Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, December 7, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Xavier Basketball Teaser

For those of you that don't know, Xavier University boasts a very storied basketball program.  The pride of northeast Cincinnati, XU can claim 17 conference championships (most of them from their days in the A-10), 26 Tournament appearances, and a pair of Elite Eight runs (2004 and 2008).  In fact, they have the most wins in the Dance of any program to have never made the Final Four, and have featured in 10 of the last 11 NCAA Tournaments.  Thad Matta, now of Ohio State, got his coaching start there. Sean Miller, who hates all things fun, got his coaching start there.  At every level, the Musketeers are a serious basketball program.
Chris Mack continues a line of outstanding coaches at Xavier.  From: hoopscoop.com
More importantly, the 2016-17 edition is a top-flight team, legitimately one of the best in the country. The assembled press has certainly noticed; previously in the top-10 in the AP poll, they will arrive in Boulder #13 in the nation after their first loss of the season, suffered over the weekend.  In fact, many of those same media members voting them highly also picked them as both the Big East front-runner and a dark horse candidate for the Final Four.  Strong offensively, strong defensively, head coach Chris Mack (the reigning USBWA national coach of the year) and his bunch should scare the daylights out of you.

Overall, this is a tough, physical, versatile bunch.  They are battle-hardened, possessing a good work ethic and a tenacity on both ends of the floor.  Above all else, they will fight for every rebound, loose ball, and 50-50 opportunity in the game.  It's why Xavier has been so successful away from home in recent years (13 of their 28 wins last season came either in neutral or true road settings), and they will not shy away from the challenge of playing in Boulder on a frigid, snowy Wednesday night.

The roster is led by standout junior guard Trevon Bluiett.  The 6-6 machine from Indianapolis dipped his toes in the waters of the NBA Draft last summer before deciding to return for a 3rd lap around the collegiate pool.  The Musketeers are glad he did, as he is one of the best wings in the country.  More than just a basic 2/3, however, you will see Bluiett all over the court this evening, rotating from the point all the way into the paint.  Good size, speed, and strength, with a nasty three-point shot, he's a national POY candidate, albeit a fringe one.  Bluiett's averaging 18/6 through eight games, and is capable of putting up monster numbers night-in, night-out.
Bluiett and Sumner are an outstanding pair of guards.  From: Banners on the Parkway
Trevon plays in tandem with another guard with great size, 6-6, 186 Michigander Edmond Sumner. He's mostly been manning the point this season, playing on-the-ball 84% of the time (according to KenPom), but he had been used more as an off-guard in previous seasons.  The tweak in role might have lead to a little exposure of his game -- a team-high 25 turnovers, or about 3.1/game. Regardless, he's still an outstanding player.  He's nightmarish in attack of the rim, a flash of navy and silver as he flies into the paint.  It'll be hard for any of Colorado's guards to stay in front of him this evening.

Playing off the two stars are a further pair of guards, JP Macura and Malcolm Bernard.  Macura, a 6-5 junior out of Minnesota, is the gritty beating heart of this team.  He was the Big East 6th Man of the Year last winter, but has surged into the starting lineup this season, even averaging over 15 points per game in the early going.  Bernard has stepped into the vacuum left by Davis. He's a graduate transfer from Florida A&M, and came to the program with a lot of basketball already under his belt.  Good versatility, but not necessarily the standout-type of messrs Bluiett, Sumner, and Macura.
Macura can flat out fill it up.  From: FOX Sports
Even with the players already mentioned, the Musketeers are still down a big backcourt talent in the form of point guard Myles Davis, who is suspended indefinitely after multiple domestic violence charges. They haven't really missed a step with Davis out of the lineup, however, and this is still an elite guard corps -- about as good a grouping as CU will face this year, and one of the best in the entire nation. They're constantly rotating through roles and alternating looks, making them very difficult to matchup with, especially as none of them gives up that much size, 1-4. If you can't defend the perimeter against this bunch, or deny penetration, you will lose, and you will lose big.

