Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Tuesday Grab Bag: Jay Wright Walks Away From Explosions Without Looking Back

Before I get to one of the craziest finishes in the history of college basketball, I want to give a shout-out to the football program for leveraging a huge recruiting weekend into a major commitment.  4-star Texas WR Jaylon Jackson pledged to Colorado and new recruiting guru Darrin Chiaverini on Saturday, looking to bring his lightning-fast pace to the Foot of the Flatrirons in 2017.  The announcement is certainly something to get excited about, and a sign that things are trending up over at Folsom.

However, with bucket of cold water in hand, I take the stand with all football commitments that they are relatively meaningless outside of signing day.  The culture of the sport and the way the calendar sets up makes early pledges oftentimes wishy-washy. Not that I have any reason to doubt Jackson's veracity, just that I've seen commits across the nation come and go far too often to not take these kinds of things with a grain of salt.  The real truth is that what is news today can be gone tomorrow without something to back it up.  Simply, the Buffs will need to finally get some meaningful wins on the field if they want to both earn Jackson's final signature and add more high profile signees in the class of 2017.  Winning, as ever, is the magical cure to whatever ails you.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the national title game, a new coach officially signing on with the basketball program, and mulling over the possibilities for the two open scholarships.

Click below for the bag!

A title game for the ages - 

I hope you all got a chance to watch the national title game last night.  I was wrapped up in all things baseball and Opening Day (big Sox win, btw!), but still made it a point to keep at least one eye on the goings on in Houston throughout the evening.  As the game progressed, it even became clear that we were in for a close finish. Both Villanova and North Carolina were clearly worthy of the stage, and were each putting in a strong performance.  Over-presence from the whistle aside, it was a good game from the opening tip, and a fun watch.  Even when the Wildcats went up by 10 points with five minutes to go, I had no doubt Carolina would respond, and that we were all in for a good conclusion to the 2015-16 basketball season.  What I wasn't prepared for, however, was just how good of a finish it would be.
Paige took flight, but it wasn't enough.  From: USA Today
Into the final minute of play, Villanova was clinging to a one point lead.  A quick exchange of four Wildcat free throws for one UNC layup had pushed it out to three points with just 13 second to go.  The Tar Heels needed a prayer to be answered if they had any hope of extending the game, and seemed to be running short of options.  Answering the call, however, was senior guard Marcus Paige.  With me begging for the foul-up-three scenario, Paige avoided a diving 'Nova defender to find some open court behind the three point line. Desperate to create contact, he leapt early, but Villanova's Ryan Arcidiacono successfully avoided him, leaving Paige hanging in the air with nowhere to go with the ball. His response: take an awkward, off-balance heave at the rim.  In miraculous fashion, the shot went in to tie.  A stunning, never to be repeated shot in a moment of the greatest pressure imaginable. For a moment, it seemed, the game was destined for overtime, thanks to Paige's heroics.

The Wildcats still had an opportunity to answer, though, with a little more than four seconds left on the clock. After a timeout for everyone to collect their breaths, Villanova inbounded the ball to Arcidiacono.  As he weaved up the court, it seemed like everyone in powder blue and white forgot to keep an eye on the trailer, Kris Jenkins.  As Arcidiacono dribbled to his right, just past the timeline, he sealed off a crafty pocket for Jenkins to tuck into.  He slipped the ball to Jenkins, and, with the clock nearing zero, the junior from Maryland let fly. His shot?  As pure as you can dream:
77-74, Villanova.  The most incredible finish to a national championship game in the history of the game.

In the aftermath, I can't quite decide what is the more indelible image.  Of course, the winning shot itself will be seen ad nauseam for as long as there are montages to be played.  But, looking further than that, there's also the miracle of the Paige shot, and the raw badassery from 'Nova coach Jay Wright, who was the definition of nonplussed when the shot went in.  Really, with all due respect to messrs Paige and Jenkins, the man with the most ice in his veins last night was Wright.  Just look at this:

Honestly, I think I'm going to remember Wright's non-reaction more than everything else.  From him saying 'bang' to the unbuttoning of his jacket, in step, to greet Roy Williams, it was the perfect vision of all that is cool and masculine.  God, to be Jay Wright in that moment!  To have the balls to play it all off like that.  Bless you, sir! Bless you!

