CU Buffs and CSU Rams: One will advance in the NCAA men's tournament, but the other....
If one were to create a line graph of the 2012-2013 college basketball season, it would look something like the Flatirons: jagged and uneven. Multiple teams held the position of number one in the country for a week, only to lose the next. Yes, it's been a schizophrenic season, but fear not, intrepid round-ball masochists. The NCAA tournament begins this week to restore some traditional entropic normalcy to college hoops. Colorado has two teams, CSU and CU-Boulder, in the 68-team field, and both have a decent chance of winning at least a game this year. We break things down below.
Colorado State (8) vs. Missouri (9) Game time: Thursday, March 21, 9:20 p.m. (Eastern) Channel: CBS
Colorado State had a strong season, coming up just short of the Mountain West regular season title, and falling to UNLV in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Led by Colton Iverson's 14.7 points and 9.8 rebounds per game, the Rams picked up solid non-conference wins over the course of the season, besting the University of Washington, the University of Denver and Montana, with really only two losses that could be classified as "bad" -- one to the University of Illinois-Chicago and the other to a Boise State team that was either great or terrible throughout the season. CSU just happened to catch Broncos on a good day.
The Rams will face Missouri in the first round. It's not a great match-up for either team, but it is an interesting one. Both teams rank in the top five nationally for rebounding (Mizzou is second, CSU is fourth). Both do a decent job scoring, but Missouri (76.2 ppg) plays at a faster tempo than CSU (73.1 ppg), so the scoring numbers are a bit skewed. The story of the Tigers' season has been inconsistency, even though the team is laden with upperclassmen. They played well enough to beat Florida, the fifth-ranked team at the time, but then poorly enough to lose to Kentucky in the next game. They turn the ball over at a high clip (13.2 turnovers/game), with lead guard Phil "Flip" Pressey vacillating between unstoppable and a liability -- and is sometimes both in the same game.
Colorado State is also a team of upperclassmen, but they take better care of the ball (10.7 turnovers/game), and shoot a decent percentage from the field (45 percent). The Rams' weakness is athleticism. They've got talent, sure, and great chemistry. But are those two attributes enough to take down a team with some of the best athletes in the country?
This game could come down to who does a better job taking care of the ball and who can impose their style on the other team. It's an intriguing contest -- just the kind of thing we all want from March Madness.
My pick: Missouri. Sorry, Colorado State. I love your tenacity and grit, but Missouri has too much talent.
Well, Colorado didn't win the Pac-12 Tournament, and neither did the Buffs do anything to make fans less nervous about their NCAA tourney chances. They basically showed exactly what they are: a strong defensive team that has trouble scoring. The Buffs have a handful of good wins, but also some ugly losses: the Kansas blowout and losses to Wyoming, Utah and Oregon State. Andre Roberson is back and presumably healthy, and Spencer Dinwiddie looks solid, if a little reckless. But it's going to take more than a two-man effort to make any headway in the tournament this year.
CU faces the University of Illinois in the first round, and while the teams play different styles of basketball, in conferences with decidedly different talent levels, both are good representations of this year's season: talented, athletic and maddeningly uneven. The Illini reeled off twelve straight wins to begin the season, mostly beating up on teams from weaker conferences -- but they did knock off Gonzaga in a win that looks more impressive now than before. But following that fast start, they finished the season 10-12 and below .500 in the Big Ten (8-10). It's a little difficult to gauge exactly what that means, though, because the Big Ten has some of the best teams in the nation. From an outsider's perspective, that brutal line-up could mean either that the Illini are sufficiently battle-tested or simply a middling team in a great conference.
Illinois is classic enigmatic NCAA tournament team. The players are athletic, prone to bouts of defensive lapses and shoot a staggering number of threes per game (24). They will either make a run or flame out in the first round. The Buffs certainly hope it's the latter, and they can facilitate that by closing out hard on the perimeter (something they failed to do against Arizona in the Pac-12 tourney, leading to multiple back-breaking three pointers), hitting the glass (Arizona out-rebounded the Buffs -- something that rarely happened to them in conference play), and scoring the ball (a constant struggle).
This game will come down to which can get hot from the field and control tempo. The Buffs can play defense with the best of them, and that has to be their calling card in the tournament.
My pick: Colorado. Illinois is talented and athletic, so this should be a close game, but the Buffs have the ingredients to have success in the first round.
More from our Sports archive circa March 2012: "Video: CU Buffs upset UNLV, set their sights on Baylor Bears."
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