Up front, the best true forward is RaShid Gaston.  A wide 6-9, 240, he carries the load up front, especially when XU drops into four-guard sets. RaShid boasts impeccable rebounding rates, and will really push Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon up front.  A transfer from Norfolk State, you may not have heard of him before, but he will be making a name for himself come March.  Also featuring off their bench in the paint is 6-10 center Sean O'Mara, who just happens to hail from my hometown back in Illinois.  He went to Benet, though, so screw him.

As strong as the side is, their most recent result does show some vulnerabilities.  They lost by 15 in Waco to the Baylor Bears, with Scott Drew's crew steadily pulling away in the second half.  Xavier got a little Bluiett-happy, coughed the ball up way to much (17 turnovers), missed a number of second half free throws, and didn't defend the perimeter well enough.  It burned them in the end.  I don't know if the Buffs will be able to duplicate the feat, however.  I think they could isolate Blueitt, but CU has rarely forced large numbers of turnovers, have been hit-or-miss from deep through the first month of play, and have free throw issues of their own to worry about.  What's more, that Baylor team looks to be the truth down in Texas, and the Buffs don't appear to be capable of holding a candle to that team.
Xavier comes in off a loss to Baylor, but I don't see a repeat in the future this evening.  From: USA Today
No, in the end, I expect Xavier to come in and dictate their will.  Colorado has not shown to have the heart or discipline to battle gritty, willful foes this year, and anything short of a blazing hot shooting performance will probably end in defeat.  There's no shame in losing to a team as good as Xavier, but that won't stifle the gnawing feeling that the season is starting to slip away.  Give me the Musketeers by a bunch.

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Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening.  That snow that's coming down right now is supposed to die down right before tip-off, but I won't pretend that your commute to Boulder won't suck just a bit.  For those unable/unwilling to brave the conditions and head into the Valley, coverage can be found on Pac-12 Networks, with the radio call on 760 AM.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME WRONG, AND BEAT THE MUSKETEERS!

Tuesday, December 6, 2016

Quick Post: On Rashaan

In a year where the Colorado football program rose from the ashes, it also lost one of it's proudest sons.  The great Rashaan Salaam, winner of the 1994 Heisman Trophy, passed away Monday night. He was 42.

Few in BuffNation will forget what his play meant to them, inspiring a generation of fans to want to become Buffs, including yours truly.  Few also are those whose lives he touched that will forget him and the impact he had off the field. My condolences to his friends and family.


Tuesday Grab Bag: A Rose By Any Other Name Is Apparently The Alamo Bowl

Pressed for time, it's straight to the action this morning. Today in the bag, I'm talking the result in Santa Clara, the Bowl Selection process, and the BasketBuffs responding in Portland.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, December 3, 2016

CSU Wrap and 2016-17 CU vs Portland Basketball Teaser

Welp.  That sucked.

Over an interminable 40 minutes of largely listless, vaguely passionate basketball, the Colorado Buffaloes lost any and all good will they had built up this season.  In their own gym, with their own fans at their back, they came out and laid a whopper at mid court, getting out-worked, out-executed, and out-played by little brother.  72-58.  I have no words.

... OK, so I have a few.  I talked in the teaser Wednesday about how I had been making excuses for the team in trying to stay optimistic this year, overlooking some faults in the foundation in the interest of positive thinking.  That was just poor analysis, and an error on my part.  No excuses now, however. It's clear that Colorado isn't nearly the team that I, or many other commentators, thought they would be. Oh, sure, there's still talent on this club, and I still don't see the oncoming horror of 2014-15 in the tea leaves, but this season will not finish in NCAA glory.
*A stream of swearing* From: the Post
I don't mean to get so negative after just seven games, but it is disappointing.  That Colorado State team who earned the win Wednesday night was not particularly talented, but they were able to push the Buffs around by showing far more heart and determination than the guys in Black and Gold did. They executed on both ends (hit their first 18 free throws, nailed numerous desperation threes against an expiring clock), took advantage of the little moments here and there, and seemed to confuse CU at every step.  As Colorado was incapable of hitting anything from the free throw line (17-31) or behind the arc (3-19), you could see a tensity fall over the team, squelching their ability to play freely like an asthmatic attack.  All throughout, I kept hoping for a light in the darkness, a sudden blast of energy, a light switched flipped on, but it never came.