BasketBuffs officially fill hole on coaching staff -

Mentioned briefly in passing last week, Coach Boyle went ahead and made official what we had all assumed to be true, and named coach Bill Grier to his staff.  Grier, a 23 year veteran of the West Coast coaching ranks, replaces Rodney Billups on the bench, who took the head coaching job at DU a few weeks back. Most recently an assistant at Oklahoma State, he will bring with him a deep resume that includes an extended stint as the lead recruiter for Gonzaga and an eight year run as the head coach at San Diego.
Grier is on his way to Boulder!  From: ESPN
Off the cuff, this feels like a fantastic move for the program.  With his deep recruiting roots in the Pac-12 footprint and abroad, Grier may be the recruiting shot in the arm that the Buffs have been looking for since Tom Abatemarco left Boulder.  He has a big fan in the form of Gonzaga head coach Mark Few, and the hoops communities at both Gonzaga and San Diego speak very highly of him.  Sources told me (yes, I said 'sources') that he was an immediate target of the program when the position came available during the Pac-12 Tournament, and that Coach Boyle was very eager to get him onto the open seat on the bench.  Tad got his man, and now has Grier in the fold, hopefully to make an immediate impact on the recruiting trail.

If things fall into place, this will be just the first of a number of dominoes to fall in quick succession for the program.  The Buffs still need to replace departed strength and conditioning coach James Hardy (who took a position with the New England Patriots), as well as fill the roster spots vacated by Tre'Shaun Fletcher and Kenan Guzonjic.  Solidifying things over the next few weeks will be key, as CU looks to springboard into a season that looks to be very promising.

Musings on the open scholarships -

Speaking of the open roster spots, I think it's time to mull them over. First off, I do not expect the staff to bank one of them for a future class.  Not only is that tactic very rare at the P5 level, with precious few spots to go around, but Coach Boyle has had the opportunity to do that in the past, and has always used every scholarship available.  At this point in his CU tenure, I think this gives us a strong indication that he believes having a full roster is important.

Secondly, I think it's necessary to consider class balance.  While His Tadness has stated he would prefer to spend at least one of the two scholarships available on a big man, no one has said anything about how old we expect the targets to be.  Essentially, I believe at least one of the two slots will be spent on someone other than a true freshman, due to a worrying imbalance in the class breakdown of the roster. Headed into 2016-17, the scholarship breakdown is as follows:
  • Senior - 4 - White, Johnson, Gordon, Fortune
  • Junior - 3 - Miller, Collier, King
  • Sophomore - 1 - Akyazili
  • Freshman - 3 - Brown, Peters, Walton
That's a strong veteran core to rely on in the coming campaign, but what about '17-'18?  The veteran balance starts to thin out a bit, and the team will begin to trend young, in a hurry.  Add two true freshman to that last line, and the youthful skew is even more dramatic. My guess is that at least one of the scholarships will go to a player from the Akyazili class, making the rumors of Jimmy Whitt all the more sensible.  A JuCo big, like Kavell Bigby-Williams, would've been even more ideal, but I get the strong sense that he'll be a Duck this winter.

Expect to hear results on this front in a hurry.  Basketball's second signing period starts on April 13th (that's a week from tomorrow, yo), meaning those few remaining prospects will be looking to square up their decisions real soon.  Any transfers to come may still take a while, but I'm looking to hear at least some movement from Coach Boyle and crew this week, probably inking a freshman big like Lucas Siewert, before shifting gears to finalize things with a transfer like Whitt over the summer.  But, then again, what do I know?

Happy Tuesday!

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