Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: RIP, Rowdy

Yesterday, the Athletic Department confirmed the passing of CU's beloved Ralphie IV.  Mascot, revered icon, noble beast; "Rowdy" (her given name) was the embodiment of the Colorado spirit over her 10-year career, having led the football team onto the field in more than 75 contests. She was there when the 2001 team won the Big XII title, there when the 2006 team went to Georgia, and there when the 2007 team stunned #3 Oklahoma.  Overall, she appeared in six bowl games and four Big XII championships.
We'll miss you, Rowdy.  From: 9 News
Big, powerful, rumbling, her running style was distinctly different from the sprinting act of her successor, Ralphie V ("Blackout").  Indeed, it befit the older era of plodding three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football that she starred in.  She was the buffalo I played for at CU, and, despite the near-decade that has passed since her retirement in 2008, the one I still think of when I imagine 'Ralphie.'

Having lived a long life for a bison, nearly 20 years, Rowdy's death does not come as a surprise, but it is nonetheless a sad moment.  RIP, Rowdy.  Enjoy running with the great herd in the sky.

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Today in an abbreviated bag, I'm talking the season-ender in Orlando, and the Colorado Women with their own NIT push.

Click below for the bag...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 NIT: CU vs UCF Basketball Teaser -- Password is Tacko

It's been a while since Colorado was last in the NIT.  Some six years and (for yours truly) 950-ish posts ago, the Buffs of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins played Alabama in Madison Square Garden as part of the 2011 NIT semifinals. That day was bitterly painful for the small cabal of CU fans who, even back then, cared deeply about this program.  In a flash of a baseline drive from 'Bama's Trevor Releford and a missed jumper from the aforementioned Burks, about 19 seconds in total, an improbable season was over, and the Buffs were resigned to a 62-61 defeat.
The last vision of Colorado in the NIT was a painful one.  From: the AP
You have to remember that I didn't know the run of success that lay ahead, and that it would all get much better over the next five years, but I was broken-hearted that afternoon.  That team was, to that point, the closest I had ever seen Colorado Basketball get to being a 'winner,' and to have it all peter out, first with a NCAA snub, then with a last-second defeat in the NIT, seemed like an affirmation that Colorado hoops would always be an also-ran.  How wrong I was.

If some of you, especially those who may have been too young to remember 'the before times,' are missing an answer to why this tournament is still important, just look back to that season.  Even though Colorado missed out on the Dance, even though they didn't win in New York City, just getting there was a momentous step in the modern history of this program.  It was the launching pad for the 2012 rocket blasting into a league championship and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  It was the true birth of the swagger and the pride of Colorado Basketball.  That NIT run meant something to those of us who got to latch on and experience it first hand -- to look past the opportunity the NIT can be is to look past all the joy of the last five years.
The 2011 NIT means a lot for this program. From: the BDC
With that said, I'd be hard pressed not to acknowledge the differences between 2011 and 2017.  First, that 2011 group was loaded with hungry talent, not to mention three players who would go on to see the NBA.  They got to play three games in that tournament at home, and deserved each and every one of them.  While I cannot say yet with certainty how many currently in uniform will wind up at the next level, the '11 team was a more capable squad from top-to-bottom; they were a special, special offensive club.  Additionally, everyone that year, from fans on to the team, saw making the NIT as an accomplishment and a chance to shine, even with the disappointment of the Committee leaving them off the board.  That is, decidedly, not the case this spring.  You have to care about being in the NIT to succeed.  That 2011 team certainly did.  This year's squad?  I have my doubts.

