College Basketball Nation: Spencer Dinwiddie
It seems like every team had to make some sort of adjustment in conference play.
No. 17 Ohio State and Illinois were in need of major overhauls after both entered Thursday’s meeting on four-game losing streaks.
No. 1 Arizona and No. 6 Florida had the luxury of needing only a few tweaks.
And then there were teams such as No. 15 Cincinnati and Colorado, which have had to adjust to the loss of injured players.
None breathed a sigh of relief quite like the Buckeyes did, though. Ohio State topped the Fighting Illini 62-55 and can, at least temporarily, change its season’s narrative. Its 15-0 start flipped to "What’s wrong in Columbus?" very quickly as losses piled up and offensive weaknesses were exposed.
There was nothing more symbolic of the Buckeyes' struggle through four games as one sequence early in the second half Thursday.
Amir Williams had a clear path to the rim and a sure dunk that he bounced off the back of the rim. Ohio State controlled the ball and Williams again found himself making his way to the basket when he got his shot altered and the Illini headed the other way.
The Buckeyes didn’t let their losing streak, nor their 29 percent shooting in the first half, create unnecessary pressure. Buckeyes coach Thad Matta figured out ways to get his two leading scorers open shots. Some of them came off Illinois’ 15 turnovers, but many others came in half-court sets.
Smith hit a huge 3-pointer with 1:25 left that gave Ohio State a 58-50 lead, and the Illini never got within one basket the rest of the way.
Just as the Buckeyes got a temporary reprieve from their struggles, it seems like trouble for Illinois is about to hit unfair levels. The Illini still have three games remaining in a five-game stretch that features four ranked opponents.
They left Columbus with many questions on how they can adjust, especially after leading scorer Rayvonte Rice, who averaged 17.4 points per game, was held scoreless on 0-for-8 shooting against Ohio State.
Arizona isn’t searching for much of anything after winning its 19th straight game. Wildcats coach Sean Miller is keeping his rotation tight, using only eight players against the Buffaloes. But eight was obviously enough for Arizona, which never trailed, as Nick Johnson led the Wildcats with 18 points.
The way Arizona is playing, it’s hard to imagine a healthy Spencer Dinwiddie would have made much of a difference.
Dinwiddie was Colorado’s leading scorer before suffering a season-ending knee injury on Jan. 12 in a loss at Washington. Wing Tre'Shaun Fletcher was hurt in the same game, but he's expected to return. Since then, the Buffaloes have been trying to find a viable third scoring threat to help replace Dinwiddie's 14.7 points per game.
It’s unfair to expect too much from freshman Jaron Hopkins, who replaced Dinwiddie in the lineup. He finished with two points on 1-of-5 shooting.
Both Josh Scott and Askia Booker have been consistent double-figure scorers, and they contributed 13 and 11 points, respectively, against the Wildcats. But it was sophomore forward Xavier Johnson who had the kind of breakout performance that could signal readiness for a bigger role.
Johnson scored a game-high 21 points -- just one shy of his career high -- included 4-of-5 shooting from 3-point range. It was the only game this season in which he logged more than 10 field goal attempts.
No. 15 Cincinnati has had its share of attrition this season with freshman center Jamaree Strickland being declared ineligible, guard Jeremiah Davis III transferring to Ball State and forward Jermaine Lawrence suffering from turf toe that has kept him sidelined the past three games.
But the Bearcats continue to move forward and lead the American Athletic Conference after their 69-51 win over UCF. Sean Kilpatrick led the way with 19 points, but it is their defense -- one that held UCF to just 26 percent from 3-point range -- that keys their victories.
Arguably no ranked team has had to make as many adjustments as Florida this season, with injuries and suspensions forcing coach Billy Donovan to juggle his lineups. The Gators have proven to be a resilient group, as Alabama can attest.
On a night when the Gators shot only 37 percent, they still made 10 3-pointers. Michael Frazier II made five of his attempts beyond the arc for a game-high 18 points as Florida beat the Crimson Tide 68-62 for their third SEC road win.
When ascendant teams suddenly lose their best players to exploded knees, they typically -- and how could you not? -- wear that news on their sleeves.
Subsequent games become sluggish, emotionally drained affairs. Zoned-out players shuffle through the motions. Blowouts ensue. Announcers file their laments. Counterfactuals are dreamed and dismissed. Eulogies are read. It takes time to come to terms with how quickly and randomly your season can change, and even longer -- weeks, even -- to realize there’s no use yielding to circumstance. The interim can be ugly.
To Colorado’s everlasting credit, Thursday’s 69-56 loss to UCLA wasn’t like that at all. The Buffaloes were tenacious and engaged, physical and focused; they held one of the most talented offensive groups in the country to just under a point per possession and just 26-of-66 from the field.
And they still lost, because of the sheer obvious fact that star guard Spencer Dinwiddie and his torn ACL were sitting on the sideline watching.
Rarely does a loss connect so specifically to a lost player. Colorado struggled on Thursday in every area where Dinwiddie excels. Offensively, the Buffaloes got to the free throw line just 18 times, one more than UCLA but well short of the 56.1 percent average (ratio of free throws to field goal attempts) that drives so much of their offense. They missed seven of those free throws; Dinwiddie was 102-for-117 on the season. The 6-foot-4 guard shot 41.3 percent from 3, and the only player to attempt more 3s, fellow senior guard Askia Booker, shoots just 28.4. On Thursday night, Colorado went 5-of-17 from beyond the arc.
