January 25, 2013
DENVER — Scribble this down as Reason No. 147 why the University of Colorado has a future star running its men's basketball program.
"I'm an advocate for postseason tournaments because of what we went through last year,” said Tad Boyle, whose Buffs earned an NCAA tournament berth by virtue of a Pac-12 tournament title.
"But the bottom line is this: Washington deserved to be in the NCAA tournament more than Colorado did. And that sounds crazy coming from the Colorado coach.”
In a coaching profession with its share of self-serving scam artists, Boyle's honesty is a splash of cold water to the face.
But no, coach. What’s crazy is the college basketball world hasn’t figured that out yet.
On Friday, Boyle and I approached the most underappreciated problem with college basketball: The obsession with March at the expense of the regular season.
If it’s not enough we are subjected to the Road to the Final Four in early January, the conference race has developed into an afterthought. That's too bad, a personal foul.
I will always contend winning a conference title is twice as difficult as reaching the Sweet 16.
Yet a conference title earns roughly half the recognition.
When Colorado hosts California on Sunday, the Buffs and Bears will know the opponent’s plays before it runs them. Within a conference, advanced scouting is meticulous. Conference rivals also compete for recruits, who can base their college decision on who beat who.
“Washington won a championship over a period of 18 games. We won a championship over four days,” Boyle said. "And that's the truth."
If Boyle had not cited the Huskies, would the casual fan recall which team won the Pac-12’s championship? But we quickly remember the Buffs in the NCAA tournament.
Boyle hardly is trivializing his team’s handiwork in 2011-12. The Buffs advanced to the NCAA tournament — and won a game there — based on their own blood, sweat and tears.
Colorado earned its dancing slippers.
But somewhere in the billion-dollar production of the glittery Big Dance, the traditional conference race lost its shine.
“From my experience, I just think coaches, media and fans put too much of a premium on the NCAA tournament,” Boyle said. “And I’m not saying it’s not important. I’m really not. It is important. But there's not enough premium placed on conference championships."
Is Boyle covering his backside in case the Buffs fall short of this NCAA tournament? Of course. He's also telling the truth.
“I think the NCAA tournament consumes a lot of people. It can't consume me, as a coach, and it can’t consume our players. The bracketology stuff — you can’t pay attention to that. We want to win a conference championship."
With "One Shining Moment" humming in the background, here is a local update on January Madness:
- Colorado is 13-6 overall (oddly, the same record as this date last year), 3-4 Pac-12. Oregon is the Pac-12 leader at 6-0.
- Colorado State is 15-4, 2-2 Mountain West. New Mexico is the MWC leader at 4-0. The Rams are at Fresno State on Saturday.
- Air Force is 11-6, 2-2 MWC. The Falcons are at Wyoming on Saturday.
With the NFL season nearing its end, the next major event is the NCAA tournament.
But the next edition of must-see TV is this weekend: New Mexico-San Diego State (MWC), North Carolina-N.C. State (ACC), Michigan State-Indiana (Big Ten).
No one this side of Gus Johnson will convince me the first weekend of the NCAA tournament offers better basketball than these conference blockbusters.
"Two years ago we went to the NIT Final Four in Madison Square Garden — we won 24 games that year. Guess what? We won 24 games last year,” Boyle said. “And we won one game in the NCAA tournament. And everybody thinks last year was a more successful year than the year before. Well, guess what: It wasn’t.
“It wasn’t a more successful year. But it is a perceived as a better year."
Changing perception is never an easy thing to do.