You would see sparks here or there -- a flash from Derrick White in the first half, Thomas Akyazili trying to fire the ignition with some penetration in the second, and a burst of fury from Xavier Johnson with about 10 minutes to go -- but it wasn't nearly enough.  With a laughably tight whistle descending from old pal Randy McCall (my voodoo doll apparently has had no effect), there just wasn't enough open play down the stretch for the team to mount a comeback, and frustration eventually lead to disaster.  The Buffs out-rebounded their opponent, held them under 40% shooting from the field, yet still lost.  At home.  To a rival.  And all I can say is that it happened due to a lack of intensity and execution. #TadBall, why have you forsaken us so?

But, with that dyspeptic result in the rear view, there's nothing left but to press on.  Colorado will have the opportunity to gain some spate of redemption in an odd place -- Portland, Oregon.  Well, Portland's not that odd, at least to a man from Boulder.  It's the opponent that's odd: the Portland Pilots.  As part of a contractual arrangement, the Buffs will be visiting the WCC's Pilots and their 4,800-seat arena; a rather, yes, odd move for a Power 5 program.  While CU will visit another WCC school, BYU, in a week's time, they're at least operating in the guise of a power program.  Portland has none of the institutional memory of success that the Cougars do, and a visit from a program like Colorado is a big date on their calendar.
Porter brings more than a name to the Pilots. From: the Portland Tribune
The Pilots are looking to rebound from a pretty ugly 2015-16 season, where they lost 20 games and finished tied for 7th in the WCC on a down year.  It was a series of results that cost their former coach his job, leading to the hiring of Portland TrailBlazer legend Terry Porter to the top spot on the bench.  Porter had seen some action as a coach in the NBA over the years, as well, bringing more than just a name to the position.

Making Coach Porter's transition to the college game easy is the play of senior point guard Alec Wintering.  The 6-0 star from Charlotte, NC is averaging nearly 23 points per game in the young season, and is an explosive shooter and point scorer.  Alec has a nose for the line, and is dogged in attack of the basket; he gets nearly 50% of his shots at the rim, which is incredible for a player of his size. More than that, though, he's also a deadly distributor and creator, making him the engine that drives the Portland offense (35% usage).  CU was able to keep him pretty quiet in their matchup with the Pilots a year ago, holding Wintering to 1-7 shooting from the floor, but don't expect similar results Saturday night.
Wintering is a fantastic small conference talent.  From: Getty
Elsewhere, Portland features experienced guards Jazz Johnson and D'Marques Tyson.  Johnson is a great accompaniment to Wintering, serving as the outside shooting spark to Alec's dashing, rim-attack bravado. The junior Tyson has been serving in a largely 6th man role this season, but is still a capable player off the bench.  Their frontline is anchored around giant 7-1 center Philipp Hartwich. The German international plays, as you would expect, mostly around the rim, and gets about a block per game.  He'll pair well with swing forward Gabe Taylor, who has the potential to creep towards averaging a double-double this winter.

Overall, the Pilots are a solid mid major team.  They play relatively fast, execute on offense, and have star power to lead them in Wintering.  They may struggle to rebound night over night, and their defense is nothing to write home about, but they will put up a sizeable win total this year.  So far, their results have been to expectation, beating the minnows like UC Riverside, then letting UCLA drop 99 on them in a boat race loss.  They may not have the complete package to compete with the big three in the WCC (Gonzaga, St Mary's, BYU), but they should move up the table a bit as the season grinds on.

As for the result Saturday... I have no idea.  The Buffs responded well in Brooklyn to the 1st half disaster against the Fighting Irish, turning around to close that game well and then beat Texas the following afternoon.  Maybe they have something similar up their sleeve this weekend.  I'm none too confident, however.  I would argue that Portland is better than CSU, and Colorado is playing in their gym.  If the shots don't fall, and the gears keep grinding, it could get really ugly.  Oh, and the Pilots hit their free throws (87%); someone get me some aspirin.

