Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: Ducked in Eugene

The shortened holiday week has me scrambling, so straight to the action this afternoon. Today in the bag, I'm talking the blowout in Oregon, the situation with Bryce Peters, and how the rest of the Pac-12 is shaping up as they head into the home stretch.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, February 18, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Oregon Basketball Preview #2

Ugly, messy, fought with unnecessary difficulty.  These are the ideas that spring to my mind when considering Colorado's 60-52 win over Oregon State on Thursday.  Similar to the first meeting in Boulder, the Beavers were allowed to stick with the Buffs, who possessed far more talent and depth than OSU could possibly bring to bear, for far too long.  However, in the final minutes of regulation, with the Beavs sniffing out the possibility of their first Pac-12 win of the season, CU slammed the door on their over-sized tails.  Clinging to a one point lead, Derrick White knifed into the action, and nailed a jumper.  On the ensuing possession, he then extended for a miraculous block of Beaver forward Gligorije Rakocevic, which turned into a crippling blow when Xavier Johnson swished a corner three with some 30 seconds to play.  Boom, just like that, a six point lead materialized on the scoreboard, and the game was effectively over.  Thanks for coming, don't forget to tip your waitress.

That's what makes this effort against lowly Oregon State so befuddling.  There's no reason Colorado should've let the hosts hang on, even going so far as to let them pull even with under two minutes to play.  But the finishing touches shown by the Buffs in sealing the win were, none-the-less, impressive. CU was hungry for victory in this one; you could see it even as OSU was sticking close. The defense was tenacious, and the late-game offense was exquisite.  This was the killer mentality that the team was missing earlier in the year, the desperate energy that so often separates the winners from the losers with post-season positioning on the line.  It's a mentality that has been with the team since the Oregon game a few weeks ago, and one that could serve them well as the calendar starts to look a whole lot like March.
Beavs made it ugly, but the Buffs prevailed.  From: the Press-Democrat
The star of the game is easy to pick out here.  As much for his late-game heroics as his 20/1/4/2/3 overall line, Derrick White stands above the rest.  Far from an isolated incident, either.  The fifth-year senior transfer has earned KenPom's game-MVP honors in five of the last six evenings, a run that includes some of the best basketball he's played all year.  The mercurial point guard is really coming into his own at the perfect time, carrying the Buffs and their fortunes on his shoulders as they race down the back-nine of their Pac-12 schedule.  Let's not forget, though, the 17/4 efforts of Xavier Johnson.  He hit the game sealing bucket, after all, and was aggressive in finding scoring opportunities all night long.

Overall, this was a rough night for Colorado, at least offensively.  The Beavers almost completely disrupted the offensive rhythm that the Buffs had shown against Washington State last weekend, eliminating backcuts and interior penetration, while holding Colorado to just 42% shooting from the field.  The big issue here was in the paint, where OSU clogged things up enough to limit the Buffs to just 28 points under the rim after they had claimed 44 against the Cougars.  For as difficult as CU found it to score, however, they made up for it on the defensive end.  While State was able to play them to near-parity on the glass (33-31), Colorado held the hosts to 38% shooting from the floor, 30% from deep, and squelched them in the paint to the tune of just 18 total points.  CU was showing extremely hard on screens and giving OSU's point guards fits.  The team as a whole managed just seven assists all night and committed 18 turnovers.  Whereas the Beavers had shook off the CU defense in Boulder, the Buffs were able to hold them to just 0.83 ppp in Corvallis -- a night and day turnaround.
Colorado found a way.  From: FOX Sports
So, as always, a win is a win, and this one pushed Colorado's winning blitz to six in seven games.  It's impossible, at this point, to not look back to early January and wonder about 'what if?' All those close losses, all those calamitous final possessions and fumbled leads that helped fuel the 0-7 start to league play are now unavoidable thorns in the side of the team and their flagging Tournament resume.  As friend of the blog Ted Chalfen pointed out after the game, CU is, in essence, eight points shy of sitting here today at 20-7 (10-4).  When I say 'a win is a win', this is exactly what I mean.  In all of the early season defeats to Arizona State, USC, Washington, and Washington State, the execution on the court wasn't anywhere close to where the Buffs' ceiling was. But, a couple of possessions here or there turn those results into wins, and, as ugly as those games were, all sins would've been forgiven, and Tournament tickets punched.  Instead, we're where we are now, with BuffNation making plans for the NIT.  This is a zero-sum game, basketball, and the win's the thing. Colorado has, of late, found their cut-throat nature, pouncing for wins with the result in the balance. Had they just been at that point five weeks ago, the season is completely different.

