In a Pac-12 poll released last Thursday, media members from the conference ranked the 12 teams according to their projected standings for the upcoming season. Arizona, who is also ranked in the AP Top 25 poll at No. 2, was the clear leader of the Pac with 383 points. Behind the Wildcats, Utah (317) narrowly defeated Colorado (316) for the No. 2 spot in the conference standings. The UCLA Bruins trailed at No. 4 (290 points). CUIndependent.com sports writers Tommy Wood and Alissa Noe debate in this week’s Coin Toss whether Colorado’s No. 3 ranking will hold true.
Here are the complete rankings.
2014-15 PAC-12 Men’s Basketball Media Poll
1. Arizona (31) 383
2. Utah 317
3. Colorado 316
4. UCLA (1) 290
5. Stanford 264
6. Washington 189
7. California 188
8. Oregon 159
9. Arizona State 155
10. USC 106
11. Washington State 84
12. Oregon State 45
Alissa Noe: There’s no doubt in my mind that they deserve this accolade.
Considering every obstacle the Buffs endured last year, I have no doubt that they deserve the No. 3 spot. Sure, they fell apart for the five games following Spencer Dinwiddie’s season-ending ACL injury, but you have to keep in mind that losing a star player will be a culture shock to any team, no matter what team. They still made it to the NCAA tournament, even though that wasn’t exactly pretty.
Losing Dinwiddie early in the season only strengthened them for 2015. In the 19 games Colorado played after his departure on Jan. 12, including the four of five games they lost right after his injury, the Buffs went 9-10.
Granted, that’s not ideal, but at least the Buffs proved they can compete at this level without an NBA-level star player. It helped them prepare for L.A.S. (Life after Spencer) earlier than expected. Not to mention they’ll have freshman big man Tory Miller and Dominique Collier to help them out.
Tommy Wood: Let me play devil’s advocate here
The problem is, Colorado wasn’t that competitive after Dinwiddie went down. 9-10 isn’t that good. Focusing on 47 percent of Colorado’s games doesn’t show they were competitive. All but one of those losses were by double digits. Utah beat the Buffs by 10 points. UCLA defeated them by 13, then by 18. Each loss to Arizona had a progressively worse scoring margin — 12 points in Tucson, 17 points on ESPN GameDay and 20 points in the Pac-12 Tournament. Then, of course, there’s the mea culpa, the 77-48 massacre at the hands of Pitt in the NCAA Tournament.
Colorado just didn’t have the functional offense they had with Dinwiddie. Head coach Tad Boyle subscribes to the Scott Brooks school of offense, which means few, if any, set plays and an over-reliance on players creating off-the-dribble shots late in the shot clock. With Askia Booker running point, Buffalo possessions too often devolved into aimless dribbling and somnambulant off-ball movement. They rarely ran anything more complex than a pick-and-roll, and things fell apart when opponents shut those down.
Smart teams trapped every Colorado pick-and-roll because the Buffs, for whatever reason, were unable to recognize and react to those traps. Booker, Josh Scott and Wes Gordon struggled to pass out of double-teams and that created turnovers and fast-break opportunities for the Buffs’ opponents. Colorado had double-digit turnovers in all but two games after Dinwiddie went down — and in those two, they had nine. The Buffs averaged almost 14 turnovers per game for the season, 319th out of the 351 teams playing Division-I college basketball.
Unless freshman Dominique Collier is a magical shot creator this season, Colorado should have the same problems on offense, with last year’s contributors all returning.
Alissa: They’ve had time to learn from last season’s weaknesses
While you make valid points, you’re still missing the big picture. Sure, the Buffs’ offense wasn’t the most effective at times, but they’ve had all summer to change that. I’ve been able to sit in on ten or eleven practices in the past month and there is already a visible change. Returning players are all looking better, with most of that improvement appearing in the sophomore class. I’ve seen more confidence with their shot selections and sharpened defensive skills since last year.
Just last week, Coach Boyle preached to the team that a great defense wins games, and that a great defense will always outplay a great offense. We saw that a couple of years ago in the NCAA Championship game with Louisville and Michigan — the best defensive team in the nation versus the best offensive team in the nation. Louisville’s defense outplayed Michigan’s top-notch offense and took the title. Since practice opened up to the media at the beginning of the month, I’ve seen Boyle incorporate all kinds of defensive drills into the team’s practice, including one that stressed full-court defense. There’s only one great defensive team in the Pac-12 as of right now, and that’s Arizona. And we saw how much they stood out last year.
That’s where CU big man Tory Miller comes in this year. This 6’9” freshman is going to make a lot of noise in post defense this season, and I bet he’ll be seeing some good minutes because of his size and impact in the paint.
That brings me to my next point. Arizona has many of its returning players, so they’ll still lead the Pac in 2015. What surprised me was the jump that Utah made in the poll. Last season, they were the fifth-ranked team in the conference, at best. This year, apparently, Delon Wright and Jordan Loveridge will return to give the Utes a talented veteran presence among a group of very talented freshmen. A source close to the team said all of their freshmen are looking solid this year, and that he’s excited about what they’ll be able to do.
Elsewhere, I was surprised the Buffs beat the Bruins in the Pac-12 polls, but then I realized that they lost their biggest impact player, Kyle Anderson, who won the Pac-12 tournament Most Outstanding Player title and averaged 12.2 points per game, 8.7 rebounds and 5.0 assists throughout his college career. They’ll miss his leadership and talent this year.
As for the other eight teams, they’ll generally have a core group of good players to boost their performance — such as Stanford — or they’ll only have one player that carries the whole team, such as DaVonté Lacy at Washington State. Overall, though, I think the majority of the conference will be pretty solid competition-wise.
Tommy: You’re right that other teams will be solid. I’m saying they’ll creep up on Colorado’s success.
It’s the depth of this conference that worries me. Jordan Loveridge, the junior forward, and senior guard Delon Wright are as good a returning pair as there is in the Pac-12. Loveridge averaged 15 points and 7 rebounds per game last year, and Wright went off for 16, 7 and 5 assists a night. No one noticed, but the Utes have improved every year under coach Larry Krystkowiak. Last season, they won 20 games for the first time since 2008-09. Logically, that trend will hold, and Utah will make the tournament.
UCLA is no slouch, either. The Bruins started three first-round draft picks last year, but that was the only thing keeping this year’s starters on the bench. They’re good — senior guard Norman Powell is an elite athlete and junior center Tony Parker is a solid interior threat who has struggled with foul trouble. UCLA’s real threat, though, is five-star freshman power forward Kevon Looney, who committed to the Bruins over Duke, Florida and Wisconsin.
Arizona is the only sure thing in the Pac-12 in 2014, but the conference could be very deep. Colorado could add to that depth, or the Buffs could struggle because of it. Their defense could be the best in the league — Boyle has been adamant that Colorado will be much, much better than last season on that end of the court.
I’m still not sold on the offense. It’s expected to improve, but those expectations depend on all of last year’s freshman taking big steps forward. That’s a significant if — and the Buffs still don’t have a consistent shooter. Josh Fortune isn’t walking on that court. Maybe Dom Collier, if he gets significant playing time, would create better looks for his teammates on the perimeter. But, again, if. Colorado’s season has a sky-high ceiling, but its success hinges on conditionals.
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Tommy Wood at Thomas.C.Wood@colorado.edu
Contact CU Independent Staff Writer Alissa Noe at Alissa.Noe@colorado.edu.