Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, August 1, 2016

2016 TBT Final Preview: Team Colorado Plays for $2 Million against Overseas Elite

Note: there will be no Grab Bag this week.  In lieu, here's this preview!

Well, what the hell is this?  *checks calendar*  It's August, by God, and I'm writing a basketball preview. Has the world gone mad? OK, no, the world has not gone mad (at least not the sporting world...). I'm pounding this beast out in the heat of summer because a group of Colorado Basketball Alumni have caught fire, and rolled to the final game of The Basketball Tournament.

For those caught unawares, TBT is a single-elimination, five-on-five, professional basketball tourney played for a grand, winner-take-all prize of $2 million cash.  In it's third year of operation, the tournament has been steadily growing in prominence, and features a plethora of current and former pros from top-flight leagues from across the world (though, you won't find any current NBAers here). Many of the teams that featured in the bracket this summer were founded as alumni groups, made up almost entirely of former teammates from big-name college programs.  Team Colorado, in their second year of existence, was founded in this mold, looking to bring BasketBuffs of seasons past together in the name of program pride. The venture is the brainchild of walk-on hero Beau Gamble, who, in collaboration with general manager Trent Beckley, forged the current roster from pieces of the Patton, Bzdelik, and Boyle eras, highlighting some of the best and brightest from the last decade of Boulder hoops.
It's all come down to this.  One game for the money.
Team Colorado, for all their promise, struggled last year, losing their opening round game against eventual tournament runner-up Team 23.  Undaunted, and living by the 'Fight CU' mantra to "never give in," they re-formed this summer, using the knowledge of that painful 2015 loss to fuel a smarter attempt in 2016.  They started with a mini-camp in Boulder, taking advantage of Coach Boyle's open door policy to alumni to train at the Foot of the Flatirons.  They also added a full-time coach, former star and current DU assistant Dwight Thorne II, giving everything an organized flair, something that didn't really exist a year ago.  With focus and preparedness, they hit TBT on a mission, and have done nothing but win since the early days of July.

As a result, the team is now 36 minutes of basketball against the defending champion Overseas Elite away from a $2 million prize and bragging rights.  What's more, since the Tournament operates in a weird, social media focused selection process, 100 of the team's supporters could win with the Buffs, sharing in the prize should they come home with the title.

So, since the opportunities to credibly talk hoops over the summer are few and far between, I'm jumping at this chance.  I'm going to give this championship game the full preview treatment, with in-depth discussion of both teams' rosters and abilities.  I'll also come up with a prediction, saying just how likely it is that TC and friend of the blog @Coloradotrv get to share in a big payday on Tuesday. Let's get to it!


Hype Music for the Evening: "I Get Money" by 50 Cent

Curtis Jackson, who I last saw promoting boxing, of all things, was one of the biggest rap acts in the world when I was going to CU.  Since then, he's slid off my radar, dividing his time and talent amongst a bunch of differing pursuits.  This song, one of his lesser hits, fits with tonight's theme: makin' money, bruh.


Tip off from historic Rose Hill Gym in the Bronx is set for 5pm MT on Tuesday, 8/2.  Televised coverage can be found on ESPN, with no radio option available, as far as I can tell.  For those of you in the NYC area, you can purchase tickets here.

Click below for the preview...

When last we met - 

In the short history of Team Colorado, they've yet to meet the Overseas Elite before.  So, for this time-honored section, I'm going to look at the group of alums on the TC sideline, and refresh your memories of some of the best Buffs of recent vintage.