Alas, we've yet to find that 'reset button' on the great game of life, so BuffNation must soldier on. The Oregon Ducks are up next, and they're looking for a bit of revenge.  Time to see just how far this CU team has come in their advance back up the ranks in the Pac-12.

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Hype Music for the Evening: "I Love LA" by Randy Newman

Doesn't make much sense, right?  CU is playing Oregon today, why am I picking a song about Los Angeles?  Well, that's because I'm actually in LA right now, in town for a family vacation.  So, you get stuck with this diddy by the great Randy Newman.  Enjoy!

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Tip-off from Matthew Knight Arena in Eugene is set for 1pm MT on Saturday.  Televised coverage can be found on FOX national, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview from the first game against UO this season can be found here.

Click below for the preview...

Thursday, February 16, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Oregon State Basketball Preview #2

While Colorado has largely righted their ship over the past three weeks, wining five of the last six they've played, Oregon State has continued to exist in a rut.  They still haven't won a conference game, and, I would argue, this visit from the Buffs is their last opportunity to snag one before the entire year passes them by.  I would be hard-pressed to bet on them against Utah or Oregon, even at home, or at either of the Bay Area schools next week, after all.  So, expect the hosts to come out with their best punch as they hope to forestall the ignominy of a winless campaign.

What's more, CU has usually struggled in their trips to Corvallis, coming in just 1-3 at Gill Coliseum since the Buffs joined the Pac-12 (6-1 against the Beavs everywhere else).  That one win was far from easy, too -- it took a 'perfect' night from Spencer Dinwiddie to steal away with the victory that day. So, while the team has been playing better as of late, this is not the kind of visit they can take for granted.  Expect some ugly weirdness as this one develops... yeah, but what else is new?

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Hype Music for the Evening: State Anthem of the Soviet Union by Alexander Alexandrov (as performed in Rocky IV)

Russia back, y'all.  Since the great Bear, and its possible infiltration of our executive branch, seems to be dominating the conversation these days, what better way to celebrate than with the old Soviet National Anthem?  Putting aside politics, talk of totalitarian regimes, and bitter Cold War history, this is one hell of a tune.  Perfect for villains and heroes, alike.  Indeed, let them sing. Anyways, enjoy!

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Tip-off from Gill Coliseum in Corvallis is set for 7pm MT on Thursday.  Televised coverage can be found on Pac-12 Network, with the radio call on 760AM.

For reference, my preview from the first game against OSU this season can be found here.

Click below for the preview...


Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: Riding that #TadBall wave

So, given the current run of positive play emanating from the Colorado Men's Basketball Program, can we reasonably begin to plot extraordinary paths for the team, once lost adrift a sea of losing, to somehow chart their way into the NCAA Tournament?

Simply, no.

I don't mean to undercut the happier vibes of late, but the possibility seems to be popping up every now and then among BuffNation, and I feel it needs to be addressed.  Currently, the Buffs boast a RPI ranking in the low 100s -- depending on where you look, it's usually 107th in the country.  That is a terrible place to be entering middle February, essentially disqualifying in its own right.  Add to it the fact that CU currently has more losses to RPI 100+ teams than they have wins over teams ranked in the top-50, and the peril becomes quite clear.  Colorado simply doesn't have a Tournament-worthy resume, and they're not even particularly close.

'Well,' you might ask, 'what if CU wins out in the regular season, would they have a chance then?' Again, the answer is no. While it is true that they would then boast four wins against the top-50, including two over current top-10 RPI ranked Oregon, the overall picture only brightens slightly. According to RPI Forecast, a 20-11 record would only boost Colorado up into the high 60s.  With the rest of the resume the way it is, with three ugly losses still on the docket, a high-60s RPI wouldn't be enough.  Further wins in the Pac-12 Tournament could help here, especially with a favorable draw, but, by that time, you're asking to hit a point on far too many successive rolls of the dice to make any statistical sense.

