Wednesday, October 16, 2019

High expectations for Colorado basketball after a hot second half last season

Photo Credit: Adam Chalifoux

By: Adam Chalifoux
Twitter: @KungFouxHustle

BOULDER, CO— After failing to reach .500 the previous two seasons, the Colorado Buffaloes practically sprinted to the finish-line last winter, winning 10 of their final 13 games. 

While they have not made the NCAA tournament since 2016, their strong finish to last year is one of the main reasons that Colorado was voted to finish second behind Oregon by a vote of 27 Pac-12 media members.

Wednesday’s media day in Boulder was filled with an optimistic energy and perhaps a quiet confidence.

"Last year's team really improved as the season went on," said CU head coach Tad Boyle, who is entering his tenth season with the program. "We got hot at the end and played well down the stretch. It is important that we understand where we were at the end of the last year... This is a team where we can take off where we left off.”

Colorado returns a plethora of key players this season including last year’s rebounding, blocks, and scoring leader, Tyler Bey, as well as their leader in assists and steals, McKinley Wright. Both players are coming into their junior seasons and while the personnel has stayed very much the same, the circumstances have not.

Colorado is not a surprise team this year. In fact, they have some high expectations and failing to reach the NCAA tournament could even be seen as underachieving.

“The bar is high for us of course,” said Wright, “A lot of people expect big things from us and we are going to do our best to give these CU fans what they deserve.”

While the bar is higher than it has been in years past, the Buffaloes say that they don’t feel any extra pressure. When asked about handling the team’s expectations, McKinley shared a lesson from a former teammate.

“I’ve got a former teammate, George King who would always tell me, there is no such thing as pressure. Just be prepared; so I think coach is doing a great job preparing us and guys are getting in the gym everyday working on their game individually and getting in shape so I don’t feel no pressure. We’re excited to play basketball.”

This philosophy seemed to be a constant with the players Tuesday morning practice and perhaps a focal point of their coach.

“I put pressure on myself everyday,” said Boyle, “Every year that we don’t go to the tournament, I’m disappointed so I wouldn’t say there is anymore pressure. I don't put any more pressure on myself than I have on myself in years passed. I always go into the season with an expectation level and this year I’d be lying if I said that my expectation level wasn’t a little higher.”

Whether it be pressure, expectations, or both, the Colorado Buffaloes have a chance to make some noise this year as one of the more experienced and complete teams in the conference. The Buffaloes bring a modern skillset to the 2019-2020 season with talented passing big men, Evan Battey, and Dallas Walton.

Battey averaged eight points and four rebounds for the Buffaloes and has watched a lot of film on Denver Nuggets center Nikola Jokic as he looks to expand on his game and particularly, his ability to pass from the post.

Walton meanwhile missed last season with a torn ACL but now, the 7-foot center is healthy and ready to compete with his teammates as the Buffaloes look ahead to next month’s season opener.

“Every practice when we say its on, it really means it really means it’s on,” said Walton. “Just like when we come into a game and we say its on, we can’t come out lackadaisical because then we will find ourselves down 15 or 20 at halftime and wondering what happened, so when we start practices we have to make sure everything is sharp and crisp and on point everyday; we gotta make sure that is a consistent thing.”

If the Buffaloes do plan on earning a spot to the tournament in March, consistency will be as important as ever. Whether they feel the pressure or not, it is real. Ten teams sit behind them in the preseason poll and will be hungry to get their chance to hunt the Buffaloes as the underdog, many of those teams will have revenge on their mind after losing to Colorado down the stretch last season.

Colorado will open its season on Nov. 8 in Shanghai, China against Arizona State, who ranked sixth in the Pac-12 preseason poll. Until then, the Buffaloes hope to remain consistent in practice and not let the pressure (if it does exist) get to them.

CSO Q and A with Penn State forward Lamar Stevens

Photo Credit: Harrison Barden- USA Today Sports

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Welcome to another edition of CSO’s Q and A as I sit down with college coaches and players across college sports for in-depth questions sprinkled in with a little bit of fun. The latest edition focuses on Penn State senior forward and All-Big Ten preseason selection Lamar Stevens.

Green: You returned to Penn State for your senior season after withdrawing from NBA Draft consideration over the summer. What was the feedback you got from scouts and have you been able to make improvements on said skills?

Stevens: The main feedback I got was that I could score the ball and show more versatility as a three-point shooter. I have worked on the perimeter shooting in the off-season and look forward to showcasing it this season.

Green: Does it feel like you have more weight on your shoulders to carry Penn State after some players departed the program last season?

Stevens: I don’t see it as a pressure. I look at it as a responsibility in which I can take pride in what I am doing. It is what I want and wouldn’t want it any other way. I am embracing and focusing on the team and not what others are saying on the outside.

Green: This is your last shot to make the NCAA tournament, but have tasted postseason success a couple of seasons prior with a NIT title. What will it take to get to that next step to get from the NIT to the NCAA’s?

Stevens: We have all of the pieces this season. This is my fourth year of playing college basketball and I know what a winning team looks like and what a bad team looks like and this year, we have the pieces necessary to make that jump to get to the tournament. We are continuing on the path of getting better each day, focusing on lifting each other up and keeping each other’s morale up.

Green: Under coach Pat Chambers, how has your growth been not just as an athlete, but as a human being overall?

Stevens: Coach [Chambers] is always looking for ways for me to get better and has become a great mentor for me. He always sends me podcasts, books and tweets. It’s not always about basketball, but about being a better man. I’ve grown a lot in my time at Penn State.

Green: Do you have a favorite podcast from the ones Chambers has sent you?

Stevens: The David Goggins Interviews on Apple stands out as the is the most enjoyable podcast I have listened to as it provides life lessons.

Green: Do you have favorite campus food spot that is a go-to when you are hungry?

Stevens: There’s a place called Roots, which is an all-natural kitchen with foods such as, grilled chicken and vegetables which are reliable and tasty.

Green: Most athletes work out to music and is there a favorite song on your playlist that helps give you an extra boost?

Stevens: Anything with Meek Mill works for me.

Green: When you get down time from school and basketball, is there a favorite television show you like to watch?

Stevens: I watch a show called “Power” on Starz and my favorite character on there is Ghost. 

Monday, October 14, 2019

CSO Mock College Football Playoff committee top 25 for Oct. 14

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

Thanks to the mock selection committee for coming through and making the eighth edition of the rankings possible this season.

Biggest jumps: Arizona State 19 and Minnesota 20 (+4)

Biggest drop: Georgia 10 (-6)

x= ineligible for postseason play

          Team             Points      Last Week

1 Alabama (7) 6-0          246                1

2 Ohio State (1) 6-0       231                3 (+1)

3 Clemson (1) 6-0          228                2 (-1)

4 LSU (1) 6-0                 227                5 (+1)

5 Oklahoma 6-0             215               6 (+1)

6 Wisconsin 6-0              203              7 (+1)

7 Penn State 6-0             185              9 (+2)

8 Notre Dame 5-1           173             10 (+2)

9 Florida 6-1                  162                8 (-1)

10 Georgia 5-1               159                4 (-6)

11 Oregon 5-1                 144              14 (+3)

12 Auburn 5-1                 137              12

13 Boise State 6-0           136              13

14 Utah 5-1                     118              15 (+1)

15 Michigan 5-1              102              16 (-1)

16 Texas 4-2                     101             11 (-5)

17 SMU 6-0                       84              17

18 Baylor 6-0                    83               21 (+3)

19 Arizona State 5-1          64              23 (+4)

20 Minnesota 6-0               62              24 (+4)

21 Cincinnati 5-1               43             NR

22 Appalachian State 5-0   33             25 (+3)

23 Iowa 4-2                        31            18 (-5)

x 24 Missouri 5-1               25            NR

25 Temple 5-1                    17             NR

Dropped out:

Wake Forest (18), Virginia (20), Memphis (22)

Others receiving votes:

Washington 14, Oklahoma State 9, Tulane 9, Wake Forest 4, Memphis 2, North Carolina 1, Virginia 1, California 1

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Rosenberg's Power Five Bottom Ten for Week 7

By: Jeremy Rosenberg 

Join me each week as I unmask the worst of the best, the teams that play in big time conferences, but end up with small time accomplishments. My bottom ten is made up only of so-called power five conference members. I have little interest in haranguing the UTEPs or Bowling Greens or Rices of the world. Nope, I’m after schools with massive football budgets, coaches with obnoxious salaries, and legions of sheep-like fanboys and fangirls that refuse to admit their program sucks.

