Colorado’s Ugly Win Bodes Well For FuturePosted by AMurawa on November 16th, 2012
It was a game Colorado really should have wanted to win. But, my god, it really didn’t look like it, did it? After scoring a big opening round win yesterday in the Charleston Classic and earning their way into the winner’s side of the bracket and a chance at revenge against a Baylor team that ended their year last season, the Buffaloes did plenty of good things Friday afternoon, but struggled to slam the door on the Bears. In the last two minutes of the game, they missed five of their six free throw attempts and generally displayed some shaky decision making, allowing Baylor a decent look at tying the game as time expired, only to see an Isaiah Austin jumper go awry. It was all part of a nightmarish 4-for-19 day from the line for CU, but in the end, they were good enough on the defensive end, holding Baylor to 0.85 points per possession, to escape with a win and advance to the championship game of the tournament.
The good news for the Buffs is that it is only going to get better from here for a young team. While CU likely isn’t on track to be a great free throw shooting team, today’s low was an aberration. For instance, sophomore point guard Spencer Dinwiddie shot better than 81% from the line last year, but today was just one-for-five. More importantly, while Dinwiddie and classmate Askia Booker got plenty of experience last year, they’re still just sophomores tasked with running an NCAA Tournament-caliber team that is trying to fold in a pair of talented frontcourt freshmen to a solid returning core. There were hiccups today, as there were yesterday, but to see this team struggle like this and still come away with a win against a very good opponent provides plenty of hope for just how good this team can be come March. For instance, freshman big man Josh Scott got his first big taste of big NBA-ready frontcourt talent today and, while foul trouble limited his minutes and he turned in season lows in points and rebounds, he showed he could hold his own against guys like Austin and Cory Jefferson. And, he’ll get better by leaps and bounds as the season progresses. Fellow frosh Xavier Johnson impressed in his first two games, but looked very much like the rookie he is today, turning the ball over five times. But, give him credit for trying to fit in with the rest of his new squad by missing three of four free throws – a team-building exercise, right?
So, big picture for the Buffs, heading into Sunday’s championship when they’ll face either Murray State or St. John’s, they’ve come away from two games in two days against two teams who expect to be in the NCAA Tournament discussion come March with two wins. Ugly or not, that’s straight getting stuff done. And, as we talked about in the preseason, these were two tremendously important wins for the team. If, for instance, they had fallen to Dayton, the whole weekend would have been a wash, with games against the likes of Boston College and Auburn doing little or nothing for their tournament resume. And, given that there are really only a pair of up-games remaining on their non-conference schedule (at home against Colorado State on December 5 and at Kansas the following Saturday), scoring this win over Baylor today should give them confidence for the future. If somehow they’re able to come out of Lawrence with a win, CU fans can start putting in for time off work in mid-March.
Conversely, take a look at what Oregon State did last night in fumbling away a 2K Sports Classic semifinal game to Alabama. They get a chance to play Purdue today in a halfway decent game, but the rest of their non-conference slate becomes crucial. Not only do they need to make sure not to slip up against teams that they are supposed to beat (i.e., Montana State, at Portland State, and a neutral-site game with San Diego), they’re now placed in the very real situation of probably needing to beat Kansas in Kansas City to put any meat on the bones of their non-conference resume. In other words, although the Beavers’ season is only three games old, barring a significant run in conference play, they may already be in the situation where they need to win the Pac-12 Tournament in order to dance. Colorado, over the past two days, has avoided a similar fate.