Pac-12 M5: 10.21.14 Edition

Posted by Andrew Murawa on October 21st, 2014

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  1. There are a handful of things concerning Pac-12 basketball that are beyond debate. One is that Arizona is the heavy favorite to win the conference regular season title this year, and another is that their fans are the most passionate in the conference. Both of those things were very much on display on Saturday as Wildcats fans got a first look at their team at the annual Red-Blue game. More than 10,000 people turned out to the McKale Center to watch Nick Johnson and Aaron Gordon’s names get unveiled in the Ring of Honor inside the arena, Stanley Johnson take home the pre-scrimmage dunk contest, followed by a pair of 12-minute halves. Some takeaways from those who were on hand: (1) Kaleb Tarczewski may be the Wildcats’ most improved player, and yet he had his hands full with freshman center Dusan Ristic, who scored 14 points in the scrimmage; (2) Stanley Johnson may have taken a step up in competition, but he is still a physical freak on the basketball court even when compared with more talented players; and (3) while there are plenty of veterans at Sean Miller’s disposal, two other freshmen – Craig Victor and 5’10” point guard Parker Jackson-Cartwrightappear headed for significant roles on this squad.
  2. Lorenzo Romar’s recruiting roll for Washington’s 2015 class continued on Monday as 6’10” junior college center Malik Dime chose the Huskies over other suitors such as Arkansas, Iowa State and Rutgers, while 6’9” high school senior Devin Duruisseau found Washington more appealing than San Jose State. Dime is a super-athletic big man who can come in an immediately provide minutes as a rebounder and defender next year, while Duruisseau is more of a project. For the class, that means Romar has six commitments for 2015, including a pair of top 100 recruits in Dejounte Murray and Marquese Chriss, putting the Huskies in the top 10 class rankings for next season, according to ESPN. Of course, that leaves Washington with 15 committed scholarships for the 2015-16 season, meaning there will be some shuffling of the roster between now and then. But, all things considered, that’s a pretty good problem to have.
  3. Sports Illustrated had a powerful feature last week, detailing the plight of homeless young athletes in high school and college. The Pac-12’s own Shaquielle McKissic of Arizona State is no stranger to such problems, having spent his share of time without a home, among other terrible hardships. Now a senior with the Sun Devils, McKissic is telling his story in a documentary that will be released on Halloween, the four-year anniversary of the death of one of his best friends. House of Sparky has the low-down on the documentary, as well as a clip from the film, which was produced by McKissic’s brother David.
  4. Another gripping story about a Pac-12 player focuses on Colorado sophomore Dustin Thomas. Thomas struggled to make an impact as a freshman with the Buffaloes, but his story is a telling one. Above and beyond his parents’ divorce and his father’s time in prison, the death of his 13-year-old sister Shonda to a rare disease (microscopic polyangiitis) when Thomas was 11 is heartbreaking. But, while the story is tragic, Thomas’ strength and positivity in the face of such a calamity is a terrific example of humanity persevering in the face of disaster.
  5. We’ll finish up today’s five with happier news, as CBS Sports recently released its Pac-12 preview. Non-notable predictions include Arizona as the pick to win the conference (if anyone sees a Pac-12 preview that doesn’t have the Wildcats #1, that would be news), Stanley Johnson to take home the Freshman of the Year award, and Oregon State to bring up the rear. More notable picks include Utah‘s Delon Wright as the Player of the Year (the choice for the league’s top player is far more debatable than the choice of its top team), Colorado as the team with the best chance to challenge Arizona, and Matt Norlander for some reason picking Oregon State to finish 10th in the conference. But perhaps of bigger concern for fans around the conference is the idea that, outside of Arizona, nobody else should be considered a lock to make the NCAA Tournament and the idea from one anonymous coach that this conference seems more like a four-bid conference than the seven-bid conference it was last year.
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Pac-12 Post-Mortems: Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on April 29th, 2014

Over the next couple of weeks, we’ll go through each Pac-12 team one by one and recount the season that has just completed and begin to turn the page to what we might see next season. Today, Colorado.

