Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, November 7, 2016

Monday Grab Bag: Yes, Basketball Season Is Still A Thing

It's finally here!  Basketball season is ready to begin, with the Colorado Buffaloes Men's Basketball Team tipping off the 2016-17 campaign this Friday against Sacramento State.  It's been a long road since that that fateful March day in Des Moines, but we're finally back to the business of #TadBall and the OG Rise.  I can't wait!

Of course, with the start of basketball season comes by annual Massive Basketball Preview. Weighing in at nearly 23,000 words, and touching on every topic from the current roster to the next recruiting class, it's the definitive fan-written document on the outlook of the program.  The beast will drop at 8:30 am tomorrow; I really hope you can find the time and energy to give it a look before Friday night.

In the mean time, I have this grab bag for you! Pressed for time, I'm only talking the gritty football win over UCLA, and previewing my preview.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs topple UCLA on laundry day - 

On a picture-perfect Thursday evening in Boulder, with the national television cameras rolling, the Colorado Buffaloes put their storybook season on the line against a floundering squad from UCLA. The action, however, was not nearly as beautiful as the surroundings.  The teams combined for 25 penalties (for 224 yards of punishment), offensive production of just 3.6 yards per play, and a paltry total of 30 points on the scoreboard.  A masterpiece of the football arts, this was not.  Still, a win is a win, and Colorado's 20-10 entry in the record book will suffice as the season ticks towards its conclusion. As a result, the Buffs improve to 7-2 on the year, stay in the hunt for a trip to the Pac-12 Championship game, and improve their standing in both national polls (the CFP poll releases tomorrow).
The students helped create an intense atmosphere for the Buffs and Bruins.  From: @BuffaloBelles
The game turned late in the fourth quarter.  With Colorado clinging to a 13-10 advantage, and just six minutes remaining on the clock, the next score seemed destined to seal it for whichever team managed to find the endzone.  The Buffs had held on the previous defensive possession, riding the wave of a pair of incomplete passes and a sack to force a punt from the visitors.  They needed a good return to get back into scoring position; they would get much more than they asked for.  Reserve defensive back Isaiah Oliver, who had taken over punt return duties full time the previous game against Stanford, caught the ball on the right hash of the CU 35-yard line.  Tentatively picking his steps forward, he drew the Bruins in, sucking the left side of their coverage team out of position.  At the last moment, Oliver sprung his trap, sprinting westward.  In the blink of an eye, he was past eight of UCLA's defenders, with plenty of green in front of him.  With a quick cut-back he left the lone guy holding the edge out of the play, leaving himself one-on-one with the punter.  From there it was a simple matter of speed, bursting past the specialist's ability to compensate.  To the endzone Isaiah went, the first punt return for touchdown by a Buffalo since 2005.  Ballgame.
After the wave of emotion subsided from the return, my abiding thought was of the refs.  In a game where they had thrown flags for everything, from basic false starts to personal fouls and targeting, they somehow managed to get through an entire punt return without finding anything untoward to call out.  In checking the video, though, there's simply nothing there to penalize.  The Buffs blocked it well, and the Bruins were woefully caught out of position.  It was a moment of brilliance, the type good teams always seem to find when the need it most.

Because, of course, this was not a holistically good performance from Colorado.  They were suckerd into a number of heedless personal conduct penalties by the Bruins, something coach Mike MacIntyre later called 'selfish.'  The Buffs also looked completely out-of-sorts on offense, with quarterback Sefo Liufau throwing his first three interceptions on the year, and the unit as a whole failing to do anything to open up the UCLA defense for those signature big gains.  Much like the effort against Stanford, this was the kind of game, in years past, that the program would have dropped.  Instead, they rallied, and held serve at home, somehow avoiding a letdown loss to a bad team in an ugly game.  Again, the kind of thing you see from good teams all the time.
The Buffs survived a scare Thursday.  From: the Post.
CU pulled this off by circling the wagons behind their defense.  Pouncing on a UCLA team without their #1 quarterback or a competent rushing attack, Jim Leavitt's crew held the Bruins to just 185 yards of offense, including a laughable 30 rushing yards on 25 attempts.  Colorado also allowed conversions on just 4 of 15 third downs, and not a single point from inside the redzone.  Helped along by a number of snap issues between the center and the quarterback, it was a dominating effort, the kind I've come to expect from this bunch.  We always say 'defense wins championships.'  Well, look where the Buffs are in November -- three wins away from an appearance in one.  It's that kind of unit.