The roster is as follows, along with their years in Boulder:
Of this group, you can find three of the thirty-two 1,000 point scorers (including the program's co-leader in scoring, Roby) in program history.  There are elite rebounders, surgical passers, knockout three-point artists, and crafty ball thieves.  Legitimately, some of the brightest stars of the past decade of Colorado Basketball.  Sure, there are some big names missing from this list.  Older players like David Harrison, Michel Morandais, Chris Copeland, and newer stars like Alec Burks, Cory Higgins, Nate Tomlinson, Andre Roberson, Spencer Dinwiddie, Askia Booker, and Josh Scott could each easily fit on this team.  But, contract obligations being what they are, they were unavailable.  Team Colorado, though, was not lacking for choice, and they've proven to put a great squad together.
It's been cool getting to see these guys share the court again.  From: The Post.
For organization sake, I've grouped the talent into two identities: the Ricardo Patton guys and the Jeff Bzdelik guys, based on who recruited them to CU.  In the Patton group, we have Coleman, Hall, King-Stockton, Obazuaye, Roby, Senger, and Williams.  In the Bzdelik group, we have Dufault, Knutson, Relphorde, and Sharpe.

The Patton group is where Team Colorado gets its scoring depth, highlighted by the great Richard Roby, who, of course, finished his time in Boulder as the program's all-time scoring leader (later to be equaled by Higgins), and could do it all with the ball.  Probably the best aspect of his game was his ability to draw contact and convert at the line - he would average over five fouls drawn per 40 in each of his final three seasons - but he was hampered by a lack of help in his final two campaigns.  He approached 30% usage in both, as the program skewed younger during the transition between the two former coaches.  With this in mind, I always wondered why he struck it out over those final two seasons, deciding not to go pro after a strong 2005-06 campaign in which he helped lead the team to an NIT berth.  Beyond just scoring, however, Roby was also a fantastic rebounder, and still holds the record for career rebounds by a guard at CU.  Since leaving Colorado, Roby has traveled as a professional overseas, playing in a myriad of leagues from Israel to the D-League to France and all over Asia.

Also among the Patton group, you have a pair of elite, versatile guards in Dom Coleman and Marcus Hall.  Coleman, a JuCo transfer, was a dominant figure as a senior in '06-'07, as he filled in the minutes for Hall, who was taking a redshirt.  While averaging near 12 points per, the 6-3 stat-stuffer lead the team in field goal percentage, rebounds, assists, and steals, putting in one of the best all-around seasons in program history (though the team as a whole struggled).  Hall, with electrifying quickness and a jump shot that improved as he developed, was a warrior.  As a senior in 2008 he played 93% of available minutes and still put up an ORtg over 107, hustling and leading at every moment.  Marcus would go on to finish with over 1,000 points scored and in 4th all-time in assists and 10th in steals. Both have featured overseas in the intervening years, with Hall starring in Turkey, and Coleman playing both in the D-League and Europe.

Of the Bzdelik guys, a group far more familiar to the #RollTad-focused current fanbase, the headliner is clearly Dufault.  Notable for leading the team on the wild 2012 Pac-12 title run, he is another member of the 1,000 points scored club, and finished his career setting the record for most games played by a Buff (136).  Dufault was always stuck in the uncomfortable role of playing out of position in Boulder, forced into a 4/5 spot due to a lack of forward depth during his early years on campus.  He never seemed to let it get him down, however, as the 6-9 swing forward because a secure, trusted asset in the paint on both sides of the court.  Since graduating, he's played in a number of European leagues, most recently in Finland.
This trio of Bzdelik-era talents has been key to Team Colorado's success. From: KBIA
Knutson and Relphorde, of course, were key components of the 2011 trip to the NIT Final Four, one of the most entertaining teams in the history of the program.  Levi was one of the deadlier three point artists I had ever seen, overcoming a string of injuries through his career to set the program record for 3pt% at 47% in '10-'11; it also helped him wind up top-6 nationally in ORtg that season.  Levi had actually retired from the game before Beckley and Gamble convinced him to return for this tournament. Relphorde, a versatile point forward who joined CU as a journeyman JuCo transfer, boasted a strong jumper and a willingness to guard whomever was needed during his two years in Boulder.  More anecdotally, I knew him best for being able to sweat through the old grey jerseys before the game even started.  He made his name professionally in Finland, playing for Salon Vilpas, the same club that currently boasts Austin.  He last hooped in Hungary.