But, enough jabber, on to the crux of the matter: UCF.  The fourth place finishers in the AAC this year, the Knights were winners of 21 games and are unquestionably a solid, tough basketball team. Looking at their resume, I don't see a whole lot of hiccups (though the home loss to Penn isn't anything to brag about).  Their problem this season was an overall soft schedule (even with a date against Villanova, the Knights were 329th in non-conference scheduling) and missed opportunities in league play.  Really, outside of home wins over Cincinnati and Houston, they swung and missed against every big team they played.  Indeed, should they beat CU this afternoon, it'd make for their third-best win of the season.
Coach Dawkins swapped coasts over the summer.  From: UCFKnights.com
The Knights are led by an old friend -- Johnny Dawkins.  You will probably remember Coach Dawkins from his days on the Stanford sideline, solemnly guiding the Cardinal to disappointing result after disappointing result.  Really, he's at home in the environment of the NIT, as accustomed to the secondary bracket as a chicken in a coop.  His Trees made the NIT four times in eight seasons, as compared to just one Tournament appearance, winning the damn thing twice.  Coach Boyle, however, knows a trick or two about how to go about beating Dawkins' teams.  After losing to the Cardinal twice in 2012, he never fell under Johnny's heel again, winning the last five meetings before Dawkins was fired a year ago. Though the personnel at his disposal is decidedly different from when he was on the Left Coast, I'm sure Coach Dawkins was far from pleased to see the name 'Colorado' turn over next to his on Selection Sunday.

Johnny has an interesting roster to work with in Orlando, though.  The obvious standout, mostly because he literally stands out above the crowd, is sophomore center Tacko Fall.  The 7-6 (that's not a miss-print), 290 lbs Senegalese baller is as unique a challenge as you'll find in the game today.  In the mold of Sim Bhullar and Mamadou N'Diaye of recent fame, he towers over the paint, almost blocking out the rim from the sight of would-be attackers.  It's no wonder, then, that the Knights are #1 in the country in two-point shot percentage defense, allowing under 40% inside the arc.  What was once a good shot, anything near the rim, becomes a dicey proposition with Fall, the AAC's Defensive Player of the Year, lurking to block or otherwise affect even the closest of looks.  Opponents are even under 50% at the rim itself.  Colorado will need to find an answer to this conundrum -- moving the ball, getting out in transition, and hitting outside jumpers.
Dude's tall, what else can I say?  From: the AP
Past just deterring shots, however, Fall also excels offensively.  He's in the top-three nationally in eFG%, and top-five in offensive rebound rate.  Overall, he shoots 72% from the field, and I honestly have no idea how you go about guarding him.  You can't really front him, he's just too tall.  You can try to keep him from grabbing position down low, but he has arms for days and can close space to the rim in an instant just by reaching out.  Wes Gordon will have his hands full.  To that end, the Buffs have been getting creative, handing redshirting freshman Dallas Walson padded sticks in practice to simulate the reach of Fall.  Other teams have tried similar things in the past, with, most notably, the Silver Swords of Chaminade sticking a manager on a folding chair in practices leading up to their famous tussle with Virginia and 7-4 Ralph Sampson in 1982.  When playing someone as abnormal as a 7-6 center, your thinking has to be just as abnormal. Luckily, Tacko isn't on the court all the time, averaging just 26 minutes per, but when he is, CU will have to look outside the box; literally and figuratively.

Fall, however, isn't the only dangerous piece on the Knights. Guards BJ Taylor and Matt Williams combine for 32 points per game, and can be deadly.  The senior Williams, especially, rarely leaves the court, and is an outstanding shooter.  He took 292 three-point attempts this season, canning 38% of them. Colorado needs to run him off the line and keep him from getting hot.  Elsewhere, Tank Efianayi is an interesting veteran wing capable of playing inside-outside.  He combines well with AJ Davis and Nick Banyard up front.
Williams is an electric outside threat.  From: the Orlando Sentinel 
Overall, a solid team.  They can be elite defensively, especially as teams wrestle with their helping of Tacko in the paint.  I wouldn't be surprised if Colorado struggles offensively, unless they start nailing outside shots.  Defensively, however, I think the Buffs can find some room for success.  UCF is far from a strong offensive club, and can really get shut down by anyone that is willing to put in the work.  That's where the buy-in from CU comes in.  If they have bought into the purpose of this tournament, they should be alright and eventually find themselves in a position to steal the win in Orlando.  If not, however, the proceedings could get very ugly.  My guess is that, with four seniors and none of the post-season distractions of two years ago, a focused bunch of Buffaloes will show up. With that in mind, and with a healthy dose of heart behind my pick, I'll take Colorado to advance in an ugly one.