Other issues were less numerical, but no less visible. Colorado’s offense, which put up 75 points in 67 possessions against Kansas on the same floor a month ago, looked lost, hesitant, out of sync. The Bruins are not known for their stout half-court defense, but Colorado’s issues spacing the floor clogged everything. Colorado turned the ball over on a quarter of its possessions. It shot terribly. It didn’t rebound. It scored roughly .82 points per trip, its worst offensive performance of the season.
Despite it all, Colorado remained in striking distance deep into the second half. That’s when two plays sealed it.
With 3:07 left to play, UCLA guard Jordan Adams -- an increasingly brutish, domineering offensive force -- outmuscled Colorado reserve guard Xavier Talton for an offensive rebound. Adams tried to draw contact on the shot, but the ref didn’t bite, and Talton corralled the ensuing rebound himself. UCLA defenders swarmed. Talton panicked. He unloaded his pass approximately 15 feet over his teammate’s head into the Bruins’ bench. Thirty seconds later, Adams grabbed Zach LaVine's miss and then his own, the last a muscular tip-in that turned UCLA’s seven-point lead at 3:07 into a 60-51 lead when Tad Boyle called timeout at 2:20.
It might be a little unfair to say that Dinwiddie could have kept Adams off the boards. It’s unfair to say Dinwiddie’s presence would have guaranteed a win.
It is not at all unfair to say that Talton’s crucial error was one of many perfect examples of exactly what the Buffaloes lost last Saturday. It’s not just about the efficient trips to the free throw line, or the ability to stretch defenses from 3. It’s about seeing a hundred or a thousand backcourt double-teams in your career and knowing that there’s always a way out if you take a deep breath and a good, long look. Colorado lost that, too.
The good news? The only reason Talton even had the opportunity to make that mistake is because Boyle’s guys fought like maniacs just to stay in the game in the first place. In that respect, the Buffaloes are admirably ahead of the curve. In every other, the road ahead is long.
When Grant Gibbs lost four to six weeks of his final season at Creighton, it wasn’t just bad news for the Bluejays, or a sad break for a 24-year-old senior who is a senior precisely because he has so frequently been injured. It was also -- or at least it appeared to be -- very bad news for senior Doug McDermott.
After Sunday’s 35-point, 7-rebound, 5-assist, 13-of-24-from-the-field clinic in Creighton’s win over Xavier, let's just go ahead and issue a correction:
Not that the concern wasn’t well-founded. The two-time All-American has always drawn the lion's share of the Bluejays' headlines, and rightfully so: He is one of the best and most thrilling offensive players in recent decades. The last time any college basketball player scored like this -- this often, and this efficiently -- his name was Kevin Durant.
But few realize just how important Gibbs has been to that three-year run of success. As Gibbs himself pointed out to SI.com’s Luke Winn in November, McDermott maintains his crazy combination of efficiency and usage in large part because he "often scores while holding the ball for less than a second." Since McDermott’s breakout sophomore season, the majority of his possessions have taken place on the low block. This season, per Synergy data, nearly 28 percent of his trips end in post-ups. And when McDermott posts up, he doesn’t back dudes down for six seconds like, say, Anthony Mason. ("Compare Doug McDermott to Anthony Mason" achievement unlocked.) He pivots and seals and works over either shoulder, depending on where the defender has left himself exposed, often before that defender even knows what's happening. It is immediate and intuitive.
If McDermott is defended well, he'll fade off his back foot, or he'll kick and repost or slide to the wing. But most of the time, he's posting up, and for the past two seasons no player has been better at slinging low pinpoint bounce passes to exactly the place McDermott needs them than has Gibbs.
It was fair to ask whether Gibbs' sudden absence -- to say nothing of the sprained shoulder McDermott suffered in the same game -- would lessen the ease with which the forward racked up his patented buckets. Creighton's sublime offense hinges on McDermott's ability to score frequently and efficiently at the same time, and Creighton's overall chances hinge on its offense. For McDermott, the individual stakes were clear. What if Gibbs' absence diminished his status as the front-runner for national player of the year? What if it cost him his chance to score 3,000 points -- a historic feat only a handful of college basketball players have ever achieved?
Never mind all that. Sunday's by-the-book outburst against a good Xavier group is a one-game sample, sure, but it was also a pretty clear statement: Both the Bluejays and their generational star are versatile enough on the offensive end to thrive without Gibbs, at least for the time being. In the process, McDermott leapt from 36th to 28th on the all-time scoring list, passing Jimmer Fredette, Joe Dumars, Don MacLean, Mark Macon and Calbert Cheaney.
The Bluejays will be fine. McDermott will be fine. So get your Google Alerts aligned, and get your Twitter saved searches on point. The chase for 3,000 is officially on.
ICYMI: TOP STORIES
Iowa 84, Ohio State 74: The Hawkeyes finally finish. "Last season's Iowa squad would not have won Sunday's game at Ohio State because it would not have finished. The 2012-13 Hawkeyes were a frustrating bunch. Although clearly boasting a strong roster, they didn't know how to win big games, how to finish them. The latter is all that matters in college basketball. … That’s why No. 20 Iowa’s 84-74 win at No. 3 Ohio State was such a meaningful victory for the program. Sure, it's the team's first true signature win of the season. And even though it's early in the conference season, the win puts the Hawkeyes in solid position for Big Ten contention. Beyond that, however, Iowa proved it could finish a marquee game on the road. That's the most significant lesson of this moment for Iowa basketball." — Myron Medcalf, ESPN.com
Knee injuries sideline Colorado’s Spencer Dinwiddie, Pitt’s Durand Johnson. In the big scheme of things, a road loss to a rebuilding Washington team in Pac-12 play is no big deal. Far more important to Colorado is whether guard Dinwiddie, who had to be carried off the court in the first half after a gruesome-looking knee injury Sunday, will be able to return this season. "My gut says it's not good," Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. "But we'll see." The loss would for Colorado would be immense; no player has been more important to the Buffaloes' rebirth under Boyle. Meanwhile, Pittsburgh already knows the sad truth about emerging sixth man Johnson: He's out for the season with a torn ACL.
