Now that the mood has been set, let's get straight to business...
Happy Tournament, Buff Nation!
That's right, it's time for the Dance to tip-off, and for the first time since I was a bright-eyed freshman, the Buffs have scrounged up a ticket. This impossible dream has taken CU through four rounds of the Pac-12 Tournament and straight to New Mexico.
Many would be happy with what the Buffs have managed to accomplish so far. After all, the first conference title in 43 years is definitely something worth celebrating. However, teams who are just "happy to be there" are an affront to the very nature of the Tournament. Any one of the remaining teams, from Asheville to Xavier, is only six wins away from a national title. If you're still in it, you have to be in it to win it.
Standing in CU's way are the Runnin' Rebels from UNLV. This proud program, holder of a national title and plenty of tournament experience, is a tough regional draw, but that's the level of team you're going to face at this stage. It's time for the Buffs to show that they're up to the challenge, and belong with the big boys.
Tip-off from the famous Pit in Albuquerque is set for approximately 7:57pm. The game can be seen on truTV. For those of you who haven't heard of truTV before, it's channel 71 (771 for HD) on Comcast, 246 on DirecTV, and 204 on Dish. You probably already get it without knowing.
If the idea of searching for truTV seems too daunting for you, you can follow the action through MMOD on teh interwebz. Additionally, Mark Johnson and the radio coverage is set for 850 KOA (also available through iheart.com).
Click below for my preview...
When last CU tasted the NCAA Tournament -
Way back in aught three, CU, propelled by an undefeated home mark in conference play, earned an at-large bid to the Dance, and faced Michigan State in Tampa. That team, lead by Big Dave Harrison, Stephane Pelle, Michel Morandais, and Blair Wilson, was a great bunch to watch, and that bid was well deserved.
The program's first Tournament appearance since 1997, however, didn't get off to a good start.
The selection committee was much harsher to CU back in '03 than they were this year. Not only did the Buffs have to fly cross-country, but that Michigan St team was, like most Tom Izzo squads, veteran and punishing. As a karmic pile-on, CU was harried by a nasty blizzard that delayed flights, and kept the Buffs in Boulder, rather than in Florida, for most of the week.
|Chip didn't get an extended stay in Tampa that year.|
An already short trip to Western Florida was cut even shorter, and CU went home quietly. Hopefully, this go around is much more impressive.
Opponents season so far -
Back at the end of January, UNLV was easily considered a top-15 team, and in position for a solid run in the Dance. The stretch run, however, wasn't kind to the Rebels.
The trouble began when UNLV ran their way up to Laramie Valley to play Wyo. Smacked in the mouth by the feisty Cowboys, the season was suddenly put into a tailspin.
|The win sent Cowboy nation into a frenzy.|
|You have to give UNLV credit, they did make a few teams very happy down the stretch.|
|Everyone thought that win over UNC was huge. The Rebels just couldn't keep it up.|
After Lon Kruger bolted for Oklahoma after last season, former UNLV player Dave Rice was tabbed to keep the Rebels exactly as he found them. A player on that '90-'91 title winning Rebel team, Coach Rice had stayed with the program, learning the coaching craft from legend Jerry Tarkanian.
|Rice looks to continue the successful tradition in Las Vegas.|
Star Players -
If this season left you searching for all the talent you would expect to find in a power conference like the Pac-12, look no further than UNLV, where two pieces of their game-winning puzzle are former UCLA Bruins: Mike Moser and Chace Stanback.
(This has been a problem throughout the Pac-12, as solid talent ran off to the top-3 Mountain West Schools. On behalf of El Jefe, I say: you're welcome, MWC.)
The sophomore Moser, a 6-8 power forward, is the standout here. He drops 14/10 per night, while shooting 52/33/78. Moser's defensive rebounding percentage (28.3) is especially nice, sitting at 8th in the nation. Not as good as 'Dre's (29.9, 2nd in the nation), but still nice to look at. Toss in over two assists per game, and the big man will make for a tough matchup int he paint.
|OH MY GOD, HE'S HUGE! Oh, wait, that's just a cardboard cut-out. *whew*|
|"Why did you guys make me come to Fort Collins? This place is a dump!"|
The easiest thing to note is that, compared to the neophyte Buffs, UNLV is a bunch of tournament veterans. They've been in the Dance for three consecutive years now, and, while they've lost their first round game in each of the previous two years, you have to give the experience edge to the Rebels.
After that, however, there are a few items leaning CU's way.
After the run through the Pac-12 Tournament, Coach Boyle is 9-2 in post season play at CU. He's a tournament coach, with a tournament mindset. With Dave Rice in his first season as the head Rebel, the coaching advantage has to lean CU.
Additionally, UNLV hasn't won a game outside of Sin City since late January. They've proven to be a shaky road team, and, while Albuquerque isn't Boulder, at least CU has proven it can win in foreign territory. What's more, Albuquerque's 5,300 feet of Rocky Mountain hiiiiiiiiigh altitude is eerily similar to Boulder's 5,345. Add to that a rabid crew of 100 strong C-Unit members, along with thousands of other Buff fans headed south, and I'll give the venue advantage to CU.
Finally, the Thursday/Saturday scheduling scenario is identical to what CU played through in conference play. Familiarity and comfort breed strong performance, and CU should have their practice/rest routine for a Thursday night game down by now.
Mix it all together, and I think CU has a great shot to pull the upset tonight. It won't be easy, but CU survives to play Saturday.
CU 68 - UNLV 64
GO BUFFS! BEAT THE RUNNIN' REBELS!