Flip a coin for a winner, if you must.  I did, and it came up heads.  I'll take the Buffs to win, but barely.

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Tip-off from the Chiles Center in Portland, OR is set for 8pm MT on Saturday.  There's no broadcast television of this game.  But, this being the future, we have an internet stream of the affair available at TheW.tv.  If you don't want to mess around with that, you can catch the radio call on 850 KOA.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE PILOTS!

Friday, December 2, 2016

2016 Gameday 'Beer'-o-the-week - Pac-12 Championship Edition

Each week throughout the football season I'm going to suggest a good 'beer' for the ubiquitous pre-game tailgate. Let's be honest, with tailgates it's not always top quality that you're looking for. To steal a phrase from the heinous 'beer' terrorists at Budweiser, you want "drinkability." (or what a real 'beer' connoisseur calls "a session 'beer'") So, be warned, these may not be "the best" 'beers' around. But, in the words of Dave Chappelle as Samuel L. Jackson "IT'LL GET YOU DRUNK!"

OK, so I wasn't expecting to have to do one of these this late in the season, and have nothing prepared.  Short on time, and without a summer's worth of notes to supply me with last-minute ideas, I'm diving into the beer fridge for whatever I can find. Uh, let me see... *rummages* Ah ha!  It's... oh for crying out loud... Which one of my roommates left this in here?  *sigh* It's Not Your Father's Root Beer, and it's this week's gameday 'beer' of the week.

If you look at the label, NYFRB will tell you that it comes from tiny Wauconda, IL, a northwest exurb of Chicago.  Certainly, if you were to travel to Wauconda, there is a brewery there, called Small Town Brewery, that would happily sell you the stuff.  What you find in the well-labeled bottles on the shelves of your local booze palace, however, did not come from Wauconda, and definitely not from the tiny brewery located there.  Nope, what you're drinking was made by Pabst, the giant conglomerate most famous for the hipster brew of choice: PBR.  They partnered with Small Town shortly before you started seeing their hard root beer show up on shelves, which explains some things.

That's not to say there's not a craft element to the story, however.  Small Town was started by a single guy, Tim Kovac, after haphazard forays into the world of homebrewing in the late '80s.  The twist from craft to corporate machine is familiar and tired, as ubiquitous to the modern brewing world as beards and kitschy hop varietals.  I can't really blame the guy for taking the money, or wanting to see his product go national without the pain of having to build an empire himself. At this point, it is what it is.

Anyways, the Root Beer, which is brewed, but still not quite 'real beer,' carries with it a unique taste. Obviously, the flavor notes skew towards the well-known parameters of root beer, but it's more than just a can of Barq's.  Heavy with vanilla up front, it's very sweet, spicy, and root-y, with an alcoholic kick on the back end.  For what it is, it's kind of interesting, and people who don't like 'normal' beer sure seem to like it (it was one of the best selling beers in the country in '15).  For me, though, it's not a beer, just a beer alternative.

You can find it almost everywhere now, either in 5.9% or 10.7% ABV versions.  It's also got sister brews, like Not Your Father's Ginger Beer, floating around.  If you don't mind something sweet, either are probably worth a try, if just for the fun of it.  Don't know if I'll be going back, though.


Happy Friday!  Go Buffs, beat Washington!

Thursday, December 1, 2016

2016 CU vs Washington Football Teaser -- The Pac-12 Championship

When the season schedule was first released, confirming that Colorado wouldn't have to play the Washington Huskies in the regular season, I breathed a sigh of relief.  UW was going to be a good team this year, now in their third season under head coach Chris Petersen, and it seemed like one fewer hurdle to clear in the pursuit of a bowl bid.  As the season progressed, skipping the Dawgs appeared to be even more of a blessing, as they started ripping through teams on a weekly basis. By Week 5 they were in the top-5 nationally, and have been in constant pursuit of a berth in the CFP ever since.  'Good for them,' I thought, 'at least CU won't have to face them... unless the Buffs make the Pac-12 Championship Game, which would never happen.'