Oregon just keeps losing. During its 13-0 start, the inverse of that headline -- "Oregon just keeps winning" -- appeared in this exact location. Heady days, those. In a matter of two weeks, the Ducks have dropped three straight games, the latest of which (Thursday’s 96-83 loss to Cal and Sunday’s 82-80 loss to Stanford) both came on their home floor. The Ducks are still among the nation's best offenses, but they allow more than 1.03 points per possession, and it's killing them. (Oh, and don’t look now, but Stanford has recent wins at UConn and Oregon, and is looking more like a tournament team by the day.)
STAT OF THE WEEK: What happens when bad North Carolina offense meets ruthless Syracuse defense? A 57-45 loss that yielded two remarkable statistics: (1) The Orange won despite shooting just 35 percent. (2) The Tar Heels scored fewer points than any UNC team since 1997. The last time a North Carolina team scored fewer than 45 points in a game was a 1985 -- 1985! -- NCAA tournament loss to Villanova. In the words of noted North Carolinian Marty Huggins: It’s a mess.
THE GAMES YOU NEED TO SEE
(An all-Saturday slate follows here, but check back Monday morning for separate previews of two of this week's big early games.)
Pittsburgh at Syracuse, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Here are a few things you can expect from Pittsburgh-Syracuse: A physical rebounding battle on both ends of the floor (Pittsburgh rebounds 39.1 percent of its misses; Syracuse grabs 40.2). A lot of prodding, probing offense by the Panthers, who record an assist on nearly 64 percent of their possessions and rarely give opposing teams steals -- and are sure to lose if Syracuse can force them. And a lot of "Get ready for a Big East conference matchup oh wait" jokes on Twitter.
Michigan at Wisconsin, 4 p.m. ET, ESPN: Whether Wisconsin will still have its status as one of the nation’s four remaining unbeatens come Saturday is to be determined; the Badgers visit Indiana Tuesday night. But either way, Iowa's win at Ohio State Sunday makes Wisconsin's tight victory over the Hawkeyes last week even more impressive in retrospect, and further establishes the Badgers as a neck-and-neck Big Ten favorite alongside Michigan State.
Michigan State at Illinois, 8 p.m. ET, BTN: Speaking of Wisconsin, Illinois' 95-70 loss to the Badgers in Madison Wednesday wasn't nearly their worst result of the week. That came Sunday, when John Groce's team scored 43 points in 58 possessions at -- wait for it -- Northwestern. Yeah. That sound you just heard is every Illini fan smashing their head against their desk. But hey, what better way to recuperate than a chance to upset Michigan State in Champaign, Ill.?
Oklahoma State at Kansas, 4 p.m. ET, CBS: Last February, Oklahoma State did something no Oklahoma State team had done since 1989: win in Allen Fieldhouse. They have the chance to do it again this weekend, only this time, the win won't break an extended Kansas home winning streak, and it wouldn't come as much of a shock -- just another sign that this is the year the Big 12 may finally shake loose of the Jayhawks' iron grip for the first time in a decade.
Louisville at Connecticut, 9 p.m. ET, ESPN: It's hard to decide which team needs this game more: The Connecticut team that opened American play by dropping back-to-back road games at Houston and SMU, and that plays at Memphis on Thursday night? Or the Louisville group that just fell to Memphis in its own building, and is desperately searching for some frontcourt balance to match its backcourt in the wake of Chane Behanan’s dismissal? Let’s call it a draw.
PHOTO OF THE WEEK
So who will be the league’s co-pilot? Two candidates line up Saturday when Oregon visits Colorado.
That the Ducks are in the mix shouldn’t come as a surprise. Dana Altman’s crew rolled to the Sweet 16 last year, giving eventual national champion Louisville everything it could handle before losing. Even Dominic Artis' nine-game suspension couldn’t slow a loaded Oregon roster that could just be good enough to bump Arizona out of its predicted first-place perch.
The wild card is Colorado, a team every bit as capable of co-piloting or even driving the league.
That wasn’t supposed to happen. When the Buffs joined the Pac-12, they were another realignment geography punchline, a Rocky Mountain addition to a coast-hugging conference. The move was made, as all realignment moves were and are made, for football. Basketball didn’t even move the needle, let alone create an impact.
And yet here we are. Thanks to Tad Boyle and Spencer Dinwiddie (still top five best names in college basketball), the Buffaloes are a legit Pac-12 threat. They won the league tourney two years ago and merited an at-large NCAA berth last year.
Still, despite a home win against Kansas, a near loss to Oklahoma State, a top 25 ranking and that NCAA past history, not everyone is paying attention to Colorado.
Maybe it’s their newbie status on the national scene or maybe it’s the shadow cast by their more familiar league peers (Arizona, UCLA, Oregon), but the Buffs are still a little bit under the radar.
This game against Oregon could help change that. Bold predictions are dangerous, especially in Week 1 of the Pac-12 season, but a win against the Ducks could very well put Colorado, if not in the driver’s seat, much more than just along for the ride.
