We’re finally previewing the Pac-12. This week, the last before games actually tip, I’ll post two previews of travel mates (i.e. UW and WSU will appear in the same post) and, in the interest of being fully prepared for Friday’s hoop joy, I’ll post two-a-day. Thus the title. Although it’s 4 previews-a-day. Regardless. Enjoy. (Other school previews)
Has Tad Boyle built a program? There’s a big distinction between programs and individual teams, collections of talent that achieve something nice. Chauncey Billups’ Buffs? Team. Mark Few at Gonzaga? Program. Follow? In the latter half of this post we’ll explore Larry Krystkowiak’s program. It’s a good one. But for now, what do we make of Boyle’s six years in Boulder? At the surface, they’re great. Some readers have suggested statues. That’s a little much but four dances in six years isn’t just unprecedented out of The Keg, it’s – well – statue conjuring. So in considering Boyle’s program, this is a critical year. We could excuse a chunk of the past to Josh Scott; a local talent who blossomed into a transcendent player. He was fantastic. An All-Time Buff. But J40 isn’t suiting up in 2017. And what we’re left with, according to resident CU expert Ben Burrows in his monster CU preview, is:
I get the feeling that this, finally, is what the ideal Tad Boyle roster is supposed to look like.
If that’s indeed the case, we’ll have a really good feel for what the Tad Boyle program looks like and likely further optimism oozing out of Boulder.
Last season on The [other] Rise
We didn’t expect a lot of out of the Buffs. Or at least I didn’t. They sulked to the end of 2015 and didn’t add much help to 2016. Their second best player was both a malcontent and had a torn Achilles. And then the season started. And they opened 11-1. And they continued to win, hitting the skids only as a road team like the rest of the Pac-12. They made the NCAA tournament and – unfortunately – blew a 10-point lead to UConn. Last season was a great year for the Buffs.
Don’t be this guy
And set season expectations on practice prognostications and a few Tad Boyle quotes about Derrick White. The D-2 All-American hasn’t played a single game for Boyle but he’s already called him “worth the price of admission.” Interestingly enough, CU has raised ticket prices this year. And look, I’m rooting for the kid. It’s a helluva story. But in prognosticating a season, I choose not to believe a D-2 player – the same kind of player who plays for the teams we mock during exhibition season – will carry a high major team with aspirations of becoming a program. This isn’t to say you can’t be optimistic (more on that below), but to rest your season on this kid is aggressive. Of course, with all of that said, I will be following the Derrick White story closely. Does it need a hashtag? Probably not. Go Derrick!
Be this guy
And like CU’s roster. While Scott is gone and he was fantastic, the pieces remaining are experienced and diverse. There’s muscle in senior Wesley Gordon; shooting in breakout start George King (who kind of lends promise to the Derrick White story); room for improvement with Dominque Collier and Josh Fortune; experience off the pine in Tory Miller and Thomas Akyazili. Of course the roster and its . The Buffs had the worst transition defense in the conference (by volume, not necessarily success) and struggled to hang on to the basketball (thus the improvement opportunity for Collier). But the fact remains that 65% of the minutes from an NCAA tournament team return. That’s something to be optimistic about.
Stat – 451
Gross number (pun fully intended) of turnovers committed by Colorado last season. This maps out to 13.2 per game or 18.8% of all possessions. In conference play, that ballooned to 19.2%.
This is a defining year. Ben called it the “next step.” A year ago it was blown leads. Perhaps the Buffs didn’t quite feel like they belonged at the table yet. We’re in the seventh year of Tad Ball and it’s time to believe. Or get off the pot. They’ve been the Pac-12’s fifth or sixth seed in each of their Pac seasons. It’s time to show that, while they’re putting together nice campaigns, they’re here to win some hardware and not just be satisfied with invitations. I bet the Buffs would like to know what the second weekend looks like? Let me tell you, it’s even more stressful than the first. And while I’m not convinced this is a second weekend roster, one has to believe Tad with a group of heady veterans just might be able to define a program and be one of sixteen in March.
Larry Krystkowiak has built a Utah program. He has a $36 million facility that suggests as much but he’s also got two first rounders (who actually won him games cough-Washington-cough), a Sweet Sixteen and a top-2 conference finish. This season is less about proof for Larry and more about sustaining. 2017 could be the year in which Larry Krystkowiak becomes your favorite Pac-12 coach not on your bench.
Last season on Any Given Teammate
Jakob Poeltl won the Pac-12’s Player of the Year award and we saw Larry Krystkowiak flex his player development muscle. Yes, Poeltl has as much talent in his pinky toe as many of us have in our entire persons, but last year he set out to get better at a few specific things, most notably drawing fouls and making the subsequent free throws. How much did he improve? 5 fouls drawn per 40 minutes to 6.7 (58th in the nation) and 43% FT% to 70%. How about that? The team itself, however, didn’t come together as dominantly as we might’ve expected but they managed to finish second in the deepest Pac-12 we’ve ever seen (7 dancers). And all of this despite a 1-3 conference start. Program.
Don’t be this guy
And write off Utah because they lost – yanno – everyone. The Utes are introducing twelve new players this year. Yes, I’ll concede, that is cause for concern. But it doesn’t necessarily mean doomsday. It’s not auspicious (I keep having to note that twelve noobs is a bad look which is probably a concession that indeed you’re allowed to be this guy). But I’m drawn to a Larry K quote from Media Day:
I think part of the responsibility of us as coaches, I can’t say we’re a basketball program that has a system that goes out and recruits players to that system. I think what we’ve done is you try to recruit the best players you can get, and put them in positions where they can be successful.
I love this. Nimbleness begets success.
Be this guy
And get on the Kyle Kuzma bandwagon. He’s 6’9” with guard skills who still plays on the block. If you’re going to have a roster of primarily unknowns I’d love for my known commodities to be Swiss Army knives. Kuzma is one of the best in the conference and he’s returning with Lorenzo Bonam, another fantastic combo-guard Larry brought out of the JuCo ranks. So while Kuzma is the big, Bonam has things covered on the perimeter. He’s a big guard and a capable one.
Stat – 8th
2016 national ranking of Utah’s 2pt FG% (55.5%). Also the 2015 national ranking of Utah’s 3pt FG% (40.1%). Interestingly, the difference in Utah’s offensive efficiency in each of those efforts was nearly identical: 114.5 and 114.4. Think about the differences and similarities of those numbers and revisit Larry’s recruiting/coaching quote. Talking talk and walking walk.
For all of the above optimistic effusing, I’m not positive this can be an NCAA dancing team. I think they’ll be a pain in the ass and notch some significant wins. But twelve players is more than he introduced the year he took over this team. That group won six games. And while I most certainly do not believe this team is miserably terrible, I don’t foresee an easy path to them finishing in the upper half of the conference.