Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, November 21, 2016

2016 Legends Classic: Day One Teaser -- Colorado vs Notre Dame

The Colorado Buffaloes have, so far, played to expectation this season.  One brief hiccup against Seattle aside, their play has been solid and purposeful.  I could complain about the indifferent defense in the second half against ULM last Thursday or the half-hearted rebounding against Sacramento State in the opener, but I think those incidents were more the result of wandering minds against lesser opponents than anything systemic.  While I would like the team to play to their full capacity every night, I understand the realities of life, and, with midterms and ephemera clouding the horizon, some slip can be pardoned.  Sitting at 3-0, with only the light scare of a poor shooting night to show in the red, has the team exactly where they need to be after one week of play.
The scene now shifts to the "City That Never Sleeps."  From: AEG Worldwide
The price of poker, however, now goes up.  Starting with the Legends Classic, which tips off this evening, the team embarks on seven straight games meant to test their mettle; the heart of their non-conference slate.  The Buffs, as they have been playing over the first three games, probably wouldn't win more thank three or four, which is where the demand for more comes in.  It's time to see the seniors step up and play to their potential, the reserves eliminate mistakes and play quality basketball, and the Buffaloes as a whole assume the 20+-win form we expect.  And it all starts this afternoon, as they take on a very good Notre Dame squad.

But first, some music! Of course, considering the locale, there can be only one choice: "No Sleep Til Brooklyn" by the Beastie Boys. Enjoy!

With beats now ringing through the ears, let's get down to brass tacks.  Interestingly enough, the Buffs have never played Notre Dame in men's basketball before.  While the schools have met in a number of different sports, including, notably, football, somehow they have always avoided each other on the hardwood.  Something for the record books, this.

The Fighting Irish, of back-to-back Elite Eight run fame and 56 wins over the last two years, are in a bit of a transition this season.  Much of the headlining talent that powered those postseason runs have moved on; gone are notable names like Jerian Grant, Pat Connaughton, Demetrius Jackson, and Zach Auguste.  Their wake leaves an interesting mix of the old and new left behind to carry the team in 2016-17.
Brey's is one of the most respected names in the sport.  From:the AP
One piece that remains, though, is head coach Mike Brey, who has ruled the roost in South Bend for 16 years.  A veteran of the Mike Krzyzewski coaching tree, he is legitimately one of the best coaches in the college basketball landscape, and you should know that anytime you face one of his teams that you'll be in for a battle.  It's a fact current CU assistant Sean Kearney knows well, having coached there for 10 years as an assistant.  Traditionally, what it means to face Brey's Notre Dame is to face a hyper-efficient offense (usually in the top-10 nationally) that doesn't turn over the ball and shoots it well from the perimeter.  Defensively, they have been a little more scatter-shot (good, not great) with a man-to-man style that is susceptible to surrendering points and rarely causing turnovers, but they'll always play you tough, especially inside the arc, and will make you earn the buckets you do get.

Coach Brey has built the current roster around a nucleus of senior captains VJ Beachem and Steve Vasturia. The leading scorer Beachem, a 6-8 swing forward out of Ft Wayne, IN, is a nasty shooting threat, capable of leading the team in critical possessions.  The Buffs will struggle to match him all the way out to the perimeter, and they can't let him shoot freely this afternoon.  Vasturia is more of a jack-of-all-trades type, and rarely leaves the floor. CU should look to eliminate his dribble-drive, guarding him out to the perimeter, as well. At their side is veteran junior wing Bonzie Colson.  An aggressive double-double threat, the oddly-sized power forward (6-5, 225) has a mean streak and a sense of the moment.  I'm interested to see how a player like Xavier Johnson takes to his unique challenge, specifically if XJ takes it seriously, and comes to play.
Beachem is a very good lead guard.  From: Irish Sports Daily
Elsewhere, they're led at the top by point guard Matt Farrell.  A reserve turned good at the tail end of last season, he's a quiet, capable hand at the wheel.  Don't look for a lot of turnovers from this kid, he knows how to take care of the ball.  Rounding out the starting five is Martinas Geben, a 6-10 Lithuanian big man who doesn't figure too prominently in the offense (just eight field goal attempts this season), but is a willing shot blocker and rebounder. Their first man off the bench is Rex Pflueger, a versatile wing with a good jump shot.

To-date, Notre Dame has done as the Buffs have, clearing their plate of smaller conference flotsam. They've been a little more efficient in their efforts in the first week of the season, though, beating the likes of Bryant, Seattle, and Loyola (MD) by an average of over 34 points per game.  The game against Seattle may be instructive, as it was against a common opponent, but the knuckleball of the zone defense and a cold shooting night from the Buffs makes true comparisons hard.  Regardless, when I first saw that scoreline, just days after CU has struggled against the Redhawks, my eyebrows raised a bit.  No, this will be a difficult game against the Irish, for sure, one the Buffs would be lucky to win.
ND has been rolling in the early going.  From:
Generally, the Buffs need to stay aggressive in perimeter defense and attack the glass.  The Irish are not an imposing team, but they are athletic and bellicose, and will give Colorado a game.  The stands will be packed with a number of Irish eyes, too, as I fully expect plenty of their fans in the arena.  CU will need to come out, get on the board in a hurry, and show more on defense than they have in any of the first three games of the season if they expect to win.

In the end, however, I don't think we're in for a happy Monday night.  The Irish will get going from the perimeter, the senior quartet in Black and Gold will continue deferring around instead of leading, and the Buffs will slump into defeat.  I'm not expecting a blowout, just a solid six-to-eight point loss. Nothing too damaging, and hopefully leading to better things tomorrow in the second game of the Classic.


Tip-off from the Barclay's Center in downtown Brooklyn is set for 5pm MT this afternoon. Coverage for those who didn't follow me out east can be found on ESPN2, with the radio call on 760AM.


No comments: