Brooks: Noting The Buffs Before Tripping To Texas
BOULDER - It's Big Dance week and for the second consecutive March - the first time that's happened in 50 years - the Buffaloes appear on the NCAA dance card. Colorado is stepping out in Texas (Austin) on Friday afternoon against Illinois. Time to take note(s):
GET ON BOARD(S): In junior forward Andre Roberson, the Buffs have the nation's No. 2 rebounder. "Dre" trails Siena's O.D. Anosike 11.3 to 11.4. You won't find any Illini players on the leader board.
Illinois' top board man is 6-11 Nanna Egu, who checks in at 4.6 rebounds a game. The Illini are averaging 33.5 rebounds a game, 10th in the Big Ten Conference, the Buffs and Roberson are second in the Pac-12 (37.2) in rebounding offense and fourth (+3.4) in rebounding margin.
On paper, it's advantage Buffs. But paper rarely translates to the hardwood and unfortunately points aren't directly awarded for rebounds. Still, if CU adheres to coach Tad Boyle's pair of iron-clad fundamentals - rebounding and defense - what looks good on the stat sheet should benefit the Buffs in the NCAA Tournament.
"We've got the best rebounder in the nation in Andre and two freshmen - me and Josh (Scott) - and Spencer (Dinwiddie) can get any board he wants," said Xavier Johnson. "We're a tall team; we'll be good on the boards." (Roberson is 6-7, Scott 6-10, Johnson 6-6, Dinwiddie is a 6-6 guard.)
Boyle says the Illini "kind of rebound by committee," and along with Egwu, a couple of other players are above four boards a game. Usually those are long boards (not a surfing term), because Illinois loves the three ball and that can contribute to caroms heading in all directions.
How fond is Illinois of firing from behind the arc? Compared to the Buffs' 498 trey attempts (173 made, 34.5 percent), the Illini attempted 815 (265 made, 32.5 percent). Illinois leads the Big Ten in threes made per game (7.8), but is eighth in three-point field goal percentage.
Boyle's take: "We've got to guard the three-point line and guard the ball as well. We always talk defensively about not giving up layups, that's going to be important. But in addition to that, we have to guard them at the three-point line. They're very capable. If they get hot . . . they remind me a lot of UNLV last year. They shoot a lot of threes and if they're making them, boy, you're in a tussle. If they're not, we've got to get the rebound and make them work a little bit."
NAME TO REMEMBER: On Monday afternoon, before CU players had watched tape of Illinois, there was one Illini player the Buffs already were familiar with. That would be guard Brandon Paul, Illinois' leading scorer (16.6 ppg, fourth in Big Ten).
Trailing him in scoring in a three-guard offense are D.J. Richardson (12.4 ppg) and Tracy Abrams (10.4 ppg). But the guy on the Buffs' minds before and after watching tape is Paul, a 6-4 senior whose 15-foot buzzer beater took out Minnesota 51-49 in the first round of the Big Ten Tournament.
Boyle says Paul reminds him of Dinwiddie, who likely will be matched up with Paul on Friday: "He can put it on floor, come off ball screens, he's a very explosive player."
BIG DANCE RECRUITING BENEFITS: A second trip to the NCAA Tournament in as many years has put CU on the national radar - and you know what that means in recruiting terms.
Being in the NCAAs in consecutive years, said Boyle, "helps us a lot. It's one thing to talk about getting our program on a national scale, it's another thing to do it. We've done it; we're not done doing it. We've got to continue to grow and improve our program.
"I heard Andre make a comment the first time we talked and I recruited him . . . I talked about trying to make Colorado a national level program. We're in the process of doing that. We still have work to do but we're on our way."
Then there's this year's first-round site for the Buffs . . . Texas continues to be a target for Boyle and his staff. "We signed Dustin Thomas from Texarkana (and) he's actually going to come to the game," Boyle said. "We're always going to recruit Texas . . . Andre is from 45 minutes away in San Antonio. It's a great opportunity for him to go home, but also to showcase our program to the state of Texas, which is something we want to do."
PEAKING AT THE RIGHT TIME? The Buffs went into last season's NCAA Tournament having generated momentum by winning four games in four days to claim the inaugural Pac-12 Tournament championship.
This season brings a different scenario. Their record this March is 2-2, with wins over Oregon and Oregon State (Pac-12 tourney) and losses to Oregon State and Arizona (Pac-12 tourney).
