Building a Football Team From Pac-12 Basketball Players

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 13th, 2015

Yesterday was the day that college basketball paused one last time to make way for its college football friends. From here on out, college hoops has the right of way on the amateur level. With Oregon representing our proud conference despite the loss, we figured today would be a good time to tie college football and basketball together in a fun way by piecing together an imaginary football team made up entirely of current Pac-12 basketball players. This team would probably be pretty good, so let’s get right to it.

Offense

  • QB: Nigel Williams-Goss, Washington – If there was such a thing as a pocket passer in basketball, Williams-Goss would be it. We’ll get him out on the edge every now and then to make some plays, but we want our quarterback to hang tight and deliver the ball to our play-makers.
Let's Trade In Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on The Floor For Just A Plain, Old QB (Getty Images)

Let’s Trade in Nigel Williams-Goss As A QB on the Floor For Just a Plain Old QB (Getty Images)

  • RB: Chasson Randle, Stanford – He’s got speed, quickness and power. We can dump the ball to him out of the backfield or let him pound ahead into the line.
  • RB: Malcolm Duviver, Oregon State – The first time I saw this guy I thought he looked more like a tailback than a point guard. At 6’2”, 205, he can be our workhorse back.
  • WR: Stanley Johnson, Arizona – Man, there are so many places we could play Johnson but we’re envisioning him as our Megatron. He’s got speed and great hands, and once he makes the catch, good luck bringing him down.

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Separating Fact From Fiction in UCLA’s Five-Game Slide

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 8th, 2015

I touched on the disaster that is UCLA basketball this season in Tuesday’s quick spin around the conference. And, the thing is, so did just about every writer either interested in UCLA, the Pac-12 or — given that UCLA is one of our sports’ blue-blood programs — college basketball on a national level. Having listened to everyone else’s takes, there’s plenty to agree with and plenty to disagree with. Below we’ll take a look at some of these takes and try to determine their relative truthiness, ranking each statement on a scale of 1 – completely false – to 10 – right on the money.

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

With UCLA On A Five-Game Slide, The Alford Family Is Firmly In The Sights of UCLA Loyalists (AP Photo)

Bryce Alford is the Problem

Last week’s Bryce Alford numbers we’re off-the-charts bad: 2-of-26 from the field and 0-of-13 from three, if you need a reminder. Some see the more damning part of this the fact that he continued to shoot the ball as the misses piled up. Shots continue to go up; other players stand around and watch; Alford doesn’t do a whole lot to make his teammates better. And, frankly, as the point guard, he’s got to take the bulk of the blame when the offense he is running is sputtering so badly. Since the Kentucky game, UCLA is scoring 0.7 points per possession, and on the year, the Bruins rank 134th in KenPom’s adjusted offensive efficiency rating.

Truthiness score: 5. Right in the middle. The younger Alford deserves some of the criticism, but, as we’ll get to in the next point, probably not the bulk of it.

Bryce Alford is UCLA’s Best Player, and That’s the Problem

This was Gary Parrish’s take in Monday’s CBS College Basketball podcast, and to paraphrase: “Alford didn’t play well this week, but you know what? He’s still the team’s best player and that’s a scary proposition for a program the quality of UCLA.” Let’s start with the first part of that point. Is Alford UCLA’s best player? Not just yes, but hell yes, of course, clearly to anyone with eyes, and probably to most people without. He is the only player on this team that can reliably go and get his own shot on a regular basis. He’s the team’s best shooter from range. He’s the best player on the team at creating shots for his teammates. Look at the KenPom numbers for starters. His 111.3 offensive rating is by far the best on the team; he’s been over 100.0 in that metric in 11 of UCLA’s 15 games (although clearly under it in the last three); he’s assisting on better than a third of all of his teammates’ hoops when he’s on the floor (good for 45th in the nation); and he’s drilling 32 percent of his shots from deep (even with that oh-fer last week) and 91 percent from the line. Make no mistake, Bryce Alford is a very good basketball player. But should he – a guy with no realistic NBA prospects – be the best player at UCLA? Probably not.

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How Does UCLA Respond After the Kentucky Fiasco?

