After Murray State eliminated Colorado State from March Madness this morning, the University of Colorado is the state’s last hope to advance beyond the round of 64 in the Division I tournament.
In fact, Colorado is also the Pac-12’s last hope after Cal, the conference’s only other tournament invitee, was eliminated in a play-in game Wednesday.
You might think, as I did, that CU’s best chance against the athletic, high-flying Runnin’ Rebels of UNLV would be to take the air out of the ball and turn tonight’s matchup into a half-court game, as Wisconsin did when the Badgers beat the Rebels 62-51 in December. But CU coach Tad Boyle said this week on the Dave Logan Show that’s not the plan.
“Here’s what the game plan is,” Boyle said. “Now, what the game plan is and what unfolds are sometimes different things, but we still want to run. When we get stops, we’re going to go, we’re going to attack. We always want to be in attack mode. I think in tournament basketball, the aggressive team has the advantage. So we are going to be the aggressor on both offense and defense. We’re going to attack. We’re not going to take the air out of the ball. We’re going to run.
“But what we have to do is we have to control the tempo of the game so that we can dictate when we do that and when we don’t do that. And that’s where I think, when you’re playing UNLV, you’d better dictate the tempo. If you let them dictate the tempo and you go toe to toe, athlete to athlete, we probably come up a little bit short.
“But we are going to run. We’re going to just pick and choose our spots. Off misses, rebounds, turnovers, we’re going to go. Off a made basket, you may see us execute in the half court. So I think you have to learn how to win games. If you saw us play in L.A., we were aggressive offensively when we had the advantage. But when we don’t, we’ve got to be smart, we’ve got to make them execute in the half court, because I think maybe advantage Buffaloes when it comes to that. But we’ll see how it plays out.”
In this morning’s game, Colorado State wanted to slow Murray State’s transition game, and largely succeeded. The Racers’ 58 points were their second-lowest point total of the season. But the Rams sabotaged their chances to stay close with a fatal 21 turnovers. Many were bad decisions, but Murray State also seemed to anticipate much of CSU’s interior passing game, frequently picking off feeds in the paint.
Like the Rams, the Buffaloes are underdogs as a No. 11 seed. When Dave Rice’s UNLV team gets out and runs, it can play with anyone, as it proved by defeating North Carolina in a 90-80 November track meet.
“We’ve got our hands full,” Boyle said. “We’ve got to (play good) transition defense, getting back, and they shoot over 23 three-point shots a game. They really use that to their advantage. They do it from a lot of different spots on the floor, a lot of different positions. If we can get our defense set, which is going to be easier said than done against those athletes, I like our chances. But that’s going to be a key to the game.”
CU came up big in the Pac-12 tourney, winning four games in four days to take the conference championship and earn its automatic bid to the big dance. Sophomore Andre Roberson and senior Carlon Brown were the tournament standouts, but the Buffs also got important contributions from seniors Nate Tomlinson and Austin Dufault and freshmen guards Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker.
“Carlon Brown played with a sense of urgency, an aggressiveness, a confidence that we really needed,” Boyle said. “And that was infectious to our whole team. He made Nate more confident, he made Austin more confident, he helped our freshman guards, Spencer Dinwiddie and Askia Booker. I thought Austin Dufault had a great tournament.
“I think if you point to two guys, probably Carlon and Andre really stepped their games up, but Nate was terrific. I thought our freshmen played very, very well for freshmen. Spencer Dinwiddie was 4-for-4 from the three-point line in a championship game. I mean, we had some great performances. And I thought our bench played well when they needed to play well. Shane Harris-Tunks gave us some big-time minutes.
“To win four games in four days, you have to have contributions from multiple places and we got that. I was really proud of what these kids did. But all that stuff’s behind us. This is a new tournament. We’ve got to refocus, re-energize and we’ve got to approach Albuquerque just like we did L.A.”
Can the 23-11 Buffs pull off one more upset and make it to the round of 32? Tip-off is scheduled for 7:57 p.m. mountain time on TruTV.