E Pluribus … Viginti Duo

There are 351 schools playing Division 1 basketball.

For the 2023-24 season only 22 of those teams, or roughly six percent, had programs which had both their men’s and women’s teams qualify for the NCAA tournament.

22 out of 351 … and Colorado was one of those schools.

Out of many … 22.

E Pluribus … Viginti Duo.

For the first time since 2013, Colorado has both teams playing in March Madness, with Friday marking the first time in school history that both teams played on the same day.

For the CU women’s team, a berth in the Big Dance was in the offing since Game One of the 2023-24 season, when the 20th-ranked Buffs knocked off No. 1 (and defending national champion) LSU. The Buffs spent the entire season in the polls, with 14 weeks spent in the Top Ten. While these numbers would be headline news for the men’s program, they are only the third-longest streaks in program history for a CU women’s team which has a deeper history of success.

Under head coach JR Payne, the Buffs are in the NCAA tournament for the third straight year, after having earned a trip to the Big Dance only once in the previous 17 seasons. The win over Drake was the 20th NCAA tournament win in program history (20-15), with the 5th-seeded Buffs hoping for a repeat against fourth-seeded Kansas State (Sunday noon, MT, ESPN) of what last year’s team accomplished, when the 6th-seeded Buffs upset the home-standing third-seed Duke to advance to the Sweet Sixteen.

In all, the CU women’s team has been to the Sweet Sixteen of the NCAA tournament seven times, with three trips to the Elite Eight … and that’s in an NCAA tournament which only dates back to 1983.

The CU men’s basketball program does not share an equally long history of success in March Madness. Prior to this week, the Buffs had an 11-17 all-time record in the Big Dance, with only three of those wins coming in the last 55 years (1997, 2012, and 2021).

So, if you are scoring at home, that means that with the wins this year against Boise State and Florida, Tad Boyle has four of CU’s five NCAA wins since 1969, and four of 13 all-time.

And while Buff fans are currently reveling in the fact that CU has a new program for wins in a season, with 26 victories (26-10), this year’s team was never a sure thing to make the tournament. Had it not been for a six-game winning streak to end the regular season and a run to the Pac-12 tournament title game in Las Vegas, the Buffs would have been relegated to the NIT this spring.

Failure to make the NCAA tournament would have been seen as a disappointment for a Buff roster with three potential first round NBA draft picks. So … even though Tad Boyle’s team went 16-1 at home – a school record for home victories – and has won a school record number of games overall, the naysayers were having their say over the course of an up-and-down season.

After CU lost at home against Arizona in February (the only home loss of the season), the message boards were full of venom:

  • This team with this talent not making the tourney is *******’ disgusting. A failure on all levels.
  • I’m through bītching about Tad. I’ll tune back in when he’s gone.
  • (Tad Boyle) denied any problems with talent or effort. He’s delusional, another sign he needs to be gone ASAP.

After CU’s loss to Washington State on the road on January 27th (a team which would end up as the No. 2 team in the Pac-12), the heading was: “This is all on TAD”, with some of the following commentary:

  • Maybe the best team Tad has ever had and here we are in late January firmly on the bubble. It may be time to change this up.
  • Tad fans have no clue, and think beating lower level teams are good wins. We need a new coach and need one now.
  • Good coaches get more out there players, make adjustments, and get better as the season goes on. Tad is none of those.

The debate is not a new one, nor are the arguments being made.

It’s hard to quantify just how good the University of Colorado program has been under Tad Boyle. If you put Colorado’s record up against the blue bloods of college basketball, Tad Boyle’s numbers are not great.

But then, Colorado has never been a blue blood program in basketball, and, without a significant investment by the University and its fans (more on that later), Tad Boyle’s Buffs can’t be compared against those programs, but against what is possible in Boulder.

Take a look …

— The Big Eight did not conduct its first post-season tournament until 1977. In the 20 years of the tournament’s existence (1977-96, before the creation of the Big 12), the University of Colorado men’s basketball team won a grand total of four games. That’s a 4-20 record over two decades of trying to be relevant in the Big Eight. The Buffs were the only Big Eight team in that span not to win a postseason tournament. In fact, the Buffs made the Big Eight conference tournament finals only once (in 1990).

Four conference tournament wins in twenty years.

In the first season of the Pac-12 tournament, the Buffs, under then second-year head coach Tad Boyle, won four games, becoming the first team in the history of the Pac-8/10/12 to win four games to claim the title.

To recap … CU in Big Eight conference tournaments, over a span of 20 years, the Buffs won a grand total of four games.

Tad Boyle equaled that win total in CU’s first year of the Pac-12.

— And it wasn’t much better for the CU program as members of the Big 12. From 1997-2010, CU participated in Big 12 15 tournaments, compiling a 9-15 record. The Buffs never won a Big 12 championship. Hell, the Buffs never even made it to the finals of a Big 12 tournament. The one time in 15 years in the conference that CU advanced even as far as the semifinals of the Big 12 tournament was the Buffs’ last year in the league, 2010-11.

The coach that year? Tad Boyle … in his first season in Boulder.

