the closest game of the day, OSU/ASU, was ugly and essentially unwatchable.  Not a good start, overall, if I'm honest.  But, as is often the case with any tournament, early chalk usually begets later-round craziness.  The big dogs hit town today, and will all play lower-seeded entrants advancing in emphatic fashion.  I would imagine one or two will be able to put a big scare into a top-four seed this afternoon.


Best pep band of the day:  Oregon State

Why?:  They played the loudest.  They played the fastest.  The tubas were the phatest.  Were one of the few groups who seemed to understand that they were playing at a basketball game, and not sitting a concert. (Looking at you, USC and UCLA).

Of special note, Stanford wasn't here for their one game, and didn't bring the Tree, either.  Apparently, this is a result of that Iowa silliness; just lost a lost of respect for the decision makers who came to that conclusion. Accordingly, the Cardinal got whupped on the court.  While there were basketball reasons for this, I'm putting it down for coming to Las Vegas without their band.

Up today, the Oregon/Washington game projects to be the best band matchup of the day.  Can't wait for that one.


Today's action:

- #8 Washington vs #1 Oregon - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Oregon come in the league champions, but probably the least talked about top-four team, in terms of hype. I bet they will even be underdogs if they advance to play Arizona tomorrow evening.  That could be all the edge Dana Altman needs to get them going.  UW is getting a lot of points, and it wouldn't surprise me if they back-door covered, but UO should win this one handily.

- #5 Colorado vs #4 Arizona - 3:30 MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Does it have to be Arizona?  Yes, Colorado looked comfortable against the red-clad horde in Boulder, which was something considering the previous two visits from our Four Corners neighbors, but here, in Las Vegas, CU might as well be playing them in a road game.  Any of the top-four would be an elite-level challenge, but throwing in the extra difficulty of facing a good UofA team in a pseudo-road environment is a little too intense of a test for me.  I think the Buffs will be able to cover the 10 points being offered right now, but I highly doubt they will be able to win.  Even with a loss, however, NCAA Tournament status has already been assured, so this one's on the house.

- #7 USC vs #2 Utah - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

If Arizona has the largest fanbase here, Utah is a strong #2.  Utes from everywhere will be here in force for the second session, making this a tough environment for the Trojans.  This ain't playing the slap-dick Bruins anymore, USC, welcome to a whole new level of basketball.  Give me UU.

- #6 Oregon State vs #3 Cal - 9:30pm MT - FS1 - 

I followed through on my pre-tournament promise, and bet the Bears to win it all (6-1 odds).  Accordingly, I like them to win this evening against OSU.  The fighting GP2s just don't have enough firepower to keep up with the Berkeley boys.


Wednesday, March 9, 2016

2016 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 1

... and here we... go...

Ladies and gentlemen: we made it.  WE MADE IT TO CHAMPIONSHIP WEEK!  I look forward to the next two weeks more than any others in the entire calendar.  Wall-to-wall non-stop basketball action, with games being played around the country at all hours; what could be better?

What's more, this 2016 Pac-12 Tournament - the fifth ever and the fourth played in Las Vegas - projects to be the craziest on record.  In a conference this deep, with as many star-studded lineups as will be on display, nothing is guaranteed.  I figure as many as nine teams are capable of making a semifinal, leaving almost the entire action to chance.  And even if there is chalk, could there be anything more exciting than a final four pairing of Oregon, Arizona, Utah and Cal?  Friday night at the MGM Grand is going to be epic!

The best part?  I'll be your guide once again, living life on the edge in the heart of Sin City.  Keep your eye on this space throughout the week for daily analysis and reaction, as well as on my twitter page for random ephemera.  Additionally, due to popular demand, I'll be keeping an ear out for the pep bands at the arena, selecting my daily best, and eventually picking my top band in Vegas at week's end.  Should be a fun and interesting perspective to focus on.

With that business out of the way, let's get to the action.


Hype Music for the Week: "Shots" by LMFAO, Ft. Little John

A week spent in Las Vegas watching basketball is absurd.  LMFAO was absurd.  This was a match made in heaven.  Enjoy!


Today's Games:

- #9 Stanford vs #8 Washington - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Networks -

The tournament will start off with what could be a very interesting game (and the Stanford band!). Were this played a month ago, I would say Stanford would have no chance, but the Huskies collapsed in February, losing six of their last eight games. It's to be expected, I guess, with that pack of freshmen slowing down into this, their fifth month of collegiate-level basketball. Comparatively, the veteran Cardinal has been on fire (OK, sort of a quiet smoldering), winning four of their last seven.  It's a battle of teams headed in opposite directions, playing dissimilar styles. That's a good set-up, right?

