Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, November 14, 2016

Sacramento State Wrap and Seattle Teaser

After months of interminable waiting, the 2016-17 basketball season finally tipped off.  Not unlike Christmas morning, Colorado's 90-53 win over Sacramento State was a litany of happy discoveries. Oh, the Derrick White hype appears to be for real (9/4/2 on a bad ankle)!  He's the starting point guard, too!  And Deleon Brown looks great!  Don't forget the shooting touch of Lucas Siewert!  In fact everyone can shoot!  The team looks happy, healthy, and very capable! Now, what do I do with all this leftover wrapping paper?

I know it's only 40 minutes of basketball against a team picked to finish 10th in their small conference, but I still highly enjoyed the Buffs' efforts.  They came out with an intensity and focus that leads me to believe they were feeling pent up in practice, and put it to good use on the court. CU was off and running from the tip, firing freely and confidently from deep.  62% shooting from beyond the arc on 21 attempts may not be replicable on a nightly basis, but that Colorado has this club in their bag is very encouraging.  Further, the balance (a word Tad dropped 1,000 times in the post-conference presser) on this team is impressive.  Of the nine players to get rotational time in this game, each scored at least six points.  Lot to like here.
Wes Gordon and the Buffs got the season off to a nice start.  From: the Times-Call
That's not to say the evening proceeded without any setbacks.  While the Hornets shot under 30% from the field on 68 attempts, aesthetically at least, this was far from a dominating defensive effort. There was inconsistency on defending the PnR and on handoffs, leading to a number of clear looks for SSU.  The Hornets, obligingly, clanked everything from open jumpers to clean layups, but those will turn into points quickly against better competition.  Further, the rebounding effort was ugly.  Wes Gordon, he of the 12 rebound effort, was glued to the ground, at times, and was often out-leaped for balls.  Accordingly Sacramento hauled in 17 offensive rebounds (16 second chance points), which is not TadBall.  Both areas need to be cleaned up, in a hurry; though I can excuse some of it for the lack of intensity in a rolling blowout.

All that said, I don't want to focus too heavily on the negative.  Overall, this was a very good performance from Colorado.  I still think Sac State will be a decent team, when all is said and done, but the Buffs made them look punchless Friday.  Can't argue with the result.

Attention now turns to tonight's affair with Seattle.  Once upon a time, Seattle U was a regional basketball power. They're one of the lucky few to claim a Final Four berth (1958), and went to 11 NCAA Tournaments over a 16-year span in the 50s and 60s. At one point in the 60s, they were even producing more NBA talent than any other school in the country. Then, suddenly, it all stopped. A financial slide in downtown Seattle eventually lead the school to de-emphasize their athletic programs, including men's basketball, and move to NAIA play in 1980. It wasn't until 2001 that they returned to the NCAA, and have been slowly clawing their way up from Division III ever since.
The ghost of painful losses past. From: the Seattle Times.
BuffNation, however, will mostly remember the Seattle Redhawks from two years ago, when they dealt CU one of the more embarrassing/fitting losses in the history of the program.  Stuck in the CBI, a tournament even Tad admitted he didn't want to participate in, the Buffs traveled to play the 'Hawks in their building. The result, a 72-65 loss, was decided in a gym smaller than the CU Rec Center's court, and played to a streaming audience via a single camera, operated by someone who didn't know how to work it. While the Buffs had started well, hard double teams of Josh Scott forced them to get creative, which was never that team's forte. Long stretches of scorelessness followed, along with a tide of Redhawk points. The final was degrading, it was humiliating, and it left a hole in the soul of everyone who follows the program.  Simply, CU owes SU some payback.

Head Coach Cameron Dollar returns two key pieces from that game in March of 2015: William Powell and Manny Chibuogwu.  The pair of seniors are one of the best forward tandems in the WAC this year.  Powell is the better of the two, and has started every game for Seattle since he was a sophomore.  He's an efficient shooter, and does a great job getting to the line.  They're both usurped in the team's hierarchy, however, by Brendan Westendorf.  The senior wing from nearby Auburn, WA is a WAC player of the year candidate, entering his second season with the program after emerging as a JuCo transfer last winter.  He keys their offense, featuring as their clear leader in minutes, points, assists, and steals in 15-16; to beat Seattle, you have to keep him quiet.
Westendorf is a legit talent.  From: the Seattle Times
Elsewhere, the probable starting lineup also boasts giant 7-3 English center Aaron Menzies and normal-sized point guard Morgan Means.  Means is the rare true freshman starter, and could end up being a pretty good option for them.  Menzies is a good rebounder, taking up a lot of space and feasting against the smaller centers in the tiny WAC.  Against him, the Buffs are going to have to really box out and disrupt his positioning.

The Redhawks have once game under their belt, as well; a 76-65 win over tiny D-III Pacific Lutheran. Powell and Westendorf combined for 40/12/9 against the Lutes.  At one point, however, Lutheran had cut the score to just four points with three minutes to go, pushing Seattle in a game they should've rolled in.  That doesn't alleviate the danger these Redhawks could pose, though, if they get hot.

In any case, I expect the Buffs to claim their pound of flesh, and revenge the CBI loss this evening. It'll probably be much closer than the opener against Sacramento State, but the keys to watch for are how the team defends Powell and Westendorf, and how they rebound against Menzies.  I want to see better efforts in each phase, as the team ramps up for next week's trip to Brooklyn, and the Legend's Classic.  Oh, and a win, of course.  A nice, 15-20 point win.


Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7pm this evening.  Televised coverage will be on Pac-12 Network, with the radio call on 760 AM.


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