Ian McMackin from the GoWyoGo Rivals website sent me some questions to answer about No. 19 Colorado’s game against Wyoming on Saturday in Laramie. Here is the exchange:
IM: Compare this year’s Colorado Buffaloes basketball team with last year’s outfit. Any similiarities? Which team is ahead comparing these exact points in the early season?
RT: Last year’s Buffs had great leadership from seniors Carlon Brown (the Pac-12 Tournament MVP) and four-year starters Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault. This year’s team is almost exclusively made up of Tad Boyle recruits and the talent level and depth is worthy of the to-25 ranking. CU’s 2011-12 season will always be remembered for the run they made in Los Angeles (winning four games in four nights to earn the conference’s automatic bid) and for upsetting UNLV at the Pit. But last year’s team was a shaky 5-4 after the home loss to Wyoming and finished fifth (tied with UCLA) in the Pac-12. This year’s team already has three quality wins at the Charleston Classic and should be a strong contender in the Pac-12 during the regular season.
IM: What are the strengths of the 2012-13 Colorado basketball team? The weaknesses? The top players to look out for against Wyoming? Is CU deserving of their national ranking?
RT: Strengths/top players: It all starts with Andre Roberson, a 6-7 junior forward who led the Pac-12 in rebounding last season and led CU in rebounding, blocks and steals the last two seasons. He’s one of the best defensive players in the country. Starting sophomore guards Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie are a problem for most teams. Booker can get his own shot and has proven to be a clutch scorer in tight games. Dinwiddie, a 6-6 point guard (and still growing), frustrated some of the best point guards in the country (including Murray State preseason All-American Isiah Canaan) on the defensive end in Charleston. Josh Scott (6-11, freshman), the headliner of Boyle’s top-25 recruiting class, is as good as advertised and will be a first team, All-Pac-12 type when he gets some experience. Weaknesses? Just a little inexperienced and poor perimeter defense in the last two games. Also need to improve assist-to-turnover ratio. I voted CU 17th in the AP poll last week because, so far, they’ve earned it.
IM: What’s your thoughts on the Wyoming basketball team in the early part of year two under Larry Shyatt? What are your expectations for UW this season? What is your opinion about the direction the program is heading under Shyatt?
RT: Wyoming has played a very weak schedule to date but that has probably allowed Shyatt to get a team with a lot of newcomers some confidence and experience. I know Boyle hasn’t been able to develop as much depth off the bench as he would like because the Buffs have been in five heated games. What has impressed me this season is the strength of the Mountain West from top to bottom. Air Force was terrific in the first half in Boulder on Sunday. CU has a huge showdown with Colorado State next week and a dangerous road trip to Fresno State. The Cowboys should be a factor in a conference that will likely send four and maybe five teams to the NCAA Tournament.
IM: CU head coach Tad Boyle said CU should have the emotional edge versus Wyoming on Saturday. How much will last year’s defeat to the Cowboys play in as motiviation? Will the road environment at Wyoming serve as a challenging obstacle?
RT: It has helped CU’s preparation. The returning players are very focused on the scouting report for Wyoming after taking a blowout win over Texas Southern for granted and escaping with a double-overtime win on Tuesday. Once the game starts, last year’s result won’t matter at all. However, it will be interesting to see how the Buffs, particularly the four true freshmen in the rotation, react to their first road game of the season if a large, hostile crowd shows up in Laramie.
IM: Compare or contrast the Mountain West vs PAC 12 in basketball. Which league is stronger? How do you feel CU would matchup against the top programs in the MW like UNLV, San Diego State, and New Mexico?
RT: Historically, the Pac-12 is one of the great conferences in the country with the ACC and Big East. Arizona and UCLA have as much history as anyone. But players leaving early for the NBA draft and transferring out of places like UCLA at a high rate have hurt the Pac-12. CU entered the conference at the perfect time. Ironically, even though conference realignment has hurt the Mountain West in football, it appears that the conference is stronger than ever at basketball. Anybody miss TCU hoops? Anyone noticed how bad Utah is lately? Anyone ever heard of Boise State basketball until their win over Creighton? Five years ago CU would have been near the bottom of the Mountain West. Right now they’d have a chance to win the Mountain West along with the programs you mentioned. So far, the Mountain West is the better conference in RPI again, for whatever that’s worth. The Buffs have found a great home and much more national attention in the Pac-12.
IM: Make a prediction for Saturday night’s game between both the undefeated Cowboys and Buffaloes? What are the keys for both teams to victory? What are the key player matchups?
RT: Boyle said it’s much harder to speed the game up than to slow it down. The Buffs would win a track meet easily. Shyatt and Derrious Gilmore will make sure this game is played in the 50s or 60s like Wyoming’s 65-54 win last season, which is the key for the Cowboys. The key for the Buffs is to weather the emotional storm and perform like they did in Charleston. I think the Texas Southern game really woke the Buffs up and they’re used to playing strong competition already. It’s going to be difficult for Luke Martinez to make 3-pointers over Dinwiddie, although it’s also going to be difficult for Scott to deal with a grown man like Leonard Washington. Roberson and Larry Nance Jr. are both athletic freaks of nature worth the price of admission. Should be fun. CU escapes the Arena-Auditorium with a 67-60 victory.