Boyle seemed reluctant to say the Buffs currently were playing their best, but added, "I think we're capable of it. Obviously, last year winning four games in four days (but) I think all that stuff's overrated. It's a new season; this is season number four - preseason, non-conference, league and Pac-12 Tournament and now the NCAA Tournament. It's a new season.
"Last year we lost three out of four going into the Pac-12 Tournament and won it . . . (now) it's win or go home. Hopefully we're not one and done, but with the next loss it's over."
Of course, his players don't have to be reminded. Said Scott on his and his teammates' singular focus: "I get the feeling from our team right now that it's like Charleston. We're going there to win, but do it one game at a time. Now it's Illinois and we're not looking forward any further than that. I think that's a good recipe. That won us the Charleston Classic . . . I think if we had looked forward to the NCAA Tournament we wouldn't be in it now."
In other words, if the focus is on going deep into the tournament, they won't get there.
MORE ON THE POST-CONCUSSION SCOTT: After missing two games with a concussion suffered against Arizona State on Feb. 16, Scott returned to the lineup for the final three regular-season games and the pair of Pac-12 tourney games.
His self-assessment since his return: "I'm pretty hard on myself. I'd say that defensively and rebounding, I think I've done a pretty good job. But offensively, I'm just trying to find the rhythm ever since that happened. It's been frustrating, but I'm working through it."
In the five games since returning, he's averaged 4.3 points and 7.3 rebounds.
CONCUSSION POSTSCRIPT: If 6-11 junior Shane Harris-Tunks hasn't been cleared from a concussion suffered against Arizona, 7-0 junior Ben Mills likely will get minutes off the bench in relief of Scott. Mills logged five first-half minutes against Arizona, making one of two free throws and grabbing two rebounds.
GET READY TO GRIND: Boyle on the Illini defense: "Illinois is battle-tested. They've played against better offensive teams than Colorado in their league. It's going to be a good game, a good test . . . they're in the gaps, they make you work. On the other hand, we're going to have to make shots. It's going to be a hard game to score."
ON THE PAC-12 AND NCAA RESPECT: CU's new league placed five teams in the Big Dance - Oregon, UCLA, Cal, Arizona and CU. But the Ducks, despite winning the Pac-12 Tournament, got no better than a No. 12 seed, as did Cal. UCLA and Arizona were sixth seeds, CU a tenth.
Boyle said the NCAA Selection Committee showed the Pac-12 some love with five teams being included - the most since seven Pac-10 teams in 2009. But in terms of seeding, he added, "We still have room for growth and improvement. But it's one step at a time."
On Oregon as a No. 12 seed, Boyle said, "From the little that I've looked at it - and I haven't looked at in depth - it's a result of non-conference schedules. That's what got us in the tournament - our non-conference schedule and our ten wins in the league, which isn't overly impressive.
"But our non-conference schedule, our strength of schedule, going on the road (all) meant something. Oregon had a lot of home games, so maybe that worked against them. That's the only thing I can surmise . . . I don't know. I wasn't in the room."
Oregon went 9-2 through its non-conference schedule and played 19 home games (17-2, with one of the losses to CU).
Boyle said if the Buffs' inclusion in the NCAAs in consecutive years comes as a mild surprise, his expectations when he took the job were to be a regular participant.
"I expect to get better every day," he said. "If you do that success is going to come. I didn't know when it would come. I didn't know we would be going to three postseason tournaments in three years. That wasn't part of my master plan or expectations. We're a day-to-day program trying to get better as players, as coaches and as a team."
TIP-INS: Boyle expects reserve Jeremy Adams to play a key role in Austin, particularly in perimeter defense. He credits Adams' improvement over the past month to his playing with more aggressiveness and confidence. "He's not afraid to make mistakes and is letting the game come to him," Boyle said. "He can guard on the perimeter. He's got a good strong body and can keep guys in front of him - and he's made some shots, which always helps." . . . . Boyle hasn't met first-year Illinois coach John Groce, but says he respects his previous work at Ohio University and his work this season . . . . The lllini are No. 5 in the Big Ten in scoring (69.1 ppg), No. 11 in scoring defense (65.3 ppg) and No. 1 in turnover margin (+2.91) . . . . The Buffs will leave for Austin via charter on Wednesday afternoon.