UW won the only regular season meeting, a rather dour 64-53 affair in Seattle played to only 70 possessions (UW's 'slowest' game since December).  I would expect a few more fireworks this time, though; 70 possessions is like only reaching second gear for these guys.  The Dawgs love to run, and they should be able to do just that on a neutral floor.  Given that, I find it hard to believe the Cardinal could keep pace.  I'll be betting Washington.

- #12 Washington St vs #5 Colorado - 3:30 MT - Pac-12 Networks -

The story here is the same as it has been all season between the Cougars and Buffaloes: there is no reason Colorado should lose.  I'm serious, there just wouldn't be a rational explanation for a loss this afternoon; WSU has lost their last 16 straight, after all. However, as we saw in the games played in Pullman and Boulder, CU loves nothing more than playing down to their opponent.  That scare in the Feb. 11th fixture was especially real, and served as a pseudo wakeup call.  If Colorado comes into this one just as flat, just as willing to let Wazzou hang around, things could be just as scary upon approach to the final buzzer.

The big difference here, though, is that Josh Scott is healthy.  If you remember, Jelly was out with his ankle issue for the home game, allowing Josh Hawkinson free rein to run amok.  Josh is back, and on his final post season run.  'Baby-Face' Hawkinson, then, has his work cut out for him, and so do the Cougs.

I fully expect Colorado to stumble around for a bit, watch a few open jumpers clang off the rim, and generally allow WSU to hang... just as we saw in both meetings this season.  But, just as we saw in both meetings this season, the Buffs will pull it out when they need to, and steal away into Thursday's matchup with the Wildcats.  Give me WSU on the cover, though.

- #10 UCLA vs #7 USC - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Networks -

Ooooo, a rivalry game!  The night session begins with this tasty little meeting between the two LA schools, featuring a reversal of seeding fortune as the Trojans come into the game as the 'favorites.'  It's legit, though. Power program UCLA has played like trash this year, and clearly deserve their double-digit spot in the bracket.  The Bruins, losers of their last four and seven of nine, certainly seem to be in a tailspin, and don't strike me as capable of anything resembling winning basketball right now. Not to be out-paced in the 'L' column, however, the Trojans have also struggled the last few weeks, losing six of their last eight.  Really, these two deserve each other!

I expect this one will be a wide-open free for all, featuring ugly shot selection, questionable coaching decisions, and some righteously ridiculous shit.  Essentially, what I'm saying is: if you're going to be next-level drunk for only one game today, make it this one.  Give me the Trojans with a cover.

- #11 Arizona St vs #6 Oregon St - 9:30 MT - Pac-12 Networks -

Last, but not least, the Beavers and Sun Devils are ready to provide the night cap.  Really, this one is all about the Gary Payton II show -- how good he is in this tournament will determine exactly far OSU can go, and how secure their NCAA Tournament position is.  The run starts here, and I just can't imagine the 'Mitten' bowing out after only one game.  Behind his all encompassing performance, the Beavers should win big, sending the masses out to the tables with plenty of time left on the clock.


Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Fourth Annual Rumblin' Awards

Yesterday, the Pac-12 released their seasonal awards (Congrats to Josh Scott for getting named to the All-Conference First and Defensive Teams!). Never satisfied with the musing of coaches and professional pundits, however, I'm going to delve into who I believe should have been honored by the conference this year.

After the jump, find my choices for the All-Pac-12 1st and 2nd teams, along with my Player, Coach, Defender, and Newcomer of the Year.

Please remember that the Rumblin' Awards are a strictly black tie affair.

Monday, March 7, 2016

Quick Post: CU/Utah Wrap

Well, it happened again.  Colorado held a 14-point lead with just over seven minutes to play in their season finale against the Utah Utes, but proceeded to bleed it out under the pressure of a tough road atmosphere. A 16-0 run for the Buffs immediately turned into a 19-0 run for Utah; a decisive counter that spoiled a strong second half start.  To outsiders, it was shocking; to us in BuffNation, it was just another day at the office. The turn was eerily similar to the events of a few weeks ago in Los Angeles, and of other vanishing leads throughout the season.  In the end, CU took the hard loss, this time by a final score of 57-55.