— In Tad Boyle’s 14 seasons, Colorado has (to date) 32 post-season victories (NCAA, NIT, CBI, conference tournaments). Second on the list in CU coaching history? Ricardo Patton … with 8.

Here is the list of CU head coaches with at least four victories in the postseason:

  • Tad Boyle … 32 … (32-24)
  • Ricardo Patton … 8 … (8-18)
  • Frosty Cox … 5 … (5-5)
  • Joe Harrington … 4 … (4-7)

Colorado man’s basketball, in its history, has a grand total of 60 post-season victories … and Tad Boyle has 32 of them.

If you are talking just about conference tournaments … Big 8, Big 12, and Pac-12 … Colorado has 32 all-time wins.

Tad Boyle has 21 of those wins (21-13 … 19-12 in Pac-12; 2-1 in Big 12). As noted above, CU made one Big Eight tournament final in 20 years, made no Big 12 tournament finals in 15 years … but made three Pac-12 tournament finals under Boyle (and seven semi-finals).

Want to talk regular season records? … 

Colorado has 14 20-win seasons in program history … Tad Boyle has been on the bench for 10 of those campaigns. Boyle owns all six of CU’s highest win totals (the 22 regular season wins this year is another program record), and seven of the top eight.

Before Tad Boyle came along, the University of Colorado had four 20-wins seasons in its history. Tad Boyle matched that mark in his first four years in Boulder.

Put another way: In 109 seasons of basketball, there were four CU teams which reached the 20-win mark. Under Tad Boyle, the Buffs doubled that mark … in his first four seasons.

Despite the success of this year’s team, and Boyle’s established history of success, the Colorado basketball team continue – in the eyes of some – to under-achieve. The Buffs under Boyle, the argument goes, has a glass ceiling of 20+ wins and occasional NCAA berths, but Boyle does not have the recruiting acumen or the coaching ability to push the program into elite status … and that Colorado will sink to mediocrity in the top-heavy Big 12.

Want more? … Well, that’s on us … 

Colorado won 16 home games this season, but averaged only 7,531 in attendance in the (CU Events Center capacity: 11,064). The number is up slightly from last season, but nothing compared to the numbers a decade ago.

After averaging a program-record 10,392 in 2012-13 (with a record seven sellouts), the regular-season attendance dipped each of the next six seasons, albeit only slightly at first. CU averaged more than 9,600 in 2013-14 and 2014-15 before dropping to 8,540 in 2015-16.

But … wait a second … with all of that sustained success, success unparalleled in program history, why are the Buffs not averaging 10,000 a game on a regular basis?

Because, Virginia, CU is not a basketball school.

Never has been; never will be.

That’s not a slight on CU, as very few schools are basketball schools.

But I give you the numbers to make a point.

When Tad Boyle first came on the scene in Boulder, and started winning 20 games a season, it was a novelty. The four seasons before Boyle the Buffs went 7-20, 12-20, 9-22, and 15-16.

Two 20-win seasons and two NCAA appearances in the previous 40 years.

Then Tad Boyle came along, and the Buffs started winning 20 games a season … and making the NCAA tournament. It was new, it was novel, it was fresh … it was exciting.

And the Buffs averaged 10,000 fans a game.

And now … 20 wins a season are expected; NCAA tournament bids are demanded.

That’s good. Expectations should be raised. Goals should be higher. The floor for the program should be 20 wins a season; the expectation should be that the Buffs contend for conference titles and NCAA berths each and every year.

But, based upon CU’s history, there is no guarantee that anyone could do any better than what Tad Boyle is producing. Fact is, history suggests that Colorado basketball might fall back considerably without Boyle as its head coach.

So … 

If the Buff Nation wants Colorado basketball to take the next step, and be expected to not only make the NCAA tournament every year, but to make some noise once they get there, there needs to be more than 7,500 fannies in the seats for home games. There needs to be efforts, either through the 5430 Collective or other donations, to find and retain quality players (sorry, but that’s the way the world works these days).

So, if Buff fans want to maintain the kind of success that JR Payne and Tad Boyle have produced this season, it’s not just on the coaches.

It’s on us.

Whether that will happen as Colorado moves back into the Big 12 remains to be seen (counting CU and Arizona, the Big 12 as it will be constituted for the 2024-25 season had nine of its 16 members for next season earn NCAA tournament berths on the men’s side, with eight making into the women’s bracket).

At least for now, though, Buff fans can enjoy the fact that the University of Colorado basketball programs are enjoying success not usually reserved for schools like CU.

Colorado was one of only 22 programs in the country to have both the men’s and women’s teams make it to the Big Dance this March.

Out of many … 22.

E Pluribus … Viginti Duo.


2 Replies to “E Pluribus … Viginti Duo”

  1. Great write up Stuart!!! Really well done. I appreciate how much time and effort to get all this narrative in order. I am impressed.
    It is on us now to make the event center full every time.

  2. Weren’t the Buffs picked by the media, you know, the beat writers who cover the conference daily and of course know nothing at all, to finish 5th in the pac? I think they finished third, 2nd in the tourney. Could be considered overachieving.

    Big game today. Let’s hope they overachieve again.

    Go Buffs!

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