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Tip-off from CFE Arena in Orlando, FL is set for 5pm MT Wednesday.  Coverage can be found via internet stream on ESPN3 (aka: WatchESPN), with the radio call... unknown at this time.  Is Mark Johnson still available, or did he bail on this season?  Anyway, stick with the stream, it may be your only shot at following this one.


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

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: Season ain't over, yet!

Back from Vegas, and somehow I lost two hours in my day. Wait, what time is it again? ... Without further adieu, straight to the action.

Today in the bag, I'm talking the Pac-12 final in Las Vegas (along with my All-Tournament team), the Buffs in the NIT, and women's lacrosse.

Click below for the bag...


Saturday, March 11, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 4

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 11th --

The final is set here in Las Vegas, and it's the rematch we've been waiting for -- Oregon/Arizona. These two have proven a clear separation between themselves and the rest of the conference over three months of play, now it's time to finally decide who will get to claim supremacy in the Conference of Champions.

Oregon earned their spot in the final thanks to a grueling, industrial effort over Cal.  The Golden Bears weren't really supposed to be in this spot, and, with star guard Jabari Bird out early in the action with a possible concussion, looked to be at long odds to survive 40 minutes with the vaunted Ducks.  But they battled ferociously all night, even cutting the lead to two points with 45 seconds to play.  UO would not be denied, however, with Dylan Ennis throwing the team on his back to secure the winning points.  In the end, the 73-65 scoreline belies how close Oregon really was to coughing this one up.

The second half here was a weird one.  The Ducks were robbed of the services of star point forward Dillon Brooks as he was called for his fourth foul as part of a bizarre stretch of five called on one Cal possession early in the frame.  That staccato burst of whistles knee-capped the game, sending it into a listless spiral of empty possessions as both teams looked to make sense of the new landscape on the court.  Play would eventually recover, as Ennis and Tyler Dorsey began to pick up the slack in Brooks' absence.  Ennis, especially, seemed to fill the Brooksian role, barrelling into the lane to force the defense to react and open up shooters.  Dorsey was all too happy to oblige, and he started nail repeated attempts from the field.  In all, the young shooting guard would finish with 23 points on 13 attempts, with Ennis finding five assists.

Oregon needed everything those two could provide, as Grant Mullins couldn't miss.  The senior specialist for Cal was 5-5 from deep, and kept the Golden Bears in the game, despite their at times archaic offense.  It wasn't enough, though, to overcome sputtering play from Ivan Rabb and Charlie Moore, the inside-outside duo that had generally fueled whatever California got in the regular season. With those two struggling to inconsistent 9-23 shooting, there were simply too many empty possessions for the Bears against a quality opponent.

Those Ducks will face the Wildcats this evening after they spent 40 minutes suffocating the life out of UCLA.  The second half itself was a treatise on frustrative offense for the Bruins, with then repeatedly failing to find any traction against the Arizona 'D.'  I didn't think it could happen, at least not so easily, but they were completely shut down.  All credit to the 'Cats, then -- they earned their 86-75 victory.

The Bruins, considered by some to be the best offensive club in a generation, were abysmal from the field, shooting just 16% from behind the arc.  Arizona wasn't completely to blame, with the Bruins forcing some heedless takes and missing some open looks, but it's hard not to note that UCLA's best weapon - the three-point shot - was almost completely taken away by a team that prides itself on defense.  You could see the exasperation on the faces of the Bruins' shooters, especially Lonzo Ball and Bryce Alford.  That pair, usually so effusive, combined for just 13 points and 2-16 shooting from deep.  Ball was, himself, visibly shaken in the first half, focusing on a jammed finger and struggling with turnovers.  If Arizona can do that to Lonzo, in contention for the top pick in this summer's NBA Draft, then they should have high hopes in the coming Tournament.

For the 'Cats, probably their best takeaway from the evening was the play of Lauri Markkanen.  The big Finnish shooting star has finally seemed to break a weeks-long shooting slump here in Las Vegas, first against Colorado, then against the Bruins.  He got 29 Friday night on 22 shots, and seemed to be much more comfortable and aggressive with his shot than in previous weeks.  Parker Jackson-Cartwright, though, also deserves a lot of credit.  Every time the Bruins tried to drop into zone, his speed and ability to knife past the top-line kept UCLA's 3-2 from having any shot of taking effect.

All things considered, the pair of games could've been better (they certainly didn't live up to the legacy of last year's Pac-12 Final Four).  UCLA, for sure, could've played much better than they did to help the evening game reach expectations.  But the final is the one that makes the most sense for the league, and the one that should give us out truest champion.  Can't wait for tip!

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Best pep band of the day: Oregon

I'm going to give it to the Ducks over Arizona, though it was close.  Both of these bands made their competition across the stadium pale in comparison, playing good music loudly and with good energy. The Ducks, though, had I thought the far superior bass player, and I'm a sucker for someone who lays down the funk.

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Today's action:

- #2 Arizona vs #1 Oregon - 9pm MT - ESPN - 

The previous meeting between these two was, of course, a massive blowout in Eugene.  There was no return trip to McKale, however, meaning this pseudo-home game in a red-packed T-Mobile Arena will have to suffice for the Wildcats.

I really like the way Arizona has played this week.  They've been hitting their shots, playing great defense, and Sean Miller seems to have an excellent grasp of his rotation when to pull the trigger on situational changes.  Oregon, conversely, has seemed, at times, to be going through the motions against teams they should be blitzing.  Arizona, then, seems to have the rhythm advantage, but I have never liked the way they matchup against the Ducks.  Boucher and Bell have the length and athleticism to negate Markkanen, and I'll take Dillon Brooks over Alonzo Trier every day at this level. To that end, if Brooks can stay in the game, avoiding foul trouble, I expect Oregon to win.  If not, the wave of depth in the paint that Arizona can leverage should hold sway.  Keep an eye on that foul count.


GO DUCKS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND REPEAT!

Friday, March 10, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 3

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 10th --

There will be no dream run to the Dance, there will be no cinderella story for our Black and Gold heroes.  Despite the best efforts of Derrick White and Xavier Johnson, the Buffaloes just didn't have enough talent at their disposal in their quarterfinal matchup against Arizona, coming up 14 points short, 92-78.

That's not to say that CU was well out of this one from the tip.  After trading some early blows, then starting to slip behind, the Buffs fought back right before halftime, fueled by the devil-may-care attacking tenacity of White.  They would even, briefly, take a lead before Arizona stole back the one-point advantage at the break.  The problem here was two-fold: reserve forward Tory Miller was in deep foul trouble, already saddled with three personals in seven minutes of play, and Arizona was creating havoc off the dribble-drive.  Colorado was in the game, but another half of play was a daunting proposition.

Indeed, into the final frame, the UofA's execution on the offensive side began to show.  With precious few resources in the paint to slow them, forwards Lauri Markkanen and Dusan Ristic started to go off, while their guards were busy knifing into the heart of Colorado's defense to create open looks. CU would allow 64% shooting from the field and 54 total points in the second half -- the relative equivalent of a bloodbath.

Still, staring back into the face of this hellish math, White and Johnson would not go quietly into the night.  Derrick, especially, was on fire, slipping past would-be defenders and letting it fly.  He would tally an awe-inspiring total of 31 points against a good defensive team determined to stop him, humbling just as many combined recruiting stars in the process.  If there were any lingering doubts that he belonged at this level, they were erased here in Las Vegas.  Xavier Johnson was similarly into the action, flying around on both ends.  He would chip in 20/7 against a series of tall trees in the paint.

The problem was, those two seniors got relatively little support from the rest of the roster.  Past them, only one other Buff finished with multiple made baskets, George King, and it was a constant struggle to find the right defensive combination with players like Miller and Wes Gordon fighting foul trouble. Frontcourt depth was always going to be an issue for Colorado this season, and it reared its ugly head with semifinal dreams on the line.

So, with that, CU exits stage left into the post-season.  There is still some solid hope that a NIT bid might be forthcoming, but I doubt at this point that it will involve a home game.  Regardless, I feel that the Buffs, after their rocky start to the season, did themselves proud both down the stretch of conference play and here in the conference tournament.  They deserve another chance to run out of a tunnel, wherever it may be.  Hopefully, come Sunday evening, they will be afforded just such a chance.