Really, the only shot the Buffs have at landing a golden ticket into the field of 68 is a mad-dash sprint in Las Vegas, akin to the magic they pulled off in 2012.  If you want to take those long-shot odds, at least you'll be in the appropriate venue to do so.

Sorry, but the best-case scenario at this point is continued winning, a nice seed in the NIT, and a run for NYC.  After the ups and the downs of the past few months, though, would that be all that bad of a future?

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Today in the bag, I'm talking the win over WSU, the fuel behind the revivification taking place in the CEC, and how the rest of the Pac-12 fared this weekend.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, February 11, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Washington State Basketball Preview #2

The pregame notes tolled like the mourners' bells ahead of a funeral procession.  Xavier Johnson: out. Wes Gordon: out. Deleon Brown: out.  Bryce Peters: possibly out (though he would eventually suit up).  Over from the Washington locker room, in addition to the continuing absence of Malik Dime (who still found a way to participate), came the most damning bit of news.  Markelle Fultz: out. Before the ball had even been tipped, the two teams were down five key rotational figures and a whole hell of a lot of talent.

For Colorado, they were still trying to play past whatever off-court lunacy the fifth-year seniors had gotten themselves involved in.  While I had previously likened that effort to going into a fight with an arm tied behind your back, for UW to be without the services of the super-freshman Fultz, who sat with a sore knee, it was like entering a fight with an arm tied behind their back, a leg lopped off, and a viscous stab wound already in the gut. They simply did not have the capability, with Markelle out, to seriously challenge even the short-handed version of the Colorado Buffaloes that took the court.  In the end, the Buffs were able to leverage that talent gap, along with good ball movement and balanced play, into a blowout performance.  81-66, CU; now four wins in five games.
Fultz's absence changed the game before it even started.  From: Seattle Times
With all those talents resting on the bench, the resulting discordance in effort was as to be expected. The first half was awash with errors; chaotic play was the rule. There was a stretch at one point that featured four turnovers in 10 seconds, the rock flying back and forth like a ping-pong ball.  You know how in older versions of the 2k series of basketball games you could set the computer to play itself? An interesting simulation, sure, but the visual product was always fraught with janky movement and clipping issues to no end.  That's what it looked like I was watching early Thursday night -- glitchy, poorly-rendered basketball.

Lucky, then, that Washington clearly posed little threat.  What was true of UW with Fultz (they can't play defense) was still true without him, only now they couldn't score.  The Buffs put up 1.25 points per possession, shot 51% from the floor, and produced 48 points in the paint, even with only Tory Miller acting as a classic post presence.  Defensively, Colorado held their opponent to around 43% shooting, forced more turnovers (14) than they allowed assists (10), and stilted UW into long, listless possessions.  The second half was a white-wash. CU would only out-play their opponent by four points in the frame, but they never looked troubled.  Over the final 20 minutes, the Buffs committed just two turnovers, and got essentially whatever shot they wanted. The Huskies simply couldn't do anything that resembled what I would call 'competent basketball,' yet another reminder that, while they have a decent set of talent on the roster, it's a rotten product from the Apple State.
King had a monster game against the Huskies.  From: @CUBuffsMBB
The best individual performances on the night came from Derrick White and George King.  White went for 16/4/3 against zero turnovers, and chipped in this coast-to-coast drive into a dunk that made the Huskies look like runty pups.  King had one of his best single games of his collegiate career, going for 21/12, and playing active defense.  Past them, however, what most caught my eye was the play of two freshmen - Lucas Siewert and Bryce Peters.  With Johnson and Gordon out, they've been getting a number of extra minutes (Siewert, in fact, got 30 against UW).  They took advantage in this one, giving BuffNation a glimpse of seasons-yet-to-come by combining for 22/8/6.  Lucas was looking comfortable in the offense, really for the first time, firing off his jumper, understanding space and positioning, and taking advantage of what was available.  Bryce was similarly incredible, dishing out six assists, and repeatedly playing above the rim.  If Colorado continues to get these kinds of efforts from the pair of frosh, they'll be in great hands next winter.

