Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: Buffs enter the final week of the season with a *sigh*

The seeding picture is a little clearer for the Buffs as they eye next week's Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas, but only just so.  They currently sit in a three-way tie for 8th place, holding individual tie-breakers over Stanford and Washington State should they be needed (thanks to the home win over current conference leader Oregon).  Depending on the results this weekend, the Buffs could finish anywhere from 7th to 10th, with any hope of 6th (or even 5th) dashed by the loss to Utah last week (more on that later).  Regardless of how things work out this week, however, the math will be weird.

The first talking point regards that three-way tie mentioned above and that tie-breaker the Buffs supposedly hold.  That advantage could be imperiled with a loss to Stanford Thursday night at the CEC, with the three teams still remaining tied when all is said and done. The Cardinal would them hold the multi-team tiebreaker advantage, thanks to their 2-1 record against the Buffs and Cougars (CU would be just 2-2).  If Colorado is alone in a tie with either, however, the Oregon win plays, and CU takes a step up the seep sheet. A win against Stanford on Thursday avoids that mess completely, guaranteeing the Buffs no worse than 8th place.

Past that, CU could swing up to 7th with some expected help from Arizona State and a sweep of the Bay Area schools.  ASU holds the tie-breaker over Colorado, thanks to their head-to-head win in Tempe, and a half-game advantage in the standings, but only have a game against Arizona left to play -- an assumed loss.  To that end, if the Buffs get two wins against Stanford and Cal, leaving them with eight overall, 7th place is probably theirs.

Let's say for a minute that all four teams - ASU, Colorado, Stanford, and Washington State - finish with seven wins, what happens then? In a scenario where CU beat Stanford, the Buffs would still get 7th, thanks to much bullshit and that win over Oregon.  In the flip scenario, with the Cardinal winning in Boulder on Thursday, Colorado slides back to 9th.  That underscores the value of the game Thursday night.  If the Buffs beat Stanford, they're 7th or 8th; if they lose to the Cardinal, it's 9th or 10th.  The Cal result would then move them up or down a seed line from there.

What does all of that really mean?  With the stunning result in Tucson Saturday evening (more on that later, as well), the winner of the 8/9 game looks to get Oregon in the quarterfinals, with the 7/10 victor probably getting Arizona.  If you think CU can survive the first day, that's your choice: the Ducks or the Wildcats -- pick your poison.  Me?  I'd favor Arizona, I guess, thinking that a Thursday meeting before the red-clad horde arrives in full wouldn't be as bad as facing the Oregon machine in full post-season mode, but either option is terrible.  In each case, I would consider the Buffs, at best, two-and-done in Las Vegas.


Today in the bag, I'm talking the loss to the Utes, where the Buffs go from here, and how the rest of the Pac-12 fared over the weekend.

Click below for the bag...

Buffs drop 7th straight to Utah - 

The Utes did it again.  With an unassuming, yet consistent, focus they ground out yet another win over Colorado; their 7th in a row over the Buffs.  There was no flash, there was no style, but there was a whole lot of substance throughout their 86-81 victory.  As a result, the Buffs drop back out of the postseason picture, and have just two games remaining to salvage anything worth mentioning from an already disappointing season.

Watching this one was like watching the proverbial paint dry.  From the tip, you could tell which way the evening was headed -- Colorado was struggling defensively, even moreso on the boards, and was stuck settling for jumpers on offense, rather than really attacking the rim or moving the basketball. While the offense would eventually sort itself out, thanks largely to the explosive efforts of Derrick White and Wes Gordon coming alive in the final frame, the Utes shot 55% from the field in Colorado's gym, and played +7 on the defensive glass (were +8 overall at halftime).  CU simply cannot win, even at home, with defensive and rebound lines like that.  It didn't help that the CEC was lifeless and dull with the evening hours ticking away towards midnight, but I can't blame people for avoiding a 9pm tip this late in a dour season.  The die has long since been cast; this is the world we now live in.
It's not like the Buffs didn't have their chances.  At multiple times in the second half they managed to cut the lead to around four points, but they would consistently follow up those short offensive bursts with a defensive lapse, allowing Utah to balloon the lead back up to 8-10 points, stifling any momentum before it could build.  Even so, with under a minute to play, Dominique Collier had a shot to tie that just barely rimmed out.  I'll be honest, though, having watched 40 minutes of grinding gears and base inconsistency, I wasn't eager for the potential of overtime, importance of the result be damned.  CU didn't deserve the win, and the basketball gods responded in kind -- you make your own luck, after all.

The real crime last Thursday was not the result itself, but the 'wasted' performance of DWhite.  The senior finished with 31/5/6/4/1, in addition to that thunderous dunk.  He was outstanding in every way possible; he only sat out four minutes all game, but each of those minutes was painful and irritating to watch.  Far too often this season, if Derrick isn't providing, Colorado just drifts along purposeless, like a tall ship with neither tide nor sail.  Even when he is providing, like he was Thursday night, the Buffs struggle to put together a reasonable package in support.  In that vein, to have yet another classic DW performance spiked on a frustrating loss is too much to bear. Unfortunately, even with only a handful of games left to play this year, my guess is that this 'wasted' effort won't be the last.