What Went Wrong

On the morning of Sunday, January 12, Colorado was getting ready to play Washington in its fourth Pac-12 conference game. Up to that point, the Buffaloes had gone 14-2 on the season, won all three of their previous conference games, and were rated 31st in KenPom, down a bit from their season high of 28th (following their non-conference finale against Georgia). And then, late in the first half against the Huskies, junior point guard Spencer Dinwiddie took a false step on a fast break, his left knee buckled, and everyone’s worst fears were confirmed as a torn ACL was later verified. The Buffaloes went on to lose four of their next five games, and posted a middling 9-10 record the rest of the way, stumbling ever-steadily to a KenPom low of #68 by the end of the year. Tad Boyle and company could never truly recover from the loss of their best player and team leader.

Colorado Was Never The Same After "The Mayor" Went Down With An Injury

Colorado Was Never The Same After “The Mayor” Went Down With An Injury

What Went Right

Following the loss of Dinwiddie, the team did its best to rally together, with junior guard Askia Booker in particular deserving extra praise. Booker had been known as  an inveterate gunner who had never seen a shot he didn’t like with Dinwiddie alongside him. But down the stretch of the season, Booker took over the bulk of the point guard duties and played the part of good teammate, looking to get everybody involved. Sure, he wasn’t always particularly effective in that new role, but the Buffs fought the good fight the rest of the season with him in the lead.

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Is It Time for Colorado Fans to Panic?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 12th, 2013

Prior to the start of the season, Colorado was considered one of maybe three teams in the Pac-12 that was expected to be in the chase to pressure Arizona for a Pac-12 title. Now here we are, four days and two games into the season and the Buffaloes so far have looked, well, not good. Against Baylor on Friday night, they combined to miss 19 of their 21 three-point attempts, they showed no ability to slow a very good Baylor offense, and they crashed back to earth in an ugly 12-point defeat. Sunday night, against a bad UT-Martin team, the Buffs wound up eventually running out to a 26-point win, but along the way, didn’t look a whole lot better. So, after a small two-game sample, should Colorado basketball fans start to panic?

Well, we’re not going to go that far, but, we have spotted three areas for concern in those first three games:

Spencer Dinwiddie And The Buffaloes Have Started Out Slowly (AP Photo)

Spencer Dinwiddie and the Buffaloes Have Started Out Slowly. (AP)

Where’s the Defense? Colorado isn’t missing many players from last season, but in terms of impact, losing Andre Roberson a year early to the NBA is huge. On the very, very short list of best defenders in the conference last season, he was not only capable of locking up his own man defensively, but of offering help defense to his teammates and grabbing what seemed like every rebound. Against Baylor, the Buffs did a fair job of rebounding, but there were plenty of times where they wound up way out of place on defense and allowed good looks, both in the paint and behind the arc. These issues continued against a far less potent UT-Martin team, especially in the first half. For now, let’s just agree to call this year’s defense a work in progress, at least during the period of adjustment, because there are plenty of reasons why Colorado has a chance to become a terrific defensive team. One thing this team does not lack is athletic depth. And, as they’ve already shown, outside of maybe the center spot, this is a team that can switch on everything. Wesley Gordon has already shown his ability to defend effectively on the perimeter, while Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker are a proven defensive backcourt. And those youngsters — guys like Tre’Shaun Fletcher and George King and Jaron Hopkins? These guys need to dial up their consistency of effort, but there is a lot of defensive upside here. The Buffs will be fine defensively.

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Breaking Down Colorado vs. Baylor

Posted by AMurawa on November 8th, 2013

It’s New Year’s Day for college hoops fans. To help celebrate, Big Twelve correspondent Brian Goodman (@bsgoodman) and Pac-12 writer Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) teamed up to offer this breakdown of an interesting opening night game: Colorado vs. Baylor in Dallas.

Baylor will win if… It feeds its stars and contains Colorado’s secondary options. The Bears’ offense under Scott Drew has always been among the nation’s best, and this season should be no different. There may not be a big man in the country that can stretch a defense like Isaiah Austin can, and Cory Jefferson‘s 41-of-56 shooting mark during the NIT should put Colorado on notice. Throw in Brady Heslip‘s three-point prowess and the Buffs will have their hands full. Defensively, it’s hard to say whether Baylor’s guards can contain Spencer Dinwiddie. Heslip has never been known for his defense, Kenny Chery is the Bears’ newest undersized point guard who will be playing his first Division I game, as will heralded freshman tweener Ish Wainright. I’m not sure either of the three can be counted on to keep Tad Boyle‘s emerging star in check, so Baylor’s defensive gameplan should lean more heavily towards containing Colorado’s other options. If Austin, Royce O’Neale and Rico Gathers make Xavier Johnson think twice about driving and keep Josh Scott and redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon from getting easy looks in the paint, it probably won’t matter how well Dinwiddie plays.

