Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Eastern Washington Wrap

There have been times this basketball season where I've had cause to wonder just how deep the rabbit hole will go.  These fits of worry and concern have usually coincided with dispassionate and formless effort on the court -- for example, the entirety of the CSU game, the stretch run of the BYU visit, and the second half of the Ft Hays State fiasco.  Well, we can add a fourth entry to that list, and it's the opening 10 minutes of the Eastern Washington game.
'Momma, there goes that man again.'  Bliznyuk started off hot. From:
Colorado simply came out flat and lifeless against the Eagles in this one.  The starters couldn't hit shots, defense was essentially nonexistent, and at one point EWU had built a 19-2 lead.  By the second timeout of that first half there was even a smattering of boos from the assembled crowd, and I really couldn't blame any of them for voicing their disapproval.  This was about as bleak and hopeless as the program had looked since the final visit to Wyoming in 2014, and those Cowboys were a hell of a lot better than these Eagles are.

The most frustrating aspect was that the Buffs were not keying on the one guy in Black and Red that could beat them.  Bogdan Bliznyuk, the Eagles' freaky 6-6 point forward, was getting every shot he wanted early, torching defenders like George King and Josh Fortune for seemingly uncontested looks. By the 9:37 mark, he had already accumulated 18 points, and seemed to be on his way to leading a shocking blowout over the home favorites.
Del Brown and the reserves stanched the bleeding in the first half.  From: the Times Call
Then, the Buffs started to make adjustments.  The ineffective starters were pulled out, and the reserves allowed to enter the fray.  Behind all-encompassing efforts from players like Deleon Brown and Dom Collier, Colorado started to chip away at the EWU lead, which had been hovering between 10 and 17 points.  CU also switched up their defensive focus on Bliznyuk, putting the longer frames of Wes Gordon and Derrick White on the versatile scorer.  Suddenly, his wellspring of points dried up, and the lead began to shrink (Bogdan would record just seven points over the final 29 minutes of play).  By halftime, Colorado was within three, and appeared to have a pule, if faint.

After the break, that pulse quickened sharply, thanks to some open looks finally falling from the outside. Josh Fortune would lead the spark with three made three pointers in the final frame, fueling the rise of the once recumbent offensive attack.  For the half, CU would shoot 54% from the field, up 20 points from their first half performance.  Combined with suffocating defense on Bogdan and the tiring Eagles (32% shooting after half), it was enough for the Buffs to pull away and stave off absolute disaster.  The final, 76-68, was more of a sigh of relief than anything else.
A much better second half performance staved off disaster.  From: the BDC
Overall, another lackluster performance against a sub-par team.  The Buffs struggled to find their scoring touch against a legitimately terrible defense, forgot to stop the one guy who could hurt them for 10 minutes, and generally just didn't seem eager or interested to be out there Thursday night.  And that's the sense I get from this team night in and night out -- that they don't seem excited about taking the court this season, and would rather be just about anywhere else on a particular evening.  I know that's not the case, but the aesthetic is unmistakable. It's why the 10-3 finish to the non-conference slate of the schedule is far more concerning than the 10-3 I envisioned at the start of the year.  This isn't entertaining or joyous basketball, at the moment. It's a slog, and one that doesn't seemed destined to end up in a spot representative of the talent on this roster.

That's not to say there's nothing about this team that I've enjoyed over the first two months of play. Derrick White is a treasure.  A capable scorer, willing passer, and eager defender, he's an All-Pac-12 kind of talent, and one who should continue to shine as we dive into conference play.  The development of Deleon Brown is unmistakable, as well.  Every minute of playing time that kid is getting right now is earned, and he brings excellent tools and an earnest attitude to the court every night.  The Wes Gordon roller coaster is also highly entertaining, if still exasperating, and I continue to marvel at the talent of Xavier Johnson, who is, rather quietly, putting in great shifts.  Throw in the return of Dom Collier, and there's still some joy to be found in the product.

With those bright spots in mind, the promise of a few weeks off to clear their heads, and the danger of the opening stretch of conference play immediately over the horizon to draw in the focus, there's a realistic hope that the sum of the whole to finally begin to snap into shape.  I fear, however, that the rabbit hole is far deeper than we've discovered through 13 games, and that the introduction of Pac-12 opponents into the mix will only lead to further frustrations.  I do hope I'm wrong, however.


Programming note:

As a reminder, there will be no Grab Bag next week, as I will be gallivanting around the Central Time Zone to both Chicago and San Antonio.  I will have a Alamo Bowl Preview, though (probably up on the morning of the 28th), and a Utah Basketball Preview (probably up on New Year's Eve), so keep an eye out for both. Normal service will resume the first week of the year.

Thanks all for your clicks in 2016, and I hope you have a happy and safe Holiday Week!  As always...

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