Last year, the University of Colorado men’s basketball team was predicted to finish in the bottom third of the conference. After starting their non-conference schedule with a whimper by losing to San Francisco and Harvard, the team started to click. The Buffs beat Missouri and Texas, and even swept Kansas State in the three times the teams met only to become the victim of “the biggest crime of them all” according to ESPN’s Fran Fraschilla when they were denied access to the NCAA Tournament. The team could have thrown in the towel and gone out of the NIT with a whimper, but Coach Tad Boyle wouldn’t let them do that. The Buffs went all the way to NYC to the NIT Final Four, only to have a missed Alec Burks jumper keep them out of the championship game against eventual NIT Champs Wichita State.
Excitement in Boulder is high for this basketball season. And AllBuffs is here to help. We asked some of the more knowledgeable people supporting the program their thoughts on this season, and over the next five days leading up to tip-off of the 2011-12 season against Fort Lewis, we’re going to give you their thoughts and tell you what to expect for the upcoming season. Along with both myself and Buffnik, here are the people that you’re going to be hearing from over the next few days.
* Zach Bell, The Ralphie Report – Zach is one of the basketball writers for The Ralphie Report – SBNation’s University of Colorado blog that has been covering the team on all angles since 2008. If you’ve been there, you know the quality that they put out. If you haven’t, you’re missing out. You can also follow them on twitter.
* RumblinBuff – A lot of you know him as “that one blogging guy”. Rumblin’ has one of the best Buffs blogs on the internet – not only because of its sports content, but also because of his weekly beer posts. You can also get tons of Buffs goodness (with the occasional White Sox comment) from his twitter feed.
* Tyler Ziskin – The man who started a facebook group for fans to support the CU Basketball program is one of the most knowledgeable fans on the internet. His passion for the program is almost unsurpassed, and his Twitter feed is always entertaining, even when he’s (justifiably) making fun of my beloved Broncos.
So now that you know everyone, here’s the breakdown of what we’ll be covering.
* Monday, November 7th – The PAC-12
* Tuesday, November 8th – CU in 2011-12 (Part 1)
* Wednesday, November 9th – CU in 2011-12 (Part 2)
* Thursday, November 10th – CU in the Future (Part 1)
* Friday, November 11th – CU in the Future (Part 2)
Who is your PAC-12 champion, and who is your sleeper?
Tyler Ziskin– I see UCLA winning the Pac 12 title this season, they've got great front court depth returning in Josh Smith and Reeves Nelson. It will be interesting to see if the Wear twins can live up to the hype around them in HS, if so, they'll be a Top 10 team in my opinion.
I'm not sure this is truly a "sleeper" pick, but I think Cal has an outside shot at bringing home the conference title. The problem I have answering this is that there are really only four teams with a chance to win this year (UCLA, Cal, Arizona, and Washington)... and I don't think any of them would really be a sleeper choice. The other three are perennial basketball powers in the Pac 12, but Cal returns Jorge Gutierrez, Harper Kamp, and Allen Crabbe, which is by far the most lethal trio returning in the Pac 12.
Buffnik – UCLA to win. Close call over Arizona. But I'll take their frontcourt led by Josh Smith to go along with a great point guard in Lazeric Jones. They've got to find scorers from the 2 and 3, but they have lots of depth. The key for the Bruins will be to find chemistry on offense and limit turnovers. They play great defense and will also wear teams down with their size.
Cal as a sleeper. Gutierrez, Crabbe, Kamp and Smith give them a great core. But there's a big risk that they wear down from playing too many minutes. I'm not in love with their 2011 class, though, so I don't know if the depth they need is coming. If they can limit starter minutes and play teams close to even with their bench production, Cal's got a good chance to go far this season.
Zach Bell – Pac-12 champ is going to be Cal. Not many sleepers but probably Stanford could sneak up on teams. Very skilled sophomore class for Johnny Dawkins.
RumblinBuff – My champ was to be Arizona, but the exhibition loss to D-2 Seattle Pacific has given me pause. With them out, and my penchant for overlooking the overt front runner (UCLA, tabbed by the media as the preseason favorite) I’ll go with Cal. I like their experience and their depth. Jon Wilner of the San Jose Mercury News pointed out that “Of the league’s top-10 scorers (in conference games), only four will be back next season — and three of the four play for the Bears: Crabbe, Gutierrez and Kamp.” Mike Montgomery is a fantastic coach and seems to have that program headed in the right direction.
In terms of sleeper, I think our very own Colorado Buffaloes will shock some people. Not in terms of “competing for a title,” but certainly better than the bottom-third slots that many have CU pegged for.
Goose - A few months ago, I was going to pick Cal to win the conference AND be the sleeper, but it seems that everyone is slowly waking up to Cal. Montgomery is a great coach, and Jorge Gutierrez is one of the most underrated players in the nation. When you add Kamp and Crabbe, you have a solid nucleus that a lot of people are sleeping on. Oregon is really the only “sleeper” by default. After the top five, there’s no one that really seems to have anything more than an outside shot at a tourney bid. I’m intrigued by Stanford, and I think CU is going to be better than everyone thinks, but the top five are safe.
How many PAC-12 teams make the NCAA tournament?
Zach Bell – I’ll say four. Cal, UCLA, Washington, and Arizona. All four have a serious chance to win the Pac-12.
Goose - Four. Cal, Arizona, UCLA and Washington are all pretty much locks. I think Oregon will be on the bubble and probably will find itself in the position we were in last year – on the outside looking in as everyone asks “how did they get screwed?”
Buffnik – 5. I think it's a good year in the Pac-12. UCLA, Arizona, Washington and Cal seem like teams you can take to the bank. Oregon's got young talent that could gel. Stanford plays good defense, has nice balance, and may be building something. USC plays great defense and has the pieces to put together a surprise season despite injuries (Dedmon is coming back earlier than expected). WSU lost a ton and probably takes a step back in a rebuilding year. Colorado's likely in that same boat. ASU looks like a mess despite some solid recruiting over the past several years. OSU had some good classes that are now veterans, but they haven't done anything so it's hard to predict them making a significant leap. And Utah is pretty terrible in the beginning stages of a rebuilding project.
RumblinBuff – 5; (in order of my predicted conference finish) Cal, UCLA, Arizona, Washington, Oregon. Maybe whatever team finishes 6th (there will be a big cluster-f*** for 6th place) if they’ve put together a nice non-con resume.
Tyler Ziskin – As I mentioned above, I feel very good about at least four teams being a near lock to get in. Cal, Washington, Arizona, and UCLA will be a part of the 68 team field. Oregon would be the 5th and final team to get in from the Pac 12, as they play a solid non-conference schedule and as long as they get to .500 in conference play I don't think they'll get left out. Each committee is different but this conference tends to get more respect than it deserves nationally in my opinion, so it's hard for me to predict only four teams getting in. Stanford doesn't play a tough enough non-conference schedule to get a look in my opinion and I just don't see USC getting it done this year. I'd be very, very surprised to see any of the remaining teams in the conference be in a position to get in this year.
How would you rate the PAC-12 to the Big XII?
RumblinBuff – (This is from a historical perspective. I’m passing no judgments on future conference quality until the Big XII decides what it wants to be.)
I’m a big proponent of letting kenpom do the talking when comparing conferences. If you look at the numbers, the Big XII was a decidedly better basketball conference than the Pac-10. Looking at Pomeroy’s data, which goes from 2003-present, only three times over the past nine years has the average strength of the Pac-10 exceeded that of the Big XII. Additionally, the Big XII averaged being the 3rd best conference over that span, while the Pac-10 averaged a 5th place finish, even stumbling as low as 9th back in ’04. Hell, in the last two years, the Pac-10 has been closer to the SEC and the Mountain West than it has to the Big XII, ACC and Big East.
There’s separation between the leagues, one that I expect to become evident as CU dives into conference play. That is not to say that the Pac-12 isn’t an elite conference, or that there aren’t some great programs here, just the old Big XII was deeper and stronger overall. Utah shucking off this painful transition period, finding some stability, and getting back to their winning ways would do a lot in strengthening the Pac-12.
Tyler Ziskin – I touched on this topic a little bit above as well, but to me, it's really not that comparable. Especially in recent years, the Big XII has been FAR superior, especially from top to bottom. The Pac 12 is trending back up, but it is still a far cry from the talent level of the Big XII, but that's just one man's opinion. The Pac 12 traditionally has 4-5 tournament quality teams, and the Big XII is a grind year in and year out. The Big East is the best conference in basketball, and the ACC/Big XII/Big 10 are always 2-4 in some order... the Pac 12 is 5th... that's just a fact.
Zach Bell – Big 12 is better this year. There are 7 teams that have a legit shot to make the tourney and I think six will end up making the big dance. The trio of Kansas, Baylor, and Missouri is quite a bit better than anything that Pac-12 can put out.
Buffnik – The Big 12 is a better basketball conference right now. When I look at Kansas, Texas, Texas A&M, Missouri, Kansas State, Baylor, Iowa State, Oklahoma, Oklahoma State and Texas Tech, I see 9 teams (TTU's not good) that have an argument for why they could make the tourney this year along with a few at the top that could make Final Four runs (KU, UT, Baylor). Pac-12 is closing the gap, though. 2 years ago, the difference was miles. They're in the same neighborhood now. The Big 12 is just on a better street.
Goose – It’s not there. As much as I wish it was as strong as the Big XII, it’s not there yet. I don’t think the gap is as big as everyone makes it out to be, but the simple fact is that the Big XII has a legit 7 or 8 teams that could be dancing out of their 10. The PAC-12 has 4 or 5 dancing teams out of 12. I do think the PAC has potential though as Arizona is recruiting lights out right now, UCLA has enough history that they can throw it together at any point in time, and programs like Washington, Stanford and Oregon all appear to be headed in the right direction. The question is can CU become what we hope they will? What about Utah? Can they return to the Majerus days? If so, and with the Big XII constantly threatening to implode, the PAC could be the better conference 3-4 years from now.
Make sure you check back tomorrow as we will be exploring what we can expect from CU this season, especially early on as the team is challenged in Puerto Rico.
For more info, make sure you check out the following:
* Buffnik’s Twitter feed
* Goose’s Twitter feed
* The Ralphie Report
* The Ralphie Report on Twitter
* The Rumblings of a Deranged Buffalo
* Rumblin’s Twitter feed
* Tyler Ziskin’s Twitter feed
* Fans & Students Who Support CU Buffs Basketball
* CU Buffs on Twitter
* CU Men’s Basketball on Twitter