Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Wednesday, June 24, 2020

On the return of sports

This has a high probability of becoming rambling and incoherent... I apologize in advance.

The bells are tolling -- soccer, basketball, hockey, and, most recently, baseball. Professional sports in this country are starting to rouse from their COVID-19-induced slumber like the bloated bears they are.  Surely, with them will come the eventual return of collegiate sports this fall before, finally, the fattest, laziest, most bellicose bear of them all -- the NFL -- belches its way back onto our TV screens.

In true 'Damn the Torpedoes' fashion, this process has fired up before this country had fully come to grips with its many festering wounds, including 2+ million cases and over 120,000 COVID-19-related deaths to-date, the resulting historic level of unemployment, the murder of George Floyd (and Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery and countless others), the resulting Black Lives Matter protests forcing White America to (again) face its own bullshit, and the militarized response to those very protests that further highlighted the critical issue of pervasive police violence.  That's not to mention the pre-existing Swords of Damocles swaying above our collective necks named Climate Change, Income Disparity, Failing Infrastructure, and what could turn out to be the most fraught national election since 1860. 

Bodies are literally piling up, but... here's some baseball to keep us distracted?


Those are all pressing issues, and our society has shown that it is prepared to adequately deal with exactly none of them.  Let's take the global pandemic, for one.  We've allowed the wearing of masks to the grocery store to become a political litmus test, rather than a matter of civic duty and health necessity.  States across the American South are experiencing their first real spikes at a time that they're desperately trying to re-open their economies, and we haven't even seen the second wave of cases that, most assuredly, will be coming at some point this year.  Our best hope of a vaccine is still months away, and, while there is some hope that effective treatments are being uncovered, cases are still piling up and people are still dying. We're at the point, lagging behind the rest of the world in our response, that other countries are looking to designate us a plague ship, and let us drift off on our own. All while we're tying to force people back into some semblance of normalcy to jump-start a stagnating economy.

And this is the scenario under which we should be holding baseball games?  Opening up thousands of our youth, already scheduled to be crammed back onto campuses, to exposure for football, basketball, and everything else?  As with the teenager that didn't clean its room, didn't eat their vegetables, and didn't complete their homework, yet still wanted to play videogames, any real parent would be pulling the plug on this nonsense.

Lost in most of this are the players themselves, and I'm going to focus on baseball here.  Conflicted in their desire to capitalize on the short period of time they are able to cash checks based on their talent, they're being thrown into an untenable situation by people who will not share their risk. The owners? They'll be miles away, as isolated as possible from the teeming masses.  The fans?  Most likely barred from entry, or at least severely socially distanced.  And, while the players, as a group, could be considered healthy and at minimal risk, there are going to be many among them in one of the at-risk categories, or who have family members that meet the criteria.   We've already seen how the actions of a few can affect a team in training -- what happens when those teams are then set to travel around the country? They're being asked to balance their need to provide for their families against the health of the very same.  And I'm supposed to be excited about this?

Maybe you don't care, and just want your sports anesthesia back; that you don't want to hear about the real-world concerns of 'overpaid' athletes.  "But they get paid so much to play a kid's game," you may even vomit up.  Realistically, the average MLB player only has a 5-6 year window to cash in on their talents, and that's after 2-5 years in the minors making less than minimum wage.  A solid 5th of those same players only have one year to sip their coffee in a big league stadium (How many are seeing that year lit on fire right now?).  Those millions you greedily note when looking at the headlines are then divided up across taxes, agents, family members, and the cost of living. These are checks that need to cover them and their families well after their ability to throw 95+ has faded, too.  "Oh, but I'd still pay to be in their spot, regardless," you might retort.  As if anyone wants to see your fat ass take grounders, let alone pay a ticket price to do so.  They are paid what they are because there's a lucrative market to view their talent.  And their window to do so is already so short.

Given all of that, I honestly don't know what I would do, were I in the situation of, say, the 6th or 7th member of a bullpen.  Report and risk the health of you and your family, or miss out on what could be your only real shot of earning money in your career.  How different is that, really, then the choices being made by meat-processing workers or restaurant employees who are weighing the demands of their boss against their health and the health of their families?  (Other than an actual, industry-driven support system in place to help fight for them, of course.)