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 23rd, 2014

I’m not sure when it started, but at some point Saturday afternoon, UCLA became a national laughingstock. Maybe it was in the middle somewhere of Kentucky’s 24-0 run to start their made-for-national-TV game in Chicago. Maybe it was when UCLA finally scored a bucket to make it 24-2 almost eight minutes into the game and got the sarcastic “oh, isn’t that nice for them” round of applause. Maybe it was at halftime when Doug Gottlieb and Seth Davis got to laugh at the Bruins and their 41-7 deficit. But certainly from halftime on, as the score floated around and into the casual sports fans’ consciousness, the Bruins became a punch line, a sick joke that lasted until that sports cycle ended and Sunday and the NFL took over.

Odds Are Good, This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected (USA Today)

Odds Are Good That This Shot Attempt By Norman Powell Wound Up Getting Rejected. (USA Today)

A lot of times when a team gets killed like UCLA did on Saturday in Chicago, you’ll hear someone say something like: “Just burn the tape, there is nothing you can learn from that game.” Well, screw that. There is plenty UCLA can learn from their disaster in Chicago. In terms of X’s and O’s: throw those out the window. What UCLA can – and needs to – learn from this game is more primal. Toughness, togetherness, competitiveness. Pride. Kansas got knocked down and kicked and left for dead by Kentucky a month ago, but since then, the Jayhawks have toughened up and started to come together and proven themselves a top ten team. The Bruins – fresh off a 39-point loss to Kentucky in which the final score was completely merciful – find themselves at a crossroads. Do they turn this into the rock bottom upon which they bounce back to the surface? Or is this a team ready to go the way of Michigan – a team whose confidence is broken?

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UCLA’s Most Important Player: Isaac Hamilton

Posted by Tracy McDannald on November 5th, 2014

The offseason in Westwood could have gone better — much better. The Bruins knew they were going to be woefully thin in the backcourt, and head coach Steve Alford was never going to completely replace point-forward Kyle Anderson, the 6’9” match-up nightmare with elite point guard skills. But then UCLA received word that Colorado State transfer Jon Octeus had been denied admission, nixing the Bruins’ best-laid plans to make him the starting point guard. There’s just not much depth available here at all, and this clearly puts additional pressure on the Bruins’ starters (although senior Norman Powell should have little issue so long as he remains in good health). Off the bench, UCLA may struggle beyond Noah Allen to find any realistic contributors under the height of 6’9”.

Isaac Hamilton, the No. 25 overall prospect, cited his relationship with UTEP head coach Tim Floyd as deciding factor

Sophomore guard Isaac Hamilton, who was forced to miss all of the 2013-14 season, will be needed at both backcourt positions at UCLA.

The void creates a big opportunity for combo guard Isaac Hamilton, and there may not be a more valuable player on the roster. The 6’4” sophomore missed the entire 2013-14 season after backing out of his initial commitment with UTEP. While Hamilton lost a year in the transition, he was able to practice with his teammates and digest the system, and that is where his true value will be revealed. The year away from action did wonders for T.J. McConnell at Arizona, where the point guard ran the scout team before becoming a valuable piece last season. Hamilton’s case is different because he doesn’t have previous Division I experience under his belt, but there’s something to be said about developing team chemistry and learning the tendencies of teammates in a practice setting.

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Pac-12 Season Preview: UCLA Bruins

Posted by Andrew Murawa on November 3rd, 2014

Throughout the preseason, the Pac-12 microsite will preview each of the league’s 10 teams, from worst to first. Today: UCLA.

UCLA Bruins

Strengths. There’s plenty of talent here, no doubt. Norman Powell, Bryce Alford and Tony Parker return as players who earned at least 40 percent of the team’s minutes last year and were all highly efficient offensive players on a high-powered offensive squad. They’ll be joined by freshmen Kevon Looney and Isaac Hamilton, both of whom are highly-regarded recruits expected to slip seamlessly into the starting lineup. Throw in guys like Wannah Bail and Noah Allen, who played bit parts efficiently last year, and another highly regarded freshman in Thomas Welsh (who may be more of a project than his classmates) and there is plenty of reason for excitement in Westwood. The Bruins once again should be a high-flying, entertaining ballclub.

Norman Powell's Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA's Offense (Harry How/Getty Images)

Norman Powell’s Athleticism On The Wing Will Be A Big Part Of UCLA’s Offense. (Harry How/Getty Images)

Weaknesses. Two immediately jump off the page: a lack of depth and defensive uncertainty. First, the depth thing is pretty clear. Freshman Jonah Bolden and senior transfer Jonathan Octeus were both supposed to play significant roles off the bench for the Bruins, but they ran into academic problems that will keep them out of UCLA uniforms this year (Octeus wound up at Purdue as a transfer after being denied admission). That leaves Bail, Allen and Welsh as the top three players off the bench. The Bruins could survive one well-placed and well-timed injury, but any significant health problems beyond that could lead to raw freshmen or even walk-ons playing big roles. Throw in the fact that Looney has battled injuries in early workouts already and this coiuld get scary. The second issue is on the defensive end. Powell is a fantastic defender, but just about everybody else on the roster has question marks. Alford is a terrific offensive player but he can get outquicked or overpowered by better athletes. Parker has a history of foul trouble. Hamilton and Looney are talents more known for their offensive abilities who still need to prove their defensive merits. On down the line, questions loom.

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Assessing the Steve Alford Era at UCLA Almost One Year In

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on March 26th, 2014

It was a year ago this week that the change was made at UCLA. Ben Howland was dismissed after an opening round NCAA loss to Minnesota, and the following week, on Saturday morning of the Elite Eight to be precise, UCLA announced that it would hire New Mexico head coach Steve Alford – who had just recently agreed to a lengthy contract extension with that school after its own untimely exit from the NCAA Tournament – as the 13th head coach in the storied program’s history.

Steve Alford, UCLA

The Steve Alford Era Had A Bumpy Start, But Has Settled Into A Nice Groove (Damian Dovarganes/AP)

Suffice it to say that the beginning of the Alford era in Westwood did not begin smoothly. The hire was greeted with anywhere from an outright disdain for the choice to a more wait-and-see approach, but few if any saw the hire as a home run. (Here, we called it a solid line-drive single, and our response was probably one of the more favorable ones you may have read). From those initial reactions, the temperature dipped dramatically over the next week after an unreceptive opening press conference delved into his handling of a sexual assault case at Iowa 11 years earlier and went downhill from there. A week later Alford finally apologized for his handling of that case and an uneasy truce with the local media began.

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Rushed Reactions: UCLA 75, #3 Arizona 71

Posted by Andrew Murawa on March 15th, 2014

rushedreactions

Three Key Takeaways:

  1. Rare Talent. If you watched the game, you saw it all over the place. You saw it in UCLA’s 6’9” sophomore point guard Kyle Anderson, who had 15 defensive rebounds to go with 21 points, five assists and just one turnover. You saw it in Arizona’s freshman power forward Aaron Gordon, who spent time trying to check the opposition’s point guard as well creating plays of his own, dishing out a whopping eight assists (many of them of the spectacular variety, such as an epic alley-oop to junior Nick Johnson). Speaking of Johnson, this is a 6’3” guy who looks like your average ordinary Joe, right up until the point that his feet leave the ground and then just keep going up and up and up. Jordan Adams, Norman Powell, Rondae Hollis-Jefferson, T.J. McConnell, Gabe York, and the Wear twins. There was no shortage of talent on the MGM Grand Arena court this afternoon and with many of them turning in elite performances, it was a fantastic game to watch.

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

    Kyle Anderson and UCLA Took Home The Conference Title In Spectacular Fashion Saturday (Julie Jacobson, AP Photo).

  2. Toughness. Despite all the high-flying wonderment and spectacular plays, tournament titles require toughness, and there was no shortage of that today. Often things like this are measured in rebounding, and guys like Anderson and Gordon did not disappoint there with Tony Parker (seven boards), Rondae Hollis-Jefferson (eight) and Kaleb Tarczewski (seven) chipping in as well. But it is more than just that. It is setting and fighting through hard screens, like the one Parker set to free up Jordan Adams for what would turn out to be the game-winning three. It is getting on the floor for loose ball, as happened several times today, most famously when Travis Wear dug down deep and outraced Gordon to dive for a loose ball near the end line. As Arizona head coach Sean Miller put it afterward, “If you want to love college basketball, just watch that.” And if you want to win championships, you’ve gotta do that too. Read the rest of this entry »
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Breaking Down the Seven Pac-12 Teams with Tournament Hopes

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@amurawa) on February 24th, 2014

Way back before the start of the season, I made the bold prediction that seven Pac-12 teams would wind up in the NCAA Tournament. Some three months later, we’re looking at six teams that can be confident in packing their bags for the Big Dance, while that lucky number seven is still a strong possibility. After a busy week in the conference, below we’ll go through the teams that still have NCAA at-large aspirations, checking in on where they stand both on the court and in terms of their NCAA hopes.

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

It Has Taken Some Time For Arizona To Recalibrate, But The Talent Level Here Is Still Great (Ralph Freso, Getty Images North America)

Arizona – On Wednesday night, as UCLA was putting the hammer down at California and Arizona was getting fortunate bounces in order to pull out a win at Utah, the sentiment that “UCLA is the best team in this conference” was not an insane statement to make. The Bruins’ impressive collection of talent is congealing nicely in time for the sport’s money month, but remember that Arizona is continuing to rack up wins, starting to adjust to playing without Brandon Ashley, and is still one of the best and most versatile defensive teams in recent history. That isn’t going to go away anytime soon. Sean Miller’s club will continue to make things very difficult for its opponents’ attempts to put the ball in the bucket (only four times in 27 games have they given up more than one point per possession), while their offense will readjust to life without Ashley. This team doesn’t have the offensive upside that it had with their 6’9” big man in the lineup, but things are beginning to get recalibrated, as their 88-point explosion against Colorado on Saturday evening showed. Sure, the Buffaloes are a bad defensive team right now, but that was still the best any team has performed against them all season. The Wildcats just took them apart, getting buckets in transition, getting easy looks at the rim in the halfcourt, and even knocking in eight threes (at a 47% clip) to dominate the Buffs. Oh, and you want one more statistic that sums up just how thoroughly the Wildcats broke Colorado’s spirit? There were about 20 times in the game when, following a Buffaloes’ made basket, the Wildcats took at least 10 seconds off the shot clock. The Wildcats’ eFG% in those 20 possessions? 84.4%, per the great website hoop-math.com. So, basically, Colorado scored, Arizona brought the ball upcourt, worked its offense, and regularly negated the Buffaloes’ previous score. Demoralizing.

NCAA Seeding Outlook: Arizona is still very much in the conversation for a #1 seed, and its remaining schedule is favorable (Cal/Stanford, at Oregon/Oregon State), with every remaining game winnable. Questions about depth may make Arizona something other than the favorite to win the Pac-12 Tournament, so let’s chalk them up for a loss at some point in Las Vegas. And let’s say they go 3-1 in their remaining regular season games. That puts them at something like 28 or 29 wins against four losses, but with all four coming without Ashley. One could see an argument for dropping them to a #2 because of it, but odds remain strong that these Wildcats are a #1 seed come Selection Sunday.

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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over Colorado

Posted by Andrew Murawa on February 14th, 2014

Here are three thoughts from UCLA’s convincing win last night over Colorado at Pauley Pavilion.

  1. Kyle Anderson’s 22 points, 11 assists and seven boards; Bryce Alford’s second-half explosion behind a perfect four-of-four from deep; Jordan Adams and Norman Powell out-physicalling Colorado defenders around the paint on the way to a combined 27 points, ten boards, eight assists and five steals: these were the flashy performances, the things that probably caught the most eyeballs. Did anyone ever realize any UCLA frontcourt players showed up to this game? Did anyone notice the Wear twins and Tony Parker combine for 26 points and 14 boards (not to mention four blocks)? Did anyone realize that between the three of them, they made 12 of their 14 field goal attempts and knocked in a couple of threes on the way to a 92.9 eFG%? Well, they did. And with guys like Anderson and Adams and Powell being highly consistent offensive performers around the perimeter and with Alford and fellow freshman Zach LaVine capable of offensive explosions on a regular basis, if the Bruins can get that type of performance from their frontcourt in any way, they are going to be awful hard to beat. How hard? Let’s put it this way: UCLA has not lost a game this season when the trio of the Wears and Parker have combined for at least either 21 points or 13 rebounds. That’s not a high bar to meet. You figure the UCLA wings and guards are going to get theirs; if Steve Alford can continue to just cobble together a solid combined performance out of his trio of bigs, this team is a serious sleeper come March.

    Kyle Anderson's Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team's Long-Term Hopes

    Kyle Anderson’s Impact Is Flashier, But The UCLA Frontcourt May Be As Important For thei Team’s Long-Term Hopes

  2. Kyle Anderson has gotten, and deserved, a lot of press this season for his versatile game. You know about his great passing ability (he hands out assists on better than 35% of his teammates buckets when he’s on the court). You know he’s a floor general for a flashy offensive team. You may not realize he’s shooting 52.4% from three on the year, but you probably have recognized that his perimeter jumper is vastly improved. You know he uses his 6’9” frame and long arms to rebound at high rates on both ends of the court; in fact he’s particularly good on the defensive end (his 24.5 DR% is in the top 50 in the nation). But that last point, his defensive rebounding, really only barely begins to scratch the surface of what he’s doing on the defensive end. The scouting report on Anderson has long been that he’s an amazing offensive talent, but that he can’t guard. And sure, if you try to make him check Jahii Carson or Chasson Randle, he’s going to struggle with their quickness over the course of a game. But given that he is regularly checking the opponent’s forwards, he’s actually turned into a really good defender. Thursday night, he was on Colorado’s Xavier Johnson for the bulk of his 36 minutes of action. In the first half, Johnson was largely absent on his way to four points. Then in the second half, Johnson’s back-to-back buckets on either side of the under-eight media timeout came when Anderson was getting a blow. Anderson used his length and growing stretch to deny Johnson the ball repeatedly. And then when he did get the ball, he used that length to bother Johnson into either bad shots or giving the ball back up. While Anderson is certainly not the type of defender than can guard the smaller and quicker point guards, that needn’t be held as a strike against him, as he is solid enough when he gets switched onto those guys on occasion and if above-average when defending a three or a less physical four. Read the rest of this entry »
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Three Thoughts on UCLA’s Win Over California

Posted by Andrew Murawa on January 27th, 2014

UCLA hosted California on Sunday night in a match-up of what clearly looks like the second and third-best teams in the Pac-12. UCLA ran out to a big lead, eased up, and then let the Golden Bears back into the game when freshman Jabari Bird got hot. The Bruins were able to turn the energy back on to finish off the game, but we learned several important things that will be important to remember going forward in the Pac-12 race.

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

Kyle Anderson Is Exceeding Already High Expectations at UCLA (Scott Chandler, UCLA Athletics)

  1. Kyle Anderson is very good. At some point, writing this will become tiresome and repetitive; but it isn’t yet. Slo-Mo is the Bruins’ best player and – despite all the Zach LaVine hype – its best NBA prospect. He’s got great court vision and a tremendous feel for the game – we knew that. At 6’9”, he’s big and long and causes a lot of match-up problems – yup, knew that too. But his ability to get to rebounds and forcefully collect them (his defensive rebounding percentage is 30th in the nation! For a point guard!); his tendency to lull defenders to sleep with his deliberate style and then glide by them with his long gait on the way to the hoop; his lean-back jumper that uses his long frame to easily shoot over smaller defenders; his ever-improving three-point shot (he’s shooting 52.9 percent from deep this year, for crying out loud!); and his apparent and evolving command of the leadership necessities that go along with being a point guard. Goodness gracious sakes alive! Those are all revelations. Yeah, if you catch him on a switch and he is matched up on a smaller, quicker player, he can have some defensive difficulties, but his feel for the game and those long arms allow him to create so many turnovers. He’ll of course still need to continue adding bulk to his frame, but he is already a terrific player. After the Golden Bears cut the lead to three on Sunday, it was Anderson who the Bruins went to when an answer was needed. He responded time and again, not just getting into the lane and using a variety of moves for good looks at the hoop, but also setting up his teammates in good positions. We’re three months in and still not exactly sure just how good UCLA is, but with a player the caliber of Anderson leading the way, the Bruins are going to have a puncher’s chance come March. Read the rest of this entry »
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Thoughts on Arizona’s Big Road Win at UCLA

