Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Sunday, December 18, 2016

Ft Hays Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs Air Force Teaser

Early Saturday afternoon at the CEC, the Colorado Buffaloes found themselves in a battle far tougher than expected with the visiting Division II Fort Hays State Tigers.  After a generally positive first half, they had come out of the locker room for the final frame with waning energy, and were paying the price on the scoreboard.  As the minutes ticked by, the Tigers refused to go away, and the Buffs refused to put them away.  While, ultimately, Colorado was able to hang on for the 81-71 win, few home partisans left the gym that day feeling satisfied.
Coach Boyle pulled no punches after the game on Saturday.  From: the CU Independent
Coach Tad Boyle certainly wasn't.  Viewing just the latest slumping performance from his talented charges, he took to the post-game press conference like a pyro with a flamethrower, torching everything he could see.  In a rant eerily reminiscent of those from the 2014-15 season of woe, Tad started with this doozy: 
"This coaching staff has been here for seven years now, and this team has two things going for it right now. First they own the most disappointing loss in that seven-year span, vs. Colorado State a few weeks ago and now they can add to that the most disappointing win which is today’s win against Fort Hays State. I need to apologize to the fans of this team for the effort in the second half because it was terrible."
But he didn't stop there.  Continuing:
“Right now the way our team is playing right now, we’re a below average Pac-12 team. At least by the standards that I feel Colorado basketball has risen to over the past few years. We’ve got the capability to be as good as we want to be and we are able to beat anyone in the league. We don’t have the mental toughness to put anybody away. If we don’t figure it out it’s going to be an up and down year.”
He's not wrong, either.  My opinion of this collection of parts, as individuals, remains unchanged - they are undeniably talented and capable.  The problem is the product a whole is not working.  Like a soufflĂ© jostled during the baking process, the mixture falls flat upon presentation, and settles into an unappetizing mess of once-promising ingredients.
Deleon Brown had a nice game, but the rest of the Buffs were out of sorts by the final whistle.  From: the BDC
A win is a win, but there's just no excuse for struggling with the Tigers this weekend, as focused on winning as they were.  You always knew Rob Davis would get his - which he did to the tune of 29 points, all coming in the second half - but the rest of that roster is one that CU should've chewed up. Yet, by the end of the game, the Buffaloes appeared cowed and distracted, looking like they wanted to be anywhere but on the court at that moment.  It's a performance that, when viewed in conjunction with the the CSU disaster and the other inconsistent meanderings throughout the first month of the season, only confirms that Colorado doesn't have it this season.  They aren't tough enough, combative enough to win the kind of games you need to to live up to the recent vintage of this program.

The hammer is coming, too.  Conference play looms over the horizon, and, as down as the majority of the Pac-12 is this year, the opening stretch of games (@ Utah, @ ASU, @ UofA, vs UCLA, vs USC) now looks to muddle this bunch into a fine paste.  Barring some light switch moment, this is all going to get a whole lot worse before it gets better.

Those discomforting thoughts aside, its now time to consider tomorrow evening's road tilt with Air Force in the Springs.  The Buffs have had the run of this series of late, winning the last six meetings, including last season's 81-70 romp in the CEC.  A trip down I-25 is never easy, however, and CU had better bring an improved intensity with them Monday if they want to avoid another embarrassing in-state defeat.

Air Force has been struggling in recent years under the tutelage of head coach Dave Pilipovich. The program that had been an early-2000s juggernaut has had just one winning season since 2008-09, and seems destined for another low-table finish in the Mountain West this winter.  After a 5-0 start to the season, they've won just one game since Thanksgiving, taking losses to shrug-worthy sides like East Carolina, Army, and Denver.
Kocur is a lights-out shooter that could sting Colorado.  From:
Still, they are an interesting bunch that returns a number of starters from a year ago, including their entire backcourt.  Leading the charge is senior Zach Kocur, a native Denverite with a sweet shooting touch.  His numbers this season are not dissimilar from Ft Hays' Rob Davis, as Kocur is shooting 56% from deep with an eFG near 77%.  He can stroke it, and will knife Colorado for lazy shows off screens and otherwise slumping coverage beyond the arc.  Teaming with juniors Jacob Van, Trevor Lyons, and CJ Spiles, this is a very capable core, one that can put up a lot of points and hit a lot of jumpers.  Overall, Air Force is the #2 three-point shooting team in the country, hitting on over 44% of their takes.

The real key for the Zoomies, though, is what, if anything, they can get from their post players.  They don't really have what you would call a 'real' center, and give up a lot of size in the paint.  Still, forwards like Hayden Graham and Frank Toohey provide some capable options when defenders neglect their duties to spy on the shooters on the perimeter.  The 6-5 Graham, especially, is having a nice season, leading the team in scoring and rebounding through 11 games.  A solid swing forward, the senior can shoot, attack off the dribble, grab some rebounds, and defend in the paint as needed, despite giving up some size.  He plays well with Toohey, and they pair could give Colorado's inconsistent forward corps fits for not bringing energy and focus to the court.
Graham is a fun wing with good versatility.  From: News OK
Of course, when I talk about Air Force, I'm also talking about the style of basketball they play, namely the Princeton.  By now, you should be familiar with the brand -- a style that values each possession, that relies on versatility from each of the players on the court, and that lives and dies by structured off-ball motion. On Monday there will be back cuts, there will a crap-ton of passes out on the wing (assists on most made baskets), and there will be extended possessions deep into the shot clock. The emphasis is on finding the highest quality shot available, and the Falcons will be willing to wait Colorado out in the pursuit of just that (280th in offensive possession length, over 18 seconds per). More importantly, it will test the focus of the Buffs' defense, who have to know where man and ball are at all times, lest they get burned bad.

As uncomfortable as playing the Princeton has made me in years past, Colorado has done well against it, even in down years.  As such, I'm cautiously optimistic that they will be able to grind out a win against the hosts on Monday, though the affair will probably be as ugly as possible.  The Falcons won't contest the offensive glass, giving the Buffs a good shot at hitting their rebounding numbers, and will give up a lot to Xavier Johnson in the paint.  Unless AF gets blazing hot from deep, which is still very possible, I think the Buffs eek this one out.  Believe me, though, I'm nervous.


Tip-off from Clune Arena in Colorado Springs is set for 7pm Monday evening.  Not a terrible drive down for those of you thinking of going, I would expect a solid grouping of Buffs in the stands for this one. Coverage for those who'd rather avoid the jaunt along I-25 will be on CBS Sports Network (note: not regular CBS, but their cable outfit buried deep in your channel catalog), with the radio call on 850 KOA.


No comments: