By the way, these answers were all given to me last week before the Cain announcement went public, so any references (like mine) were left in for authenticity.
Yesterday, we discussed how we thought CU would do in Puerto Rico and went in to a discussion on the roster that the team will be fielding this season. Today, we’re going to continue to analyze the upcoming season for the Buffs by taking a closer look at the non-conference schedule as well as the various strengths and weaknesses the team brings to the table.
In case you missed any of the previous days, here’s your chance to catch up.
* 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)
In which areas should we expect improvement and where might we take a step back in 2011?
Zach Bell – The most immediate improvement will be the familiarity with Tad’s system and coaching style. The change from Bzdelik to Tad was pretty major in terms of the scheme they ran and CU had the talent a year ago to overcome that and make some waves. Now the overall talent level has decreased but the hope is that the team’s ‘buy in’ to Boyle’s system will make up for some of the talent gap. With some of the key players in place, there is a chance it might not be as bad as many fans are expecting. The step back is absolutely in scoring. With Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, Colorado had two players that were walking safety nets. With the shot clock running down, you knew those two could make a play. To a lesser extent, Levi Knutson provided something similar with his three point shooting ability. Those three are gone and while Tad preaches about this team’s balance…it is going to be hard to replace that scoring. More importantly, it will just take time for guys that were mainly role players on last year’s team to realize that they need to be aggressive. Hence why Carlon Brown could not be in Boulder at a better time.
Tyler Ziskin – This is the first time in awhile I can remember saying that Colorado basketball has legit D1 size and athleticism. We have several players with versatile skill sets, and it's been a long time since we've had that luxury. The 2012 team also boasts significantly better depth than in year's past, especially at the guard positions.
On the other hand, this team is very young, and very inexperienced. We don't have an Alec Burks type player, so we don't have that "star power" that some people look for. Our scoring will take a hit this year without question with Levi, Marcus, and Cory all graduating in addition to Alec leaving early for the draft.
Buffnik – It's pretty clear that the Buffs will take a step back in offensive efficiency. Levi Knutson was one of the best in the nation, as was Alec Burks. We also had Cory Higgins, who tied the all-time scoring record at CU and was able to play some point guard. Also, Marcus Relphorde was a tough matchup who could get hot and change games. All four of them were also clutch free throw shooters. Plus, Burks was able to absolutely take over a game. That's a ton of offense to replace. We will be worse on offense, maybe much worse.
Where we can improve is with our defense and rebounding. We would have been one of the worst defenses in the Pac-12 last season and rebounding was a mediocre. These are areas that improved in 2010 over 2009 and should be even better in 2011. Roberson led the team in rebounds, steals and blocked shots as a true freshman. He played his best basketball in the last third of the season. Beyond that, this will be the 2nd year in Boyle's system, which should result in much better execution of defensive concepts. Add in that we'll actually have a center with Shane back from injury. Shane will be able to alter shots in help defense, hold the post against most bigs, and allow players like Dufault and Roberson to play their natural positions. We should see major improvements here. It could be enough to make up for the offensive losses.
RumblinBuff – Post play, both on defense and offense, will see a huge upgrade. Austin will (finally) be allowed to play a more natural 3 or 4 slot on the court when SHT is playing, giving CU more offensive veratility, and on defense, the combination of ‘Dre and SHT should limit opponents scoring opportunities in the paint.
There’s going to be a pretty large drop-off in free-throw percentage. Alec, Cory, and Levi were fantastic from the line (84% combined), and will be sorely missed. Additionally, ‘Dre will grab more minutes, and scoring opportunities, this season. While I think he’ll improve over last season’s 55% shooting from the charity stripe, he won’t help the overall numbers by getting to the line more often.
Goose – Our frontcourt is going to take a huge step forward. Don’t get me wrong, I’d prefer it take the step forward with Cain, but completely support him in his decision. Getting SHT back alone helps us out as it allows Dufault to slide to the 4 where he can use his jumper more and actually get a decent match-up for the first time in his college career. Our rebounding should improve as well. Losing Higgins hurts there, but I think Brown should be able to fill that role.
As for where we’re taking a step back, it’s going to be offensive efficiency leading the way. Levi was one of the top players in the nation in that regard last season. Plus Burks & Higgins weren’t exactly slouches on the offensive end of the court. Can someone step up to fill their production?
How many wins should CU fans expect from the non-conference schedule?
Buffnik – Frankly, it's not that difficult of a non-conference schedule.
Ft. Lewis College (home) = win
Puerto Rico Tip Off = 2-1 or 1-2
Air Force (road) = likely win
Georgia (home) = likely win
Colorado State (road) = likely win
Fresno State (home) = likely win
Wyoming (home) = likely win
CSU-Bakersfield (home) = win
Texas Southern (home) = win
New Orleans (home) = win
Anything worse than 8-4 would be unacceptable and even 8-4 would be somewhat disappointing. Since I went with 2-1 in Puerto Rico, I'll also go with a good performance in the rest of the non-conference. We slip up on one of the likely wins (Georgia worries me), but take care of business overall.
CU finishes the non-conference at 10-2.
Tyler Ziskin – I'm afraid this answer might bother some Buffs fans, but fans need to realize this isn't last year's team, and it's not easy to replace your four most talented players in just one season. We've only got 12 non-conference games this year, and it's very difficult by basketball standards. I've got us losing two in the Puerto Rico Tipoff, I also have us losing @CSU and @Air Force, and we'll likely lose 2 out of 3 home games against Fresno, Wyoming, and Georgia. That would have us entering the Pac 12 schedule at a mediocre 6-6... I hope Buffs fans understand why that shouldn't be a reason to jump off a cliff.
Zach Bell – By my count, they have 11 chances. Wichita State, Maryland, and Georgia are games I see as losses though Georgia is a possibility. The other eight games are all very winnable. I’ll say the Buffs get seven nonconference wins.
Goose – There are going to be growing pains. I think we’ll go 8-4 with the possibility of 9-3, but I’m afraid I might be overly optimistic and can’t rule out as low as 6-6 to be brutally honest. I have us going 1-2 at PR, and I think we’ll drop one of CSU/AFA. The question is can we protect our home court? If so, we should be in great shape.
RumblinBuff – While the non-con schedule features more ‘name’ teams than previous years, it’s actually designed to be pretty favorable to a team still feeling each other out. Once CU gets back from the Puerto Rico tip-off, with a trip to face Air Force in the Springs, they don’t leave the state until the 4th conference game in the middle of January. Two solid months in the Centennial State, all against beatable squads, should lead to a bucket-full of wins. I expect a sweep, one loss if something goes wrong, from the home portion of the non-con slate. At worst, a 1-1 split of the two in-state road trips as well.
Assuming that my disappointing 1-2 prediction in Puerto Rico is correct, that should put the Buffs at 9-3 minimum headed into the New Years Eve date with Utah.
What expectations should CU fans have for the season?
Goose – After spending all off-season trying to raise expectations for everyone, I’m finding out that I may have been wrong. Don’t get me wrong, I still think everyone is criminally low on CU right now, but I’ve seen a lot of people talking about the Big Dance. We’re not there. There’s an outside punchers chance we could sneak in, but I don’t see it. I think NIT is a reasonable expectation. I’d love to go 9-9 in conference play, but I just don’t know if it’s possible. 7-11 seems a little more realistic. If so, that means my prediction would be 15-15 heading into the PAC-12 tourney. Win one, lose one, NIT. Which I think everyone should view as a success.
RumblinBuff – CU will experience some growing pains after losing 75% of last season’s offense, so overall expectations need to be tempered a bit. Luckily, the relatively easy non-con schedule leaves open the door for an over-.500 record, and another trip to the NIT. That’d be only the second time since Sox Walseth prowled the Boulder sidelines that CU would have back-to-back postseason appearances.
I vehemently disagree with anyone who reflexively puts CU in the bottom-3rd of the Pac-12. This squad, with appreciate home crowds supporting them, will back into 5 or 6 home wins in conference play, even if everything goes to ****. Any wins on the road (OSU, ASU, Utah?), or a 7th, 8th, or 9th win at home, and CU will easily be in the muddled middle of the Pac-12.
Tyler Ziskin – The bottom line is that it is a transition year for Boyle and the Buffs. This year will be a real measuring stick for Boyle as a coach, because frankly, he came into a pretty cushy position in his first year as the Buffs coach last year. The 2011 team was the most talented team Colorado has had in quite awhile. Don't take that to mean that I don't believe in Boyle, because that's not even close to true, I'm just saying we'll learn more about Boyle this season than we did last year. Fans tend to forget that Colorado basketball was pretty terrible in the W/L column prior to last year despite having some talented players like Cory Higgins, Richard Roby, etc. I think we're more talented that the 2006-2008 teams, but nowhere near last year's team. I would compare this year's roster to the 2009-10 team and the 2005-06 team... which would lead me to believe we'll be a borderline NIT squad this upcoming fall. We are picked to finish 10th-11th in the Pac 12... and I expect this team to exceed those expectations, but not dramatically. The Buffs will finish 8th or 9th in the Pac 12 this year if I had to guess.