Baylor went 13-3 when Cory Jefferson and A Potent Baylor Offense Could Give Colorado's Defense Fits (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Cory Jefferson and A Potent Baylor Offense Could Give Colorado’s Defense Fits. (Kevin Jairaj/USA Today Sports)

Colorado will win if… Their veteran backcourt can make life miserable for a couple of Baylor perimeter guys – Chery and Wainright – who are making their Division I debuts. Between Dinwiddie and his junior backcourt mate Askia Booker, the pair of Colorado guards has been through a lot of battles. Dinwiddie has turned into a rock solid presence at the point, capable of creating for himself or finding his teammates in good position. Booker, however, has taken plenty of heat as a guy who is a bit too wild and a bit too in love with his own jumper. With more offensive weapons on this year’s squad, the hope is that Booker dials back his shot-hunting a bit and dials up his shooting percentages in turn. Either way, both of these guys are capable of causing plenty of trouble for young Bear ballhandlers like Chery and Wainright. In a big game right out of the gate where emotions are high, the calming presence of a pair of backcourt greybeards who have been through their fair share of battles may be enough to tip the scales in the Buffaloes favor. Oh, and not to pile on or anything, but in a battle of wits between Boyle and Drew, gimme Boyle.

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Pac-12 Team Preview: Colorado Buffaloes

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on November 5th, 2013

We continue unveiling our team-by-team breakdowns, in roughly the reverse order of where we expect these teams to finish in the conference standings. 

Colorado Buffaloes

Strengths: While Colorado has a lot of strengths, its biggest may be balance. They’ve got a veteran backcourt featuring an all-conference point guard in Spencer Dinwiddie, but they’ve also got a frontcourt with size, athleticism and, perhaps most importantly, upside. Sophomores Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson are regarded as possible breakout players, while redshirt freshman Wesley Gordon is ready to get back into the swing of things after spending last year improving his body and his game. They’ve got guards that score in the paint and from deep and they’ve got frontcourt guys who can not only post up, but can step outside and knock down perimeter jumpers. This team has a lot of options.

Xavier Johnson Will Be Chief Among The Players Called On To Help Replace Andre Roberson's Production

Xavier Johnson Will Be Chief Among The Players Called On To Help Replace Andre Roberson’s Production.

Weaknesses: There are a few main concerns for Colorado. First, while Tad Boyle thinks he’s got enough frontcourt bodies to ease the transition away from the Andre Roberson era, there is no one guy who can do all the things that Roberson did. For instance, while Josh Scott was quite effective on the offensive glass last season, he’ll really need to step it up on the defensive end to make up for Roberson. And frankly, there is nobody with the defensive versatility that Roberson had; the Buffs will need to prove that they can defend as well without Roberson’s freak athleticism. Then there remains the concern that Askia Booker still hasn’t seen a shot he didn’t like and is far too inefficient an offensive force (31.2 percent from three and just 39.5 percent from inside the arc) to be monopolizing so many shot attempts (12.7 FGAs per game). With efficient scorers like Dinwiddie, Scott and, to a lesser extent, Johnson around, there are far better options than Booker hunting looks.

Non-Conference Tests: The Buffs open up on Friday with a tough battle against a talented Baylor team in Dallas, and that is just the first of three match-ups against former Big 12 rivals on their excellent non-conference slate; the other two come in December: a visit from Kansas followed by a neutral site game against Oklahoma State in Las Vegas. There are also three Mountain West teams on CU’s schedule: Wyoming, Air Force and Colorado State. None of those teams are world-beaters, but they’ll all help the RPI numbers. Throw in a visit from a very good Harvard team, a visit from an Elon squad that is the favorite in the Southern Conference, and a visit from a middling SEC team in Georgia, and Boyle has put together arguably the best non-conference slate in the Pac-12. Put together a good record before the New Year and the Buffs will be prepped for a solid seed in the NCAA Tournament.

