Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, January 24, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: In which the downward spiral continues

Still swamped at work, so straight to the action...

Today in the bag, I'm talking a 7th-straight loss to open up conference play, how the rest of the Pac-12 is faring, and a quick look at the new defensive coordinator up at Folsom.

No overtime salvation to be found in Pullman - 

A few years back, we used to watch the football team fall over itself in pursuit of victory, and refer to #TheScript.  It was a cynical comment noting that the same tired storylines seemed to play out in every football loss, making the proceedings as predictable as a sunny day on the Front Range.  I'm starting to get to the same point with this year's basketball squad.  Night-in, night-out, the same things keep happening.  Intensity and focus will falter in the second half, an opposing guard will go off beyond the arc, defense will exist in name only, a gut-wrenching gaffe will be made with the result on the line, and the opponent will go on a massive run to cancel out all the good the team could create.

Such was the the situation this Saturday in Pullman against the Washington State Cougars.  Intensity and focus slips in the second half?  *check*, Cougars allowed to shoot 57% from the field in the second half.  Opposing guard going off?  *check* Something called 'Charles Callison' was allowed to put up 30 points on 16 shots.  Absent defense? *check*  WSU was 13-26 from deep, and put up 91 points just days after failing to crack 50 against Utah.  Gut-wrenching gaffe?  *check* You have your pick here -- a called timeout negating an open layup, or Colorado failing to secure a loose rebound in overtime. Massive run?  Half-mark here for the 13-4 run in the first half that got Callison going, and gave the Cougs their first lead.  #TheScript to near-perfection in a 91-89 overtime loss at Wazzou.
Charles Callison, really?  From:
I'm running out of ways to talk about this team. With the loss, it's now an 0-7 start to conference play, dragging the once acceptable 10-3 overall record into a 10-10 parity that makes me cringe.  The 0-7 start is bad enough for the program's worst opening act to conference play since 1992-93, when the Buffs launched into 8-straight losses against Big 8 competition.  Even in that year, however, the slog was broken up by a few non-conference wins against squads from Buffalo and UMKC, meaning the Black and Gold faithful weren't completely devoid of joy during the run.

Coach Boyle is certainly tired of it, and knows exactly where to point the finger:
"Same old story. We let a team that's been struggling to score, that scored 47 points in this building two nights ago against Utah, hang 91 on us. … They made some tough shots, don't get me wrong. But our defense right now is not good enough to beat anybody in this league. It doesn't matter who we play, it doesn't matter where we play them." - link
The numbers certainly support him here.  CU is 10th in the Pac-12 for conference-only defensive efficiency, giving up and adjusted 1.17 ppp, and 11th in three-point percentage defense.  While the rebounding is OK (2nd in offensive board rate, 5th in defensive), the defense has been atrocious, both to the naked eye and on the stat sheet.  As I said in the game preview, though, at this point, it is what it is.  By now, it's clear this isn't a fluke, and Colorado isn't getting any better any time soon.  Oh, sure, some wins are probably on the horizon (this Thursday against OSU is a great opportunity), but the season has long since been spiked.
Buffs find a way to lose, again.  From: Seattle Times
For those desperate for a rosier view, please do remember that we saw much worse during the Bzdelik era.  Just think back to the season that was 2008-09.  After starting 7-3, CU proceeded to drop 19 of their final 21 ballgames, including 15 of their 16 conference dates. *shivers*  The one league win that year?  A five-pointer at home against Iowa State.  I have no abiding memories of that game, as I was in the hospital that day with a 104-degree fever (I had, honest-to-God, Bird Flu), meaning the only win I got to see, from Dec 23rd, 2008 to Nov 13th the following season, was against D-II Western State in the dead of winter.  See, being a Colorado Basketball fan used to be the Bataan Death March of fanaticism. This? This is nothing.

The weird part? That '08-'09 team, as awful as they were, turned around the weekend after the ISU win and nearly beat frickin' Kansas in Lawrence.  What I'm saying is, as helpless as this feels right now, weird things happen all the time.  The current squad could pop out of their slumber this week, and shock the Ducks on Saturday.  You laugh, but I've seen dumber.  Not where my money will be going, though...

