Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, November 22, 2016

2016 Legends Classic: Day Two Teaser -- Colorado vs Texas

BROOKLYN, Legends Classic, November 21st --

Game one of the Legends Classic against Notre Dame showed BuffNation both the ceiling and the floor of the 2016-17 Colorado Buffaloes.  At their best they are a combative, capable force. Purposeful in attack, and dynamic in most phases of the game; worthy of another Tournament berth. At their worst, they are a step short. Impotent defensively, and weak on the glass; probably no better than a fringe NIT candidate.  In the end, however, the good wasn't enough to outweigh the bad, and the Buffs settled into a six-point defeat, 89-83.
Bonzie Colson and the Irish taught the Buffs some lessons on Monday.  From: the NYTimes
The first half was an absolute train-wreck.  The Buffs came out flat, weren't willing defenders, and, when Wes Gordon was relegated to the bench with two-foul-syndrome, the bottom fell out of the apple cart.  ND is a good offensive club, more than capable of taking advantage of lazy shows on screens, half-hearted slides against the drive, and un-focused effort on the defensive glass.  They hit their open looks, and made the Buffs pay for their wicked ways. All of a sudden the team and coaches were left yelling at each other, and everything seemed terrible and awful at the same time. The only surprise about the 50-35 halftime deficit was that it wasn't more.

Lucky, then, for our purposes that Colorado showed better in the final frame.  After what I assume was a direct discussion from Coach Boyle in the locker room, and with Wes Gordon freed from his foul trouble exile, CU started to slowly, but surely, chip away at the Irish.  Nothing explosive, but a good possession here, a good shot there, the odd defensive stop.  The rout was no longer on, and the Buffs were just playing solid basketball.  Good signs, with a whole season left to play.

Unfortunately, due to the horror show of the first half, they were in far too deep a hole, and unable to dig their way out quick enough.  While CU would get the score to within four late in the game, it never got any closer.  Notre Dame refused to miss free throws down the stretch, and the loss became inevitable. To the championship game they go, to the consolation game go the Buffs.
Ugh, that defensive effort.  From: BSN Denver
I learned a lot about this team in the loss.  For one, they won't quit like the 2014-15 team was prone to doing.  For another, Xavier Johnson and Derrick White are for real; the inside-outside pair combined for 43 points, 9 rebounds, and 10 assists (depending on which box score you look at). The Buffs can go far with them playing at or near their best.  I also received confirmation that Thomas Akyazili is exposed as the true back-up point guard, and that rebounding and guarding off the dribble-drive is a continuing issue.  Look for more and more time from the freshmen guards in the future, and I will be seeing Irish guards blow past Colorado defenders in my sleep for weeks. Further, Wes Gordon is absolutely vital inside, to both protect the rim and rebound against athletic foes. Early foul trouble from him is lethal.  Finally, I learned that NYC Buffs are for real.  Those in the arena for the game were mostly rooting for the Black and Gold, which showed during the second half comeback.

In the end, however, the Buffs are left headed for the last chance saloon in Brooklyn.  To salvage a split today, they'll have to take a win from... *surprise* Texas.  The #22 Longhorns got shellacked in the other semi final last night by Northwestern to wind up in the consolation bracket.  All week I had been quietly concerned about a scenario where the Buffs drop the opener, then have to play the Wildcats in the second game; the Fightin' Purples are a well-coached, gritty little team, and would probably give CU more than they can handle right now.  Texas, however, while gifted and athletic, is a team Colorado can play with.  Given the alternative, this is a much more preferable scenario. Throw in the fact that Texas will probably end up with a higher RPI ranking than NW, and I'm all-in.
Shaka and the 'Horns slipped to the consolation game, too.  From: Dallas Morning News
Now, the trick is to beat Texas and Escape from New York with that split.  While I prefer the matchup with UT, for multiple reasons, it won't be easy.  The old Big XII foe is very talented; hence, why they boast a pre-season ranking.  They're also, however, very young, with the 'Horns looking to replace five seniors and a sixth key rotational player who jumped for the NBA Draft -- essentially their entire starting lineup.

Don't feel bad for head coach Shaka Smart, though.  He hauled in a top-5 recruiting class last year, headlined by premier center prospect Jarrett Allen.  The 6-11, 235 lbs manchild from Round Rock, TX is a program-defining signee, and a cornerstone to build around.  He still has plenty of developing room to grow, especially at the free throw line (where he's shooting under 40% right now), but he's a load in the paint, and the kind of player the Buffs could really struggle to defend with their limited forward corps.  Look for a lot of Tory Miller today, as a counter.
Allen should draw plenty of attention underneath the basket.  From: the Sun Herald
Also in the recruitng class was guard Andrew Jones of Irving, TX.  A flashy point guard with McDonald's All-American credentials, he is dominating possession and shot rates in the early going this season, averaging 12/4/2 through four games.  CU struggled staying in front of Notre Dame's quick guards last night, and the issue could be only compounded by Jones.  He pairs well with 6-7 wing Tevin Mack, a returner who is capable of filling it up on a nightly basis.  Mack is one of those long, athletic types you expect to see at a school like Texas, a prototypical tough matchup with good versatility across a number of positions.

One thing to know about UT is that they play a style reminiscent of the old HAVOC Smart instilled at VCU.  They will play fast, look to get a lot in transition, and press to force a lot of turnovers.  While Shaka doesn't have the pieces in place to really grind you down with his preferred style, yet, it'll still push the Buffs in ways they haven't been this year.  I'm confident in the ability of heady veteran point guard Derrick White, it's just I don't know how well things will go when he has to leave the court. Any of the freshmen guards or Thomas Akyazili could implode under some focused full-court pressure.

Still, I think the Buffs will grind out an ugly game this afternoon.  As NW showed last night, if you can just limit turnovers, the 'Horns are largely toothless (just two fast break points on Monday).  The veteran Buffs should be able to take advantage of some freshmen mistakes, and do some damage. Give me the Buffs by a bucket or two.


Tip off from the Barclay's Center in downtown Brooklyn is set for 1:30pm MT.  For those not in town, you can catch the action on ESPNU.  For those stuck at work, I suggest the radio call on 760AM, or the stream at


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