Tuesday, March 15, 2011

ReBuffed

Ah, the Madness. Tonight this year's edition of "Why March is the Least Productive Month in the American Workplace" kicks off with two "play-in games" (I meant to say "first round" games - sorry). Those two tonight, followed by two more tomorrow, will determine which four schools out of the eight who were initially assigned to the kids' table - shall be permitted to dance with the other five dozen adults already in the field when the real part of the tournament commences on St. Patrick's Day.

My Alma mater has a basketball history as long as the average newborn baby's arm......if measured only from the wrist to the tip of the pinky. During the four years that I was on campus at Boulder I went to see exactly one hoops game at the Events Center. My senior year the women's team hosted UNLV in the NCAA tournament. We lost. The men's team was not just bad while I was in Boulder, it was dreadful. This year's team has won twenty-one games so far. That victory total was representative of two to three years' work when I was an undergrad.

The hoops history of the Buffs - at least the last three decades' worth or so - essentially begins and ends with Chauncey Billups. Billups grew up in Denver and although he was far and away the best high school player in Colorado, the Buffs managed to persuade him to make the short hop to Boulder for college. He was only on campus for two years - before embarking on an NBA career that just might end up with him enshrined in the Hall of Fame - but in the decade and a half since he began his professional career, he has remained very involved in the program. He has donated copious amounts of his time and his money to the University. His brother is on the coaching staff.

I cannot pretend to care at all about professional basketball. If the Lakers played the Celtics in my backyard, I would not open the blinds in my den to watch. But given that Billups is now plying his trade for the New York Knickerbockers, I find myself doing something I have not done in about a decade, which is at least paying minimal attention to how the Knicks are doing. I am not a Knicks fan. I am a Chauncey fan. He is a credit to and a great ambassador for the University of Colorado.

Sunday was "Selection Sunday", which is the day when the Selection Committee announces from Kansas City, Missouri the at-large teams that have been invited to play in the tournament and reveals the brackets for the field (who will play and where they will play). This Sunday, for the first time in a long time, there was reason for the Buff Nation to foster hope that we too would be invited to dance. Since 1997, CU has been a part of March Madness exactly two times. In those two trips, we won exactly one game. Our hoops history is so bad that this recent "success" actually represents an uptick. In the twenty-eight seasons prior to 1997, the Buffs garnered precisely zero Dance invitations.

This year's team is coached by Tad Boyle. Coach Boyle was hired after last season when our coach bolted Boulder to become the coach at Wake Forest. Coach Boyle came south to us - all the way down I-25 from Greeley Colorado, where he did a hell of a job transforming the University of Northern Colorado Bears from a Division II program into a Division I program, which transformation culminated this year in UNC winning the Big Sky Conference tournament and earning an automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament.

Coach Boyle hoped that his current team would be accompanying his former team onto the Dance floor. However, on Sunday evening as the brackets filled up and the field of 68 inched closer and closer to capacity, Colorado did not appear on a single line. Many of the commentators on television expressed outrage over the Buffs not making the field (props to Seth Davis, my new favorite guy at CBS!). I know that we won more games (21) than we lost (13). I know that we defeated Kansas State all three times we played them and that K-State is in the field as a #5 seed. I know that among our twenty-one wins is one over Missouri (when Mizzou was ranked in the Top Ten) and one over Texas when the Longhorns were ranked #3. I also know though that among our thirteen losses was a loss at Harvard in December and a loss at the University of San Francisco, the latter having last been relevant in college basketball when a young man named Bill Russell played there six decades or so ago.

Should the Buffaloes have been invited to the NCAA Tournament? My heart says "Yes" but my head admits that I have no idea. I know that Greg Anthony earns his living analyzing college basketball and in the aftermath of the Buffs not getting a bid he offered some thoughts (both pro and con) on the subject. You can check out what he said here. (If you are like me and you find him visually disconcerting - his head seems so much larger than his neck that it is like watching a balloon speak - then turn the audio up so you can hear him clearly without having to look at him.)

The season is not yet over in Boulder. The NIT (a/k/a "The Post-Season Scrap Heap") invited Colorado to participate in its tournament. The Buffs accepted the invitation and shall host Texas Southern on Wednesday night. We shall see if Coach Boyle and his guys shake off Sunday's disappointment to win a game that presumably they shall be heavily favored to win. If they win three games in the NIT, then they shall be rewarded with a trip to the NIT Final Four. The NIT Final Four will be played this year - as it is every year - at Madison Square Garden, which would give this year's bunch of Buffs a chance to play a game or two on the court that Chauncey Billups calls home.

Irony or coincidence? I know not. And as of this morning, they are a long way away from Madison Square Garden. It is a destination that can be reached. It is up to them to reach it.

-AK

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