For those that do return, I imagine they'll get the same treatment as our front-line workers in hospitals, ambulances, grocery stores, and restaurants across the country -- that is, given lip-services of gratitude, a few flag-waving moments of half-hearted patriotism, then, ultimately, left to fend for themselves.  And that's the best-case scenario.  Like everyone, they're about to be caught up in the grinding gears of an accelerating desire for normalcy that doesn't care about the reality of the situation or real people it chews up.  A system of human invention that is decidedly inhumane.

... and yet... the day the MLB return plan was leaked also brought with it the news from Illinois that they were planning to move their COVID-19 response plan into Phase 4. It contains a particular note that caught my eye: "Outdoor spectator sports can resume with no more than 20% of seating capacity; concessions permitted with restrictions."  My immediate reaction was revoltingly selfish -- "when is the first Sox game with fans, and how much will tickets be?"  After a brief pause, I recoiled in horror at myself -- knowing everything above, how could I then, so quickly, give into the temptation of feeding this monster? 

I am part of the problem.

All things considered, I have been relatively unaffected by the pandemic.  I've been fortunate to keep my job (for now), through a combination of our CEO's predilection to worst-case scenario planning, a PPP loan, and a patch-work customer base that has somehow crawled along.  No one that I am close to has died from the virus, or even, at least to my knowledge, contracted it.  I have family and friends on the 'front-line', but they are staying healthy (again, to my knowledge).  My mother, a diabetic in her early 70s, is clearly considered at-risk, but, after some early cajoling, has stayed safe at home (at least, for the most part).  I am very lucky, and am very cognizant of that fact. 

To that end, I have also tried to 'be good' -- staying home, washing my hands, wearing a mask when I'm out and about, limiting interaction with people regardless, eschewing most temptations to to contrary, etc. I shaved my head rather than go out for a hair cut (probably need to do that again, in fact).  I grew a quarantine beard, and learned to work from home.  I took up home improvement projects to keep myself occupied. Throughout, I've tried to set a good example to my friends and coworkers.  I've tried to be the civically upstanding man I've always assured myself that I am - conscientious of both those around me and my responsibility to help my fellow man out.

The side affects, however, have been pretty assertive.  Staying home, even with what distanced social interaction I can muster, has meant staying alone.  My life had previously mostly revolved around things outside of my house, things that are not socially responsible right now -- travel, sports (both playing and spectating), hanging out with friends, etc.  My house had always been intended to be a place of momentary respite, not a fortress on continuing solitude. It's a situation that has led directly to depression, weight gain, and an increase in my alcohol intake.  The introspection forced upon me due to quarantine over the last few months has been particularly damning, and this is only the most recent instance.  I'm not who I was four months ago, and I'm not happy about it. 

Further, my career (I work in hospitality) is not only dependent on the mobility of the national populace, but its desire to express that mobility, specifically.  The longer our economy remains closed (and people wary of travel regardless of government decrees), with travel reduced and hotel profits stymied, the more damage caused to my company, my employees, and my career. 

The temptation, then, to give in to the desire for the return of sports is high.  What's 20% of fans in the stands...  I'm sure the protocols will keep everyone safe... Just a little taste of the old life, just a taste...  To live like 2019 Ben, just for one afternoon -- watching a ballgame, meeting my friends at a brew pub, planning my next trip... just ignore the risks... it'll help out the economy... it'll help out the people I care about...

Am I a weak addict?  Am I a pragmatic employer?  Am I over-thinking it?

Probably.

I don't have any answers, and I know full well that self-denial for self-denial's sake is not virtuous.  I also know that if/when my beloved White Sox take the field, I'll tune in.  But I commit here that I will neither  celebrate it nor financially support it.  If and when the Buffs take to Folsom Field this fall, I will watch, and even answer the call should the band need alumni participation, but I will not encourage it.  Until the health and safety of those plying their trade on the fields of play are assured -- like, really assured, not just paid lip service -- I will do my best not to contribute to the system

And if that means I just have to continue to sit at home, patiently waiting for this all to be over, then, damnit, I will.