Well, miracles doth occurred, and here we are.  Ducking the best all-around team in the league is no longer a possibility, and Colorado has to put their new-found reputation on the line in a showdown. Win, and at least they're slated for the Rose Bowl.  Lose, and they could end up being forced into a trip to Texas.  *shudders*  Better just win, baby.

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Hype Music for the Week: "The Imperial March" by Epica

The Buffs are in the all-whites this week?  Ah, the storm trooper look.  With Colorado getting all Imperial, where else to go by John Williams' classic musical rendition of evil? I prefer Epica's version, as it confirms that double bass improves anything.  The Dutch symphonic metal band does the piece justice, and revels in the brassy outro.  Enjoy!

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Kickoff from Levi's Stadium in Santa Clara is set for 7pm MT.  Those making the trip will be pleased to know that the forecast is calling for clear skies and mild temps, though the thermometer is going to dip severely after sundown.  Those not making the journey out west can catch the action on FOX's national broadcast, or with the radio call on 850 KOA.

Click below for the teaser...


Wednesday, November 30, 2016

2016-17 CU vs Colorado State Basketball Teaser

OK, so how do I, the guy who likes to pretend the CSU football program doesn't exist (and I would challenge you to come up with evidence that it does in this post-truth world), manage to pivot around and embrace the CU/CSU rivalry on the basketball court?  Simple, with the basic understanding that someone has to fill these non-conference dates.

See, real estate on a football non-conference schedule is limited and dear. It's even to the point now that games are scheduled decades in advance. You can't go spending such a precious resource on detritus that isn't carrying its weight -- charity has no place in football, after all.  It's just not in Colorado's interest to perpetuate the series, so I turn my back on it.

The opposite is true in basketball, however.  With 13 dates to fill before Pac-12 play starts, it's imperative that Tad Boyle and the Buffs find a handful of opponents each year that will accomplish three things: put butts in the seats, provide the team with a requisite challenge that requires emotional investment, and help in the RPI calculation. Colorado State, normally, checks off all three boxes. Therefore: bring them on... and the horde of slack-jaws that follow them, if you must.  It sure beats playing some RPI 300+ minnow.

--

There was a time, not too long ago, that the CSU Rams played some of the best basketball in the region.  Between Tim Miles' last two teams and the burgeoning start of the Larry Eustachy era, the program up north racked up 108 wins in five seasons, legitimately pushing CU for status as the elite program in the Centennial State.  They appear now, however, to have arrived at a precipice.  2015-16 was not kind to those from Ft Collins, with the Rams barely squeaking out an above-.500 record while finishing 7th in Mountain West play.  That makes it two years in three that little brother has struggled, with 2013-14's train-wreck 16-16 season preceding their paper-tiger 2014-15 campaign (when they went 27-7 against a garbage schedule).  With that in mind, I feel State entered this year with some pressure at their backs -- win now, or the mojo may fade away completely.
If Eustachy drags out that orange top of his this evening, I may vomit.  From: The Coloradoan 
So far, so... meh? Yes, they come to Boulder with a 5-1 record, but they have yet to beat a single team worth a damn, with their best win coming over... I guess New Mexico State?  Their one result against an opponent with a pulse -- a 56-49 loss at Stanford -- certainly isn't anything to write home about, either.  A gritty, close affair, it was one of the most unwatchable games I've tried to sit through in the past few years.  The basketball on display from both teams, chaotic, without any sense of rhythm or purpose, made me wonder just what the two coaching staffs were doing in the lead-up.  I half expected billy clubs to come out at one point, and the teams just end it all by whaling on each other. That game sure showed that a Eustachy team will still play you tough (which we already knew), but it didn't show much else, at least in terms of ability.