The shame of it, up to the point of the Utah run, was that CU had been playing a near-perfect half of basketball.  They were owning the glass in the second half, had been staying away from turnovers, and playing a typically intense brand of defense.  While the offense was spotty (had been spotty all game), the Buffs were winning in the margins, and seemed to be on their way to a typical #TadBall brand of grind-it-out win.  The big hero was Tory Miller.  The sophomore forward came alive in the second frame, putting up a huge 7/6 line that fueled the run.  Combined with some timely first half shooting from Tre'Shaun Fletcher and some scrappy early second half plays from Josh Scott (who had an otherwise rough game), it was enough to get the Buffs going.  Then, the team simply turtled the minute the Utes showed a second half pulse.  Factors compounded.  The refs swallowed their whistles, every break went to the home side, and no one in Black and Gold could make a winning play. It was a complete, total momentum shift. To my surprise, Coach Boyle even called timeouts (twice!) in an attempt to forestall the run, but it didn't work. The players simply didn't, couldn't get it done.

You can credit the Utes all you want, but when you see the same story from Colorado opponents time and time again, at some point you need to look at the common denominator. The problem is roster construction. There's a good basketball team out there, running around, that much is clear.  They have a fatal weakness, however.  Colorado just does not have a lead guard who, late in the game, can get into the lane and draw a whistle. Without that, CU will continue to cough up seemingly insurmountable leads, particularly on the road, and will continue to drop big games.  It's basic basketball arithmetic; otherwise you have to play perfect down the stretch to survive.  College hoops, as always, is a guard-driven game.

It's a painful opportunity lost.  CU missed their chance at a record-setting 22nd regular season win, a chance to make a profound statement about the resilience and resolve of this program.  As it is, the Buffs still exceeded expectations all year long, eclipsing essentially all preseason projections.  When they get selected to the NCAA Tournament this coming Sunday, it will be a well-deserved recognition for the gritty work they've put in all winter.  While there are a number of points this season that you point to where the team let opportunities split through their fingers, their regular season work, when viewed as a whole, is quite impressive.

With the frustration in Utah left in the rear view, attention now turns to Las Vegas and the 2016 Pac-12 Tournament.  Thanks to USC's home loss to Oregon earlier on Saturday, Colorado will avoid the embarrassment of slipping into 6th.  Indeed, they were locked into the 5th seed before the U12 timeout of the first half (due to the Cal win in Tempe), so the end result in SLC meant nothing for their positioning in the Pac-12 bracket.  Wednesday afternoon, CU will play Washington State for the right to face Arizona the following day.  The game with the Cougars will tip at 2:30 MT.  Should the Buffs win, the story will be the same on Thursday against the Wildcats. I'll have my Day 1 preview up from six miles in the air on Wednesday morning.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

2015-16 CU vs Utah Basketball Preview #2: the End of the Road

Welcome to the end of the road.  The season finale, 2016.  To-date, the Colorado Buffaloes have defied any number of preseason expectations by putting themselves in position for a fourth NCAA Tournament bid in five seasons, something entirely unprecedented in the history of this program.  It's been a semi-miraculous ride, one that's only a final brushstroke away from perfection.  With a win in Salt Lake City this evening the Buffs would claim their 22nd victory in the regular season, and set a new program record for excellence. A blissful denouement on what is shaping up to be Coach Boyle's best work in Boulder.

Of course, all of us in BuffNation have been in this situation before.  Back in 2014, the Buffs headed into their season finale with Cal stuck on 21 wins.  A win in Haas would not only have set that program record for wins, but also clinch an elusive first round bye in the conference tournament.  Colorado lost that day, falling in overtime in a game they played well enough to win; opportunity lost in a particularly painful fashion.

CU faces an even tougher threat this time around.  The Utah Utes, last seen in Boulder trying to find their sea legs, have captured lightning in a bottle since, rocketing up the league table over the last month.  The challenge before the Buffs is, therefore, extremely daunting: walk into the belly of the beast, and beat one of the hottest teams in the entire country on their own floor.  It certainly won't be easy.  If, come this time tomorrow we're all still celebrating the culmination of the winningest regular season run in the life of the program, it will because Colorado earned it under the most difficult of conditions.


Hype Music for the Evening: "The Horse" by Cliff Nobles & Co.

I'm closing the season with one of my all-time favorite tracks from the CU Basketball Band book.  This bygone instrumental hit - one that, weirdly, doesn't feature the headliner Nobles at all - was all the rage in the late 60s.  It reached it's peak, however, when it was transcribed into a pep chart, forever to be played with passion and pride by band geeks around the country.  Featuring more brass than you can handle, I'd rather play this beast than just about any song around.  Enjoy!


Tip-off from the Huntsman Center is set for 7:30pm this evening (subject, of course, to the vagaries of Senior Day celebrations in SLC).  The final regular season action of the season can be seen on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview from the first game can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: It's March!

No time for idle chitchat.  IT'S MARCH!

Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over ASU, how the rest of the Pac-12 fared, and what's at stake over the final week of conference play.

Click below for the bag...