Sunday, September 8, 2019

A Post-Nebraska Re-Cap

It’s November 28th, 2008, and I’m in Lincoln, Nebraska. There the Buffs were, so there I went. No one ever wants to be in Lincoln, it’s the kind of place you end up because you have to. I would’ve preferred literally anywhere else to spend my post-Thanksgiving weekend that fall, but it was what it was.

The Buffs of that year, if you’ve since forgotten, headed east needing a win over the Huskers to attain bowl eligibility for the 2nd time in as many seasons. What would make for an earth-twisting development now was then a rather routine possibility then -- little did we know at the time the direction the program would take in the coming decade. It is in that light that the '08 game takes on a larger meaning. Had it gone differently, I have no doubt that the coming years - Dan Hawkins’ lame duck seasons, the disastrous Jon Embree experiment, the plaintive rebuilding effort by Mike MacIntyre - would each have swerved more positively, sidestepping at least some of the numerous pratfalls that we’ve since had to live with. Unfortunately, that was not to be.

The game itself, the 67th all-time meeting between the two ancient Big 8 foes, was an exciting one. The Buffs burst out to a quick 14-0 lead before Nebraska bounced back to take their first lead of the game in the 2nd Quarter. CU would then sprint into the halftime locker room thanks to a Jimmy Smith counter-punch. The future NFL corner had sniffed out a fake field goal attempt in the waning seconds of the half, intercepted the pitch, and briskly jogged the remaining 58 yards for a schadenfreude-heavy game-tying score. By the time the game was deep into the 4th Quarter, CU was holding onto a lead gained through a methodical drive that ended with a four-yard Demetrius Sumler plunge that still had CU up 31-30 with a few minutes to play.

On what was to be the game’s climactic drive, started by the Huskers with a little more than four minutes left on the clock at their own 26-yard line, all the Buffs needed to do was keep Nebraska out of field goal range and they would win. A quick pass and two consecutive big runs by the Scarlet Letterman, however, had them precisely there, flipping the field to the CU 25 with over two minutes to play. That’s when Husker QB Joe Ganz took a delicious 15-yard sack on 2nd down to push Nebraska back to the 40, seemingly well out of field goal range. When the ensuing 3rd down pass fell incomplete to bring up 4th and 25, the small knot of Colorado fans who had made the trip could all but taste victory.

It's at this point that first-year Husker coach Bo Pelini did the unthinkable -- he called for his kicker. Enter: Alex Henery. The future NFL booter trotted onto the field to line up for an NU record 57-yard field goal. “No way,'' I thought, “put someone back there for the return when it falls short.” Mind you, this game was being played at low-plains elevation on a Midwestern November day. The sun had set, the air heavy and cool. There’s no way a college kicker not named Mason Crosby should’ve been able to make that kick. Instead, the Nebraska native Henery drilled the fuckin’ ball right through the uprights with yards to spare, sending the red-clad horde into a frenzy. It was the longest field goal he ever made, either in college or the pros.

What followed, two straight CU drives that ended in interceptions, the first returned for a touchdown to end all doubt, was inevitable. The final, 40-31, sent Colorado home for bowl season, marked the first of what would become eight-consecutive losing seasons, and cross-checked all claims to progress that Dan Hawkins could make at the end of his third campaign. The table was then set for the calamity that followed, all thanks to that miracle kick.

It was with this in mind that I watched Nebraska punter Isaac Armstrong, pressganged into service as a placekicker with regular starter Barret Pickering sidelined with an undisclosed injury, line up for a 48-yard field goal attempt in overtime of Saturday's 71st iteration of the CU/NU blood feud. This was a chance, I thought, for a karmic balancing of the scales.

The Buffs, of course, had scarcely looked like they would be in a position to see this moment come to pass. Down 17-0 after a first-half where they mostly flopped around the field like an oxygen-starved trout, the team barely looked improved as the 2nd half started and they went a total of 30 yards on 11 plays through their first two 3rd quarter possessions.

