DENVER • On Selection Sunday, we’re not alone.
Tad Boyle is right there with us. The head coach of the bound-for-the-2020-NCAA-Tournament-that-never-was CU Buffs has the bracket blues.
“It’s been, what, two, three days? And I miss basketball,” Boyle said Saturday.
So much it hurts my heart. Anyone else in need of group therapy? It’s for those who load the ESPN app... only to remember there are no Pac-12, Big Sky or Mountain West scores to check. Of all Sundays, this is one that needs Clark Kellogg’s easy breakdowns the most, and they won’t be there.
Shoot, I’d root for Duke if it meant another game.
Not even World War II stopped the NCAA Tournament. But the coronavirus did.
Yes, there are bigger issues at hand than playing college basketball games. We’re not out of toilet paper, yet, and mostly we’re healthy, relatively speaking. And prayers go up to all the good folks personally impacted by COVID-19.
That thing’s the worst.
The exit conversations Boyle had Saturday — that a bunch of coaches had Saturday — were some level of the worst, too. He met with Buffs seniors Lucas Siewert, the first four-year player of the Boyle era to never play in the NCAA Tournament, and Shane Gatling. CU was 21-11 overall, 10-8 in the Pac-12, a lock for an at-large bid to the Big Dance. Then the music stopped.
“I just told them, ‘I’m sorry. I really am.’ I said, ‘If you take nothing else from this, you’ve made a lot of great friends, you’re getting a degree from a world-renowned university, you were part of a really good team,’” Boyle said. “And that’s a helluva college career.”
His next message hit home: “I told them, if you’re fortunate enough to play pro ball, which you will be, you have to understand that every time you step on the floor, it could be your last. This is proof. Nobody on our team — coaches, players, managers — felt like the game against Washington State (in the Pac-12 tournament) was our last opportunity to play. We all thought we’d have another chance. It’s a great life lesson. I have to learn from that as a coach. Take advantage of it, man. Life’s not a given.”
You know what soothes the sting, just a little? Cueing up the CU-Dayton game from December. The D’Shawn Schwartz game. The overtime winner. Here’s Voice of the Buffs Mark Johnson on the call: “Right side... Schwartz... at the buzzer... he fires... drains it from downtown!”
Miss that, big time.
CU’s signature moment was upsetting No. 3 Dayton, 78-76. And no one embodied this Buffs season more than Schwartz, the Sand Creek grad. CU found itself ranked in the AP Top 25 a program-record 13 weeks... then suffered five straight losses to close the season. Schwartz’s smooth lefty jumper was on pace to set a program record for three-point percentage (47.7 on Jan. 3)... then he made only two 3s over the final five games. His senior year’s next.
“The highs were high for D’Shawn. The lows were low,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to even that out. He’s a worker. He works hard. Now we need a full season of it.”
When basketball’s back, God bless it, the Colorado Springs pipeline that’s replenished the CU roster so often will feature two men in Buffs gear: Schwartz and Vanguard star Dominique Clifford, an incoming freshman.
“We need Dominique to fit in early and quickly,” said Boyle, who long ago squashed any plans for a Clifford redshirt. “We’ve got eight months until the start of basketball season next year. He’s got to do everything in his power to physically get ready, because his basketball skills will speak for themselves. He’s really talented.
“We’re bringing him in next year to play, no doubt about it, and have a significant contribution on next year’s team. The future’s bright for him. I don’t want him coming in thinking I’m going to ease him in. He’s got to be ready to go. We need him to be ready to go.”
Tyler Bey and McKinley Wright IV will enter their names in the NBA predraft process, Boyle said, however that process looks in the age of COVID-19. Both are juniors eligible to return to CU.
Without a bracket, we’re left to debate how it would’ve ended. SiriusXM host and Colorado resident Brad Evans pegged CU as a 9 seed in his expert bracket. How long could the Buffs stick around? Well, the national champ was coming from Gonzaga, Dayton or Kansas — the three elite teams this Top 25 voter saw last season. CU beat one (Dayton), got rock-chalked by one (Kansas) and, if the 8-9 seed prognostications came true, was trending toward potentially playing one (No. 1 seed Gonzaga) in Round 2. The Buffs were the 2019-20 college season as a whole — awesome one day, awful the next, always worth watching.
“We were capable of anything. We can lose to Washington State in Las Vegas, or we can beat a No. 1 seed in Chicago (Dayton),” Boyle said.
Back to group therapy.
“Gosh, I just miss being able to turn on the TV to see an unbelievable finish or a buzzer-beater in a conference championship game, rushing the floor — all the things that March madness brings us,” Boyle said. “There’s a void in our lives. It’s real.”
It’s not life or death, but it’s real.
“I think bigger picture, if nothing else, this can maybe show us that we need to enjoy and relish the regular season more,” Boyle said. “It’s not just about March. It’s about going to Colorado State in December, Oregon at home in January.”
Miss you, college hoops. Please come back soon.
(Contact Gazette sports columnist Paul Klee at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter at @bypaulklee.)