Two months ago, the Colorado Buffaloes were coming off a disappointing 77-70 loss to the conference best Washington Huskies. It was the team’s fifth loss in seven games, their best player McKinley Wright exited the game with an injury, and their season was seemingly on a nosedive. Fans began calling for head coach Tad Boyle’s head and excuses about the young team became louder.
Fast forward a few months to the team’s third loss against Washington of the season, that saw them get bounced from the Pac-12 tournament semifinals in disappointing fashion, and things look much better. Unlike the other two losses, Colorado got off to a hot start before poor perimeter shooting and turnovers doomed them in the second half.
Even more important than the much improved performance against the conference’s best, is the amount of progress the Buffs have made between their first loss against the Huskies and their most recent. In that 17 game span, CU went a whopping 11-6. They would lose just a single game on their home floor, a 76-74 nail-bitter to Oregon State, and finish off the season winning 10 of their final 13 - including eight of their last ten which was the best finish in program history since the 1961-62 season.
The turnaround was capped off by a commanding 73-58 upset over that same OSU squad in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament.
On a personal level, big man Tyler Bey evolved into one of the best players in the country, JUCO transfer Shane Gatling became an excellent perimeter shooter, and Evan Battey showed off immense talent when able to stay out of foul trouble, even earning a starting role by year’s end.
Obviously, there are no moral victories in sports. Let’s face it, this team had their eyes on an NCAA tournament bid and were visibly shaken when they came up short. But the sheer fact they were able to turn what seemed like a lost season into one where they’re making a postseason tournament at all is extremely impressive.
It speaks to the incredible coaching job Tad Boyle has done in what he’s called his most trying season in the profession, and this team’s incredible grit, mental toughness, and growth when overcoming adversity.
Earning a bid to the NIT tournament, college basketball’s version of lower tier bowl games, gives fans another opportunity to watch this exciting Colorado team at the keg, and McKinley Wright a shot at redemption against Dayton, the school he originally committed to.
More importantly it gives this young, yet extremely talented roster an opportunity to get some much needed additional experience - something they could use to carry momentum into next year. With their entire starting lineup returning and all seven rotation guys overall, getting a taste of late March basketball is that much more important.
There’s no doubt they’ll have to deal with the pressure and expectations from the second half of this season, but for now though let’s enjoy the ride and see if this team can end the 2018-19 campaign at Madison Square Garden.