Nebraska, though, seemed to be 'going through some shit.' After their first three drives of the game had resulted in 237 yards and 14 points, it had originally appeared as if NU would run away with the contest. Then, they just kind of... got drowsy. There's no other way I can describe it. Ill-conceived play calling, passivity from QB Adrian Martinez, and overall conservatism (probably combined with the high-plains altitude and a typically-omnipresent Colorado sun) conspired with a CU defense gaining confidence to stunt the Huskers offense in their tracks.

Following a shortened field situation where they could only muster a field goal, Nebraska would gain just 35 yards over their next five drives; a span of 20 plays (albeit one of them a kneel into the half). This mid-afternoon siesta gave the Buffs just enough time to shake out the cobwebs of a decidedly un-Pac-12 early afternoon kickoff, and find their offensive rhythm.

First, a 64-yard, 8 play drive that was capped by Colorado running back Jaren Mangham's 11-yard scamper got the Buffs on the board. Then, after stepping around the still snoozing Husker offense, CU caught lighting in a bottle with a 96-yard flea-flicker pass from Steve Montez to KD Nixon to get the Buffs within three points early in the 4th quarter, 17-14. The play, which caught NU unawares, saw Nixon side-step the lone remaining defender at the midfield logo, then briskly jog the remainder of the field untouched, not unlike how Jimmy Smith had when he blew-up the fake field goal 11 years ago. A game that had exhibited all the makings of a dour rout was, all of a sudden, a terse battle, and the Buffs had all the momentum.

The ensuing Husker possession was their first spurt of positivity in about 90 minutes of real-time, however. A swing pass from Martinez to wideout Maurice Washington broke CU's contain on the edge, thanks in part to safety Aaron Maddox getting caught taking a bad angle into traffic, and went for a 75-yard score. But, and this is very much to their credit, the Buffs refused to go away quietly. Back down the field they went, churning up their own 75 yards in five plays to score their third touchdown in as many drives, bringing them back to within three, 24-21. An NU fumble then led to a shortened field and a compromise field goal for Colorado to tie the game up at 24-all. As good as Nebraska had looked early in the game, Colorado now looked ascendant, and the numerous red-clad goobers who had followed their Corn west grew sternly quiet.

The teams would trade touchdowns in the remaining minutes -- Nebraska's, a resounding seven-play, 75-yard effort; Colorado's, which ended in a 26-yard touch pass from Montez to Tony Brown, brought to mind last season's finale in Lincoln. Now tied at 31-31, the teams headed into overtime, with Folsom more electrified than it had been at any point since the 2016 season.

Into the extra frame, CU got the ball first but had to settle for a field goal after their shortened drive stalled at the 17. Which brings us, finally, back around to Mr Armstrong and his dance with a 48-yarder.

Just as in 2008, the kick was set up by an ill-timed sack taken by a Nebraska QB. Colorado lineman Mustafa Johnson, an All-Pac-12 performer from 2018, burst past his blockers on 3rd down to grab at Martinez, who had been slowed in his downfield reads by a bad snap. In the NFL, Johnson's tackle, from the ground, at Martinez's legs, would've been ruled illegal, thanks to our nation's continuing efforts to keep Tom Brady as coddled as possible, but, this being college, it was righteous and glorious.

Contrary to 2008, however, the Huskers were forced to rely on a backup playing out of position, rather than a future professional. Even given the perfect conditions on the day - sunny, little breeze, dry, and warm - Armstrong gave himself little chance. I knew it was a miss from the second it came off his foot. Let alone right or left, the ball was sailing flat and starting to frisbee from the off. It was destined for nowhere but dead space, and immediately the Colorado students recognized the moment. The field was rushed, Armstrong was left to slam his helmet and slump off (another one for the #CollegeKickers meme), and the Buffs bathed in vengeance for 2008. 34-31, order maintained.