In the day;s other action:

  • Oregon blew past Arizona State with little difficulty, 80-57.
  • Cal clipped the Utes to become the first lower seed in 24 tries to win in this tournament, 78-75.
  • UCLA survived a late push from the Trojans to advance, 76-74.
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Best pep band of the day: Utah

The Utes brought five tubas and no woodwinds with them to Las Vegas.  That is serious business, folks.  Overall, they're not a spectacular band, but they play clean and loud with a very basic style. They won't wow you, but, when compared to some of the other bands in town, Utah gets a lot of things right.


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Today's action:

- #5 Cal vs #1 Oregon - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Of this final grouping, Cal sticks out like a sore thumb.  They've done good work here, solidifying their Tournament status with yesterday's win over Utah, but they simply do not belong with teams like Oregon, Arizona, and UCLA.  As such, I would expect the Ducks to carve them up in prep for a grueling final battle with the survivor of the nightcap.  Might be a low-scoring affair, though.


- #3 UCLA vs #2 Arizona - 9:30pm MT - ESPN - 

Before the tournament started, I put my money on UCLA to win it all, figuring they had the best guards in town, and that such things matter this time of year.  This is where that bet comes to a head. They were able to stun the UofA in Tucson, ripping away their shot at a league title, but revenge is often a bitch.  With the crowd at their back, the Wildcats could very well overcome the best backcourt in the West. We'll just have to wait and see -- should be a good one with a boatload of points scored.


GO BRUINS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND KEEP WINNING!

Thursday, March 9, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 2

VEGAS, The Pac-12 Tournament, March 9th --

I will not be seeing the Hoover Dam, at least for one more year.  Thanks to a furious 2nd half comeback, the Colorado Buffaloes were able to forestall the ignominy of a 1st round exit, storming back to upend the Washington State Cougars 73-63.

The first half performance from our Black and Gold heroes was simply awful.  The Cougars were able to get whatever shot they wanted on offense, tickling the twine to the tune of 57% shooting from the field and 65% from downtown.  In all, they would make 17 baskets in that opening frame, assisting on 12 of them.  Colorado was getting carved up, to the point that it almost didn't matter that they themselves were struggling with the ball, knocking down under a third of all shots and just 2-11 from deep.  The Buffs were in a bad way headed into the break, relatively lucky to only be down 14 after WSU had raced out to a 19-point lead after only 13 minutes of action.

Then, CU found the safe harbor of halftime, and everything settled down. Seniors, like Derrick White, Xavier Johnson, and Josh Fortune seemed to say, 'to hell with this, we're going down swinging,' and started to take over.  White, especially, was on fire.  In just over five minutes, he dropped 13 points (along with a block and a steal), all but erasing the halftime deficit in dragging the Buffs to within two.  The Cougars were suddenly on the ropes, and, with two-thirds of the half still to play, were looking lost.  Derrick would finish with 26/5/5 against zero turnovers.

WSU would adjust, doubling White off the screen, and trying to deny him the attacking lanes he had abused early in the frame. That just meant it was time for XJ to step up.  He would add 12 second half points of his own, most of which came down the stretch, highlighted by this thunderous dunk off the break. What you'll also notice on that play: Josh Fortune making a beautiful pass in transition. He had a nice, solid performance on the afternoon, chipping in seven points, five turnovers, and two assists against just one turnover.  His last points, on a three-pointer with two minutes to go, put Colorado up by five, and finally seemed to put the Cougs away for good.  XJ's final line was 19/6.

I can't say enough about how decisive the turnaround was in the second half.  The seniors, as a group (Wes' performance was more off-the-board, but still provided 8/4/3/2/1), were outstanding, helping to pick the team up off the mat to rebound with postseason hopes on the line.  I'm still not 100% confident that Colorado will make the NIT, but they're certainly in a better position now with 19 wins then they would've been with another bad loss on their resume.

In the day's other action:

  • Arizona State needed overtime to slip past Stanford, 98-88.
  • Oregon State put up a valiant effort but ultimately fell to Cal, 67-62.
  • USC coasted against a Washington team without Markelle Fultz, 78-73.
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Best pep band of the day: Cal

I'm giving it to the Golden Bears because their tubas were HOT FIRE.  They grabbed my attention from the first note, and laid down the phat beatz on songs like 'Come on Eileen.'

