The Colorado Buffaloes are out of the NCAA Tournament after a brutal loss to Florida State in the 2nd Round. It’s been difficult to grapple with the fact that that was the last team we will see any of the seniors playing for Colorado. After a brief writing break, we’re back with a rooting guide for the Elite Eight, where every game has an obvious choice.
Oregon State Beavers vs. Houston Cougars — Monday, 5:15 p.m.
This Beavers team is only here because, way back in the Pac-12 Tournament quarterfinals, Jules Bernard missed a free throw with three seconds left in a tie game. OSU won that game in overtime, beat the hell out of Oregon, found their way past the Buffs in the Pac-12 title (thanks partly to missed FTs), blew the doors off Tennessee, choked out Oklahoma State, and won ugly in the Sweet Sixteen against Loyola Chicago.
It’s been a wild ride for the Beavers. They’re shooting 42% from three during this six-game winning streak, all while their opponents are shooting 37% from the field and 25% from three. Much of this is luck, but that’s the perfect recipe in a tournament plagued by poor shooting and ugly offense. The Houston Cougars, all defense and bricked jumpers, are similarly build for rock fights.
If you’re rooting for the Beavs, be prepared to go down swinging, because you know they will be swinging too.
Arkansas Razorbacks vs. Baylor Bears — Monday, 7:57 p.m.
This is the only game Buffs fans don’t have a personal connection to, but it’s still an easy call to root on Arkansas. The Hogs haven’t been to the Final Four since their 40 Minutes of Hell national championship squad. The Bears, meanwhile, have some, uh, bad karma.
Arkansas has played in some wild games thus far, barely scraping by Texas Tech before coming within an inch of losing to 15-seed Oral Roberts. Baylor has been less fun, blowing out Hartford and Wisconsin before Davion Mitchell saved them from an ugly loss to Villanova. Another factor that favors the Razorbacks is that their offense is led by freshmen Moses Moody and Devo Davis. They are fearless in their first taste of high stakes basketball and don’t hesitate to take big shots at the end of these games.
USC Trojans vs. Gonzaga Bulldogs — Tuesday, 5:15 p.m.
As you may already know, this is an anti-USC blog. They have become CU’s main rival in the Pac-12, even though it’s probably one-sided in some respects. Much of that hate comes from the coaching rivalry between USC’s Andy Enfield and CU’s Tad Boyle. (The short history: Boyle criticizing USC for being investigated by the FBI, Enfield beat CU the next time and called a rub-it-in timeout in the final seconds, then Boyle won the next seven games between them.)
It’s impossible to root for USC because any success will be credited to Andy Enfield. Let’s be clear, then: Evan Mobley has carried that team, but he and Isaiah Mobley are only at USC because Enfield hired their dad as an assistant coach. This isn’t the first time this recruiting strategy has been used — shoutout to Michael Porter Jr. and Jontay Porter — but it’s still sketchy. It’s also annoying Enfield won Coach of the Year over Wayne Tinkle (please ignore that Ethan Thompson was recruited by OSU assistant Stevie Thompson, his father, and that Stevie Thompson Jr. and Tres Tinkle were both there).
On the flip side, this Gonzaga team has an argument as the best college team ever. Including the NCAA Tournament, they have played just one game all season that was decided by single digits, when Jalen Suggs came back from an injury to beat West Virginia. This team is absolutely stacked: Corey Kispert, Drew Timme and Suggs were consensus All-Americans, Joel Ayayi is the perfect glue guy, Andrew Nembhard is an elite sixth man, and even Anton Watson is a great defender and efficient scorer.
They are so far and away the best offense in the country that it’s unfair. They play up-tempo, unselfish basketball, shoot over 63% on two-point attempts (!) and still lock in on defense when they need to. They have so many ways of beating teams, Kispert hitting threes off pin-downs, Suggs going hero ball, Timme owning the paint, etc. They play like a machine, churning away at an opponent until everything breaks free for a blowout win.
UCLA Bruins vs. Michigan Wolverines — Tuesday, 7:57 p.m.
We here at the Ralphie Report have not been shy about our reverence for the UCLA Bruins. Jack Barsch has openly crushed on Tyger Campbell, the undersized defensive-minded point guard with a pristine assist/turnover ratio. I have openly lusted over Jaime Jaquez Jr., the handsome do-it-all combo forward who I wish was on CU more than anyone else in the country (one-time CU recruit Joel Ayayi would be the other one).
The Bruins are built to play Tad Ball, only smarter and more adaptive. They play a weird defense that confuses opponents, contest shots without fouling, rebound the hell out of the ball, and patiently figure out their opponent’s soft spots before attacking it. The only thing this team is missing is a true go-to scorer, which they had in matchup nightmare Chris Smith before he tore his ACL in January. Even then, Johnny Juzang, Jaquez and Cody Riley have taken turns being the primary scorer, depending on team-specific matchups.
Their matchup with Michigan is going to be tough. Juwann Howard is a brilliant coach and had his kids as the second or third best team for the majority of the season. Hunter Dickinson is going to own the paint, Franz Wagner is going to be in the right place at all the right times, and their guards may well control the game.
Michigan is a scary team to face — even if the Buffs had beaten Florida State, they probably would have been eaten up by the Wolverines. But if the Bruins win this, we can pretend in our little hearts that the Buffs had a Final Four-caliber team, only to play against the wrong opponent on the wrong day.