--

The Bulle(i)t Points

  • You may be asking yourself, “Who the hell is this guy,” or, “Why the hell did you come out of pseudo-retirement for some random football win?”  Well, my name is Ben, and I used to blog a bit in my spare time. I decided to pick back up the virtual quill right about the same time the Buffs exited the halftime locker room down 17-0 to the damn Huskers. Just the first time in years that I've been both moved to write and blessed with the free time to do so.  I will not commit to any other posts at this time, though I hope you enjoyed this one.
  • Steve Montez, confirmed at 5-0 against CSU and Nebraska in his career, could become the first QB in school history to ever beat CSU, Nebraska, and Utah in the same season with a win over the Utes in November.
    • Note: I didn't actually look this up, and some other QB may have already claimed this honor.  However, this sounds right, and I’ve slandered Steve enough over the last few years, so I feel I owe it to him to take a chance this one, regardless of what may or may not be factual.
  • Speaking of Montez, he has looked sharp and poised this season. He's really only made one obvious error through two high-pressure games and has got his team in the endzone when needed. Not much more you could ask for. Honestly, he's starting to look more like his predecessor, Sefo Liufau, did in 2016 -- a rock around which this team can construct itself.
  • Whither Laviska Shenault? The preseason All-American wide receiver has just 125 combined rushing and receiving yards through two games, with just one touchdown and a fumble to show for it. Opponents are dedicated to making his life a living hell, with jams at the line, double- and triple-teams down the field, and physical attempts to deny him the ball once it has been thrown at him. It's obvious that Viska is both frustrated and banged up in the process. For the Buffs, it's lucky that wide receiver is the deepest potion on their depth chart, but it's still disquieting to see the young phenom struggle so in the early going.
  • Mel Tucker has his time with CU off to about as good of a start as could be dreamed up. With opening wins against Colorado's two largest non-conference rivals, no one can complain about the results, so far. The team has proven to have a mental resiliency that far surpasses what we saw last year (*cough* Oregon State *cough*), and which could spell a successful season, even given a daunting schedule. Play like this against Pac-12 teams, and you'll get some wins.
  • At one point during the game, I turned around to talk with a Buff fan seated behind me. In the conversation, he made reference to his friend, seated next to him, who was wearing a Husker shirt. Something about the conversation was off, however. I put on the brakes, asking "Hold on, what school did you attend?" The Husker sheepishly said, surprisingly enough, "For undergrad? Northwestern." Stunned, I shot back, "At any point did you attend the school on your shirt?" No, he had not. It always amazes me how people will come to care about a school they have no link to. That they would travel hundreds of miles and shell out $1,000+ to watch them play is even more baffling. I get pride in your school, but someone else's? Weird.
  • On that point: attendance. For you Buff fans who sold your tickets to someone wearing red, well, I understand. Season tickets aren't cheap, and I don't know your financial situation. If you needed the money, and some drooler from out east was willing to offer it to you, then, by all means, go ahead and take it. There are plenty of Buffs who paid for their entire season on Saturday by staying home, and I won't begrudge them that choice. If they show up the rest of the season loud and proud, then it's all water under the bridge.
  • Kudos to both Ball and CU for the new aluminum cups at the stadium. For all the green reasons behind their rollout, they're really cool, and I'd be down with them even without the lessened environmental impact. In fact, I took home nine of the cups after the game yesterday, both as a reminder of how much beer I had been drinking and as souvenirs.
    • I say nine, but it should've been 10. However, my friend Dave forgot to save his, so took one of mine. I feel I'm owed one.
  • Speaking of beer, have you all checked out Stampede from Avery? Tabbed as a 'Colorado Gold Lager,' it's your basic sessionable lager. Clear, crisp, light. It has slightly more flavor than the adjuncts you're familiar with and comes with a beautiful image of Ralphie on the can. In lieu of posting every week, consider it my Gameday Beer of the Season for 2019.
  • Some 13 years since they last graced us with an album, Tool is back in our lives, dropping Fear Inoculant back at the end of August. I've been a Tool fan since I was in middle school but had long ago given up on the dream of ever hearing a new album. To get this is like receiving a long-delayed Christmas present. The best part? I really like it! If you don't mind a little prog in your metal, I highly recommend it, though, buyer beware, not a single full song on the album is fewer than 10 minutes in length.
    • I had been discussing the album with some of my coworkers this past week who are fellow Tool-heads. They were, to my surprise, less pleased with the product. At one point, one of them expressed to me that they felt it was far too self-indulgent. Well, of course it is! Have you ever listened to Tool? Maynard especially lives with his head four feet up his ass at all times. That's part of the charm, though! You don't get a song with 47 key signature changes if the band in question isn't completely full of themselves.
  • Finally, in case you were wondering, the basketball team is going to be really good this year.  I wish I had the time to spend 20k+ words on them, but, if you’re looking for a preview… they’re going to roll some fools.  (Wow, saved myself a shit-ton of words simplifying that… should’ve figured that out years ago.)
'Sko and #RollTad