The Cal band has long been an interesting phenomena for me to take in.  With a big bass drum and a glockenspiel, they have a very unique core to their sound.  Not one that I generally prefer, mind you, but one that clearly stands out against their peers... especially when rival Stanford is outsourcing their work to some high school band.  Where have you gone, Stanford Band?

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Today's action:

- #8 Arizona State vs #1 Oregon - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

The league champion Ducks hit the court this afternoon, and I cannot be more excited.  Such a fun team to watch play, they feature an exciting style both on and off the ball.  I expect them to quickly dispatch the Sun Devils, completely shutting down the ASU guards who cut up Stanford yesterday.


- #5 Cal vs #4 Utah - 3:30pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

Cal continues in this tournament, but does anyone really want to see them play?  The slow, negative Bears make for a tough watch, and playing the similarly pedestrian Utes will not help improve their style.  Utah's precision with the basketball will ultimately help them prevail in an ugly one.


- #7 Colorado vs #2 Arizona - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Network - 

The Buffs and Wildcats have met each other in four of the five previous Pac-12 Tournaments.  While the 'Cats have won the last three, rather decisively, Colorado can still claim the one meeting that really mattered -- the 2012 tournament final. The Buffs will need a lot of that '12 magic this afternoon because they will be up against it in T-Mobile.  I expect a thunderous herd of Arizona fans in attendance, largely filling up the cavernous area that lay mostly empty yesterday for the game with Washington State.

I think CU can play with Arizona, even given the antagonistic crowd.  I look for them to come out of the gate, and play well in the opening half.  Once in the final frame, however, I expect the 'Cats to take over, and the Buffs to slip behind.  Not without a game effort, though.


- #6 USC vs #3 UCLA - 9:30pm MT - ESPN - 

A rivalry game to close out the evening.  There's a lot of independent money flowing in on the Bruins in this tournament, to the point that I would call them the 'people's favorite.'  They boat-raced their rivals in the second half of their last meeting, but don't look for them to duplicate that feat today.  I look for UCLA to win, but struggle to put the Trojans away.  This one could come down to the wire. 



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

Wednesday, March 8, 2017

2017 Pac-12 Tournament Teaser: Day 1

From: Pac-12.com
After four years of a near-perfect championship product in Las Vegas, the Conference of Champions has gone and tweaked the recipe, moving the league's tournament from the classic MGM Grand Garden Arena across the street to the sparkling new T-Mobile Arena.  Whereas the Garden was intimate and close, T-Mobile appears to be like any other modern monstrosity, with multiple decks of seating, segregated palaces for the well-off, and a roomier feel overall.  I'm sure it's quite lovely and that everyone will marvel over such things as multiple exit points and seats that aren't collapsible. What I'm worried about, however, is something more intangible.

Over at the MGM, the league had the perfect setup.  Their fans, boosters, officials, bands, teams, and media could all stuff into the same facility, sleeping, partying, eating, and playing under the same roof.  If I didn't want to, I never had to leave the MGM property during tournament week, having all my needs attended to while staying within walking distance of where the action was taking place. That made it so that I felt a part of the action in a way that I hadn't in previous Pac-12 and Big XII tournaments -- as intimate and personal a feel as you can get.  While I'm sure the new arena is beautiful and well-equipped, it is, by definition, separate from any other hotel on the Strip.  As a result, no matter what the league does, the new venue won't be able to replace this beloved aspect of the old, and I fear the league will have scrapped what made the annual Pac-12 fest special for little relative gain.

That said, I still anticipate a wonderful week of hoops.  While the action won't really get going until Thursday, when the three heavies hit town, any time you attend a conference tournament, something weird is bound to happen.  Throw in some Vegas love, and a short ride to a craps table, and you'd be at a stretch to keep a frown on your face.

For Day 1, the best games are the first of each session.  With Washington and Oregon State being decidedly a step behind the rest of the league, I wouldn't expect much from either.  But, the 8/9 and 7/10 affairs could be electric.  Early season meetings between Stanford/Arizona State and Colorado /Washington State each produced high-scoring showcases, with the prospect of a repeat in the desert a tantalizing proposition. Usually, 1st days ca be a little staid, but, if either of these games gets going, it should be worth the cost of tuning in.