Posted by Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on January 10th, 2014

This is the early conference game that both Arizona and UCLA fans had likely been looking forward to for a couple weeks. It’s the biggest historic rivalry in the conference and it was Arizona’s first road test in Pac-12 play . But really, as people were imagining what this game would look like, this is probably not what they foresaw. UCLA holding its own on the glass, despite almost no help from its pair of senior frontcourt starters? Arizona the team with the deadly outside shooting? Kyle Anderson and Jordan Adams struggling, yet the Bruins keeping this close for 40 minutes? Let’s look at each of those things below.

Gabe York's Perimeter Shooting Was a Big Key For Arizona On Thursday Night (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

Gabe York’s Perimeter Shooting Was a Big Key For Arizona On Thursday Night (Mamta Popat, Arizona Daily Star)

  • The Wildcats came into the game eighth in the nation in offensive rebounding percentage and 13th in the nation in defensive rebounding percentage, while UCLA is a middling rebounding team with a ton of question marks up front. Therefore the expectation was that Arizona would dominate the glass. While the Cats did make some hay on the offensive boards and wound up dominating the interior on the offensive end (Arizona outscored UCLA 42-22 in the paint), UCLA stayed in the game in large part because it was able to create second chance opportunities of its own. This was a surprise even to Arizona head coach Sean Miller, who pointed to that as one of the keys of the game by saying “They really hurt us on the offensive glass. That was a surprise to us, because we’ve done very well there, and isn’t necessarily a strength of theirs but last night it was. If we had done a better job defensive rebounding, the game wouldn’t have come down to the final plays. One of the reasons that they were in it was because of the number of second shots they got.” Even more surprising, the Bruins did their damage on the glass without much of a contribution from the Wear twins, who combined to grab just four total boards. Read the rest of this entry »
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Pac-12 Roundup: Week Seven

Posted by Connor Pelton (@ConnorPelton28) and Andrew Murawa (@AMurawa) on December 31st, 2013

Out of the country? Living under a rock? Here’s what you missed in the seventh week of Pac-12 basketball. 

Power Rankings (as voted upon by Connor Pelton and Andrew Murawa):

Arizona is once again the unanimous top choice, with the next four slots all agreed upon as well. From there, things get somewhat muddied but we both agree that there isn’t a lot of difference between the two Washington schools and, say, Arizona State. The #6-#10 spots are the most interesting, so check the results below.

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (credit: Katie Meyers)

Sophomore Forward/Center Tony Parker Came Up Huge For UCLA On Saturday, Scoring 16 Points In The Bruins Win Against Alabama. (Katie Meyers/AP)

  1. Arizona (13-0, 2 Points). Comment: “The Wildcats have steamrolled the teams you’d expect them to and answered the bell against each of the talented opponents it has faced. But there’s probably even a higher gear the team is capable of and will need to bring out to perform like they are expected.” – Bryan Doherty (@BDohertyCFB)
  2. Oregon (12-0, 4 Points). Comment: “There may be other backcourts that are more efficient, but nobody has more weapons than the Ducks. The firepower is nearly impossible for an opponent to guard on a regular basis.” – Jon Rothstein (@JonRothstein)
  3. Colorado (11-2, 6 Points). Comment: “Coming into the season, the biggest question mark surrounding this team was whether they could find a way to make up for the 11 rebounds per game that Andre Roberson took with him to the NBA. With the non-conference portion of the schedule now complete, the Buffaloes can confidently answer that question with a “yes.” – Brian Howell (@BrianHowell33) Read the rest of this entry »
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