Team Colorado in 2016 - 

The Buffs alumni won five straight earlier this month, mostly thanks to balanced core of scorers, a ton of grit and versatility, and some spectacular moments of brilliance from Marcus Hall.  It should be noted that, for the early rounds, the Buffs were paying their way -- travel, lodging, etc.  This wasn't a glamour pursuit, by any means, but an exercise in love of the game, school pride, and the off chance that maybe, just maybe, someone stateside would see their game and give them a call-up.  So far, it has paid off.

The run began against Shaare Zedek (a collection of former pros playing for charity) in Los Angeles back on 7/9. Team Colorado managed to keep SZ at bay, mostly thanks to the lightning quick attacks of Marcus Hall.  The former point guard in Ricardo Patton's run-and-gun system still has the quickness to blow past would be defenders, and he showed it off through 27 points on 11-16 shooting.  He was everywhere off the dribble in the second half, driving at anyone in his way, and looking damn impressive.  At one point, the SZ coach (coaches are mic'd at these games, which is... interesting during the huddles) openly begged his players to force Marcus to give up the rock or shoot, as Hall was straight killing Zedek in getting to the rim,  His pleas made sense, as, realistically, outside of Hall's second half spurt, the Buffs were open to another first round letdown.  They struggled on the glass - SK had one possession where they grabbed three straight offensive rebounds, and attempted four three pointers - and nearly coughed up a 10-point halftime lead.  Hall, in addition to some late threes by Levi Knutson and Richard Roby's first bucket of the second half with just seconds left, though, proved to be enough to stave off the comeback attempt, and the CU alums settled home with a 78-73 victory.
Marcus is still as fast as you remember.  From: BSNDenver.
The next day, against Skinner's Frate Train (Boston College alums), we only got more Hall, as the sparkplug stepped back to deliver a clinic from beyond the arc. Hall would finish with 31 points, buoyed by 6-8 shooting from deep (TC was 13-27, overall), and easily lead both teams in individual scoring.  He was joined this time by a throw-back performance from Roby, who chipped in 23 points thanks to 8-12 shooting from the free throw line.  In fact, it was those free throws that helped seal the win (TC shot 20/26 from the stripe in the second half) as Frate Train pushed late.  Rebounding was, again, an issue, with the Boston College alums grabbing 16 offensive boards, but the Buffs flat-out scored enough to overcome the issue.  In the end, a 94-85 scoreline left the Buffs singing the fight song and stamping their name on the big bracket at the end of the court, once again.

Advancing got the Buffs some well deserved rest (two weeks off in between their opening round games and the Sweet Sixteen) and some sweet victory perks.  From there on out, TBT would be picking up the tab, flying the Buffs to their next games in Philadelphia, and putting them up free of charge.  For guys without big NBA bankrolls, this was a nice treat.
The great Richard Roby has been out since the scene shifted to Philly.  From: the BDC
In the 7/22 regional semifinal against Team 23, the squad that had bounced TC from the dance last summer, the former Buffs entered knowing they were down one of their best.  Richard Roby, the program co-leader in all-time scoring, was sidelined with an MCL injury, and would be unavailable (he still has not returned to the lineup, and was in a polo over the past Saturday). Not to be dissuaded, Colorado came out with a balanced attack (five players would eventually finish in double-digits), and began to race out to a big lead.  Three pointers rained down (TC was 7-11 from deep in the opening frame), and the good times rolled.  Right before half they were up by 16, and the advantage only stayed steady from there into the early minutes of the second half.  But, as was often the case with the current Buffs this past season, the team started to allow that lead to slip.  Team 23, in fact, stormed back to take a second half lead of their own behind a number of forced turnovers and the sterling play of Frank Gaines. Some beautiful work in getting to the line, however, was enough to save CU, as they grabbed 19 of their 33 points in the final frame from the charity stripe.  Overall, the Buffs shot 77% from the line, a very respectable clip when taking 35 attempts.  It's how good pros close out tough ballgames, and these international veterans with Black and Gold on their chests leveraged it to their advantage in claiming a 78-73 win.