10. Tennessee (2-4)

            Hope springs eternal as the Vols show some life and beat an uninspired Mississippi State team, 20-10. Next week is the third Saturday in October, or as they call it in Knoxville, Breakfast with Jack Daniels.

Next week: @ Alabama (Nick Saban will have his team convinced they could lose this game if they let up, proving he is the best coach in college football.)

Prognosis: Hope dies.

9. Arkansas (2-4)

            The Razorbacks lose a winnable game at Kentucky and confirm what we all thought — they suck. 

Next week: vs. Auburn (No letting up for Auburn as it s to keep pace in the SEC West.)

Prognosis: Arkansas secretly petitions to join the Big XII.

8. Northwestern (1-4)

            Northwestern enters the Bottom Ten with its only win against UNLV. The scrappy Wildcats seem to have run out of mojo this year. But hey, academics, right?  

Next week: vs. Ohio State (The Buckeyes will probably have more fans in the stands at Ryan Field than Northwestern.)

Prognosis: Pat Fitzgerald no longer needs to complain about what people are saying about the ‘Cats on social media— no one cares anymore.

7. Oregon State (2-4)

            The Beavs began their murderous trip through the Pac-12 with a 52-7 homecoming thrashing at the hands of the Utah Utes. Now, they get to go on the road for two weeks. Perhaps they can crack the bottom four and qualify for the Bottom Four Playoff.

Next week: @ California (A game against OSU comes just in time for slumping Cal.)

Prognosis:The Golden Bears will pour a golden shower on the Beavers.

6. Kansas (2-4)

            Kansas had the week off, which allowed Les Miles to work on the Euro version of his show, Kilometers to Go. It just seems to lack something…

Next week: @ Texas (The ‘Horns will be ornery after their loss to Oklahoma.)

Prognosis: Parsecs to go. KU could easily lose out this year.

5. Illinois (2-4)

            Illinois remembered they were playing football and actually put up a fight against Michigan, but still fell short by 17 points. You know things are bad when a 17-point loss looks like progress.

Next week: vs. Wisconsin (The Badgers are rolling. This can and will get ugly fast.)

Prognosis: Lovie Smith’s beard detaches from his face and flies away in embarrassment.

4. Vanderbilt (1-5)

            Vandy gave up all vestiges of being a respectable football team and lost in truly embarrassing fashion, 34-10, to UNLV. But hey, academics, right?

Next week: vs. Missouri (Kelly Bryant and Mizzou are sitting atop the SEC East all of the sudden.)

Prognosis: Vandy cements their status as the worst team in Tennessee.

3. UCLA (1-4)

            The Bruins had the week off, which was good news for Chip Kelly. I’m sure he spent some of the extra time quietly sobbing in a corner somewhere.

Next week: @ Stanford (A Thursday night battle in Palo Alto can allow the Cardinal to build on their win over Washington.)

Prognosis: Bruins will be rejected faster than a script for a new Rob Schneider movie.

2. Georgia Tech (1-5)

            Another week, another double-digit loss for the Yellow Jackets. Between Tech and the Falcons and Georgia losing to South Carolina, it was not a good weekend to be a football fan in Atlanta.

Next week: @ Miami (The ‘Canes found their groove against Virginia. Just in time for Georgia Tech.)

Prognosis:Atlanta is officially a soccer town now.

1.  Rutgers (1-5)

            Rutgers got shut out by Indiana because of course they did. This is getting to be truly sad. These are actual human beings with feelings on this team. I wonder how many players on Rutgers are wishing they accepted that scholarship offer from Temple. Or Buffalo. Or Camden State.

Next week: vs. Minnesota (The Gophers are hot after torching Nebraska. This is a trap game, so they may not cover what I’m sure will be a mighty spread.)

Prognosis: The Gophers will play with Rutgers like they did with Bill Murray in Caddyshack.

Schedule Shaming “Game” of The Week

            One of the most egregious offenses in college football is non-conference scheduling. Each week I will single out and ruthlessly shame one program for their gutless scheduling.

Virginia Tech 34, Rhode Island 17

            The Hokies get this year’s prize for most pathetic, sorry, and weak non-conference schedule all rolled into one. VT actually scheduled Old Dominion, Furman, and Rhode Island as their opponents this year. For the love of Frank Beamer this is so tragically awful, and to think, THIS is what they offer their season ticket holders.

