DENVER — The Buffs were the Baby Buffs, five freshmen in sizable roles.
They get a pass. This time.
Air Force is Air Force, a brilliant story on the rare occasion it wins big, covered by an honest alibi of entry requirements when it doesn’t. CSU stunk up the joint — 11-21 — and can we all agree that’s why Larry Eustachy is out the door? If Eustachy is 21-11, there’s probably not a second investigation into his program that leads to a coaching search. Don't forget my neighbor, DU, .500 in Rodney Billups’ second season, but let's see what happens from here.
The point is that college hoops in Colorado should be better than it is.
It’s a low bar, given our college basketball history.
But it should be better than it is.
We’ve never been Indiana, or Kentucky, or the Carolinas, but is a median record that's better than 15-16 too much to ask? That’s what it was this season, 15-16. That’s below average. That’s a bummer. The NCAA released its men’s tournament bracket on Sunday, and the closest thing to a Colorado rep was Boise State hosting a sub-regional. For state-pride rooting purposes, there's also Gonzaga point guard Josh Perkins (Regis), Creighton swingman Ronnie Harrell Jr. (Denver East), Texas Southern guard Brian Carey (East) and Providence's Alpha Diallo (Denver West). Hit me if I missed one.
Anyway, it's a short list. You really have to mine the bracket. Colorado's largely absent.
I get it, and no one's calling for jobs here. The limitations are clear, and history isn’t lying. All five are tough jobs for obvious and different reasons, the most prominent being the in-state recruiting pool that runs in cycles and rarely produces Top-100 talent. (When it does, like Aurora Overland’s De’Ron Davis, it often leaves for places like Indiana.) Tad Boyle’s four NCAA Tournaments trump CU's results of the previous half century, and a big reason is how he's recruited the state, a fact that soon will come into focus when D’Shawn Schwartz (Sand Creek), Dallas Walton (Arvada West) and Daylen Kountz (Denver East) mature into key spots.
But this is the second straight year not a single Colorado program was on the tournament bubble or flirting with an automatic bid in a conference tournament final. No one was close. That's all we're asking, not top-four seeds or Final Four contenders. Northern Colorado had the top college player in the state, senior transfer Andre Spight, and put itself in position to win the Big Sky tournament. That’s why coach Jeff Linder, a Centaurus High grad, should be in strong consideration to score the CSU job. Linder's staff is getting guys at UNC like you need to get guys at CSU — transfers and local products — and he has two more Colorado kids coming in. Rock Canyon’s Sam Masten and Sterling’s Bodie Hume are the type of prospects that grow into serious talents as upperclassmen but area programs often overlook. They can play.
Hey, this opinion isn’t groundbreaking or new, and it must be noted that none of the five programs so far has been listed among the heathens targeted by the FBI’s investigation that ranks as a riveting subplot to this NCAA Tournament. Anyone else notice Louisville, Southern Cal and Oklahoma State — three squirrelly programs in the FBI’s crosshairs — were bubble teams left out?
Anyway, kudos for playing clean. That's a big deal and alums thank you.
The selection committee did a good job in this bracket. There, I said it. Yes, a committee with college basketball media, whose job is to watch games, still would be superior to a committee of commissioners and ADs, whose job is to raise money and avoid scandals. Middle Tennessee State is better than half of the eight SEC teams in the field and got snubbed. Watch USC once and you'll see it should have been in over Syracuse. Oklahoma didn't belong, but it will be a boring day in March before CBS broadcasts a Big Dance without a talent like Trae Young. If the OU freshman is playing, I'm watching. Open and shut.
For office-pool purposes, upsets will include No. 11 Loyola-Chicago over No. 6 Miami, No. 10 Providence over No. 7 Texas A&M, No. 11 Syracuse over No. 6 TCU and No. 10 Butler over No. 7 Arkansas. If you see a mid-major paired against a middle-of-the-pack power conference team, take the mid-major. This tournament bracket is as wide open as we've seen in a long, long time. There's no juggernaut in the field, though Villanova can prove that wrong.
Just wish there was a Colorado program in the conversation. We're not asking for a Sweet 16. More than two teams with winning records will do.