Part of my dismissal of their early play comes from the construction of their roster. They were supposed to be led this year by Gian Clavell, a dynamic 6-4 guard who was granted an extra season for a medical hardship.  The return of the team's 'heartbeat' was, in theory, going to help cover up the loss of lightning-quick point John Gillon, who transferred to Syracuse.  The theory, however, dissolved just before the start of the season as Clavell was arrested for the second time in 16 months on charges of false imprisonment with domestic violence.  He was suspended immediately, and doesn't appear to be coming back anytime soon; as well he should not. Without Clavell, the Rams are built around JuCo transfers, fresh faces, and a hodgepodge of other bits, and it doesn't look all that promising.
Gillon is gone, along with much of the backcourt spark that made the Rams dangerous a year ago.  From: Syracuse.com
Not to say there isn't any talent left, though.  Indeed, there are some good pieces in place in FoCo that could really push CU this evening.  Heading that list is their lone returning starter, 6-8 power forward Emmanuel Omogbo. A rebounding powerhouse, Emmanuel has a relentless motor to go along with his 14/12 averages. He's grabbing nearly 30% of all defensive rebounding opportunities in the early going, and will be the sternest challenge yet to the still developing Colorado front line.  In fact, if Tory Miller, who missed the Wofford game with a rolled ankle suffered in the final minutes against Texas, is still out, the Buffs could struggle to match Omogbo at all.

Elsewhere, keep an eye out for guards JD Paige and Prentiss Nixon.  The pair of sophomores form a pretty decent backcourt duo, and also hold the distinction of actually having started their collegiate careers in Ft Collins, rather than somewhere else (12 of the 15 players on the roster transferred in at some point).  Maybe not capable of the shooting prowess CSU displayed, at times, a year ago, but certainly capable of hurting a team playing soft on the perimeter.  Paige is the primary distributor, and already has 25 assists this season.  Nixon, as he showed last season, can be a great shooter, but has been struggling so far, and hasn't hit a three in a week.  Omogbo going off would be painful enough, but if Nixon starts hitting from deep, this could be a very uncomfortable evening.
Omogbo is dangerous inside.  From: the Coloradoan
Rounding out the cast of characters in the starting lineup are serviceable wing Devocio Butler and versatile big man Braden Koelliker.  Butler has good size (6-5, 205 lbs), and has shown to be a solid defender, early on. He probably needs more time in D-I ball, though, coming in from the JuCo ranks. Koelliker is the kind of player you expect to find on a Eustachy roster -- feisty and capable of frustrating.

Ultimately, I see the Rams as a competitive team that's still a few pieces short of being a complete threat. Oh, sure, they'll rebound and fight you on defense. Centered around Emmanuel's abilities in the paint, CSU is, once again, one of the best rebounding teams in the country, and I'd be lying if I said I wasn't nervous about what they could do on the glass this evening. You'll also sweat out anything offensively, as they're holding opponents to 40.8% eFG through the opening weeks.  But, without the scoring punch of Clavell, they're missing that certain something, the something they'd need to come into Boulder and beat Colorado on their own floor.

At least, that's what I keep telling myself.  So far, I've been making a lot of excuses for the Buffs. Citing middling competition, and latching onto sporadic bright spots, I've excused indifferent performances against teams they should be blowing past.  On the verge of this rivalry tilt, however, I'm suddenly nervous that the merely sufficient play we've see so far won't be enough against an opponent desperate to make a name for themselves. Remember what happened against the Rams two years ago, when the Buffs lost a bad game ugly, then went on to spiral out of control for the next two months?  The Buffs better bring their best to bear this evening, or we could be in for a rough fortnight of basketball, and possibly much worse.  Losing to the Rams, ahead of the trip to Portland and the Xavier/BYU do-si-do, could be inviting non-conference disaster.

That fearful dive into morosity aside, I'll still land on the optimistic side of the spectrum, and predict a win.  It won't be easy, though.  Into the under-eight timeout of the second half, this will be a brutal game.  Physical, cut-throat, and ugly.  CSU may even have the lead at that point.  When push comes to shove, though, I expect the four redshirt seniors - Gordon, Johnson, Fortune, and White - to make winning plays with the game in the balance.  It'll be enough to get the Buffs the win, if barely, setting them up for a big trip to Portland.  As always, a win is a win, and I'll take what I can get.

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Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 7pm this evening. For everything we say about the Rams, this fixture is always one of the premiere dates on the non-conference calendar; this year should be no different. You want to be in the arena for this one, you know you do.

Those still intent on denying their innermost desires can catch the game on Pac-12 Mountain, or with the radio call on 760 AM.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT LITTLE BROTHER!