Tuesday, March 26, 2019

Twirling

"My fellow Americans. As a young boy, I dreamed of being a baseball.  But tonight I say we must move forward, not backward. Upward, not forward. And always twirling... twirling... twirling towards freedom!"

Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Every story needs a conclusion

"Never half-ass two things. Whole-ass one thing."
- Ron Swanson

"There is a big difference between being interested in something and being committed to something."


I've been thinking a lot on that first quote lately.  It lead off my Massive Preview last year, more as a reminder of purpose than anything else.  "Stay on task, Rumblin," it seemed to speak to me, "don't let your focus wander." 

Well, embarrassing as it is to admit, my focus has wandered.  It's to the point that I no longer feel that whatever I'm putting down in virtual ink is up to my personal standard (please do take that with a humble grain of salt).  That's why the second quote, from His Tadness the other day, falls like a hammer-blow.  There is a big difference between being interested in writing and being committed, and it's a reality I'm now forced to face. I'm just not committed anymore.

It's with that in mind that I pull the plug on writing this season, and maybe this blog.  I tried, I really did, but writing in the Year of our Tad 2017-18 just isn't in the cards, and it's hard to see a path to my return.  If you were looking forward to what I had promised to produce this season, I am sincerely sorry.  If you don't care, I respect that as well, and look forward to joining you in this indifference.

Oh, don't get me wrong.  I'm still a passionate BasketBuff, and I'm really looking forward to this season.  It'll be a season of rebirth, renewal, and, hopefully, a return to the NCAA Tournament.  But it will also be a season with me decidedly away from the keyboard.  Back to being a faithful, muted fan.

Regardless, if this is, indeed, my farewell from long(ish)-form basketball bullshit, I would like to thank everyone who ever found this space and spent some of their time here.  If I can walk away from seven years having given even one heartbeat of meaningful substance away, I will consider it time well spent.

Good luck, and #RollTad.

-Ben

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

Quick Post: Taking a break

OK, so, as you may have noticed, this isn't a grab bag.  I've decided, after much consideration, to call a time out in my writing habit, and take a step back.  That means regularly scheduled programming is on pause for the time being.

Never fear, however, I do plan on being back this fall.  What's more, I'll still be on call, waiting for breaking basketball news to strike.  Maybe some early summer transfer drama will catch my eye. Wouldn't that be interesting?  Or how about some cool dispatches regarding Tad Boyle at the U19 World Cup?  Of course, there's always the looming run of Team Colorado at The Basketball Tournament (This year, they earn the money!). When something worth commenting on pops up, there I'll be, dousing the fire with a furious stream of words.

Till August (or thereabouts), however, I'm cranking the dial down to reserve power.  In my stead, please enjoy the sunshine, the outdoors, and the long afternoons.  And, as always, #RollTad.

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

Tuesday Grab Bag: RIP, Rowdy

Yesterday, the Athletic Department confirmed the passing of CU's beloved Ralphie IV.  Mascot, revered icon, noble beast; "Rowdy" (her given name) was the embodiment of the Colorado spirit over her 10-year career, having led the football team onto the field in more than 75 contests. She was there when the 2001 team won the Big XII title, there when the 2006 team went to Georgia, and there when the 2007 team stunned #3 Oklahoma.  Overall, she appeared in six bowl games and four Big XII championships.
We'll miss you, Rowdy.  From: 9 News
Big, powerful, rumbling, her running style was distinctly different from the sprinting act of her successor, Ralphie V ("Blackout").  Indeed, it befit the older era of plodding three-yards-and-a-cloud-of-dust football that she starred in.  She was the buffalo I played for at CU, and, despite the near-decade that has passed since her retirement in 2008, the one I still think of when I imagine 'Ralphie.'