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Pac-12 M5: 10.08.12 Edition

Posted by AMurawa on October 8th, 2012

  1. We’re back to do the Morning Five five days a week again, with an eye towards games tipping off just over a month from now. However, for many Pac-12 fans around the country, the question of how and where to watch many of the basketball games this season remains a big question mark. The Pac-12 Networks have been live for months now, but many television viewers, particularly customers of the nation’s largest satellite television provider, DirecTV, are still shut out. The conference and DirecTV have been going back and forth since late August over terms of a proposed deal, but with football season chugging along and basketball on its way, it appears likely that DirecTV is ready to be stubborn as long as necessary in the hopes that the Pac-12 caves. Jon Wilner is as good of a go-to guy as there is on this topic, and he not only sees through DirecTV’s fact-challenged statements and loaded proposals, but fully expects that any changes to the situation are not readily approaching. In other words, if you’re a Pac-12 basketball fan and you’ve still got DirecTV, it is time to explore other options.
  2. After Reggie Moore’s promising freshman season, it looked like Washington State was not going to skip a beat after the graduation of Taylor Rochestie. However, after lackluster sophomore and junior campaigns that failed to ever show serious improvement over his rookie year, Moore was dismissed from the Cougar basketball team, as we detailed a couple weeks back. To put a bow on Moore’s WSU career, the mercurial point guard sent a statement to columnist Vince Grippi at The Spokesman-Review, owning up to an unnamed “costly mistake” that led to his dismissal and apologizing to the university and its fans. He’s still in school working towards a degree, with eyes on a future in basketball at some level. These kinds of things always have that bittersweet feel to them. On one hand, you hate to see a collegiate career end like this, but on the other, given the fact that Moore has had some disciplinary problems during his time at Pullman, you hope he uses this event as a wake-up call to get his act together. He’s been a frustrating player to watch over the last couple of years, but at this point, I’m sure there are many Pac-12 fans, including this writer, who are hoping for Moore to make the best of a bad situation.
  3. Another veteran Pac-12 player’s senior season is over before it even began. In Thursday’s Morning Five we mentioned that 7’6” center David Foster of Utah reinjured the same foot that kept him out of action last year and will have to undergo surgery that will keep him on the sideline again this year. But, rather than disappear into the ether, on the sidelines is exactly where Foster will stay. Citing the strong chemistry between the largely new roster in Salt Lake City, Foster will sit on the bench during games and do whatever he can to help out the young team, albeit in a non-playing role. Foster still hopes to have his foot recover well enough so that Utah’s all-time lead in blocked shots can pursue a professional basketball career overseas.
  4. We’ll have a more comprehensive recruiting post later in the week, but we wanted to mention Tad Boyle’s latest signings at Colorado. After getting a commitment from 6’5” three-star wing Tre’Shaun Lexing at the end of September, last week Boyle got a commitment from 6’8” power forward Dustin Thomas out of Texarkana, Texas. Thomas is a four-star talent according to ESPN, a skilled big man capable of playing the pick and pop game or defending and rebounding inside. Along with guard Jaron Hopkins, these two make for a strong three-man class already for the Buffs, which is getting to be a habit for Boyle. Boyle credits the fact that he has been able to consistently send guys off from Boulder to play professionally as part of the reason for his recent success on the recruiting trail. With former Buff Alec Burks entering his second season in the NBA and with six of the seven graduating seniors over the last two years playing professionally somewhere (the lone non-pro is Trey Eckloff, who is pursuing a law degree), Boyle can certainly sell the fact that four years in Boulder preps basketball players for professional careers.
  5. Lastly, it was announced last week that former UCLA great Bill Walton has agreed to a book deal. The book will be named Back From the Dead, and knowing Walton’s history, not only in Westwood, but including his high school career in San Diego, his injury-riddled professional career including a tumultuous time in Portland and his off-the-court adventures in and around the counterculture, this is going to be a must-read. Pac-12 fans will get plenty of chances this season to reacquaint themselves with Walton, as he has agreed to work with both ESPN and the Pac-12 Networks in doing color commentary on Pac-12 games.
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