Category archive: Colorado Buffaloes
The black and gold fans in Albuquerque were loud, proud and committed to ensuring the Buffaloes were well represented. I was there. I heard it. It was obvious to anyone in the arena.
The Buffaloes were rewarded with an NCAA tournament win over UNLV -- their first such victory in 15 years -- before losing to Baylor in the round of 32.
This was Colorado, and the sport they were cheering was men's basketball. Now that's progress.
The CU fan base had rarely been known as well traveled (or loud) during its days in the Big 12. Yet something has changed in Boulder -- for the better -- since Colorado's move to the Pac-12.
Now the fan base has something to cheer about: a team that isn't going to shy away from its newfound success under Tad Boyle, who is entering this third season with the Buffs.
"Two things contributed to our home-court edge,'' said Boyle, whose team lost just one league game at home last season. "The students really got into our program, and we were very consistent. The fact that we played at altitude and played fast for the whole game got everyone to buy into the home-court atmosphere. It was the best home-court advantage in the Pac-12. Arizona may be more consistent in terms of numbers game in and game out, but when our arena is full and it's a big game, it's a wash.''
Colorado's 11-7 record in its inaugural Pac-12 season was no fluke. Neither was the team's run to the Pac-12 tournament title in Los Angeles. The league's move to Las Vegas' MGM Grand for the conference tourney should bode well in the coming years for this program. If the fans traveled well to New Mexico for the Big Dance, they'll surely make the more destination-driven spot of Vegas.
"We've got momentum now,'' Boyle said.
However, Boyle does expect this team to struggle a bit out of the box. The Buffaloes lost a few key players in Carlon Brown and Austin Dufault. The schedule will be challenging with the Charleston Classic, which includes Baylor and Murray State. Hosting Colorado State and Air Force will test this team, as will a road game at Wyoming, all regional rivalries that are more difficult than they seem.
As for the roster, the Buffs have a rising star in junior forward Andre Roberson, who was critical in the Pac-12 title run with double-doubles in three of the four games and a 13-16 performance against UNLV. Boyle also plans on leaning heavily on sophomore Askia Booker, who shined in the NCAA tournament with a combined 31 points in the two games.
The expected impact of big-time in-state recruit Josh Scott, a 6-foot-10 center from Monument, Colo., and 6-6 wing Xavier Johnson from Temecula, Calif., is already being felt. Boyle has worked out the newcomers and hasn't shied from heaping expectations on them.
"Our two most highly rated guys -- Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson -- are both as good as advertised,'' Boyle said.
They, along with four other newcomers, will get a jump on the season with an August trip to France, Belgium and the Netherlands. Boyle said he's hoping that the freshmen will pick up necessary details sooner because of the trip.
The addition of Johnson gives the Buffaloes three key players (the other is rising sophomore Spencer Dinwiddie) from Southern California. Would this have happened if Colorado wasn't in the Pac-12?
"No way, no way, no way,'' Boyle said. "We don't get them if we're not in the Pac-12. We don't get Xavier Johnson. No question about it. It was a good move for us to capitalize on the West Coast.''
No one associated with Colorado is foolish enough to think the Buffaloes will be picked to win the conference. The combination of returnees and top-five recruiting classes at Arizona and UCLA put those two programs at the top of the league. Stanford's NIT title and returning core probably put the Cardinal at third in the pecking order.
But Colorado has every reason to believe it can be in the top four, pushing past programs like Cal and Washington. Regardless, the Buffs are now officially in the mix on a regular basis.
"We've got a few key guys coming back that contributed to our run,'' Boyle said. "I like where we're positioned, not just for this year. We could be good this year, but we're poised to be good for two or three years down the road, too.''
Instead, the conference desperately needs the Bruins to come back -- and fast. Having Arizona dip, even just for one season, didn't help either.
So when the coaches gathered this week for the annual spring meetings in Phoenix, the mood was upbeat. The Pac-12 -- that ultimate big-boy punching bag in college basketball lately -- has two of the nation's top three recruiting classes. And they're from the league's two most prestigious programs.
Anthony Gruppuso/US PresswireYou know it's a down year when your regular-season champ doesn't make the NCAA tournament.
"I think any buzz for our league is good for everybody,'' Oregon State coach Craig Robinson said. "As competitors, we would like the buzz to be about us, but as long as it's somebody in our conference and especially a brand name like UCLA, that can only be good for the rest of us.''
The Pac-12 had only two teams make the NCAA tournament in 2012, and one of those (Cal) was in the First Four in Dayton and lost. Regular-season champ Washington didn't get a bid, an embarrassing situation for the conference, which became the first big six league to not have its regular-season winner receive a bid.