            I hereby declare that Virginia Tech should have to win nine games to get to a bowl.

Saturday, October 12, 2019

Green’s five takeaways from No. 16 Michigan’s 42-25 win over Illinois

Photo Credit: Geno Green

By: Geno Green
Twitter: @TheGenoGreen

While Illinois (2-4, 0-3 Big Ten West) put together a 25-point run after giving up the first 28, No. 16 Michigan (5-1, 3-1 Big Ten East) used a pair of fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter to hang on in a 42-25 win at Memorial Stadium in Champaign, IL. Here are my five takeaways from Saturday for CSO.

1) Roller-coaster of emotions for Michigan’s defense:

Despite a thorough first-half domination, the third quarter proved to be a locker room hangover for the Wolverines as they appeared to be on the verge of letting the Illini take the lead in the third quarter.

Under defensive coordinator Don Brown’s tutelage, Michigan did not break as it found new life with a pair of back-to-back fumble recoveries in the fourth quarter by Jordan Glasgow and Carlo Kemp, respectively. Despite Glasgow’s recovery, he opted to defer to teammate Cam McGrone for the forced fumble.

“The much bigger play was Cam getting the ball out and I just happened to be in a good position to make a play on his play,” Glasgow said. “That was the first of two turnovers we had, which resulted in touchdowns. We were able to make big plays and the result says itself.”

“They just keep fighting. There was a big momentum swing there in the third quarter where [Illinois] made some plays and did turn it over,” Michigan coach Jim Harbaugh said. “Our guys rose to the challenge and were tested mightily in which they did not flinch.”

2) Change of pace for Michigan’s offense:

Illinois’ defense looked nothing like the imposing unit in its previous five games as Michigan’s offense mixed things up with a run-heavy attack, which allowed Patterson to get things going through the air with a pair of touchdowns on rollout plays in the first half to go into the locker room up 28-7.

The Wolverines’ lead trimmed to 28-25 in the third quarter and found themselves on the ropes going into the fourth quarter.

Michigan’s offense became more aggressive as it went for it on fourth down twice in the fourth quarter and relied on the legs of Patterson, when the other running backs’ momentum came to a screeching halt. Harbaugh did not hesitate when it came to using Patterson on the fourth down calls to keep the respective drives going, in which one of them ended in Wolverine touchdowns.

“We put the ball into Shea Patterson’s hands and is tenacious in those types of situations,” Harbaugh said. “It felt really good that he could pick it up for us. The offense was hungry to do it and the guys came through despite the wind, which made it hard to through at times.”

3) From undisciplined to a re-energized Illini group in the third quarter:

Illinois looked out of sorts on both sides of the ball as penalties cost the offense numerous opportunities to get into scoring range with punts on its first seven drives of the games and would be flagged six times for 45 yards.

After rotating with Isaiah Williams in the first half, redshirt freshman quarterback Matt Williams took all of the reps in the second half and looked like a whole different athlete as he finished 16-of-25 passing for 192 yards and a touchdown. Despite an improved performance after being thrown into the fire at Minnesota on Oct. 5, Williams might be counted on again as the starter, but with a more imposing opponent in No. 7 Wisconsin looming for homecoming on Oct. 19. 

4) Wolverines’ run game alive once more:

After being a non-factor in the running game with 70 total yards in the previous three games, Zach Charbonnet responded when needed the most with a career-high 116 yards on 18 carries and a touchdown. Sophomore Hassan Haskins also got in on the fun with a game-high 125 yards on 12 carries and a touchdown.

205 of its season-high 295 yards on the ground came in the first half and will need to bottle the effort and spread it like a genie if Michigan hopes to avenge a 42-13 loss at Penn State from two seasons ago next Saturday.

5) Lovie don’t live here anymore:

It appears that most of the love and leniency Illinois coach Lovie Smith had when he took the coaching job in 2016 appears to be running on thin ice despite the third quarter rally as its losing streak extended to four games.

Smith’s record in three-plus seasons in Champaign stands at 11-31 (.262) and with hard-hitting teams, such as Wisconsin, Michigan State and Iowa on the schedule, it might be yet another season where the Illini could be shut out of a bowl game.

While there were 12 million reasons not to fire Smith last season, the buyout would not be as significant, but could be as late as 2021 before anything happens in terms of a coaching change.

Will the Illinois faithful have that amount of patience to wait for potential change? Only time will tell.