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...

Final Four set, Pac-12 on outside looking in - 

College Basketball's greatest stage is set, with the Final Four tipping off this Saturday.  Let's take a quick look at who made it, and how they got there:

- Oklahoma 80 - Oregon 68 - 

After an extended run by the Ducks, the Pac-12, in all its RPI-studded glory, finally bowed out of the Dance at the hands of the Oklahoma Sooners.  It was a case of too much Buddy Hield, as the one-time Colorado recruiting target scorched the earth for 37 points on 20 shots.  With Oregon three-point specialist Tyler Dorsey struggling from the floor (1-7 from deep) and Dillon Brooks fighting foul trouble all night (fouled out after a pedantic 7/1/3), that was more than enough for OU to keep UO at arms length for 40 minutes.  As a whole, the Ducks shot under 40% from the floor and lost the rebound battle; the sound you just heard was Tad Boyle *tut-tut*-ing under his breath.
Buddy doin' Buddy things.  From: CBS Local
- Villanova 64 - Kansas 59 -

The Sooners will face, in a surprise, not Kansas!  The Jayhawks may have out-shot and out-rebounded the Wildcats, but they couldn't make up a massive gap at the line ('Nova 18-19, KU 7-11) while at the same time turning the ball over 16 times.  Those turnovers proved crucial, as a number of them in the game's final minutes kept the Squawks from capitalizing on situations where they had the ball only down a possession. For Villanova, a balanced scoring attacked mixed with a ball-hawking defense makes them a dangerous matchup for the Sooners.  While Hield is one of the nastiest talents currently at the collegiate level, the Wildcats are the kind of team, based on overall team balance and flexibility, that can give him and his teammates fits.
I know, Frank Mason, it is very shocking.  From: FOX Sports
- Syracuse 68 - Virginia 62 -

As if Kansas losing wasn't enough, Syracuse shocked the world by overcoming a 15-point lead over the final nine minutes of play to flit their way to Houston as a 10-seed (BuffNation knows how you feel, UVA).  The big story on the court was Malachi Richardson scoring 21 of his game-high 23 points in the second half to lift the undeserving entrant past the pokey, defensive-minded Wahoos.
Some happy Orange.  From: Nunes Magician
Speaking of undeserving, a lot of people are using Syracuse's run as proof that they belonged in the field of 68.  I, on the other hand, do not believe that the resulting outcome changes the fact that the Orange simply did not have as good of a profile as some of the teams that missed the Dance.  Selection to the Field is, and always will be, based off of your performance during the regular season; how any team does once they get in is as much a product of luck and happenstance as anything else.  The Orange, with their RPI in the 70s and their late-season losing streak, did not deserve to be here, despite having played their way to the third weekend.  This of course, does not even take into account the program's off-court woes which should've made them ineligible, anyways.

- North Carolina 88 - Notre Dame 74 -

Speaking of program that should've been ineligible for post-season play, North Carolina makes the third weekend, as well, thanks to their commanding second half performance over an upstart squad from Notre Dame.  The Irish had been shooting lights out basketball int he first to stick with the bigg, faster, more athletic Tar Heels, but the rebounding chickens came home to roost in the final frame, and with them a +9 half from Carolina.  Overall, the Heels look the best of any of the four teams still playing, and they're my choice to cut down the nets on Monday. Brice Johnson (25/12 against ND) is just too good when surrounded by this kind of talent.
The bluest of the blue-bloods survive.  From: CBS News.

Confusion on the recruiting trail - 

With the conclusion of the college basketball season quickly approaching, attention is starting to turn to hoops' hot stove league.  Coaching moves, professional declarations, transfers, JuCos, late-signing freshmen; rosters around the country are being reformed on a daily basis.  The Buffs, as stable as they are right now, are not immune.  The program just yesterday (reportedly) filled the vacancy left by departing assistant Rodney Billups (welcome aboard Bill Grier!), and Coach Boyle and crew remain on the recruiting trail, looking for one last recruiting piece to the 2016 puzzle.  Specifically, they seem to be in pursuit of a big man, which makes sense with life after Josh Scott staring them in the face.  Over the past month, the program has been linked with top-150 prospect Lucas Siewart and JuCo standout Kavell Bigby-Williams.  Both seem to have a fantastic D-1 future ahead of them, and either would be a nice add to the program.