A year later, Colorado finally got the reversal it deserved. The buzzer-beater it was owed finally, officially counted. The upset it earned was finally recorded as a win.
OK, so it has been more like 11 months. And, OK, the officials didn't have anything to do with it. Colorado's Jan. 3 loss to Arizona -- when Buffaloes guard Sabatino Chen banked in a last-millisecond 3-pointer that looked like it should have counted, but was stunningly reversed -- didn't, say, get an official review from the NCAA that passed just this week. Horrifyingly plausible though that scenario might seem.
No, Colorado's lost upset was remitted karmically. The funds hit the account in Boulder, Colo., on Saturday afternoon just before 5:30 p.m. ET, and boy did they make a splash.
"It felt really good," Booker said just afterward, as he was swarmed by fans, teammates and the ESPN broadcast crew.
He was talking about the release of the shot, not its result, but the phrase surely applies to both. Insane as the final play was, it was preceded by 39 minutes, 57 seconds of efficient, tidy, advantage-seeking basketball from the Buffaloes. Colorado scored 1.17 points per possession, avoiding turnovers on all but 12.5 percent of their offensive trips. They were balanced, too: Four starters finished with either 14 (Xavier Johnson, Josh Scott) or 15 (Booker, Spencer Dinwiddie) points apiece.
Which is not to say they were always pretty. Colorado shot only 41 percent, 31 percent from 3. How, then, did Tad Boyle's manage its efficiency? Not from fluidity, but assertion. Kansas' main defensive weakness to date -- really, its chief weakness as a team -- is its tendency to foul. The Jayhawks were whistled for 26 fouls on Saturday, 13 in each half. One late, key stretch was dominated by fouls: Dinwiddie blew by a Kansas defender and muscled his way to the rim, earning a foul and knocking down two free throws. With 1:44 left, his drive sent Kansas center Joel Embiid to the sideline. The Buffaloes shot 37 free throws. They made only 22, but they were enough.
Kansas' collection of young talent showed plenty of flaws. The Jayhawks are struggling from beyond the arc: They entered Saturday averaging 30.7 percent from 3, and their 5-of-20 night in Boulder won't raise that tally. Kansas' outside shooting woes have helped opposing teams take away its chief strength -- namely, its insane one-on-one talent.
Andrew Wiggins had one of his best games on Saturday. He is the rare player whose games can seem both impressive and oddly quiet at the same time. He finished with 22 points and five rebounds on 7-of-11 shooting.
But it was only occasionally -- as in his late half-court-length drive that ended in an effortlessly improvised left-handed finish. Maybe three players in the country could conceive of putting that play together, and you watch Kansas waiting for more. But because the Jayhawks can't stretch the floor and force teams to guard them man-to-man, Wiggins' lithe frame is often wasted on the perimeter. He floats.
Beyond that? The Jayhawks foul to their own detriment far too often; their high-screen defense was wildly suspect, both at the point of attack and in rotation; and, despite their physical advantages, they were outrebounded on both ends on Saturday. This is Bill Self's youngest team. It shows, subtly and not.
And yet Self, once he has processed the sting of the loss, can probably walk away from Boulder feeling pretty good. Last Saturday, after a limp trip to the Bahamas, Self was openly disappointed in his team's energy, its effort, his coaching, the whole nine. A few days later, his young team executed well down the stretch in an environment far more hostile than the Atlantis casino floor. The game was tied, after all, thanks to his clever play-calling out of a timeout and forward Perry Ellis' decisive finish with 5 seconds remaining. Colorado is a good and well-coached team. The Buffaloes are experienced; Dinwiddie and Booker are excellent. True road games are brutal. And so on.
Self gave his young group the toughest schedule in the country this season for a reason: He'll happily trade a loss or two for learning. He can say as much about Saturday's trip to Boulder, and while he'll hope for a different outcome Tuesday in Gainesville, Fla., against Billy Donovan's Gators, he might acquiesce to the same trade there.
After all, sometimes the game you claw into overtime doesn't get there. Sometimes, some basketball god somewhere owes your opponent a year-old debt, and sometimes that debt is repaid at your expense.
The game owed Colorado a buzzer-beating upset. Saturday, finally, the Buffs got what they deserved.
2. The cuts for the World University Games team playing in Russia could be some of the hardest for USA basketball. Junior national director Jim Boeheim of Syracuse will have a hard time whittling down this list. The team, which will train the last week of June in Colorado Springs, should be the overwhelming favorite in the event. But getting down to the cut list of 24 will be quite a chore for Boeheim and WUG coaches Bob McKillop (Davidson), Frank Martin (South Carolina) and John Beilein (Michigan). Here is the list: Eric Atkins (Notre Dame), Markel Brown (Oklahoma State), Deonte Burton (Nevada), Quinn Cook (Duke), Bryce Cotton (Providence), Spencer Dinwiddie (Colorado), C.J. Fair (Syracuse), Yogi Ferrell (Indiana), Davante Gardner (Marquette), Treveon Graham (VCU), Jerian Grant (Notre Dame), P.J. Hairston (North Carolina), A.J. Hammons (Purdue), Luke Hancock (Louisville), Joe Harris (UVA), Tyler Haws (BYU), Andre Hollins (Minnesota), Rodney Hood (Duke), Josh Huestis (Stanford), Cory Jefferson (Baylor), Sean Kilpatrick (Cincinnati), Alex Kirk (New Mexico), Devyn Marble (Iowa), Doug McDermott (Creighton), Adreian Payne (Michigan State), Chasson Randle (Stanford), Will Sheehey (Indiana), Aaron White (Iowa), Kendall Williams (New Mexico).