Utah arrived in the conference and was abysmal in its first season, finishing 3-15 in the Pac-12 and 6-25 overall. Arizona State fell apart and finished 10-21. USC was decimated by injuries and was the worst of all, finishing a stunning 1-17 in league play and 6-26 overall.
The saving face of the Pac-12 was actually new member Colorado. The Buffaloes won the conference tournament, beat UNLV in the NCAA tourney and hung around with Baylor before losing in the Round of 32.
But perception of the league being down wasn't a reach. It was reality. The numbers and results didn't lie. The Pac-12 was an almost hard-to-fathom 1-25 against the RPI top 40 in nonconference play.
So with Arizona loaded up with four ESPNU 100 recruits in the Class of 2012 and UCLA having secured Kyle Anderson in the fall, the Bruins kept up the momentum in the spring by grabbing another top-five recruit (Shabazz Muhammad) and a four-star big man (Tony Parker).
That's not just good for those two schools, it's welcomed by the rest of the league.
Don't think Pac-12 commissioner Larry Scott didn't take notice of the Bruins' big April.
"It's extremely important,'' Scott said. "The public and media follow big brands, and it doesn't get any bigger than UCLA basketball in our conference.
"Having them have a strong recruiting class [and] a new Pauley Pavilion to move into is great news for our conference. We've got new TV deals. The timing couldn't be better.''
The conference's coaches have long complained about the television package and a general lack of national exposure. A few years ago, first-place Cal was at USC in a critical game and it wasn't even televised.
Well, the Pac-12 finally has a new TV package that will allow every conference game to be televised on one of three networks: ESPN, Fox or the new Pac-12 Network. The league will shift from a straight Thursday-Saturday/Sunday schedule to one that has more flexibility.
Stephen Dunn/Getty ImagesThe Pac-12 tourney has had some thrillers over the years, but few in L.A. bothered to notice.
In addition, the conference tournament now has a chance to have a sellout with the league choosing Las Vegas as the neutral destination. The Pac-12 had struggled mightily to draw consistent crowds to the Staples Center in Los Angeles. That shouldn't be the case at a destination venue like the MGM Grand, where the Pac-12 will become the fourth conference to play its conference tournament in Vegas, joining the Mountain West (Thomas & Mack Center), WCC and WAC (both at the Orleans Arena).
What will this conference look like by next March, though?
A year ago, the league was gutted by early entrants to the NBA draft at USC, UCLA, Washington, Washington State, Arizona and Stanford.
"Our league wasn't going to be good in the nonconference in November or December because of who left,'' Oregon coach Dana Altman said. "And then UCLA lost Reeves Nelson [dismissed early in the season] and so we weren't in a position to do well.''
Now they must be.
"We need some top-10 teams,'' said Cal coach Mike Montgomery, who has consistently been a Pac-12 title contender at Stanford and Cal. "We didn't have any, and it hurt us. Based on the recruiting, Arizona and UCLA should be in the mix.
"You need good teams going in. It will help us all if we're competing against better teams. Our RPI goes up. One through nine we were pretty good last year.''
The early onus will be on UCLA. The Bruins have to show well at the Legends Classic in Brooklyn, N.Y., with Georgetown and ESPN.com preseason No. 1 Indiana in the four-team field.
"We've had some bad losses out there,'' Montgomery said of the Pac-12's shoddy nonconference record lately. "Typically, everyone looks at UCLA and makes a judgment. It may not be fair or right and they haven't been the best team, but when they [are down], it hurts everybody. It's incumbent on everybody to win the games [you're supposed to win] in the pre-conference.''
Montgomery didn't excuse his own team. The Bears beat no one of significance outside league play last season and were annihilated by Missouri and UNLV.
"We didn't perform well, and that hurt our league,'' Montgomery said. "The impressions start early. We shouldn't lose games we shouldn't lose, because then when the league plays each other, we're screwed. We can't do anything to improve the reputation. That's on all of us to have a better November and December heading into the conference.''
USC coach Kevin O'Neill isn't doubting the Pac-12's ability to bounce back this season with several NCAA tournament teams.
"And we plan on being one of them,'' O'Neill said of the Trojans, led by Jio Fontan, who missed last season with a knee injury. "UCLA and Arizona had top recruiting classes, and that helps everybody improve. I think it's great. We'll see how they react to stressful situations.
"All our teams look good on paper, and we should be one of the top leagues in the country. We lost more pros in this league than the five other power leagues together the last few years. We're producing great players and most are doing well. But all of that is going to change. It's going to be a great year for our league.''