Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, November 10, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Sacramento State Basketball Teaser

Happy basketball season! We made it!  I can write all I want for my Massive Preview, or talk all I want on the Freeballin' podcast, but, until the ball is tipped tomorrow night, it's not real.  Know what I'm saying?  Once I finally get to walk into the CEC, though... the band, the court, the C-Unit, the team running out of the tunnel... yeah, that'll cure what ails you.

Once the team does finally run out of the north tunnel, though, their task at hand will be the Sacramento State Hornets.  Of course, BuffNation probably knows that athletic department best from such horror shows as whatever the hell this was in 2012, but you may be interested to know that their basketball team has also visited Boulder before. It was back in January of 1994, when they were still an independent, that State tussled with Joe Harrington's Buffs. These were the heady days of the Donnie Boyce era, and, while Colorado that year struggled to an overall 10-17 finish, CU rolled to a 80-56 win over the visitors.  That's all ancient history, though, including the Jon Embree head fake. Best to focus on the here and now.
Katz will bring his Hornets to Boulder tomorrow.  From: the Sacramento Bee
Because, let me warn you, this Sacramento State team is no RPI-300+ joke.  Sure, they finished 10th in the Big Sky last year, but that was with a number of injury issues.  This is a program that had been trending slightly upwards, finishing 2014-15 third in the Big Sky, and probably deserved more from last season. SSU head coach Brian Katz, who has been with the program since 2008-09 season, gets to return four starts from that '15-'16 team, and could, with a little better luck on the injury front, surprise a number of the media who picked the Hornets to finish 8th in their league in the preseason poll.

Those four key returners are seniors Nick Hornsby and Eric Stuteville, along with juniors Marcus Graves and Justin Strings. As a group, they've played a lot of basketball together, and are the clear leaders of this team. In the Blue Ribbon preview for State, Coach Katz was quoted as saying that they boast "the best leadership I've ever been around."
Hornsby is a good small conference forward.  From: Sac State Athletics
The seniors are an excellent pair of forwards, capable of matching up with any grouping in the region.  Right out of the gate the Buffs interior rotation will be tested, both on the glass and defensively.  Hornsby is, especially, an interesting challenge.  The 6-7, 235 lbs power forward is a nightly double-double threat, and feisty in pursuit of rebounds on both ends of the court. He could really push Xavier Johnson on the glass.  The 6-11, 256 lbs Stuteville gets over 70% of his looks at the rim, lead the Big Sky in blacks last winter, and is your more prototypical back-to-the-basket center. How Wes Gordon goes about attacking and defending him will tell us a lot about how the Buffs will be able to deal with life after Josh Scott.

For the juniors, I really like Justin Springs.  He's got great size for a wing (6-7, 230 lbs) and an sweet shooting touch (39% from deep, 57 made three pointers a year ago).  He made a huge leap between his freshman and sophomore seasons, going from essentially zero production to their best overall producer last season.  Graves, though, may be Sac State's single best talent.  A solid point guard now looking to own the starting role, he has been called out by Coach Boyle a few times after practice the last few weeks.  Perimeter guard defense is one of my concerns coming into the season, after all, and it'll be interesting to watch who, if anyone, steps up to check Marcus.
Graves and the Hornets stung ASU last season.  From: USA Today
Beyond the big four, however, there are a lot of unknowns.  In terms of story, the most eye-catching piece would be Jeff Wu, the first Taiwanese-born player signed to a D-1 basketball program.  As a freshman, the guard put up decent numbers, and probably will see a big boost in minutes this season. The Hornets took their international trip to his native country this summer, giving them plenty of experience headed into the season.  After Wu, though, There's not a whole lot I can point to as saying "this guy could hurt the Buffs."  Maybe forward Joshua Patton or backup point guard Jiday Ugbaja?

One thing to really note is that Sac State is very protective with the ball.  They posted a strong 16.7% turnover rate on offense last season, indicative of a team that doesn't play too far outside of themselves.  They were also great at defending the perimeter, keeping opponents under 33% from deep.  As this is something Colorado relies on, keep an eye on the kind of looks the Buffs are finding from beyond the arc tomorrow.  Overall, they really like to get out in transition, getting nearly a quarter of all offensive looks on the break last year.  This shouldn't trouble the Buffs, however, who largely welcome teams to come up to Boulder and try to run with them.

To the practical point, however, while I think the Hornets are a good team, there's still no reason I can manufacture to make me think we in BuffNation should be too afraid of a weird result tomorrow night. Yes, the Buffs lost on opening day last year (in South Dakota against Iowa State), but they haven't dropped a home season opener since Jeff Bzdelik's first game at the helm in 2007 (against New Mexico), and Sacramento State doesn't strike me like a team capable of upending that streak. Do note that they clipped Arizona State in the opener last season, but the Buffs don't have nearly the excuses (new coach, dysfunctional roster) that the Sun Devils had that November day. I usually try to avoid tempting fate, but I'd be very surprised if this game ended in anything other than a big Colorado win.  Give me the Buffs by 15ish, when all is said and done.


Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm tomorrow evening. When you get to the arena, make sure to pay close attention to the new sound system, court design, and aisle railings.  The athletic department put a little cash into the CEC, now we get to see how it feels under live fire.  For those not coming to the game, televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 760 AM.


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