Last year, Arizona went 3-2 against the Pac’s newest members. Those two losses both came at the hooves of the Colorado Buffaloes who – per my man, James – have picked the Wildcats as their team to beat, the Red Letter Game he calls it. And oh do I dig that. I love competition. You, I’m going to play and beat YOU. That’s the sorta stuff that gets me to turn any game on. Why else do we revere Joe Namath’s guarantee, Ruth’s called shot, and Duke losing? Bravado and rivalry drives sport and I’m happy to welcome the Buffs into the realm of teams I want my ‘Cats to wallop.
But I’m also really enjoying watching their program evolve. Tad’s done tremendous work in short order and this is indeed a program being built to contend. And contend they will.
Leading up to Thursday’s showdown in Tucson, I asked some of my favorite and most trusted and wise CU pals their thoughts on…well, lots.
Jason (JG) is another AllBuffs contributor to whom I owe lots. He’s the man who convinced me into the world of KenPom and we have great discussions concerning the balance of advanced stats and the romanticized story of sport. I look forward to discussing Nate Silver’s The Signal and the Noise with him. Join us? He also crunches numbers – namely win shares – that have encouraged me to be a more holistic observer of the game.
And Ben (BB). This dude runs a dedicated blog to CU athletics – The Rumblings of a Deranged Buffalo at Rumblin Buff – and I really like his work. He’s the sort of fan that keeps enough perspective to know that a 1-11 football season calls for game previews surrounding new beers. My man.
Converse with these men in basketball dialogue as it will be worth your while. And…without further ado: QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS!
You gentlemen know your Buffs inside and out, something sparked that interest in sports: What’s your greatest athletic achievement?
JL: Probably getting two different players thrown out of a game for throwing punches at me in an AAU game. Apparently my opponents weren’t fans of my tactics (because when you lack talent, you have to find little things to make up the difference).
JG: I used to be able to play a little golf, when I was 15 I set the course record on a 9 hole course. I shot 29 (par 36); I was 8 under through 7 holes and limped in with a bogey, par finish. While I was never as good at basketball as golf, I can’t get enough hoops.
BB: I was co-captain on my high school’s scholastic bowl team. We won the conference title my senior year, does that count? No? You’re probably right. My life is generally light on athletic “achievement.” I usually played the “Ben Mills” role on teams growing up, leading me to expand my talents in other areas, i.e. playing the tuba. More recently, I’ve become more than decent at beer-league softball, and my solid play at first base helped my team to 11-straight championship game appearances. So I’ve got that going for me, which is nice.
Greatest sporting event ever witnessed?
JL: In person it’d probably be the Nugs home playoff game in Melo’s rookie season. The team had been out of the playoffs for almost a decade and the fans were delirious. We curb-stomped the #1 seed Timberwolves that game in what was probably the loudest sporting event I’ve ever been at in my life.
JG: This is a good question, one I waffled on and my answer may be an odd one. I have lots of memorable sports watching moments (Tyson ear bite fight, Jordan crossover/push-off on Byron Russell, the OJ car chase but one stands above the rest. Under a month after September 11th I was in Vegas on Fall break when Bonds hit his 71st home run. I was in the sports book at the Mirage (a month away from my 21st birthday) when he hit it. I have never been a Bonds fan, but the shear pandemonium in the sports book at that time in US History I will never forget. Steroids be damned, that was a good moment.
BB: All-time would probably be the 2007 National League play-in game between the Rockies and the Padres. Incredible atmosphere, incredible game, and a night I’ll never forget (even though the Rox aren’t my #1 team). If you want something CU-ish, the 2003 upset of KU in Boulder is up there. Somewhere Kirk Hinrich is still missing layups. Another fun one is the Big XII tournament win over K-State from that same year. It was one of the more bizarre finishes in the history of college basketball, with CU wining on a buzzer-beater to essentially send us into the Tournament. (*cough* https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RFItSuuy3dU *cough*). That win got those of us in the band another free night in Dallas, and $115 cash in per diem. K-BOOSH!
Whether you have a commute or cube, I know you’ve got headphones droning something out: Favorite song of the moment?
JL: I hate admitting this, but I begrudgingly like the Lumineer’s “Ho Hey“. I’m a sucker for songs that have random yelling of “hey” in it. This is why Cake might be the greatest band of all time. (PacHoops endorsed!)
JG: I am a sucker for the Lumineers “Ho Hey” song that is incessantly on the radio right now. I can’t get enough of those 2 minutes and 42 seconds. (PacHoops endorsed!)
BB: Childish Gambino, “You See Me.” (NSFW) (PacHoops endorsed!)
Onto the hoops. Ten-and-two. That’s where your Buffs stand. So, in a word, are you: happy, disappointed, ecstatic, sorrowful, [insert your own word]? Why?
JL: Underwhelmed. Had you asked me pre-season, I would have said 8-4/9-3 would be a successful non-conference schedule. However, for some reason, the 10-2 record has left a little to be desired. I’m probably nit-picking because we’re light years ahead of last year, but I question whether the team can peak like they did last year. That said, I never rule out Tad.
JG: Can I be happy and disappointed? It’s impossible not to be happy with the overall record but I am certainly disappointed about the way those two losses came. The Kansas loss was just a poor effort from the tip and the Buffs never really seemed to get into it in Laramie. There is a lot to be happy and disappointed about in individual players as well. Obviously I am happy with Dinwidddie, Dre and Scott but disappointed in SHT’s lack of pretty much everything and XJ’s inability to get anything going this year.