Attention now turns to the final true road trip of the year, against lowly Arizona in Tucson.  The Wildcats, you should know, lost 69-7 against Washington State this past weekend.  On paper, this should be a nothing venture; another easy win for the Buffs.  Certainly, this is the kind of opponent Colorado has thrashed all season long.  That's what makes me worried, however.  The whiff of 'TRAP GAME' abounds.  We'll just have to wait and see how the Buffs prepare to ward off the ambush in the desert.  My teaser will be up later this week.

The Bulle(i)t Points - 
  • All kudos to the students.  They showed up early and stayed late, maintaining energy and a party-like atmosphere throughout the ballgame.  We even saw an old-school marshmallow fight. It was an explosive performance from the kids, and the team needed it.  The overall crowd of 43,761 was a little underwhelming for a top-15 team in a marquee game, but I'll give the adults a pass, for now.  I expect a sellout for Washington State, though.
  • Phil Lindsay was doing his thing, again.  149 total yards, including a record-setting 11 catch performance out of the backfield, and the Buffs' lone offensive score of the evening. He was the Colorado offense.
  • How about those special teams?  Beyond the Oliver returns (he had five total for 124 yards), we also saw a block field goal on the defensive end, a solid evening from Alex Kinney at punter, and an acceptable performance from Chris Graham at kicker.  Graham did get one of his field goal attempts blocked, the result of dreadfully low trajectory, but he made the other two to give CU their final lead of the evening. This unit is much-maligned, but they came through on Thursday.

Previewing the Preview - 

In accordance with a yearly tradition, the following is a excerpt from My Massive Basketball Preview to whet your appetite.  This is from 'The Team' section, and is about a fan-favorite from the guard corps. Enjoy!

- Thomas Akyazili - 6-2, 180 lbs, So from Antwerp, Belgium - #0
From: the BDC
Outside of the emergence of George King, the most pleasant surprise on the team last winter was the play of Thomas Akyazili. The international product surpassed almost every expectation out there, and emerged as a key rotational figure down the stretch. Nicknamed the '#1 Cop on the Force' for reasons beyond my perception, he became a fan-favorite almost immediately, and enters the 2016-17 season as the presumptive back-up point guard.

The easy comparison for outside observers is to equate Akyakili to the great Nate Tomlinson, but it's an analogy that falls short under any examination that goes past the pasty skin tone, overseas background, and sleeve of tattoos. Their games are wildly divergent, and, to be honest, Akyazili hasn't done enough to be put in Nate's company.

His total numbers from last year are nothing eye-popping, but the Belgian easily passes the qualitative test with his ability to both create for himself and others. Defensively, he's still developing, but I'm not yet ready to pass judgement on his abilities, overall. He just needs more time, and simply more American basketball, to become a lead component of the rotation, but expect Thomas to put in some big minutes for the team this year as a reserve.

His biggest assets are his speed and his balls-to-the-wall willingness to use it. Last year, Akyazili was able to catch a number of teams off-guard who were looking for the more measured tempo of Boyle's half-court system, and dice them up with drives to the basket. So quick, in fact, that, when not shooting three pointers, his attempts were almost all at the rim. He posted the lowest rate of two-point jumpers on the entire team (12% of attempts), even lower than walk-on shooting specialist Brett Brady.

Thomas, once again, spent the summer playing in Europe as part of the Belgian National Team's U-20 squad in the European Championships, his 4th international tournament appearance at any level. While the team as a whole struggled, finishing 14th out of 16 participants, Yaz performed pretty well. He averaged 13/4/3 over seven games, including a 23/7 night against Israel. In the tournament, he displayed his ability to cash in from the free throw line, hitting 29 of 34 attempts from the stripe to pace his team. Overall, a very positive spate of experience for the young guard. If he can bring that level of play back with him to the States, the Buffs will be in good hands.
From: @Matt_Sisneros
Now returned to Colorado, look for him to feature at both the '1' and the '2' spots this season, kind of like what we saw last year. In fact, there will be times when both he and Collier are on the floor, countervailing popular perception of the rotation. Thomas can play either spot effectively, and may actually be more of a shooting guard, all things considered; the dearth of 'true' point guard options in the system, however, nods him in that direction. Unfortunately, with the large number of playable guards on the team, I still expect him to still feature in a 8th or 9th man role most nights -- he probably will deserve more, it's simply a product of the glut of backcourt talents this year. In future seasons, however, it'll be his time to shine.

The full preview releases at 8:30 tomorrow morning.  Get ready, it finally IS November!

Happy Monday!

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