Colorado Week: Evaluating The Recent PastPosted by AMurawa on July 23rd, 2012
Two years ago, Colorado was riding seven straight seasons without an NCAA Tournament, was mired in mediocrity at the back of the Big 12 and was in the middle of welcoming in a new coaching staff after Jeff Bzdelik abruptly left Boulder in the wake of three unimpressive seasons. Jump ahead in time and the Buffaloes have improved under new head coach Tad Boyle each of the last two years, they’ve made a splash in their one year in their new conference, and they not only broke their string of NCAA Tournament-less years, but they scored their first NCAA Tourney win since 1997. Along the way they’ve turned the Coors Events Center into a formidable home court advantage. In short, for a program who has only once in its long history won more than a single NCAA Tournament game, the future looks bright.
In Boyle’s first season in Boulder, he inherited a talented bunch from Bzdelik, with future NBA lottery pick Alec Burks paired with senior wing Cory Higgins to form an impressive one-two punch. With seniors Marcus Relphorde and Levi Knutson chipping in, the Buffs rolled out one of the most efficient offensive teams in the game in 2010-11. Unfortunately, they were about as bad defensively as they were good offensively. Still, after losing six out of seven games in the middle of their Big 12 schedule, they found themselves in contention for an NCAA Tournament bid on Selection Sunday after scoring two wins over Kansas State and a win over Texas down the stretch. Unfortunately, when the brackets were announced, the Buffs were nowhere to be seen. And with Burks joining the three seniors on the way out of town, it looked like 2011-12 – CU’s first season in the Pac-12 – would be an exercise in rebuilding.
However, after a solid 11-7 record in an underwhelming conference, the overachieving Buffs ran off four straight wins in the Pac-12 Tournament to earn an automatic bid to the Big Dance. And once there, they made the most of their opportunity, running out to a big lead in their opening round game against UNLV before easing up and having to sweat out the end of their first NCAA win in 15 years. And in the round of 32, they stuck right with Baylor for more than 30 minutes before Brady Heslip’s scorching shooting finally got contagious.
Perhaps just as invigorating for the program as their breakthrough win was Boyle’s success on the recruiting trail, where he scored a top 25 class featuring six players (at least according to Scout – ESPN and Rivals have them outside the top 25) . While the Buffs will have to find replacements for glue guys like Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault, along with leading scorer Carlon Brown, they’ve got a future NBA first-rounder in Andre Roberson returning for his junior year, along with a pair of promising young guards – Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker – heading into their second seasons. In short, Boyle’s team has improved in each of his two seasons on the mountain, and with this talented roster, the odds are good that the improvement doesn’t have to stop now.