3. The list will be cut down to 12. Everyone could use making the team to better themselves. But Hood could use it more than anyone else after sitting out last season as a transfer from Mississippi State. Hood needs game action before he starts to star for Duke. Fair, Grant, Hairston, Jefferson, McDermott and Payne all are trying out for the team after making the decision to return to school. The fact that two players from Indiana, Duke, Notre Dame, New Mexico and Iowa are on the first list is a sign about these three teams' future next season. Kirk and Grant have a chance to be headline players next season. So too, does White. The one player who could benefit as much as anyone is Ferrell, who will have to be even more of a playmaker next season without Victor Oladipo on his wing.
LAS VEGAS -- Solomon Hill is the first-team all-league selection, Mark Lyons leads the team in scoring and Kaleb Tarczewski headlined Arizona’s latest nationally ranked recruiting class.
Still, ask anyone who follows the Wildcats to name the most important player on Arizona’s roster, and the answer is always the same: Nick Johnson.
“No question,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “He has the ability to make them an elite level team.”
Boyle realized that more than ever Thursday during Arizona’s 79-69 victory over the Buffaloes in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. Johnson, a shooting guard, scored a team-high 18 points. But it was his pesky defense on Colorado leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie that made the biggest impact.
“Nick locked him up,” Boyle said.
As a result, Colorado is headed home to await Selection Sunday while Arizona prepares for Friday’s semifinal against Pac-12 regular-season champion UCLA. The Wildcats are 0-2 against the Bruins this season.
Arizona's last loss came on March 2 -- just two days after a setback against USC that knocked the Wildcats out of the conference title picture.
“That whole trip to LA, it was kind of like a curse and a gift at once,” Miller said. “Sometimes when you go through what we did, you have to self-reflect and make sure that both individually and collectively we’re moving in the right direction.”
That certainly seemed to be the case Thursday, and a lot of it was because of Johnson. The sophomore went through a month-long slump in February in which he scored in double figures just once in eight games. Johnson, though, has been back to his old self in the last week. He’s averaging 15 points in his last three contests and, more importantly to him, his defensive effort has improved.
“If you look at all of our losses, it’s when I didn’t bring it on the defensive end,” Johnson said. “I know that and I’m taking it personally. I’m going to do my best to bring that high level of intensity every game.”
When that happens, No. 18 Arizona looks more like the team that was ranked as high as No. 2 earlier this season instead of the one that dropped four of seven contests in the second half of league play.
“When Nick is playing like he did [tonight], that’s when we’re at our best, for sure,” Miller said. “He does so many things for our team. There are times when he’s almost like a point guard out there on offense. He’s a defender that has immense talent and he’s a capable scorer and shooter, too.
“Like any young player, he went through a stretch where he lost some confidence, but he’s got it back now.”
Arizona is void of a true star -- but the Wildcats have a ton of nice pieces that make them a threat for a deep NCAA tournament run.
Boyle said he thought Hill would’ve been named Pac-12 Most Valuable Player if the the Wildcats had won the league title. Lyons, the Xavier transfer, has done a nice job of manning the backcourt even though he’s not a true point guard. And freshmen forwards such as Tarczewski, Grant Jerrett and Brandon Ashley are getting more and more comfortable as their minutes increase.
“When you look at their lineup, they’ve got the most quality depth of anyone in our league,” Boyle said. “They have good players on the floor and they bring good players off the bench. They were dialed in tonight.”
None more so than Johnson.
*In unrelated news, Boyle said he’s confident Colorado will receive an at-large berth to the NCAA tournament, but he doesn’t want to get his hopes up. The Buffaloes appeared to be a virtual lock to make the field two years ago but were inexplicably omitted from the field.
“I told our guys we’re going to play in the postseason,” he said. “I just don’t know which tournament.”
1. Arizona. The Wildcats open play against East Tennessee State in the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu on Saturday and could face a tough test against an underrated Miami squad in the second round. If the bracket holds form, Arizona would play San Diego State in the title game on Christmas Day.
2. Colorado. UCLA, Oregon and Cal have all been in the No. 2 slot at some point this season -- and so has Colorado, which is making its return despite a 36-point loss to Kansas on Dec. 8. Spencer Dinwiddie is a finalist for the Cousy Award. Andre Roberson averages 12.3 rebounds, which ranks third nationally.
3. Oregon. The Ducks lost at UTEP on Wednesday in three overtimes, but Dana Altman still has to be encouraged with the direction of this team -- and this program. Arsalan Kazemi has three double-doubles in his past five games.
4. UCLA. There is too much talent in Westwood to write off the Bruins this early. UCLA has won four of its past five games, with the only setback coming against San Diego State. A victory over Fresno State on Saturday seems likely. Shabazz Muhammad (17.8 points) and Jordan Adams (17.5) are both putting up impressive offensive numbers.
5. Oregon State. What has happened to Ahmad Starks? The point guard who had 25 points in a single-digit loss to Kansas on Nov. 30 is averaging just 7.5 points in his past four contests. Oregon State should beat its next three opponents (San Diego, Towson and Texas-Pan American) before opening Pac-12 play at home against Oregon on Jan. 6.
6. Cal. Last weekend's loss to Creighton marked the third loss in a three-game skid (since snapped with a win over UC Santa Barbara) for Mike Montgomery's Golden Bears, whose best victory is against Georgia Tech at the DIRECTV Classic.
7. Stanford. The Cardinal have played four upper-level teams (Missouri, Minnesota, Belmont and North Carolina State) and lost each time. In other words, unless you count Northern Iowa, Johnny Dawkins' squad has yet to win a game that will impress the NCAA tournament committee.
