Friday, January 16, 2009

Pre-game thoughts: Colorado

I planned to start this out talking about how important it will be for Kansas to win on the road tomorrow (which it will) and then I had a revelation. No one has really won on the road yet. Off the top of my head, I could only come up with six road wins by Big XII teams, so I did some rudimentary research and found out that I was short-changing the league – by six. There have been 12 total road wins (over 11 teams) by Big XII members so far this year with one of those having come in league play. Here is the entire list:

Kansas State (OU) - Rice (OU, A&M) - Texas A&M CC (OSU) - Alabama (A&M) - Georgia (MU) - Wazzu (Baylor) - Wisconsin (Texas) - TCU (Nebraska) - Northern Iowa (ISU) - Houston (ISU) - Cleveland State (KSU)

And we wonder why our conference RPI never reflects how good we think we are. Three teams (KU, CU, & Tech) didn’t get a single road win prior to conference play. However, from that list of wins, there are exactly three places where I wouldn’t guarantee a Kansas victory – Wisconsin, Kansas State and possibly Alabama – and all would be more winnable than the two we attempted. Our road games, on the other hand, were at Arizona and Michigan State – not exactly the easiest places in the country to go in and win a game, especially when they’re fired up to be playing the reigning National Champions.

So now I feel a whole lot better about our ability to perform on the road. Perhaps that’s misguided, but I also think it has some legitimacy. Because really, a simple 0-2 mark in those two places is plenty excusable for anyone. It’s the 1-2 neutral court mark that has everyone in frenzy. But does that really concern you? They destroyed a decent Washington team their first time away from the Fieldhouse. A night later they controlled a very good Syracuse team for 38 minutes – missed a couple free throws, had a great player make a play, and ended up losing in overtime. Obviously the UMass loss was inexcusable, but it really seems like more of anomaly than the norm. There’s no denying this team’s 1-4 mark away from the Phog, but unless you believe that the first 78 minutes against UW and ‘Cuse was more likely a fluke than the UMass game, you’ve got nothing to stand on to suggest that this team can’t win away from home.

With all of that said, they do have a bridge to cross. Some of this stuff is much more psychological (especially with young guys) and right now, all they’ve been told is that they can’t win on the road – though I have a hunch Bill hasn’t been perpetuating that message. Which is why I’m ecstatic that this game is in Boulder. Because I do expect them to struggle at times tomorrow, which is when it helps to have better talent at every position on the floor. More specifically, our road struggles have come as a result of poor, confused defense once the other team has made a run. Fortunately, I don’t think this Colorado team has much of a run in them. You may remember from our mini-preview, they pretty much have Higgins and Tomlinson – everyone else is just complimentary – and as good as those two are, even they have trouble with ball security and only Higgins can really create points for himself.


1. Dominate the boards. For the year, against a pretty poor schedule, Colorado has been outrebounded by just over 4 a game. Worse yet, they’re only corralling a mere 29 boards a game, and only 6.5 on the offensive end. Against some of our better opponents we’ve been beaten on the boards and a lot of times wasted good first shot defense by allowing easy second chance points. This should not and cannot be a problem tomorrow if we’re going to win. And just as importantly, we need to learn how to rebound before Monday’s visit from the Aggies – Boulder seems like a great place to practice.

2. Tempo. The Buffs rely entirely on their defense to keep them in games, because they know they can’t keep up on the scoreboard. As you all know, we’re quite the opposite. So of course they’ll be trying to slow things down tomorrow. Much like #1, winning this battle has a two-pronged effect. For one thing, it will make winning this particular game much easier. And secondly, this team needs to learn how to impose its will rather than succumbing to the opposition – pace of play is one of the best ways for this to happen. And with tempo, they need to keep focused on defense. Colorado may not score much (67/game) but they do actually shoot pretty well (48%) and if we're not bearing down or rotating quickly, they'll back-cut the hell out of us & convert those mistakes into easy buckets. Keep the pressure on at both ends of the floor and they'll struggle.

3. Stay poised. As much as I tried to dispel the road worries, it’s undeniable that most teams have trouble keeping their poise on the road. We lost our poise against Syracuse. We lost everything at Arizona. And we definitely didn’t bring out a few things (poise included) for the first half in East Lansing. All three were frustrating, but all three were plenty comprehensible. And lessons should be learned from all three. If nothing else, just keep enough of it to not get flustered and get away from what we do best. Move on offense, drive hard to the hold, DO NOT forget about Cole - he usually has an advantage and that's even more true tomorrow than in most games. Too often we get rattled, get sped up and forget our identity. Keep our poise tomorrow and we’ll come away with our first road win and a renewed level of confidence.

There’s really no way around the fact that Colorado is awful. I mean really awful. Their best performance of the year was a 14 point loss at Stanford. Their worst was a home loss to Montana State. And somewhere in between was the 45 point blowout to Missouri the other night. So losing tomorrow would be inexcusable; maybe not quite as bad as the UMass loss, but right up there. One loss like that can be tolerated, but two is definitely pissing into the wind. This team has goals in mind – some of them lofty- but even the smallest ones require winning games like tomorrow. Hopefully there’s a lot of Jayhawk Blue in Boulder tomorrow as the Hawks go to 2-0 in the league.

Rock Chalk!


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