Colorado makes fast impression on Pac-12
Colorado has a fair bit of basketball history, even if the Rocky Mountains have shielded it from West Coast observers. Cliff Meely, Scott Wedman, Jay Humphries and Chauncey Billups were headliners there.
The Buffaloes are making a strong early impression in the Pac-12 already, with a 3-0 start following a weekend sweep of contender Washington and Washington State. Maybe it shouldn't be that surprising – the Buffs set a school record with 24 victories under first-year coach Tad Boyle last season, and despite losing much of their scoring, they appear to have a system in place to handle such eventualities.
"One word that stands to me is 'efficiency,'" said Washington coach Lorenzo Romar, whose team lost 87-69 to the Buffs in Boulder last Thursday.
"Defensive efficiency, offensive precision, they pass the ball. They know who is supposed to be taking what shots. They are a very well-oiled machine right now."
Not bad for a team that was picked to finish 11th in the Pac-12 media poll -- but perhaps unfamiliarity had something to do with that.
"We remind our guys they picked us 11th. I don’t think we’re going to finish 11th," Boyle said after the Washington sweep.
"There is nothing more insignificant right now than preseason rankings. All it does is give coaches like me some fuel," Boyle said, tempering that Tuesday.
Boyle talked to his team about making a strong first impression in its first season in a new conference, and on that count it's hard to argue with the results. The Buffs beat Utah by 40. They led Washington by as much as 24 and Washington State by as much as 22.
And while all Colorado’s wins have come at home at the Coors Events Center, the Buffaloes should be considered a contender for the way they handled Washington alone. The visiting Huskies led by nine early in the first half before Utah transfer guard Carlon Brown sparked Colorado, scoring 18 points, and the defense held Washington to its second-fewest points of the season.
Brown, who left Utah in 2010 and sat out last season, added 24 points against Washington State to complete the sweep Saturday and run the Buffs' winning streak to six. He was named the Pac-12 Player of the Week, the first Buff so honored.
Boyle transformed Northern Colorado’s program into a Big Sky power before taking the Colorado job last year, and he's melded senior returnees forward Austin Dufault and guard Nate Tomlinson with young talents like 6-foot-7 sophomore Andre Roberson and 6-foot-5 freshman Spencer Dinwiddie.
Colorado currently leads the Pac-12 in field goal percentage defense and is a close second in rebounding margin. Brown, Roberson, Dinwiddie and Dufault are averaging between 10.9 and 14.1 points a game, while Dinwiddie is averaging a double-double (11.3 points, 11.7 rebounds), the only Pac-12 player in double figures in rebounding.
Brown, a nice fit in a program that lost top scoring guards Alec Burks and Cory Higgins, wasn't overwhelmed by the Washington victory.
“I don't think it tells us anything. We knew that we could play basketball with the best teams,” he said.
The Colorado football team might have struggled in its first year out of the Big 12, but the change of competition shouldn't affect the basketball program as much.
The Big 12, with perennial contender Kansas atop the pack, has finished in the top three in conference RPI ranking seven of the last 10 seasons, ranked No. 1 in 2010 and '03. The Pac-12 has finished among the RPI top three just twice in the span, peaking at No. 3 in 2007 and '08. The Big 12 is ranked third again this season; the Pac-12 is ninth.
Five Big 12 teams are ranked in the top 43 this year – Baylor, Kansas State, Kansas, Missouri and Iowa State. Colorado, at 65, would rank sixth in its former league. The only Pac-12 schools ranked higher at this point are California (38) and Arizona (57). It also might help that Colorado avoids playing Washington on the road and UCLA at home.
Colorado, which lost to Alabama at the buzzer in the NIT semifinals last season, will play at California on Thursday, a good test for a team that had its troubles on the road in the Big 12. The Buffs had a convincing 89-72 home victory over California in the second round of the NIT last March, outrebounding Cal by nine and committing only five turnovers.
But Boyle isn't looking back at that one.
"Cal, in my mind, is the most consistent team in our league. Jorge Gutierrez is as good a player as there is in our league," he said.
Of the Buffs' start, he added: "We have to temper it. This is a marathon." Although, he did call the Washington victory a "litmus test."
Colorado passed it with ease.