8. Washington. The Huskies have won five of their past six games thanks, in large part, to C.J. Wilcox. Washington's leading scorer averages 19.2 points. Even more impressive are his figures from the Huskies' last two games: 21 points, 4.5 assists, 2.5 blocks and 2 steals.
9. Arizona State. I still can't shake the image of the Sun Devils getting destroyed at home by DePaul. But hey, everyone has a bad night, right? There is still plenty to like about this team -- mainly point guard Jahii Carson (17.9 points, 5.3 assists), forward Jordan Bachynski (4.8 blocks) and small forward Carrick Felix (15.1 points, 7.5 rebounds).
10. Utah. The Utes avenged an early-season loss to SMU by defeating the Mustangs 62-53 Tuesday in Salt Lake City. Jarred DuBois averages team-highs in points (13.8) and assists (3.2). Jordan Loveridge averages 11.7 points and 7.2 rebounds.
11. Washington State. The Cougars have won five of their past six games. Brock Motum (20.4 points) and DaVonte Lacy (10.1) form a nice 1-2 punch. Going .500 in Pac-12 play might be enough to save Ken Bone's job.
12. USC. The Trojans have way too much talent to be playing as poorly as they did in Thursday's home loss to UC Irvine. Wake Forest transfer J.T. Terrell, who was supposed to be USC's savior, has been benched for his poor defensive effort.
1. Arizona. Even without an attention-grabbing victory, putting the Wildcats in the top slot was an easy decision -- mainly because UCLA is floundering. Mark Lyons and Solomon Hill each average 14 points, and freshmen forwards Kaleb Tarczewski and Brandon Ashley are grabbing a collective 13.8 rebounds.
2. Cal. The Golden Bears are 6-0, but we'll find out a lot more about Mike Montgomery's squad in the coming weeks. Cal plays at Wisconsin on Sunday before hosting UNLV (Dec. 9) and Creighton (Dec. 15). Allen Crabbe (22 ppg) and Justin Cobbs (20) have been huge on the offensive end.
3. Colorado. The undefeated Buffaloes may have been a notch higher if they didn't need double overtime to defeat Texas Southern on Tuesday. Forwards Andre Roberson and Josh Scott generate the most headlines, but guards Askia Booker (16.8 ppg) and Spencer Dinwiddie (14.8) lead the team in scoring.
4. Oregon. The Ducks' win over then-No. 18 UNLV was one of the top two victories for the Pac-12 this season, with Colorado’s upset of Baylor being the other. Rice transfer Arsalan Kazemi got on track in Thursday’s win over Texas-San Antonio. His line: 20 points, 6 rebounds, 4 assists, 3 blocks, 5 steals.
5. Stanford. Last season’s NIT champion went 1-2 at the Battle 4 Atlantis, but there were still plenty of reasons to be encouraged. Setbacks against Missouri and Minnesota -- both of whom are ranked -- came by single digits. Guard Chasson Randle averages a team-high 15.4 points but shoots just 35.6 percent from the field.
6. UCLA. Two Bruins players (Tyler Lamb and Josh Smith) left the team during the past week. The departures may actually help the chemistry on a squad that lost to Cal Poly on Sunday before bouncing back with a convincing win over Cal State Northridge on Wednesday. Freshmen Shabazz Muhammad and Kyle Anderson combined for 29 points.
7. Arizona State. Sun Devils coach Herb Sendek is known for his slow-paced, low-scoring offenses. But this season Arizona State is pushing the ball thanks to the addition of freshman point guard Jahii Carson, who leads the team in scoring (19 ppg) and assists (5.5). As a team, the Sun Devils are averaging 77.2 points and own a nice win over Arkansas.
8. Oregon State. Could this be the year the Beavers make the NCAA tournament? Craig Robinson’s squad boasts quality wins over Purdue and New Mexico State, and it came within three points of Alabama. Ahmad Starks is averaging 14.6 points -- but only 7.3 in his past three games. Oregon State has a huge opportunity to prove itself Friday, when it plays Kansas in Kansas City.
9. USC. The Trojans’ roster is filled with transfers, so it's understandable that the cohesion just isn't there yet. Still, USC's two most recent losses (to Marquette and San Diego State) came by an average of seven points, so it's not as if Kevin O'Neill's squad isn't competitive. This could look like a completely different team in a month.
10. Washington. Last season’s regular-season champion was decimated when two players (Tony Wroten and Terrence Ross) left school early for the NBA draft and showed it in a home loss to Albany. Forward Aziz N'Diaye is averaging a double-double with 11.3 points and 10.5 rebounds. The fact Washington, coming off a quality win over Saint Louis, is No. 10 in these rankings speaks to the competitiveness of the Pac-12.
11. Washington State. The Cougars' season was basically over the day Ken Bone kicked point guard Reggie Moore off the team. Washington State didn't have a replacement. Kansas transfer Royce Woolridge is trying his hardest, but he's averaging just 6.9 points while shooting 35 percent from the field. He should be a role player, not a starter. Bone, though, doesn't have any choice.
12. Utah. The Utes are better than last season, but they're still considered the worst team in the league along with Washington State. Utah lost to Larry Brown's SMU squad 62-55 in Dallas on Wednesday. Dallin Bachynski, a 7-footer from Calgary, averages 11.5 points (second on the team) and 9.0 rebounds (first).