This is all well and good, but one important fact remains: the Buffs don't actually have room on their roster for any more players.  Colorado had three open scholarships, thanks to their three graduating scholarship seniors, but have already used them on incoming talents Deleon Brown, Bryce Peters, and Dallas Walton. That seems pretty definitive, doesn't it?   Even the specter of Xavier Johnson leaving the program 'early,' either for a grad year somewhere else or an early start to his pro career overseas, is gone. So, why then is Coach Boyle still pursuing 2016 recruits?  Why are recruiting experts tabbing the Buffs as the front runners on headline-making signees when there don't appear to be any open spots for them?

Well, there are only two possibilities:

  1. The Buffs expect Dallas Walton to go the pseudo-grayshirt route, and attend prep school.  
  2. Someone on the current roster is expected to quit the program, either through transfer, early graduation, or retirement.

At this point, option #1 seems highly unlikely.  Deleon Brown appears to have gotten a lot of mileage out of an extra year of maturation and practice at the prep level, but his was a special case, as he was a 17-year-old high school graduate.  Dallas Walton, a more recent commit, probably needs to get into the program right away to enjoy the benefits of a D-1 training staff to protect and nurture his recovery from two knee injuries, even if he eventually takes a redshirt season this upcoming winter.  More to the point, I haven't heard a whisper of prep school potential, and it would be weird for that to come out this late in the game -- Brown announced his prep school plans all the way back in October of 2014, about the same time he committed. (For those wondering, Bryce Peters, the other true freshman in the class, has already signed his letter of intent, so will be making his way to Boulder this summer, and strikes me as the kind of kid that pushes for minutes right away, anyways).  The late signing period starts April 13th, and we'll know for sure at that time.

That just leaves option #2, that there's an upcoming outward transfer from the program that will shock everyone.  Before you start asking, no, I don't know who it could be.  There's been plenty of speculation on- and offline, and some players would surprise me more than others, but it doesn't do anyone a lick of good to toss names around right now.  Just, suffice it to say, with Coach Boyle still checking out potential recruits, it's starting to become apparent that he at least thinks there may still be some play in his roster, and is busy covering his bases.  Maybe it'll all amount to nothing, and the 13 currently in the fold will be the 13 we see in uniform come November; wouldn't that be funny.  All I'm saying is this: once April hits, the college basketball world gets a little crazy.  Stay on your toes, and expect the unexpected.

Women's Hoops chooses their new coach - 

Three weeks after Linda Lappe agreed to resign as head coach from the CU Women's Basketball Team, Rick George announced that he had found a replacement to head the proud program back to prominence. Enter: JR Payne, the former head coach of Santa Clara and Southern Utah.  Confirmed at a ceremony yesterday afternoon, she becomes the eighth head coach in program history.
Welcome to Boulder!  From:
I don't know a whole lot about Payne.  I do know that she comes to Boulder with a career losing record over a few stints, but that shouldn't worry you any (look at Tad Boyle's 4-year record at UNC...).  What is important about her pre-CU record is the experience forged building up programs from next to nothing.  At each of her stops, Payne left things in better condition than what she found on arrival.  At Southern Utah, her final season culminated in a league title and a NIT run, something previously unheard of in Cedar City, UT. With Santa Clara, she lead the Broncos to their first postseason appearance in a decade after a 23-win campaign this winter.  Add to it deep roots int he fertile California recruiting grounds, and she seems to have the perfect profile for a program, like Colorado's, that needs an infusion of improvement and regional expertise.

In terms of dollars and cents, Colorado and Payne inked a 5-year, $1.675M deal, which adds to the estimated $930K still owed to Coach Lappe to make a total $2.6M outlay to help turn the program around. And, let me tell you, it's needed.  CU women's hoops was, and in many ways still is, a powerful name in the sport, but one that has fallen on hard times in recent years under the helm of an alum (... just like football). More to the point, the Buffs are currently floundering in the bottom quarter of the best conference in the country.  The Pac-12, which currently boasts two of the Final Four, is a loaded league year-in-year-out, and the administration needed to get serious if the team was ever going to compete.  The change from Lappe, in and of itself, is a move in the right direction; that Payne looks to be able to step in and reverse the downward trend breathes some life.  Sure, it's not going to be easy, and Payne has her work cut out, but I feel better about the direction of the program today than I did a few weeks ago.  From here on out, it's all about forging a trend of improvement.  Good luck, JR!

Happy Tuesday!

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