Onto the regional final, the Buffs were paired with Team Utah (Utes alums, obviously).  While most of the players on the Team Colorado bench plied their trade in the Big XII days, seeing an alumni group from a fellow Pac-12 hoops power whetted my appetite for some gritty play.  In fact, the familiar name of Dakari Tucker could be spied on the opposing bench, shaking loose some ugly memories from the last few years of CU's series with the Utes.  Tucker didn't disappoint, either, putting up 15 points off the bench.  It wasn't enough, though, to stop Team Colorado, who rolled on even with Richard Roby still unavailable. After looking down and out in the first half, thanks to some loose play and hasty jump shooting, the Buffs were bailed out by some more Marcus Hall brilliance. The shifty guard would finish with 22 points as he lead Colorado back from as many as 14 points down before the break. Throw in some big second half threes from Austin Dufault, and CU would cruise home to a five point win and the West Regional championship.
AD has made some huge plays the last few weeks.  From: Zimbio
Finally, with the scene shifting to the Bronx for the Final Four this past weekend, Colorado went up against yet another alumni team, Always a Brave, made up of alums from the venerable Bradley program in Peoria, IL. Things were serious now: games were broadcast on the ESPN mothership, the $2 million was within reach, and no one was giving an inch.  Accordingly, the national semifinal turned out to be a seesaw game of runs, with Bradley starting out on a 7-0 spurt, before a 22-5 answer from the Buffs.  Eventually settling into a 31-27 halftime lead for Team Colorado, it was clear that the CU alums had the talent to reach their goal, it was just a matter of executing int he second half.

To that end, they were carried, once again, by Marcus Hall.  The tournament MVP candidate put up another explosive, 25-point performance, hitting some circus shots in the final frame.  Overall, he would go 9-21 from the field, 5-8 from deep in pacing Colorado.  He was backed up in the scoring column by Marcus Relphorde, who added 20 points of his own.  Really, though, TC was where they were late in the game thanks to the off-ball efforts of two players: Dom Coleman and Austin Dufault. Coleman was playing the Andre Roberson role on Saturday, coming out of virtual nowhere to grab loose rebounds (15 in total), while AD locked down AaB's star forward Marcell Sommerville (who didn't have a point for much of the game).  Throw in some late scoring off the bench by Levi, and the Buffs only expanded their halftime lead after the break, never relinquishing, and eventually finished with a 78-70 win.

The star of the tournament, at least so far, has clearly been Marcus Hall.  The jitterbug from Houston has continually reminded us what made him so special in Black and Gold with his lighting fast attacks in the lane and deadly step-back shooting.  In total, he's averaging 24 points per contest, helping make up for the scoring absence of Richard Roby.  But, with those successful exploits in the rear-view, Team Colorado now looks ahead to Overseas Elite, who ripped through the other side of the bracket to make the final for the second-straight year.  Can Hall and the Buffs get it done with the money on the line?

Star Players on Overseas Elite - 

OE comes into the title game with the swagger inherent with being the defending TBT champs. They hoisted the trophy and the cash (then a $1 million prize) last summer, besting Team 23, the team that had beat Colorado in last year's opening round.  You'll know a few of their names immediately - Big XII stalwarts DeAndre Kane and Myck Kabongo, to go along with Arizona wing Kyle Fogg and St John's star DJ Kennedy.  They run a three or four guard lineup (not unusual for this tournament), and like to run and gun.  The Elite are all about a high volume of possessions, quick hitters, lots of scoring, and defense as needed.  Just generally they have the guard depth to matchup well with TC, boasting a number of superb athletes and veteran talents ho have done well in the Eurpoean leagues over the last few years.
DJ Kennedy is one of a few players in this game with NBA experience.  From:
Kennedy is probably their best individual player.  A 6-6 wing, the 4-year St John's standout has received sporadic attention from a quartet of NBA teams over the past few years, and is a dangerous double-double threat at this level of play.  He'll be all over the court, if he can stay on it (was involved in a few of the extracurricular incidents in the semifinal against City of Gods), and will be a tough matchup for either Relphorde or Dufault.

