Just when you thought the basketball season was over, Colorado announced on Sunday night that they would accept, well forcibly pay their way for a bid in the CBI Tournament. The CBI, short for College Basketball Invitational, is one of the lesser known postseason tournaments in the world college basketball. It normally intermingles solid, underrated mid major teams along with less dominant teams from the Power Five Conferences. This year, unfortunately, the Buffaloes are the only program from a power conference, so the opportunity/expenditure does not have the 'authentic postseason tournament' feel, and it doesn't help that may cost the University of Colorado at least $310,000. Nevertheless, it still an opportunity to squeeze a few more basketball games from this season. It is also the first indicator of what the 2015-16 season will look like. So, what's in store for the Buffaloes in the College Basketball Invitational? Let's take a look.
The Field: Colorado, Deleware State, Eastern Michigan, Gardner Webb, Hofstra, Loyola Chicago, Mercer, Oral Roberts, Pepperdine, Radford, Rider, Seattle, Stony Brook, UC Santa Barbra, UL Monroe, and Vermont. (If you've heard of seven or more of these schools, give yourself a pat on the back.) The full bracket can be found here.
Teams to Watch:
The Hofstra Pride are one of the strongest teams in the field this year, and could no doubt make a deep run in the weaker side of the CBI Bracket. They went 20-13 on the season and 10-8 in CAA conference play. Hofstra is 13th in the nation in points per game with 78.4, and 23rd in assists per game with 15.5. At the beginning of the season in non-conference play, they came close to beating North Carolina State, so Hofstra has already proven they can compete with teams from the Power Five conferences. In their final game of the season, they lost a double overtime heartbreaker to William & Mary, which was no doubt one of the best mid-major games all year. (Yes, I know I spent too much time watching college basketball). They were one defensive stop from making the CAA Tournament Finals, and had they made that stop, we would probably be watching them in the Big Dance instead of this little one. Don't sleep on the Pride.
Stony Brook, this year, is best known for being the team that single handedly derailed Washington's season. However, there is more to this team than just being a spoiler. Just like Hofstra, the Stony Brook Seawolves were one three pointer away from making the NCAA Tournament and are not a group to overlook. Stony Brook, while not having the most dominant offense, only allows 59.7 points per game, and grabs an average 39.8 rebounds per game, which is sixth in the nation. The Seawolves do not have any impressive out of conference wins, next to Washington. That said, they were competitive in games against Georgia, and Providence. Stony Brook is a dark horse in the CBI with the potential to do some damage if they're overlooked.
The UL Monroe Warhawks were one of three teams from the Sun Belt Conference that all had a solid chance to make the NCAA Tournament. Like Stony Brook, they win on defense by only allowing 59.7 points per game too. At the beginning of the season, UL Monroe took Florida to overtime and came up just short, losing 59-65. So, the Warhawks can play ball. They are probably the best team in their region of four, so expect to see UL Monroe in the semi-finals.
UC Santa Barbara:
The Gauchos might not have very impressive statistics like the other teams, however UCSB is without question the best team in the CBI next to the Buffaloes. During non-conference play they almost beat Oregon, Oregon State, SMU, and Kansas. You read that right, UCSB took Kansas to overtime and almost won, in Phog Allen. When's the last time CU's done that? Those are just their losses. The Gauchos also beat Washington State, and Florida Gulf Coast. The Gauchos also have Alan William, who has been touted as "The Best College Basketball Player You've Never Heard Of". He averages 17.2 points per game, and 11.9 rebounds per game. At 6'8" Williams is the little big man that holds UCSB together. This team came up just short in the regular season, they're at the CBI to win it. If the Buffs want the trophy, they're going to have to go through all 265 pounds of Alan Williams.
The biggest story of the CBI is Askia Booker electing not to participate in the postseason Tournament. His decisions actually received enough hype to get not one, but two features on ESPN. Regardless of why or why not Ski should or shouldn't play, the crucial part Booker choosing not to play in the CBI is that we will get an early glimpse of what the Buffs will look like next year. Even though CU will be without transfer Josh Fortune, and two brand new recruits, how Colorado fares in the CBI will be a very good indication of how well this program will perform next season. So if the Buffs struggle, it might be early warning signs that can be treated during the offseason or give basketball fans a warning to buy hardhats for the impending falling sky.
The next storyline for the Buffs going into the CBI is the decision by Dustin Thomas to transfer. Earlier this week, Thomas announced that he will transfer from Colorado to another team not yet chosen. His announcement was met with a spectrum of reactions from brutal accusations of Thomas quitting on the team, to heartfelt thank you messages on Twitter. Yet, Thomas's choice seemed to put a chill in the air regarding CU Basketball. The consensus seems to be that Thomas chose to leave the team in order to get more playing time on the perimeter than Tad was willing to give him. Still with Thomas declining to speak to the media, most of his decision will be left in mystery. More important than Thomas's reasoning to leave the Buffs, the CBI will give the Buffaloes time to figure out how to replace his role of hustle player and defensive specialist.
Lastly, the cost to the university just to participate in the CBI is a story within itself. If CU ends up playing in the finals, it may cost CU upwards of $350,000. Boyle believed that this tournament will help his team for next year. If the Buffaloes go through all of these machinations just to come up short in a costly postseason tournament with a considerably weak field, it might be time to accept that the ceiling is at least beginning to cave in a bit for this program.
The Buffaloes will play Gardner Webb (20-14, 10-8 Big South) tonight at 7:00 PM in the Coors Event Center. Gardner Webb is a pretty weak team. Besides moving the ball well, they are nowhere near a team that could be excusable loss for Colorado. The Buffaloes are in between a rock and a hard place. If they win the CBI, it is promising for next year but doesn't really mean much and will be very costly to the university. However if they lose in the CBI, panic may ensue. As fans, let's just enjoy Colorado Basketball while it' still here, if you haven't moved on to football yet.