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Paul Klee: Answer for Colorado Buffaloes basketball is toughness, not talent

By: Paul Klee
January 25, 2017 Updated: January 26, 2017 at 10:11 am
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BOULDER — So I figured out the Colorado Buffaloes.

Remember them? They're the basketball players and coaches who are 0-7 in the Pac-12 Conference. That's right: 0-7. Didn't see that coming this season, did you? Yeah, neither did I.

"No way," CU senior and Sierra alum Wesley Gordon said. "Never dreamed it."

Closer to a nightmare, but that's picking nits. Anyway, I can't take credit for deciphering how the Buffs spiraled from a trendy preseason pick to reach the Sweet 16 of the NCAA Tournament to desperately hunting their first league win Thursday against Oregon State. Tad Boyle was way ahead of my theory, which goes like this: the Buffs entered this season with enough talent to bust brackets. And they knew it. Colorado simply assumed, based on the recent success of the program, that March Madness was a black-and-gold birthright.

"I think it's a great theory," Boyle said Wednesday. "I think you're right on."

See, there's no tangible way to explain how Colorado can lose to Colorado State and beat then-No. 13 Xavier one week later, or how the Buffs can whip Texas, which has a very good coach, and lose to Washington, which has a very clueless coach. Even CU's metrics don't have the look of an "0-fer" Pac-12 team: the Buffs are 81st in Ken Pomeroy's efficiency ratings — better than four teams ahead of them in the conference standings and one that's tied at the bottom, Oregon State. Not great, not godawful. The Buffs are either the best bad team in the country or the worst good team in the country. Either way, theirs is a better collection of athletes than its record suggests.

"I think we're all kind of surprised," senior guard and former UCCS star Derrick White said.

How did this free-fall transpire? It looks to me like the Buffs can see all those NCAA Tournament banners — four in the past five seasons — and forgot, or didn't experience, the work it took to hang them there. It looks like the Buffs need to get kicked out of their own gym before they are rewarded with a new practice gym. It looks like entitlement.

"I always go back to my days as an investment advisor: past performance is not a guarantee of future returns. That's truly the case with this basketball team this year," Boyle said Wednesday inside Coors Events Center. "Past performance of recent Colorado basketball doesn't guarantee you're going to win a game this year."

And they haven't. The Buffs are 0-for-2017.

"We have to take responsibility and ownership of that. The success you have in life, you have to take personal responsibility for that," Boyle said. "The same goes with the failures you have in life. If you have failures in your life and things don't go your way, you have to take personal responsibility for that, too."

These Buffs are not bad guys. They're actually really nice guys. And when you play in a league where the awesome teams (Arizona with Lauri Markkanen, UCLA with Lonzo Ball) and the awful teams (Washington with Markelle Fultz) have players bound for the NBA draft lottery, nice guys finish last. The Buffs are too nice. They're more likely to open the door for you than slam it in your face.

Therein lies the problem. Boyle, who shouldered the blame for a tumble that no one envisioned, suggested the Buffs would alter their recruiting efforts going forward. When I asked for a former player who would elevate this team, Boyle skipped past the NBA draftees and named a pair of relentless winners from his days at Northern Colorado: Devon Beitzel and Yahosh Bonner, a pair of guys most folks have never heard of but would tear off a toenail if it guaranteed a win.

"I don't want to be the coach who, when things go bad, points fingers at the players," Boyle said. "I do know this: When we beat Xavier in here, it's because our players made plays."

With the lack of back-alley fight the Buffs have shown, here's an idea from a guy who appreciates tough locker rooms: Ditch the layup lines and set up a boxing ring, or a field trip to the local MMA gym. Put some blood on those manicured knuckles. These Buffs are too pretty, too cool for school. When everyone's too comfortable, no one wins.

"These guys wouldn't even think about fighting each other," Boyle said. "I'm not a proponent of fighting — don't get me wrong. But I don't think it's always a bad sign."

With seven of 11 games at home and an NIT berth within sight, CU can save this season. And this unexpected slide would be easier to stomach if the Buffs were a bad team. But they're not. They're a good team that other teams enjoy playing against, and that's worse.

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Twitter: @bypaulklee

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