BB: They’ve beaten my preseason expectations, so I’ll go with “impressed.” Despite six freshmen and only one senior, and saddled with the sixth toughest non-conference schedule in the nation, they emerge with only two understandable road losses? I’ll take that.
My Wildcats are sans loss and deep like Lake Tahoe, what, if anything, scares you about them?
JL: Their size. There’s a lot to terrify there, but I like how our guards & forwards match up. The question is, can the Buffs keep Zeus/Ashley/Jerrett off of the boards and out of the low post? Scott & Roberson are good, but can Simba step up?
JG: You said it, but it isn’t just their deepness it is the overall talent that resides in that deepness. They have a handful of guys that can beat you on any given night. CU doesn’t have enough horses to bounce back if things go south early.
BB: Senior leadership. The additions of Tarczewski and Ashley are nice, and Nick Johnson is obviously a stud, but the inside-outside combo of Solomon Hill and Mark Lyons will win you the games in March. My Buffs just don’t have that experienced foundation to lean on in crunch time.
Does Spencer Dinwiddie’s mustache make him better?
JL: Damn right. Just wait until next year when Chris Jenkins is out there rocking the stache too.
JG: It has too right? Anybody that rocks the stache has to have some swagger; I think Dinwiddie feeds off that. You can’t be some chump on the court rocking it; you have to have some skill to not look like an idiot with it.
BB: Of course. Based on absolutely nothing, I figure it’s worth an extra 2.3 points per game.
Can the Buffs win this game in Tucson? If so, how or what gives them their best shot?
JL: Can? Yes. Will they? No. Best chance is if they play the D that won the Charleston Classic and kicked CSU around in the first half of that game. If the Buffs can play that type of lock-down D, they’re dangerous.
JG: Can they win? Sure they can, but a lot has to go right. Dinwiddie has to come out in first half CSU beast mode fashion, Booker has to take good shots within the offense, Dre has to grab boards like he can, Scott is going to have to battle on both ends of the court and the bench has to show up. So it can theoretically happen, but I have to agree with my friend Ken Pomeroy in giving CU a about a 1 in 5 chance to win. Too much has to go right to win a road conference game and that just doesn’t happen in college basketball very often.
BB: No. Road games are still an issue. As awesome and praise-worthy as he is, the Tad Boyle era has been peculiarly devoid of solid wins in true road games (9-18 on the road since his start in 2010). After shocking K-State in Manhattan in 2011, our best true road victory is probably the win over Fresno St from this year. Even that took a 17/20 night from ‘Dre to secure. Nothing is easy when the Buffs go on the road. Is this going to be a disaster on the level of Kansas? God I hope not, but if you guys want to move this to a neutral site (12-6 in the Boyle era), we’d be more than happy to oblige.
I’m allotting you 140 characters (a Tweet in modern vernacular) to glow about Josh Scott and/or Andre Roberson…GO!
JL: Josh Scott is already good, but will be All-Pac-12 next year and possible All-American. Get in the weight room!
JG: I don’t need 140 characters: Every possession Josh Scott doesn’t touch the ball in the post is a wasted possession.
BB: ‘Dre recently learned how to pull off the Euro-step. Your move, Rodman. Josh Scott? The Big Fundamental v 2.0. Duncan is Jealous.
Who is your favorite Wildcat, present, past, or future?
JL: The one that Tad kills with his bare hands a la the Bear from last year.
JG: This is an easy one, Damon Stoudamire. I always stayed up late as a kid and subsequently I became a West Coast basketball fan and Arizona was my team. I owned not only a #20 Arizona jersey but also his Toronto Raptors jersey as well.
BB: As a Bulls fan, Steve Kerr is an obvious #1. As for someone I actually think of as a Wildcat, Miles Simon, and the “Simon says: Championship” run in 1997, happened at the right time in my youth. His play in the title game still rattles around in my head.
The prediction question, not brought to your by Nate Silver. Tell me what happens Thursday night?
JL: I think Arizona has too many weapons, and it’ll be a little too much for the freshman to deal with, as Zona wins this one and CU starts planning to get their revenge in the Valentine’s Day Massacre.
JG: I expect Arizona to come out tough, go up early before giving a few back before the half and up end by 5. Stretch the lead to 10 in the first 5 minutes of the second half and the score to stay right about there for the rest of the game. At home and having a battle tested pre-conference schedule Arizona is going to be too much for CU to handle.
BB: An Arizona win. CU keeps their heads afloat for the first 25 minutes, mostly because Dinwiddie has a big game. As Carlon Brown revealed last year, Spencer grew up an Arizona fan, and he lights it up to spite them. ‘Dre drops a ‘Dre-esque 13/12, but is limited in the 2nd half with foul trouble. Hill and Johnson blow it open between the 16-min and 12-min timeouts, and CU struggles to get back into the game the rest of the way. ‘Zona 72 – CU 65
So there you have it, insight from the faithful. I appreciate their time and their program and their efforts for the greater good of Pac-12 hoops. Additionally, I’m really hoping to make it out to Boulder on Valentine’s Day for Arizona’s visit but time will tell. Who’s got airline miles?