The University of Colorado athletic department has yet to make much of an impact in its inaugural season in the Pac-12 Conference. After a tough 3-10 season by the football team in which there were games where the Buffs were thoroughly outclassed, the fans in Boulder might be waiting awhile for football success. There will likely be more difficult seasons ahead before CU can gain some traction and eventually compete in the speedy and athletic Pac-12.
A different story, however, is developing on the CU campus this winter as the men’s basketball team is giving Front Range hoops fans a pleasant surprise. Unlike football, the basketball talent level in the Pac-12 is somewhat underwhelming and lacking a solid front runner, leaving the conference title up for grabs and the young Buffaloes as likely a bet to win the crown as anyone.
The talent is in place for Colorado. Despite losing its top four scorers from last year in Alec Burks (Utah Jazz), Cory Higgins (Charlotte Bobcats), Levi Knutson and Marcus Relphorde, the young freshmen have proven themselves early and the experienced seniors have shown leadership and the ability to fill the scoring void. Seniors Nate Tomlinson, Austin Dufault and Carlon Brown have used their experience from last year’s deep run into the NIT tournament to provide a veteran presence for the young Buffs.
The Buffaloes feature a squad with ten of the fifteen roster spots filled by underclassmen. That does not mean they are devoid of talent in the young ranks. Sophomore Nate Tomlinson continues to be a monster down low averaging a double-double in points and rebounds. The freshman class features leaders, Spencer Dinwiddie and his backcourt running mate Askia Booker. Dinwiddie has become a role model for the other freshmen and has earned the respect of the upperclassmen averaging 10.6 points and 3.7 rebounds in just over 25 minutes of play per game.
Last year the Colorado Buffaloes were looking in on the NCAA tournament, as they were remarkably denied a spot in the field of 68. The tournament committee might have done them a favor though as the Buffs gained huge experience thanks to last year’s run to the NIT semifinals and a visit to Madison Square Garden. And, thanks to last year’s snub and the experience gained, this year is going to be different.
Early projections for the NCAA tournament show only two teams from the Pac-12 conference getting invites: Stanford and California. The Buffs will either become the third team in or will supplant Stanford or Cal as the second team in. CU is 12-6 overall and 4-2 in the conference just a game behind conference leader, Cal, whom the Buffs lead in Berkeley most of the way before falling 57-50 earlier this month. With 12 games remaining, CU will need to win nine more. Five of the remaining twelve are at home where the Buffs are almost unbeatable (9-1) this year. Of the remaining seven on the road, victories should come at USC, Arizona State, Utah and Oregon State. A conference record of 13-4 (21-9 overall) should give the Buffs a first round bye in the conference tournament. One more win in the tournament and the Buffs should be dancing.
Second year head coach, Tad Boyle, has this team headed in the right direction. Last year it was the Final Four of the NIT and this year the squad will make their way into the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003 and show fans that there is something to cheer about in Boulder. Last year’s NIT tournament proved that fans in Boulder can get behind CU basketball as they had the Coors Event Center rocking for three home NIT games. Let’s get the Event Center filled for the remaining five at home and help get the Buffs dancing this year.
Jeff Lehman is a blog contributor for Gold Star Games, a leading tailgate gear supplier specializing in NFL, NCAA and MLB related apparel and much more