Moving past the UW game, the Buffs look to continue their roll of late, seeking their fifth win in six games when the Washington State Cougars come to town on Sunday.  It's another good pickup opportunity for the Buffs, who are still behind the eight-ball when it comes to post-season positioning.  If dreams of the NIT are still alive, it's a game the Buffs had better win.

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Hype Music for the Evening: "Mrs Robinson" by Simon & Garfunkel

A little on the nose for the Cougars, don't you think?  The classic folk song from the masters of the art, Simon & Garfunkel, was prominently featured in The Graduate.  Yes, Mrs Robinson is trying to seduce you. Enjoy!

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Tip-off from the CEC is set for 6:30p MT on Sunday.  Televised coverage can be found on ESPNU, with the radio call on 850 KOA.

For reference, my preview from the first game against WSU this season can be found here.

Click below for the preview...


Thursday, February 9, 2017

2016-17 CU vs Washington Basketball Preview #2

The first re-match of the season!  I have always loved this aspect of conference play, where you get to see the same team for a second time.  What did you learn from the first meeting?  Who has improved since?  How have the narratives changed?  How big of an advantage is home court, really?  The second time around is always more intriguing than the first.  Can't wait!

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Hype Music for the Evening: "Papa Was a Rollin' Stone" by the Temptations

The last great hit from soul titans The Temptations, 'Papa' is an indulgent instrumental excursion interspersed by three lyrcial verses.  The groove is outstanding, the story emotionally powerful, and the composition of the disparate pieces is unparalleled.  Simply incredible.  Enjoy!

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Tip-off from the Coors Events Center is set for 8pm Thursday evening.  Coverage for those unable to make it up to Boulder can be found on FS1.  The radio call is schedule for AM760.

For reference, my preview from the first game against UW this season can be found here.

Click below for the bag...


Tuesday, February 7, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: Buffs Lose To Bears With One Arm Tied Behind Their Back

So, let's talk about Xavier Johnson and Wes Gordon.  Riding a three game winning streak into Sunday's matinee performance against Cal, Colorado found themselves stuck without the services of either fifth-year senior forward.  The reason?  Both were suspended at least one game for a violation of team rules. The substance behind their suspension is still unknown at this time; all Coach Boyle said after the game was:
"It was one of those situations where two really really good kids made a bad decision so we had to address it. We're going to handle it and we're going to move on from it. That's really all I have to say is they did something they shouldn't have done and we're handling it. Two terrific young men and they'll be back."    - link
That the two veterans would do something dumb enough to earn themselves a suspension is disappointing, both in terms of the example they set for their younger teammates and the bind their absence put the team in against the forecourt-forward Golden Bears (more on that later).  What I want to talk about now, though, has to do with this picture, and the response to it across BuffNation:
From: @Pride_Tradition
That's a pretty bad look from the pair, and it wasn't the only time the cameras caught them looking mirthful despite their situation.  In the midst of a game where your teammates are getting blown apart, in no small part because you aren't available to play, images of smiling jocularity certainly aren't going to play well to the fanbase.  Branding failure.  

That said, XJ and Wes aren't professionals, and they aren't a brand.  They're kids, friends, and, especially in XJ's case, emotionally exuberant to a fault.  What, were you expecting them to be off in the corner, looking morose and self-flagellating every time the camera panned over? They're in their early 20s -- they're going to crack jokes in down time, even in the midst of discipline.   That's just human nature.

Yes, the pair certainly deserve a chunk of the blame for Colorado's 11th loss on the year; the old "DNP -- Coach's Decision" is, and will ever be, ugly.  However, anyone running around using phrases like 'kick them off the team' or 'sit them the rest of the year' for a few laughs on the sideline, not the act they actually performed to earn the discipline, is an idiot. Those two knuckleheads cracking up on the sideline is far from the worst of this team's problems, after all.

Coach Boyle will talk to them.  This will be the bug in their ear for every extra wind sprint thrown their way till the end of the season.  And they'll 'deserve it,' too,  That's part of coaching, and of growing up, generally.  But a smile, a laugh, is not a crime, and we fans should not treat it like one.

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Today in the bag, I've got just two topics for y'all, since I didn't watch any football over the weekend. I'm talking the loss to Cal, and how the rest of the Pac-12 fared in Week 6 of conference play.

Click below for the bag...