Enjoy the Ride

Tad Boyle, on CU getting into the 2013 NCAA tournament: “We can’t ever take this for granted” …

For the third year in a row, Selection Sunday for the NCAA men’s basketball tournament involved the University of Colorado.

Two seasons ago, the 21-13 Buffs, fresh off of a good showing in the Big 12 tournament and a record-setting 18 home victories, were stunned when they were not selected for the NCAA tournament. Colorado players had to console themselves with a run to the NIT semi-finals, finishing with a school-record 24 victories.

Last season, the Buffs removed any doubts about an NCAA bid, going on a four-game winning streak through the Pac-12 tournament, earning the conference’s first men’s basketball title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. An upset of UNLV took the Buffs to the NCAA third round, and a second consecutive 24-win season.

This season, the consensus amongst the bracketologists is that the University of Colorado was a “lock” to make the tournament again. With a 21-11 record, a 39th-rated RPI ranking and a No. 22 Strength of Schedule ranking, there was little “bubble” talk about the Buffs. The bid marked only the third time in school history in which Colorado had been selected to play in the tournament in back-to-back years in school history (the others being 1954 & ’55, and 1962 & ’63).

Next season, the Buffs lose only one senior, guard Sabatino Chen, and one reserve center, Shane Harris-Tunks (though it is more likely than not that Andre Roberson will forego his senior season to go to the NBA). Even if Roberson leaves school early, the Buffs are well stocked for the future. Four starters will return, and none will be seniors. First team All-Pac-12 guard Spencer Dinwiddie will be back as a junior, along with fellow junior guard Askia Booker. Freshman All-Pac-12 center Josh Scott will be back, along with fellow sophomore Xavier Johnson. The Buffs have also red-shirted significant talent, and have a top 25 recruiting class coming to Boulder next fall.

In short, if the Buffs can hang onto Tad Boyle, Colorado figures to be a fixture in the Pac-12 race for years to come.

CU men’s basketball is poised for a solid run … an unprecedented run.

How rarefied is the air the CU men’s program is breathing right now?

Consider the following:

– Colorado has won 20 or more games for three consecutive seasons. Never before in school history has CU won 20 or more games in three consecutive seasons.

– In the 112-year history of CU basketball, there have only been seven seasons with over 20 wins, with only four before Tad Boyle came to Boulder. Even if you take into account that the Buffs didn’t normally play 20 games in a season until after World War II, that is still over sixty years of basketball generating all of four 20-win seasons, then going three-for-three since 2010-11.

– Tad Boyle has 69 victories in three seasons at Colorado. He is already in fifth place on CU’s all-time list of victories for head coaches. The four coaches in front of him all had at least nine seasons coaching in Boulder (next up on the list, Howard Beresford, had 76 victories, but it took him nine years to do it, 1925-33).

– An NCAA tournament appearance this season will be only the 12th for Colorado in school history, and only the fourth appearance since 1969.

– Even with the NCAA snub in 2011, the Buffs still did make the NIT, making it to the semi-finals. As a result, the 2013 NCAA bid marks the first time in school history in which the Buffs have made the post-season in three consecutive seasons.

– Colorado was ranked for two weeks early in the season. The rankings were the first in the coaches’ poll since the 2005-06 season, and the first ranking in the AP poll since the 1996-97 season.

– For the first time in school history, four former CU players were on opening day NBA rosters this past November – Chauncey Billups (Clippers), Alec Burks (Jazz), Cory Higgins (Bobcats), and Chris Copeland (Knicks). The previous year, when there were three former Buffs in the NBA, it marked the first time that had happened since 1992-93.

– Colorado won three straight conference road games this season, the first time the Buffs won three straight road games in conference play since 2000-01. To put that modest run in perspective, CU only won three straight road games in conference twice as a member of the Big 12, and only six times in all of its years as a member of the Big 7/Big 8. (And don’t forget, the Buffs set a school record for consecutive road losses just three years ago, going from January, 2008, to March, 2010, without a road victory – 28 consecutive road losses).

– Colorado has defeated two or more ranked teams in a season only eight times in the history of the AP poll (four this year), with three of those eight seasons coming under Tad Boyle.

– The Buffs have only 53 victories over ranked teams in the history of the AP poll, with nine of those wins coming with Tad Boyle as head coach.