So, where do we go from here? - 

Just two games remain in Colorado's 2016-17 regular season.  After that, of course, there's the minimum of one feature in Las Vegas, but just how realistic are the chances of CU playing anything after the Pac-12 Tournament?  Right now I'd say: 'not good.'

Let's put aside any notion of Colorado making the NCAA Tournament.  At-large bid potential is long gone by this point, and a run in Las Vegas is similarly fantastical.  I'd love to see it, but, then again, I'd also love to win the lottery.  The next logical step would be the ancient National Invitation Tournament, which the program leveraged so well in 2011.  The thing is, even an invite there isn't looking so promising right now.
Can the Buffs earn the right to keep playing? From: Wikipedia
If you didn't know, the NIT is no longer the haven for any and all major conference teams that finished above .500 that it used to be.  Since the middle of last decade, selection has forcibly included conference champions that, for whatever reason, don't make the full Dance, limiting the total number of at-large bids available.  Last year that meant 15 of the 32 slots in the second-tier bracket went to automatic qualifiers.  By extension, you'd have to consider CU one of the top-17 teams not in the true Tournament (at or about top-65 in the country) to slot them in there.  I cannot make that argument right now (FWIW, KenPom has CU at 78th nationally), and I'd like to see anyone who thinks they can put together a cogent argument to counter that position. To underscore the point, Colorado wasn't included in the latest round of NIT bracketology, and were given dim prospects by the prognosticators.

Now, that doesn't mean the Buffs can't get to NIT-worthy status.  I think a pair of wins this week over the Bay Area schools and a win or two in Vegas would get them there, if barely.  My problem now is that I don't really trust the team I saw on the court against Utah the other night to reel off those kinds of wins.  That could lead you to look past the NIT, and to other, lesser tournaments.  This program has been down that road before, of course, with the disastrous CBI run in 2015.  Coach Boyle later said he pushed for that experience against his better instincts because he didn't want to let a team that sidestepped challenges all year to go out side-stepping another.  You could make a similar case for the 2016-17 Buffaloes, but, as of yet, His Tadness won't entertain such thoughts.  From my perspective I'd avoid the CBI (and its uglier cousins, the CIT and the Vegas16) like the plague, but what do I know?
Whatever happens, can we just not do the CBI again?  From: the Seattle Times
The point remains, the options aren't great.  This team has left a messy bed, and is now forced to lie in it.  With few choices remaining on the table, we'll just have to wait and see just what, if any, basketball remains to be played after Selection Sunday.

Around the world of Pac-12 Basketball - 

- UCLA 77 - Arizona 72 - 

A few weeks ago, I declared that the Arizona Wildcats had all but wrapped up the 2017 regular season Pac-12 title.  Done and dusted, no questions asked.  I made that statement based on the overall weak final stretch of their schedule, and the fact that all their tough games remaining would be held at home.  I just did not see how the 'Cats would be able to find a way to lose a game in the final weeks, making their one-game advantage over the Oregon Ducks essentially sacrosanct.
Uhhhh.... I though the Wildcats had this sewed up? From: Bleacher Report
Apparently, I was wrong.  The UCLA Bruins - they of the best offense in the land, but a suspect defense - stormed into McKale, and stole a big one from Arizona on their senior night.  Foul trouble kept things close in the first half, with the 'Cats closing into the break on a 16-5 run, but an aggressive 3-2 zone from the Bruins stunted the UofA completely in the final frame.  UCLA held the hosts to just 29 second half points, while somehow also knifing them on the offensive glass.  It's a result that realistically costs Arizona the league's regular season crown, and really changes the dynamic in Las Vegas.

- Oregon 75 - Stanford 73 - 

Almost as stunning as 'Zona's home collapse, the Oregon Ducks somehow, someway survived their trip to the Bay Area.  They beat the Cardinal and Golden Bears by a combined total of five points over two games, having to scratch and claw in each fixture to earn the 'W.'  In this one, against an up-and-down Stanford side, UO needed a last-minute put-back by Jordan Bell to seal the win, forestalling a second half collapse fueled by 50% shooting from the free throw line.
Oregon survives a bad deal in the Bay Area to emerge as the presumptive champs.  From: Scout
The real importance of the regular season crown, beyond the inherent bragging rights, is seeding in the Pac-12 Tournament.  Let's be honest, only three teams in the league really matter this season -- Arizona, Oregon, and UCLA. Whoever lands the one seed avoids the other two until the final, with the 2 and 3 seeds forced to play each other in the semifinal just to make the championship game.  To earn this relative bye, all the Ducks need to do is beat bum-ass Oregon State in Corvallis on Saturday. With that, they get a clear and easy path to the championship game, and a solid argument for a 1-seed in the real Tournament.

- Arizona State 83 - USC 82 - 

Decidedly less important than the goings on in Tucson and Palo Alto, the Sun Devils managed to secure an interesting win over USC. ASU had to come from six points down in the final 30 seconds to earn the win, stunning people, like myself, who turned away from this one thinking the deed was long since completed.  As a result, what was once considered a solid probability, the Trojans' forthcoming inclusion in the Dance, is put on thin ice.  I still think they get in, especially as they should sweep the Washington schools at home this week, but everyone in red and yellow must be looking over their shoulder at the rest of the bubble right now.

Happy Tuesday!

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