Having lived a long life for a bison, nearly 20 years, Rowdy's death does not come as a surprise, but it is nonetheless a sad moment.  RIP, Rowdy.  Enjoy running with the great herd in the sky.

--

Today in an abbreviated bag, I'm talking the season-ender in Orlando, and the Colorado Women with their own NIT push.

Click below for the bag...

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

2017 NIT: CU vs UCF Basketball Teaser -- Password is Tacko

It's been a while since Colorado was last in the NIT.  Some six years and (for yours truly) 950-ish posts ago, the Buffs of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins played Alabama in Madison Square Garden as part of the 2011 NIT semifinals. That day was bitterly painful for the small cabal of CU fans who, even back then, cared deeply about this program.  In a flash of a baseline drive from 'Bama's Trevor Releford and a missed jumper from the aforementioned Burks, about 19 seconds in total, an improbable season was over, and the Buffs were resigned to a 62-61 defeat.
The last vision of Colorado in the NIT was a painful one.  From: the AP
You have to remember that I didn't know the run of success that lay ahead, and that it would all get much better over the next five years, but I was broken-hearted that afternoon.  That team was, to that point, the closest I had ever seen Colorado Basketball get to being a 'winner,' and to have it all peter out, first with a NCAA snub, then with a last-second defeat in the NIT, seemed like an affirmation that Colorado hoops would always be an also-ran.  How wrong I was.

If some of you, especially those who may have been too young to remember 'the before times,' are missing an answer to why this tournament is still important, just look back to that season.  Even though Colorado missed out on the Dance, even though they didn't win in New York City, just getting there was a momentous step in the modern history of this program.  It was the launching pad for the 2012 rocket blasting into a league championship and the second round of the NCAA Tournament.  It was the true birth of the swagger and the pride of Colorado Basketball.  That NIT run meant something to those of us who got to latch on and experience it first hand -- to look past the opportunity the NIT can be is to look past all the joy of the last five years.
The 2011 NIT means a lot for this program. From: the BDC
With that said, I'd be hard pressed not to acknowledge the differences between 2011 and 2017.  First, that 2011 group was loaded with hungry talent, not to mention three players who would go on to see the NBA.  They got to play three games in that tournament at home, and deserved each and every one of them.  While I cannot say yet with certainty how many currently in uniform will wind up at the next level, the '11 team was a more capable squad from top-to-bottom; they were a special, special offensive club.  Additionally, everyone that year, from fans on to the team, saw making the NIT as an accomplishment and a chance to shine, even with the disappointment of the Committee leaving them off the board.  That is, decidedly, not the case this spring.  You have to care about being in the NIT to succeed.  That 2011 team certainly did.  This year's squad?  I have my doubts.

But, enough jabber, on to the crux of the matter: UCF.  The fourth place finishers in the AAC this year, the Knights were winners of 21 games and are unquestionably a solid, tough basketball team. Looking at their resume, I don't see a whole lot of hiccups (though the home loss to Penn isn't anything to brag about).  Their problem this season was an overall soft schedule (even with a date against Villanova, the Knights were 329th in non-conference scheduling) and missed opportunities in league play.  Really, outside of home wins over Cincinnati and Houston, they swung and missed against every big team they played.  Indeed, should they beat CU this afternoon, it'd make for their third-best win of the season.
Coach Dawkins swapped coasts over the summer.  From: UCFKnights.com
The Knights are led by an old friend -- Johnny Dawkins.  You will probably remember Coach Dawkins from his days on the Stanford sideline, solemnly guiding the Cardinal to disappointing result after disappointing result.  Really, he's at home in the environment of the NIT, as accustomed to the secondary bracket as a chicken in a coop.  His Trees made the NIT four times in eight seasons, as compared to just one Tournament appearance, winning the damn thing twice.  Coach Boyle, however, knows a trick or two about how to go about beating Dawkins' teams.  After losing to the Cardinal twice in 2012, he never fell under Johnny's heel again, winning the last five meetings before Dawkins was fired a year ago. Though the personnel at his disposal is decidedly different from when he was on the Left Coast, I'm sure Coach Dawkins was far from pleased to see the name 'Colorado' turn over next to his on Selection Sunday.