Around the world of Pac-12 Basketball - 

- Arizona 96 - UCLA 85 - 

The game of the week was the showdown in Los Angeles between the Bruins and Wildcats.  Lo and behold, the 'Cats, boasting the fresh reinstatement of Allonzo Trier, went into venerable Pauley Pavilion and boat-raced the home favorites.  It was a stunning display of the power of defense, and the wages of sin paid by those who don't play it.
Arizona surges in Los Angeles.  From: the AP
Directly competing with the live broadcast of the CU/WSU game, my eyes were routinely drawn to this one.  Not out of disloyalty, just a simple recognition that the brand of ball on display in Hollywood was wildly superior to that in Pullman.  Up-and-down, electric, and overall fascinating.  It was about as high-level an affair as you can get.  The result, however, was never really in doubt, at least after the opening few minutes.  It all came down to defense -- Arizona was able to play some, whereas UCLA none at all.  The Bruins, that pro-caliber shooting team that ripped up the court in Boulder, shot just 32% from beyond the arc for the game, while allowing the UofA to get over 1.3 points per possessions.  At that point, it's pure arithmetic, with UCLA simply unable to find enough stops to mount a comeback.  Lonzo Ball is still legit, though.

- Cal 69 - Oregon St 58 -

Looking ahead to future arrivals, the Beavers will come to Boulder this week riding their own seven-game losing streak to start conference play.  That's right, Thursday night at the CEC it's the BATTLE FOR NOT-LAST PLACE!  Of course, the Beavers have long figured to be in this spot, having been a dumpster fire since the opening week of the season, while the Buffs are just now getting used to life in the basement, but I digress...

In this one, the Golden Bears mauled OSU in the paint, getting 18 points from forward Ivan Rabb and playing +8 on the glass to earn the victory.  The shorthanded Beavs, still without Tres Tinkle, got much of their scoring from the pair of Drew Eubanks and Stephen Thompson, Jr. (41 combined points), but little else from the rest of the roster.  I'm serious, if CU can't beat this bunch at home, you might as well write off the rest of the season and move on to Spring Training.

- Oregon 69 - Stanford 52 - 

Despite all assurances to the contrary before the season, it's just never easy with Oregon in 2016-17. The now-#11 Ducks seemed to be back on the front foot a few weeks ago, but have since returned to sideways glances as All-Conference forward Dillon Brooks has been sidelined, again, with injury. This time, it's a sprained foot, and no one knows when he'll be back.  Until then, however, UO will be vulnerable to good teams, like this Thursday when they visit Utah.
Even without Brooks, the Ducks found a way to outlast Stanford.  From: the AP
Still, against the Cardinal, what exists on their roster beyond Brooks was more than enough to secure victory.  It certainly helped that they could lean on the freakishly long and athletic Chris Boucher in his absence, with the senior chipping in 16/10 for the Ducks.  It also helped that Stanford star forward Michael Humphrey fouled out early in the second half, leaving the Tree down on manpower in the final frame.  The result was already well in hand by that point, however.

Buffs finally secure new DC - 

So, the football team finally got around to naming a defensive coordinator to replace the departed Pepsi Logo... er Jim Leavitt. According to teh interwebz, the new guy's name is DJ Eliot, coming to Boulder after a four-year stint at Kentucky.  Interesting profile here: the 40-year old Eliot has experience in the Mountain Time Zone, having played his collegiate ball up at Wyo, and will continue the 3-4 styling originally installed by Leavitt.  I'm also anticipating him being significantly cheaper than Sr PepsiCo was going to be before he bolted to Oregon.
Eliot has a tough task ahead of him.  From:
While at Kentucky, he helped get the Wildcats to a bowl berth this season (which is damn near miraculous, considering that program).  The stats aren't great (last year, UK was 85th in overall defensive yardage), but it's hard to blame Coach Eliot, considering what he had to work with, and who he had to do it against in the SEC.  DJ also has previous lower-level coaching experience at major programs like Florida State and Miami.  Solid resume, all things considered.

Eliot will be up against it this coming year, however.  Much of the vaunted 2016 CU defense expelled their remaining eligibility with the conclusion of the Alamo Bowl, as the Buffs will be replacing eight starters next fall.  Accordingly, with the unit already projected to take a back-step in 2017, my expectations won't be too high out of the gate for young DJ.  Still, Colorado will need to see some level of immediate returns from the defense if they have any hopes of keeping 2016 from being a blip on the radar.  What I'm saying is: good luck, dude, you're going to need it.

Happy Tuesday!

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