2. Michigan coach John Beilein suspended Trey Burke for one game. But the symbolism of the suspension will haunt Burke and the Wolverines. Burke was named first-team AP All-America prior to being disciplined. Now, the point guard will start the season with a stigma attached to him. The Wolverines lost leadership in Zach Novak, Stu Douglass and Evan Smotrycz. Tim Hardaway Jr., can lead this team but he needs to be able to trust Burke as his wingmate. Burke let his teammates and the Wolverines staff down with actions that led to his suspension. He needs to be a model citizen from this point forward, not just for the Wolverines’ success, but also if he wants to convince others he is worthy of national honors.
3. The Pac-12 media picked Colorado sixth in the preseason poll. I’m all in with the Buffaloes -- I don’t see it. If there is one team out West that will surprise preseason prognosticators, it is Colorado. The Buffs were no fluke last season in winning the Pac-12 tournament and then beating UNLV in the NCAA tournament. The backcourt of Askia Booker and Spencer Dinwiddie can hold its own with any in the conference. Andre Roberson will anchor the frontcourt. And two freshmen -- Josh Scott and Xavier Johnson -- will have a major impact. Tad Boyle has Boulder believing in basketball again, making playing at altitude a significant advantage for the Buffs. Arizona is a sure thing at the top of the league. But there are questions after the Wildcats with the teams ahead of CU in UCLA, Cal, Stanford and Washington -- enough that I’m not buying Colorado in sixth place and out of the NCAA discussion.
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The NCAA tournament had its epic near-miss earlier Thursday when 16-seed UNC Asheville couldn’t close out Syracuse.
The controversy about the officiating contributed to it being the most discussed game of the day.
VCU became a storyline yet again with a final-possessions win over Wichita State, remaining relevant for a second year in a row.
There were plenty of impressive performances, notably Gonzaga’s pummeling of West Virginia in Pittsburgh. But for the most part the chalk held.
Except at the end of the night.
The Pac-12 has been rightfully beaten down throughout the season. Washington, the regular-season champ, didn’t even get a bid. Cal didn’t put up much of a fight against a middling South Florida in a First Four game in Dayton, Ohio, adding even more insult to the league’s off-year.
But if an underdog or Cinderella can still come from a BCS league (in football terminology), then Colorado fits the description.
This simply shouldn’t be happening. But it is.
The Buffs, picked to finish 11th in the league to start the season, won the Pac-12 tournament with four wins in four days and have moved into the third round of the NCAAs after holding on to beat No. 6 seed UNLV 68-60 Thursday night at the Pit.
Maybe even more surprising than the score and the Buffs moving on is how much they have become a hoops haven.
The Colorado crowd was by far the most boisterous of any of the eight teams in attendance. The raw euphoria from fans young and old had the security at the Pit sprinting out in anticipation that Buffs backers might actually storm the court. A number of fans, who were a part of an impressive CU contingent of about 2,500, had started to move down to the lower level, gathering right above the band in what looked like a precursor to a storm.
But this is the NCAA tournament, where storming is as forbidden as taking a Coke can onto the floor without an approved plastic cup cover.
Baylor is by far the most athletic, longest, deepest and talented team Colorado will have faced all season. No one in the Pac-12 would have come close.
But why would Colorado feel like anything is impossible? The Buffs actually used Connecticut’s five-games-in-five-days Big East tournament title run of a year ago as motivation prior to the Pac-12 tournament.
Victories over Utah, Oregon, Cal and Arizona just continued the improbable roll.
UNLV was next, and while the Runnin’ Rebels had moments of confusion at times in the final month of the season, they surely would outrebound and run past CU, right?
Not quite. CU outrebounded the Rebels by 13.
“I did think that they played with a greater sense of urgency than we did,’’ said UNLV coach Dave Rice.
The rarity of Colorado in this position was quickly pointed out by the CU administration on a postgame release. The Buffs had never won five games in a row March. That’s never — as in has never happened. The last time the Buffs won a game in the NCAA tournament, Chauncey Billups was the point guard and it was 1997.
“I don’t think I was born yet,’’ said Roberson. “No, I know I was. I don’t know.’’
“I was 3,’’ CU’s Askia Booker said. “I was 3.’’
The Buffs have a collection of gritty guys who would pale in comparison to Baylor’s length — and yet to dismiss them would be a major error in judgment. Roberson and Spencer Dinwiddie can block shots with the Baylor bigs Quincy Acy and Perry Jones III. Shooters like Austin Dufault, Carlon Brown and Booker can all match Brady Heslip on 3s. And the Buffs can actually win despite making turnovers (23 Thursday).
“We believe in ourselves,’’ Roberson said. “We believe in everything coach [Tad] Boyle tells us. We execute our game plan. We try to do our best. Defense and rebounding, that’s our motto. Every time we do that, we win games.’’
Boyle had the Buffs on the doorstep of the NCAA tournament last year in the final year of the Big 12. It was Boyle’s first season with Colorado. And then the team lost its two best players in Alec Burks and Cory Higgins.
Now, five games into this postseason, Boyle’s record is a combined 10-2 in playoff basketball at CU after a 3-1 NIT record a year ago.
“I don’t see why it can’t continue,’’ Boyle said. “It’s going to get harder as we go, we know that. But I believe in this team. They believe in themselves, and as long as you do that this time of year, you’ve got a shot.’’
LOS ANGELES -- Reaction from Colorado's victory against Arizona in the Pac-12 tournament final.