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Hype Music for the Week: "Party Hard" by Andrew W.K.

Making it through a tournament week in Vegas is not for the weak of spirit.  To fuel you through those long hours spent straining to see through the cigarette smoke at the craps table, get yourself a drop-shot and some Andrew W.K.  Enjoy!

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Today's Games:

- #9 Stanford vs #8 Arizona State - 1pm MT - Pac-12 Networks - STAN -3

This is, by far, the hardest to project of the four games today.  It's a matchup of a pair of losing teams with more success in conference play than they probably 'should've' enjoyed; both chaotic and unpredictable. Stanford, especially, escapes my ability to understand.  They have some good talent, especially on the wings and in the paint, but their guard play is scatter-shot at best.  Conversely, the Sun Devils have a strong backcourt, but relatively nothing up front (all apologies to Obinna Oleka) and a short bench.  It's a good example of two opponents with alternate strengths, the kind of thing that usually makes for a fun game.

The Cardinal actually lost both tilts this season to ASU; the first a high-scoring affair in Maples, the most-recent a more demure result in the desert.  Usually, I would be saying here that it's hard to beat a team three times, and that you should expect Stanford to claim the revenge game in LV, but that's not the case today.  This time of year, I generally defer to the better guard play, and State gets that checkmark here.  As such, give me the Sun Devils and the points.  Regardless, should be a high scoring affair.


- #12 Oregon State vs #5 Cal - 3:30pm MT - Pac-12 Networks - CAL -14

As interesting and entertaining as that first game might be, this meeting of the Beavers and Bears should be an absolute dog.  With two painfully slow teams, one of whom, Cal, loves to close the distance and go for the body, this with be an ugly, grainy battle.  Expect a number of missed baskets, slothful possessions, and the overall pace of grass growing.  Essentially: unwatchable.

Cal should win easily, but that may not mean the 14 points necessary to win you some money.  In a low-scoring affair, getting out to that big of a lead may be difficult.


- #10 Washington State vs #7 Colorado - 7pm MT - Pac-12 Networks - CU -10

OK, so here goes.  Colorado has never lost an opening-round conference tournament game under Tad Boyle, 6-0.  While it is also true that they have always had to play an opening round game under Coach, at least the program enjoys a tradition of winning them.  The joke has always been that, should CU ever drop one of these, I'd wake up early the next day and take a trip of shame to the Hoover Dam, basically just to get out of town.  I don't want to have to make that trek this year. *knocks on wood, furiously*

Problem is, Washington State is no pushover.  Coach Boyle this week was calling them 'sneaky good,' which makes a lot of sense.  They have a lot of good role players, the kind of guys who excel at one or two areas, making theirs a delicate puzzle of balance. Generally, better than the sum of their parts. When the pieces lay on the table well, as they did when the Buffs went up to Pullman this season, it looks pretty good, and they can boat-race you.  When they don't fit, however, like in the return game in Boulder, the Cougs can get blown out.  I would certainly expect something more akin to the road visit to Eastern Washington than what we saw on the Front Range, but exactly how much closer remains to be seen.

Off the top, all those cheeky back cuts the Buffs employed in the home fixture will probably be cut-off by a better-prepared WSU defense.  In the same way that Colorado was able to calm the Charles Callison worries given a game's worth of tape to prepare, the Cougars will be much more attentive off the ball.  From there, it'll all be about rebounding margins and who is making shots.  Ike Iroegbu is due for an explosion, but I expect Derrick White to counter.  Xavier Johnson vs Josh Hawkinson, then, could be the difference.  In the end, this rematch of last year's tournament opener will probably be closer than the 10 points afforded by Vegas, but CU should claim a scary one to survive and advance.


- #11 Washington vs #6 USC - 9:30pm MT - Pac-12 Networks - USC -11

The nightcap could've been a showcase for the absurd if Markelle Fultz was going to play, but I highly doubt that he'll step out of the phone booth this late in the season.  He's got the upcoming NBA Draft to think about, after all.  As a result, the Huskies will walk into the gym severely under-manned, and will probably end up getting party-wiped by the Trojans.  No wooden horse needed.


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