– In the history of the Coors Events Center (dating back to 1979), Colorado had defeated nine teams ranked in the top ten in the AP poll. Three of those nine wins have come in the past three seasons.

Speaking of the CEC …  Attendance has been ridiculous under Tad Boyle. In Boyle’s first season, 2010-11, the Buffs averaged 7,014 per game. That number was good enough for second on the all-time list at Colorado, second only to the average attendance of 7,659 in 1983-84. In year Two of Tad, the Buffs set a new standard, 7,804 per game.

Now? Even though 7,804 was a record, this past season a crowd that size would have meant the Buffs were playing Adams State during a blizzard during finals week in December. In 2012-13, the Buffs obliterated all attendance records, with 12 crowds over 10,000, and a home average attendance of 10,392, over 2,500 more per game than the previous record set last year. The three year average for attendance – 8,255 – is almost 2,000 more than for any previous three-year span in school history.

And let’s not forget about the women’s team …  

The Colorado women’s basketball team came into Selection weekend even more of a lock to make the NCAA tournament than the men.

At 25-6, with all six losses coming to ranked teams. Five of those losses came to Stanford and Cal, top ten teams all season, with the fifth loss coming on the road against No. 11 UCLA. Those three teams entered the Pac-12 tournament with a combined record of 78-10 … 72-4 when not counting games played against one another.

There’s more:

– The 24 regular season victories by the women’s team are the most since 2002-03. The 13 conference wins are the third most in school history;

– The Buffs finished the regular season on a nine-game winning streak, the most consecutive wins in conference play since 1994-95;

– Colorado enjoyed a first-round bye in the conference tournament. That hasn’t happened since 2004;

– After defeating Washington in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament, the Buffs’ winning streak moved to ten games, the 10th longest streak in school history;

– The Buffs opened the season with a perfect 11-0 non-conference run (for the second year in a row). The 11-game streak is tied for 8th all-time;

– Only twice before in school history (1980-81 and 1992-93) have the Buffs had two winning streaks of at least ten games in the same season.

While the CU women’s team has only been to one more NCAA tournament than the men (12 v. 11), it has been on a much shorter time line. CU didn’t have a women’s program until 1975, and the NCAA didn’t start with its women’s tournament until the mid-1980’s – which makes the CU women’s record all the more remarkable.

The Buffs have been to 12 NCAA tournaments, making the Sweet Sixteen in half of those attempts. Colorado has also made it to the Elite Eight three times. Still, the CU women haven’t been to the NCAA tournament since 2004, by far the longest drought in school history. Prior to the present nine-year hiatus, the longest stretch the CU women went without an NCAA tournament appearance was four years, between 1997 and 2001.

So, the women are back where they are supposed to be – the NCAA tournament – but it’s been a long nine-year wait.

For the CU men, the “once a decade” appearance spell appears to have been broken, with a bid to the Big Dance now to become an expectation, not a dream.

However, if history has shown us anything, CU programs are not guaranteed anything. From the late 1980’s through to the mid-1990’s, Buff fans came to expect the CU football program to be ranked every season, to compete for a conference championship every season, and to have a top 25 recruiting class every season.

Now, mired in the longest stretch of losing seasons in school history, even a .500 record and a minor bowl game seem like fantasy.

Nothing, as we have bitterly come to learn, is guaranteed.

Which makes celebrating this week all the more important.

The men’s basketball team isn’t reflecting on the Golden Age of CU Basketball

… it’s living it.

Enjoy the Ride.

5 Replies to “Enjoy the Ride”

  1. Even though this season ended too soon, I am so excited for the future. Not only are several key contributors back, but there is a boat load of new talent coming back. All we need is consistency.

  2. Excellent article! It is so great to have something to get excited about at this time of year. I have read that Coach Tad has stated that CU IS his dream job; hopefully this is true and he will become the Mike Krzyzewski of CU. Not in terms of achieving that level of success (would be thrilled with 50%), but in terms of staying in Boulder for such an extended period of time.

    GO BUFFS!!!

    1. I did count the 1996/97 team.
      Since 1969, only the 1996/97, 2002/03, and 2011/12 teams have been invited.
      2012/13 would mark only the fourth team since 1969 to make it to the Big Dance.

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