Overview: Colorado is to the Pac-12 Conference this season what Jordan Knight, Jonathan Knight, Donnie Wahlberg, Joey McIntyre and Danny Wood were to the music industry in the early 1990s, as both sets of new kids moved to the top of the charts. The Buffaloes won the Pac-12 tournament title on Saturday at Staples Center, capping off a banner first season in the league and winning the first conference tournament title in school history. With the win, which wasn't clinched until Arizona guard Kyle Fogg's contested shot fell well short of the rim as the final buzzer sounded, No. 6-seeded Colorado qualifies for the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2003 and exorcises demons of having its bubble burst a year ago.
As for bubbles, Arizona's might have burst with the loss. Entering the Pac-12 tournament, the No. 4-seeded Wildcats were thought to be one of the teams that would fall just short of making the NCAA tournament, and it seems unlikely that wins against UCLA and Oregon State this weekend will be enough to get Arizona, which advanced to the Elite 8 a year ago, back to the big dance.
Turning point: The first eight minutes of the second half. A day after Arizona used a quick second-half start to overwhelm Oregon State, the Wildcats had the tables turned on them by Colorado on Saturday. The Buffaloes opened up the second half with a 17-8 run, expanding its 30-28 halftime lead to 47-36. Spencer Dinwiddie, who hit four 3-pointers en route to a team high 14 points, nailed a 3-pointer to put the Buffaloes up by double-digits.
Colorado led by as many as 12 in the second half, and needed every bit of the cushion that it established in the first eight minutes, as Arizona held the Buffaloes to only one field goal and three points over the final 9:10. The field goal, a dunk by Carlon Brown with 52.6 seconds left, provided the Buffs with the game-winning points, as Nate Tomlinson was able to force Fogg into a difficult game-tying attempt.
Key player: Dinwiddie got the Buffaloes going early, hitting three first-half 3-pointers, helping Colorado to its halftime lead. He finished with 14 points, one more than Brown and four more than Roberson, who compiled his 19th double-double of the season with 10 points and 11 rebounds. Fogg scored 12, leading the Wildcats.
Key stat: After being outrebounded by California in the semifinals, the Buffaloes crashed the boards against a strong Arizona team, outrebounding the Wildcats 37-29. Colorado held Arizona to 36.7 percent shooting, and only gave up five 3-pointers to the leading 3-point shooting team in the conference. The 3-point defense was especially effective in the second half, as Arizona misfired on all seven of its second-half attempts.
Miscellaneous: Saturday was Colorado's first conference championship game appearance since 1990, when it lost to Oklahoma in the Big 8 final. Meanwhile, the Wildcats made their seventh Pac-12 title appearance ... The Pac-12 tournament marked the first time the Buffaloes played on four consecutive days since turning the trick March 6-9, 1934 ... The Wildcats have the most Pac-12 tourney titles with four, but it's been 10 years since their last one.
What’s next: Besides a lot of celebration, the Buffaloes can sit back on Sunday knowing their NCAA ticket is punched, which is a rare feeling indeed for a program that has found itself sweating Selection Sunday more often than not. Arizona will have to sweat out its fate -- which most likely includes a trip to the NIT. But with what's considered the top recruiting class in the nation coming in next season, there will be better days ahead for the Wildcats.
Overview: One of the Pac-12's new kids saved the conference from the possible embarrassment of being a one-bid league, as the win by No. 6-seeded Colorado assures that a Pac-12 team that is on the bubble or worse will be getting an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The Buffaloes might have earned their Pac-12 stripes by taking the doomsday one-bid scenario out of play.
No. 2-seeded California will be in the field of 68 come Sunday, so Friday's loss to Colorado in the Pac-12 semifinals at Staples Center isn't something that should keep it up all night. However, the Golden Bears might find themselves as a double-digit seed thanks to this loss.
Turning point: Jorge Gutierrez not being able to convert a 3-point play. The Cal guard made a brilliant runner in the lane while being fouled by Colorado's Spencer Dinwiddie to put the Golden Bears within 49-46 with 8:10 left. However, Gutierrez could not convert the free throw part of the and-one. Cal lost steam after that, going 4:28 without scoring and allowing Colorado to go on a 10-0 run to put the game out of reach.
Carlon Brown and Austin Dufault were the main catalysts for Colorado's rally, as Brown scored the first five points of the run while Dufault pitched in the next five. Allen Crabbe, who lead all scorers with 18 points, finally hit a 3-pointer with 3:48 left to get Cal back on the board, but by then the Buffaloes had seized control of the game.
Key player: Take your pick from Brown, Dufault and Andre Roberson. Brown and Roberson each scored 17 points, with Brown putting an exclamation point on the victory with a windmill dunk in the final minute. Roberson fell just short of his 19th double-double, as the sophomore forward had 17 points and 9 rebounds. But his defense in the paint was key, throwing off the Golden Bears. Dufault pitched in 15 points.
Key stat: Roberson actually made every shot he took but one, hitting all six shots he took from the field and 3 of 4 free throws. He came within 45 seconds of having a perfect game, as his final free throw of the night was the only shot he missed.
Miscellaneous: Both Colorado and California got almost all of their scoring from their starting lineups, as the Buffaloes only had five bench points to Cal's four ... Colorado showed why it has the second-best scoring defense in the conference, as it forced the Golden Bears into 11 first-half turnovers and 17 overall. The Bears had four more turnovers than assists, with Brown and Dinwiddie notching four steals each for the Buffaloes.
What’s next: Colorado will play Arizona on Saturday at 6 p.m. ET in the Pac-12 tournament title game, a matchup that pits the school with the most Pac-12 tourney titles against the new kids. California will be in the NCAA tournament barring a huge surprise and will wait for its seeding when the field is released on Sunday.