Johnny has an interesting roster to work with in Orlando, though.  The obvious standout, mostly because he literally stands out above the crowd, is sophomore center Tacko Fall.  The 7-6 (that's not a miss-print), 290 lbs Senegalese baller is as unique a challenge as you'll find in the game today.  In the mold of Sim Bhullar and Mamadou N'Diaye of recent fame, he towers over the paint, almost blocking out the rim from the sight of would-be attackers.  It's no wonder, then, that the Knights are #1 in the country in two-point shot percentage defense, allowing under 40% inside the arc.  What was once a good shot, anything near the rim, becomes a dicey proposition with Fall, the AAC's Defensive Player of the Year, lurking to block or otherwise affect even the closest of looks.  Opponents are even under 50% at the rim itself.  Colorado will need to find an answer to this conundrum -- moving the ball, getting out in transition, and hitting outside jumpers.
Dude's tall, what else can I say?  From: the AP
Past just deterring shots, however, Fall also excels offensively.  He's in the top-three nationally in eFG%, and top-five in offensive rebound rate.  Overall, he shoots 72% from the field, and I honestly have no idea how you go about guarding him.  You can't really front him, he's just too tall.  You can try to keep him from grabbing position down low, but he has arms for days and can close space to the rim in an instant just by reaching out.  Wes Gordon will have his hands full.  To that end, the Buffs have been getting creative, handing redshirting freshman Dallas Walson padded sticks in practice to simulate the reach of Fall.  Other teams have tried similar things in the past, with, most notably, the Silver Swords of Chaminade sticking a manager on a folding chair in practices leading up to their famous tussle with Virginia and 7-4 Ralph Sampson in 1982.  When playing someone as abnormal as a 7-6 center, your thinking has to be just as abnormal. Luckily, Tacko isn't on the court all the time, averaging just 26 minutes per, but when he is, CU will have to look outside the box; literally and figuratively.

Fall, however, isn't the only dangerous piece on the Knights. Guards BJ Taylor and Matt Williams combine for 32 points per game, and can be deadly.  The senior Williams, especially, rarely leaves the court, and is an outstanding shooter.  He took 292 three-point attempts this season, canning 38% of them. Colorado needs to run him off the line and keep him from getting hot.  Elsewhere, Tank Efianayi is an interesting veteran wing capable of playing inside-outside.  He combines well with AJ Davis and Nick Banyard up front.
Williams is an electric outside threat.  From: the Orlando Sentinel 
Overall, a solid team.  They can be elite defensively, especially as teams wrestle with their helping of Tacko in the paint.  I wouldn't be surprised if Colorado struggles offensively, unless they start nailing outside shots.  Defensively, however, I think the Buffs can find some room for success.  UCF is far from a strong offensive club, and can really get shut down by anyone that is willing to put in the work.  That's where the buy-in from CU comes in.  If they have bought into the purpose of this tournament, they should be alright and eventually find themselves in a position to steal the win in Orlando.  If not, however, the proceedings could get very ugly.  My guess is that, with four seniors and none of the post-season distractions of two years ago, a focused bunch of Buffaloes will show up. With that in mind, and with a healthy dose of heart behind my pick, I'll take Colorado to advance in an ugly one.

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Tip-off from CFE Arena in Orlando, FL is set for 5pm MT Wednesday.  Coverage can be found via internet stream on ESPN3 (aka: WatchESPN), with the radio call... unknown at this time.  Is Mark Johnson still available, or did he bail on this season?  Anyway, stick with the stream, it may be your only shot at following this one.


GO BUFFS!  PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE KNIGHTS!