Brooks: Bzdelik's Background Might Give Buffs An Edge
BOULDER - We'll start with the obvious and proceed to the not-so: It's difficult to defeat the same team twice in a five-day span. It's doable if you've got the right guy analyzing Game 1, identifying shortcomings and making the necessary adjustments.
The Colorado men's basketball team has the right guy, and here's why: When the Buffaloes tip it off against Texas Tech Wednesday morning in the opening game of the Big 12 Conference tournament, Bzdelik will have had four days to break down and digest what his team did well and where it fell short in an otherwise defenseless (101-90) victory on Saturday against the Red Raiders.
The back-to-back games represent a flashback for Bzdelik to his former life - those 15 seasons spent in the NBA. In Saturday's postgame interview, here's how he addressed that topic:
"It kind of reminds me of the NBA. Immediately after the game, I'll watch the Texas Tech game and I'll make an edit and I'll ask, 'Can we do this differently? Maybe this will work better than it did today.'
"You make adjustments; sometimes you make adjustments for the better and sometimes for the worse. Just have to evaluate the film and see perhaps what you can do better schematically that might help you. Sometimes you don't do a thing."
That isn't the case this time.
On Monday, a couple of hours before 'Bzz' and the Buffs boarded a flight for KC, his to-do list had been compiled. If you have an inkling about his makeup and witnessed Saturday's game - 101 points allowed and CU being outscored 55-48 in the second half - you know where his list started.
Gimme a 'D' . . . in Bzdelik's world, poor defense is intolerable, bordering on heresy. Here's what his film study yielded:
"We got very lazy with our switching, we didn't come together. Consequently, they were able to slip screens, which is what you want to do offensively against teams that do switch. We got lazy. We didn't guard the ball very well and we got out of our stance and started going under on screens, didn't get pin downs and allowed their three-point shooters to get air space. There's a lot we can improve upon from a defensive standpoint."
Prior to that game, Bzdelik and his staff were concerned about Tech's Mike Singletary and John Roberson. Both finished in double figures - Singletary put up a double-double (21 points, 10 rebounds) and Roberson added 11 points and nine assists - but shooting guard Nick Okorie dramatically outscored that duo.
Okorie, a junior college transfer, blistered the Buffs for 34 points on 11-of-16 shooting from the field and nine-of-nine from the free throw line. Okorie finished 24 points above his seasonal average.
Asked how that happened, Bzdelik offered, "On two occasions we went under on screens. One time we didn't close out very hard. Two times he cut from weak side to strong side and we got lazy and allowed him to cut between us and the ball.
"Our intensity defensively really slacked off in a big way once we got - in our minds - a comfortable lead. That needs to improve. We can improve in a lot of areas, and hopefully we do that on Wednesday."
Of course, Tech coach Pat Knight expects similar improvement on the defensive end from his team, which arrives in Kansas City with a seven-game losing streak in tow. The Red Raiders were ranked as high as No. 16 in mid-season, then entered a tailspin they haven't been able to escape.
Knight's emphasis also has been on ratcheting up his defense. "We have to be able to stop somebody, and that comes from your best players . . . it's the reason the Bulls with (Michael) Jordan were so good - they emphasized defense," he said, adding that Roberson and Singetary "have to get better defensively."
Knight also is preaching the obvious to his foundering team, telling it the conference tournament represents "a new opportunity . . . to wipe the slate clean. If you get motivated, anything can happen. Our only shot to get to the NCAAs is to win this tournament."
Same for CU, but unlike the Red Raiders, the Buffs don't tip it off Wednesday with an overall winning record (15-15). Thus, CU's chances of reaching the NIT hinge on winning Wednesday, while Tech (16-14) could eke out an NIT bid even with a first-round Big 12 loss.
Rather than spring any surprises (it's a little late in the season for that), Bzdelik expects both teams to try and refine what they've done to this point. And playing in the tournament's opening game isn't a big deal for him.
"Doesn't matter to me," he said. "Whenever, wherever. There's still a light at the end of the tunnel in terms of postseason. So it's an opportunity, and in life you only get so many opportunities.
"We're very fortunate to have this opportunity to play college basketball, and so let's seize this opportunity and do the best we can."
In light of that appealing light at the end of the tunnel - it would be his first postseason appearance at CU - I asked him if Wednesday's game was as big as any he's had during his three seasons in Boulder.
A preamble was required, but see if you agree that he finally answered in the affirmative: "Every game is huge. I've always whatever the next game is, that's the most important game to us. This happens to be the next one - and it might be the last one if we don't win."
He and his players want to play on. As he said, it's the next game, but it's also a big, big game for the Buffs.
TICKETS, PLEASE: CU freshman Alec Burks never has attended a Big 12 tournament. While in high school in Grandview, Mo., he refrained from making the trip because he hadn't taken an interest in any Big 12 team.
Plus, the tourney was televised - "so I didn't really mess (with going). But I watched it; it's a great tournament," Burks said.
Before the Buffs departed for KC, Burks was hopeful of lining up 12-15 tickets for family and friends who planned to make the trip from Grandview.
Burks called the first-round game "a great chance . . . we played them already and we won. We made some mistakes, so I feel like if we fix those mistakes we can win by a bigger margin next game."
On Monday, the Big 12 coaches honored Burks as the league's rookie-of-the-year. Similar awards, given by newspapers that routinely cover the conference, have followed.
Burks, the only freshman in the nation who reached double figures in every game he finished, said he was honored by the attention - especially with him not being as high-profile a prospect as some other Big 12 newcomers.
Bzdelik, on the other hand, recognized Burks' potential: "Coming in, I really believed in my heart he was as talented as any player coming out of high school. But you never know how he's going to react when the lights are turned on, the ball is thrown up. From early in the year, Alec embraced the moment."
This week's accolades, said Bzdelik, are a "great honor for him individually and us as a program and for his teammates. But now, as with anything in life, where do you go from here?"