Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Monday, March 12, 2012

Monday Grab Bag: Dancing with Buffaloes

On a whim, and encouraged by rock bottom airfare prices, I traveled to Southern California last week to take in the inaugural Pac-12 basketball tournament. I certainly didn't expect much from my beloved Buffs, who struggled mightily down the stretch in conference play, and the most I expected was a solid win over pseudo-rival Utah.

I figured I'd watch some hoops, get a win out of my trip, and spend most of my time reconnecting with my friends in the area.

Then, the weirdest thing happened: the Buffs flat refused to stop winning.
What's this net-cutting thing you speak of?  From: the BDC
This game continues to find way to surprise me, and the Buffs run to a God-be-damned conference title last week almost left me more stunned then overjoyed... almost.  It took four wins in four days, but the Buffs, on the verge of exhaustion, got it done.  Dreams do come true, and the University of Colorado will Dance on Thursday for the first time in nine years.

Today in the bag, I'll be recapping the championship run, and looking ahead to THE BIG DANCE.

Click below for the bag...

All I do is win, win, win -

What else can you say?  The Colorado Buffaloes are Pac-12 Champions.
Through four days of determined play, CU bested all comers, making their style of basketball the talk of the Staples Center.  A CU head coach could be seen cutting down nets, as the joyous group took home the first league title in 43 years Saturday afternoon.
I couldn't be happier for Nate and Austin, they've been through a lot of shit.  From: Colorado Athletics
The selection committee can't take this away from Buff Nation.  Out of 345 Division 1 basketball teams, CU has made it to the final grouping of 68.

An improbable run - 

I certainly didn't see this coming.  The trip to Oregon the previous weekend, which featured shambolic defense and two blowout losses, had soured my outlook on CU's LA prospects.  With those losses weighing heavily on my mind, and a less-than-impressive opening-round win over Utah only disturbing me further, I wrote this in my notebook Wednesday night:
"I just realized that my normally rationalistic outlook on CU hoops has turned decidedly pessimistic.  I arrive back in San Diego having convinced myself that I'll have plenty of time to sight-see after CU is done losing (to Oregon)  tomorrow night."
What a difference a few wins can make.  That Utah win, while far from pleasing to the eye, apparently got the Buffs back on their feet, and the championship-caliber squad, last seen in January, ran out of the tunnel the following night.

From that point on, swarming defense and aggressive offense were the order of the weekend.  Take a look at the tape from those final three victories; even at their best this season, the Buffs never played defense like that.  Nate Tomlinson, especially, lead the charge, playing the role of Gary Payton on more than one occasion, and making life hell on opposing shooters. Overall, the Buffs held their four opponents to just under 39% shooting through the tournament.
Nate worked his ass off in LA.  From: Trey Eckloff's Twitter feed
Additionally, the offense, which had all but stagnated in late February, suddenly looked very dangerous.  The biggest difference was the play of Carlon Brown.  The tournament's Most Outstanding Player looked like the pro prospect we all expected him to be, showcasing a litany of pro-level mid-range moves that left me asking "where was that last month?"  All told, he averaged near 16/5 for the tournament, shooting 50% from the field.
From Wednesday Night on, Carlon Brown showed a determination not seen since early January.  From: the BDC
Of course, Carlon has been there before.  During his tenure in SLC, he helped lead the Utes to a MWC tournament title, and a berth in the NCAA Tournament.  His play in LA certainly looked like that of a seasoned, tournament veteran.  The C-Unit chants of "We got Carlon" Wednesday night proved prophetic as the tournament unfolded, and his level of play only increased.
Not for nothing, but we need to bring the C-Unit more places.  From: the BDC
With Carlon causing all sorts of havoc on the perimeter, Andre Roberson had a field day in the paint.  While Brown may have won the MOP award, 'Dre's line deserves some attention.  At one point he had made 11 consecutive baskets (shooting 67% from the field, overall), averaged a double-double over the four games, and he paced the league with 41 rebounds in the tournament.
Whose ball?  'Dre's Ball!  From: the BDC
Of course, with a performance like this, no two players could carry the load, and the entire team seemed to up their play in SoCal.  Even role-players like Shane Harris-Tunks and Jeremy Adams had solid tournaments, and everything seemed to go right in the Staples Center.

Pac-12 vs Big XII -

How is it that this is the team winning conference titles and making a trip to the NCAA Tournament?  Last year's record-setting squad, built around current-NBA talent Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, gets "rewarded" with an NIT run, while this squad, seemingly in rebuilding mode before the start of the year, climbs the mountain top.  At some point, you just have to throw your hands in the air and give in to the chaos that is basketball in March.
Drew Litton doing what he does best.  From: the BDC
It certainly helps that CU never had to face a national power in a pseudo-home game, like in years past.  Previously in the Big XII, any title run would have had to flow through the likes of Kansas, Mizzou, or Oklahoma, with roughly 90% of the stadium rooting against the Buffs.

In the friendlier environs of the Pac-12, CU played against beatable teams in a true neutral setting.  Sure, the overall-quality of the conference in down, but even at its height the Pac-12 can never pose the challenge that beating Kansas in Kansas City represents.

CU has a chance to thrive in the Pac-12, specifically because dominance isn't a per-ordained condition.

Thursday against UNLV -

If you haven't heard, the Buffs are headed to Alburqueque, NM for the first round to the Dance, where they'll face off against the Runnin' Rebels from UNLV.  The game is set for Thursday night, saving my office a few hours of non-existent production.
Nate is still wearing that net, did he ever take it off?  Does he shower with it?  From: the BDC
I don't hate the draw.  It's not a big distance to travel for both the team and any section of the fanbase interested in following them.  Additionally, facing the third best team from the Mountain West isn't as daunting as other potential matchups.  UNLV is a good squad, but they're the type of team you'll find in the Tournament.  At some point you have to beat a damn good team if you're going to achieve anything of note.

If you extend the view past the first round, the Buffs could potentially see Baylor in the second round, setting up a final shot at revenge over the school that tried so hard to smear CU's good name during the breakup of the old Big XII.  Jumping over Baylor would be a very tasty way of making a shocking Sweet Sixteen run

I'm not yet ready to make a prediction, but I think CU has as good a shot as any of the #11 seeds to make it to the weekend.  I'll allow myself a few more hours of daydreaming before I begin to breakdown the realistic chances of that happening...

Happy Championship Monday!

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