Videos: Top four reasons the CU Buffs will win the Pac-12 Tournament
March Madness is well underway as teams begin to punch their tickets for the Big Dance. The major conference tournaments kick off today, but many Coloradans will have their eye on only one: the Pac-12 Conference Tournament.
With respect to the Colorado State Rams for a solid season and probable NCAA tournament berth, we decided to take a look at the CU and gauge its postseason prospects. The verdict? We're all in, baby. Count down our top four reasons below.
4. Underdog Status
Going into the season, no one in the country expected the Pac 12 to have any legitimate teams. Certainly, no one expected two teams from the conference in the top 25, and if it hadn't been for Oregon's collapse, there could have been three with numbers by their names. Colorado flirted with the top 25 all season, dropping in after big wins and falling out after tough losses.
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Going into the tournament tomorrow, the dominant storyline is the "resurgence" of UCLA, which is great for the Buffs. Some list the team as a dark horse candidate to take home the championship, but more analysts are looking at either Arizona or UCLA to come out on top. In the last two tournaments under Boyle, the Buffs have given Kansas everything it could handle (Big 12, 2011) and won (Pac-12, 2012). As they've demonstrated throughout the season, they can win the big game. But after an up and down season, the Buffs look like a fringe contender to anyone not paying attention. Let's hope the rest of the conference thinks so, too.
Colorado ranks in the top three for both rebounding and steals, pulling down 37.5 boards and swiping 7.13 steals per game. The Buffs grab 25.8 defensive rebounds per game, and although they don't block many shots (they rank eleventh out of twelve teams with 3.17 blocks per game), their defense is stingy, holding opponents to an average of 56.3 points in wins. During losses, though, they give up 71.2 points on average. When the defense shows up and is locked in, the Buffs' length, athleticism and defensive intelligence makes it difficult for even above-average offensive teams to score.
What's the old cliché? Ah, yes: defense wins championships. This bodes well.
Roberson has been doing an impressive impersonation of a machine this season, averaging 10.8 points per game and leading the nation in rebounding with 11.5 per game. People say basketball is a team game, and, indeed, it is. The entire team needs to pitch in, and so far this season, it's gotten great contributions from guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker, as well as freshman standout forward Josh Scott. But Roberson is the key to the post-season success of the Buffs -- so it's great news that he's been cleared to play today, after sitting out recent games due to what the team described as a viral infection, and what everyone else called mononucleosis.
The nation knows he is a great rebounder, but Roberson's scoring is often overlooked. In the big games CU has won this year, he has registered double-digit points, but not always collected double-digit rebounds. In the losses, Roberson only scored in single digits, with the exception of the Wyoming, Washington and Utah games. Roberson can score efficiently, and in a grind-it-out game, high percentage shots are king. The postseason is where great players prove their mettle, and the Buffs need every one of Roberson's rebounds and points to surge through the Pac-12 tournament. Let's hope what's been ailing him is out of his system when he hits the court.
At almost every stop in his professional coaching career, Boyle has had a positive impact. Before he became the head coach at Northern Colorado, Boyle spent six years as an assistant coach with the Wichita State Shockers. Any hoops junkie will remember the 2006 tournament, when "mid-majors" tore down the image of unbeatable traditional powerhouses, as George Mason tore through Michigan State, North Carolina and UConn before running into the Florida buzzsaw. And who else did GM have to beat that year? Yep, Wichita State, which upset Tennessee, a two seed in that year's tournament, en route to the Sweet Sixteen. Boyle then moved on to UNC, where he turned a perennial cellar-dweller into a conference champion runner-up in 2010 (the following year, with Boyle's roster still mostly intact, the Bears won the championship).
When Boyle took the CU job in 2010, he inherited a team of seasoned upperclassmen and blossoming youngsters in Alec Burks and Andre Roberson. Outside of Boulder, expectations were low, but the Buffs made a solid run through the Big 12 tournament, giving eventual champion Kansas a real scare in the semifinals. Last year, the Buffs dominated the Pac-12 tournament and knocked off UNLV in the first round of the NCAA tournament before losing to Baylor in the Round of 32.
This year, the Buffs sit at a respectable 20-10 overall, and a slightly-worse-than-hoped-for 10-8 in conference play. That said, each time the Buffs have faced a ranked opponent, they've either wo or come damn close (see: robbery, Arizona), except for the drubbing at KU. They've usually followed those great wins with confounding losses to lesser teams, but the point is, Boyle can get a team ready to play when the stakes are high. Going into the Pac-12 tournament, he knows that in order to secure a solid seeding in the NCAA tournament, the team has to show up and kick butt, a la 2011.
More from our Sports archive: "Video: CU Buffs basketball players do it Gangnam style."
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