For Fogg, a 6-3 lead shooter from 'Zona, the Buffs didn't get too much of a look at him in college.  He graduated in 2012, meaning he got just one season of competition against Colorado in the nascent days ot the Pac-12.  That one season, of course, does mean that he has the distinction of losing to CU in the Pac-12 tournament title game, a championship frustration he will be looking to reverse tomorrow afternoon.  In total, over three games against the Buffs, Fogg averaged 15 points per, but struggled overall from the floor, connecting on just 35% of all attempts (oh for Nate Tomlinson, here).  In TBT, however, he's been pure fire.  In the semifinal against City of Gods alone he dropped 42 on just 16 shots, going 7-8 from deep. Indeed, the only game where OE can really said to have struggled this summer, in the Elite Eight against Georgia-based Trained to Go, Fogg failed to really find his shot, and finished with just 8 points on 3-12 shooting.  If he goes off tomorrow, though, I don't see how Team Colorado can counter, so locking him down will be a key to victory.
Here's a photo of Fogg, losing to the Buffs is Los Angeles, 2012.  From: AZ Desert Swarm
Elsewhere, Kabongo makes up the guard depth at the top of the roster, and could either spot start or come off the bench.  The 6-1 former UT point is not a heavy part of their scoring threat, but brings good speed and athleticism to the backcourt.  Kane, a 1st team All-BigXII entrant in 2014 while playing for ISU, comes off the bench, and will make for a very difficult matchup as a traditional lead wing.  Errick McCollum, the brother of NBA star CJ McCollum from little-known D2 College, is a talented attack artist who won the Eurocup MVP with Galatasary in Turkey this past season.  Yet another dangerous piece out of the backcourt for the Overseas Elite.

Rounding out the heavy rotation is big, 6-9 forward Johndre Jefferson.  A fringe player from his days at South Carolina, Jefferson has been all over the European leagues, making a name for himself. He'll pair up front with English-born seven-footer Ryan Richards, who has been playing professionally in Europe since 2009.

Prediction - 

The big key for the CU Alumni tomorrow will be limiting turnovers and offensive rebounds.  Team Colorado has surrendered at least 10 offensive rebounds in each game this summer, and have been coughing up about 16 turnovers per -- two clear Achilles's heels.  They will be up against a very explosive, capable team of professionals who will eagerly lap up any gifts surrendered, so any gift opportunities on the offensive end will come back to haunt them.

If the Buffs can just manage to keep Fogg under control from outside, and get some help from Relphorde or Dufault in locking down Kennedy one-on-one, they'll have a shot.  Team Colorado belongs at this level, they just have to play a very #TadBall-esque kind of game to win.  That means slowing it down on defense, limiting easy looks in transition and shots at the rim, while winning on the glass.  Overseas Elite is not a giant squad, full of lanky forwards that TC won't be able to rebound against.  Quite the opposite, in fact, as both teams are very guard-oriented.  Given another throwback performance from Dom Coleman on the loose boards, some smart defense, and 25 more points from Marcus Hall, I can really see a path to victory for Team Colorado.

In the end, however, the combination of Kennedy and Fogg will get theirs, while McCollum will prove to be especially difficult to guard in the lane.  The Buffs will scrap, they will claw, but, ultimately, come up short.  Give me the Overseas Elite by a pair of possessions.

Overseas Elite 84 - Team Colorado 78


1 comment:

Stephen Buechner said...

I think offensively, OE is top notch in this tournament, and if the game becomes a shoot out, I don't think the Buffs have the firepower to stay in the game. But, if TC can play sound defense and create additional possessions while limiting OE's possessions, I like our chances. In the limited action that I have watched in this tournament, I think TC plays the best defense and hopefully that is the case on Tuesday.

Go Buffs!