Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

Puke and Rally

There are no words, at least ones worth putting to paper, that can adequately describe my feelings when I saw Spencer Dinwiddie collapse in Seattle on Sunday.  I was stunned into numbness.  It struck me to my very core.  Surely, much of that is borne out of, what Adam Butler termed, the 'selfish joy' of getting to watch the young man ply his trade on the hardwood, but it goes deeper than that.

I feel for him.  It's genuine heartbreak.  With the understanding that Dinwiddie is an honestly good kid who worked extremely hard to get where he is today, to see him reduced to tears for playing the game he loves... it's hard to comprehend.

With the diagnosis now official, at least there's finally some direction to the story.  Spencer is done for the year, and, after surgery, will be able to focus on his recovery.  As with all things in life, the narrative doesn't end, it just transforms.  He will be back, and we will all get to share in that 'selfish joy' once again.

Get well soon, Spencer, the whole of BuffNation is behind you.

For the Buffs, the scenario is the same.  With both Spencer and freshman forward Tre'Shaun Fletcher having succumbed to the Hec-Ed voodoo, the program has been clouded by an immediate, suffocating fog.  But that is not the end of the story.  While dreams of a league title are now pure fantasy, the season continues, and the competition isn't going to let up just because CU is wounded.  (If there was any doubt about that, go back and watch the film of the Huskies circling like a pack of wolves on Sunday). While the Pac-12 party rages on, it's time for the Buffs to puke and rally.

This is going to be the toughest coaching job of Coach Boyle's tenure at CU.  He set the terms yesterday afternoon saying:
“We don’t have the star system here. Spencer was our leading scorer and leading assist guy, he led us in steals. There’s no question he was important to our team. I’m not trying to minimize this loss, but I just want our players to realize they’re here for a reason: they’re capable as well. When one guy goes down, the door opens for one, or in this case, maybe two or three more.” -link
It's going to take a team effort to make up for the loss of Dinwiddie and Fletcher.  It's going to take a huge leadership statement from players like Josh Scott, and it's going to efficient performances from players like Askia Booker.  More importantly, it's going to take the emergence of replacement players like Jaron Hopkins and Xavier Talton.  

Colorado needs to show that they can get back on their feet, and quickly, before the season falls off the rails. The Selection Committee is watching, and have made their stance on injuries pretty clear in years past.  For CU's purposes, while they won't completely throw out the first 17 games of the season, what the Buffs from this point on will determine their fate.  They need to give the committee a reason to keep them in the field. The performance in the second half against Washington is forgivable, but the team needs to give some indication that they have a plan for life without Spencer.

Looking at the schedule, I think if Colorado can find a way to go .500 over their final 14 games they'll be in the Dance. That would put them at 21-10 (10-8), and, at least, signal that they aren't completely adrift when faced with adversity.  How does CU get to 7-7 down the stretch?  Well, look at the schedule.  I figure there are four reasonably winnable games remaining (USC, Utah, WSU, @USC), along with four games that would seemingly take a miracle for the Buffs emerge victorious in (@Arizona, @UCLA, Arizona, @Cal). That leaves six toss-up games that will determine their Tournament eligibility: UCLA, @ASU, UW, ASU, @Utah, and @Stanford.  Colorado only needs to take three of those, a doable proposition.

It has to start Thursday night against UCLA.  We're going to learn a lot in two days time, much of which will be a simple answer to the question 'what are these kids made of?'  A strong performance against the Bruins will send a clear message, and come as a huge lift to the spirits of the team and BuffNation.  Don't count the Buffs out entirely.  With the CEC and a returned student section at their backs, anything is possible...

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