Buffnik – When we get into conference play, I'm expecting to see a team that's tough at home and struggles on the road. Also, there are teams like Arizona and UCLA that are likely to sweep us. I think that matching Stanford's 7-11 conference record from last year is about where we should be.
So, I'm going with 17-13 overall heading into the Pac-12 tournament. That would put us on the wrong side of the bubble and only an appearance in the tourney finals would likely get us into the NCAA tourney. Figure 17 or 18 wins and another trip to the NIT. We could fall a bit short of that and be in the CBI (or out of the postseason) and we could finish a bit better and get into the Dance (they owe us one for last year if we're on the bubble).
Zach Bell – There are so many unknowns with this team that it is hard to justify any expectation. The two huge pluses are that their nonconference is very manageable and they are walking into a very thin Pac-12. CU fans should expect a very tough, up and down season with the best case scenario being a finish near the top of the second half of the conference. Don’t worry, though. Tad’s got a gem of a 2012 recruiting class coming up that should elevate this program.
Make sure you check back tomorrow as we will pulling out our crystal balls and taking a look at what challenges face CU in the future. We’re also going to solve two debates that have plagued Buffs fans for a while now.
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
By the way, these answers were all given to me last week before the Cain announcement went public, so any references (like mine) were left in for authenticity.
One thing I mentioned but don't think we stressed enough overall is defensive system. We all tend to focus on offense. There's been a ton of talk on the boards about the difficulties of switching from the Princeton offense to an up-tempo motion offense. While true, I don't think that was the main reason for our early season struggles last season.
The big thing that caused early struggles for last year's Buffs was a switch from a zone defense to man defense. Bzdelik's zone was pretty soft. It wasn't like a Syracuse or Temple match-up that had a lot of man concepts. We usually packed in a 2-3 or ran a 1-3-1 trap where we gambled to jump passing lanes.
Changing this to man defense that picked up around 10 feet outside the top of the 3pt circle while also running multiple double teams on post players and having different (and more aggressive) help defense rotations took months to get buy-in on. That shouldn't be a problem this year. We should be playing defense at a much higher level from the beginning of the season.
Also, man defense will give an automatic bump to your rebounding versus zone defense. Simply put, you don't have to find the guy you're supposed to be boxing out. Last year, however, it took a while before guys really bought in to boxing their man off the glass. Our rebounding didn't really take off until Roberson got comfortable and developed into one of the best individual rebounders in the conference. Having Tunks back from injury will make our rebounding better. The second year in the system should make our rebounding better. The big replacement here is Burks pulling down a lot of rebounds from the wing. If Carlon Brown can replace that production, we should have one of the best rebounding teams in the Pac-12. This is especially true if Cain earns significant minutes. One of the main reasons he was brought in was because he averaged double figure rebounds in high school while matching up against much taller players.
Anyway, I didn't mean for this post to be so long. But I wanted to give a bit more insight into my thought process on why I think the Buffs can start quickly despite losing so much offense and why I don't think losing 75% of our scoring spells DOOM for this season.
Only Irish coffee provides in a single glass all four essential food groups: alcohol, caffeine, sugar and fat. - Alex Levine
Finally, some disagreement on the non-con schedule. Predictions anywhere from 10 to 6 wins. I think 6 would be a disaster, considering most of those games are home. Unless we get swept in the the AF-GA-CSU stretch, I have a hard time seeing this squad losing more than 4 OOC games. Just too much home cooking.
Standing on the wall for Colorado Basketball since 2002.
No man wastes that many "f---s" over something he doesn't love.
For more, please visit The Rumblings of a Deranged Buffalo.
Tzisk... Thats brutal. If we lose 4 out of those 5 thats a question of the coaching because we should win 4 out of those 5 at the least just based on talent.I also have us losing @CSU and @Air Force, and we'll likely lose 2 out of 3 home games against Fresno, Wyoming, and Georgia
Like I said, it won't be a popular opinion. Admittedly, I'm generally a pessimist with my preseason predictions because it makes it easier to be satisfied with the season. I would not be shocked to see us at 7-5... 8-4 I'd be pleasantly surprised, and 9-3 or above I just don't see happening. We generally start slow, and this team doesn't have the scoring or experience to turn it on early in the year IMO. We always find a way to lose to Wyoming, we aren't good on the road, and Wichita State/Maryland/Alabama are all better teams than us. Wyo/CSU/Georgia/Fresno are all down, but so are we...
I guess we will see, and trust me, I hope you are right and I am wrong. I expect us to be a much better team down the stretch than the beginning of the season, but in my personal opinion, no way we are better than 8-4 in the nonconference and I personally see us going 6-6 right now.