Woelk: Buffs Have Big Opportunity On College Hoops' Big Stage
INDIANAPOLIS — Just a couple of days ago, Colorado basketball coach Tad Boyle admitted his Buffaloes needed a day or two to get past their loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 tournament championship game.
It's been a day or two.
Now, the Buffaloes are past the "grieving" process and fully dialed into preparing for Saturday's NCAA Tournament opener against Georgetown at Hinkle Coliseum (10:15 a.m., CBS).
No doubt, seeing a conference title slip through their fingers hurt. But the great thing about college basketball is that once the conference title games are over, 68 teams still have a shot at the sport's biggest prize on its biggest stage.
The 22-8 Buffs are part of that equation. This bunch is good enough to advance to the second weekend of the tournament — if they play to their capability.
That's it. Nothing more. The Buffs don't need a superhuman effort. They simply need to play as well as they have played at various junctures throughout the season.
That's a message Boyle and his staff will deliver to their team this week.
"We don't have to raise our game up another level," Boyle said after Sunday's bracket announcement. "We just have to play the way we're capable of playing. If each player plays to their ability and we can continue to play together on offense and dial into our defensive game plan, we can beat Georgetown. But if we don't, it's going to be a long night."
It means playing defense like they played in regular season wins over USC, when they held the Trojans to 38 percent shooting in two games; or against Oregon, when they held the Ducks to 25 percent from 3-point range in a victory in Boulder.
It means finding offensive balance. When the Buffs are at their best, they shoot well from long range (55 percent in wins over Arizona and USC; six Pac-12 games with double-digit threes) and share the ball (eight Pac-12 wins with at least 15 assists).
And it means shooting free throws like they have for almost the entire season. For the first time in months, the Buffs aren't the nation's leading free throw percentage team — but they are still second, (behind Oral Roberts) at 82.16 percent.
In other words, they don't have to do anything they haven't done already in order to advance.
Not that it will be easy. Georgetown (13-12) is riding a huge wave of momentum. The Hoyas, who finished eighth in the Big East standings, are coming off four straight wins in the conference tournament that included victories over Villanova and Creighton — both of whom are also No. 5 seeds in the NCAA.
It is a matchup that should produce some terrific basketball. While the Buffs boast one of the best point guards in the nation in McKinley Wright IV, the Hoyas have outstanding 6-0 freshman point guard Dante Harris, named the Most Outstanding Player in the Big East tournament. Paired with 6-4 guard Jahvon Blair (15.3 ppg), they give the Hoyas a dangerous backcourt.
Up front, CU big men Evan Battey and Dallas Walton must contend with 6-11 sophomore Qudus Wahab (14.3 ppg, 8.3 rpg). It will be another critical matchup for Colorado.
And, of course, there's the coaching matchup between Boyle and Patrick Ewing.
(Boyle and Ewing came out of high school the same year some four decades ago. "He was a little bit better player than I was and had a little bit better career," Boyle joked of the Hall of Fame playing career Ewing produced.)
It all adds up to what should be a great opening round game for Colorado — and an opportunity the Buffs should treasure.
"The thing about this tournament is there's no tomorrows," Boyle said. "Next time we lose a game we're done. The season's over with. We have seven seniors that will never get a chance to play with each other again. We have to relish that opportunity and enjoy the experience. This experience is what being a college basketball player is all about and I'm so glad they're going to have a chance to experience that."
It is indeed an experience they will never forget. It is something Wright and his fellow seniors have been chasing for four years.
Big stage. Big possibilities.
The Buffaloes have the ability to take full advantage of the opportunity.
If they play like they have played for much of the season, they have a very good chance of making it an opportunity they will remember fondly — and it will produce more opportunities in the coming days and weeks.