Tad Boyle wasn't ready to start making plans just yet. Neither was Josh Scott. Or, for that matter, pretty much everyone in a dejected Colorado Buffaloes locker room following their elimination from the Pac-12 Conference tournament.
That's understandable. Show me a basketball coach that makes plans before any matter is set in stone, and chances are he or she hasn't been doing it long. Assuming an invitation to the NCAA's Big Dance always is a dangerous endeavor. Just go back a year and ask Colorado State fans.
Yet Buffs fans need not fret. Come late Sunday afternoon, CU will receive its fourth bid to the NCAA Tournament in five seasons.
The numbers simply are too solid for the selection committee to ignore. The Buffs began Saturday's action around the nation ranked 35th in ESPN's RPI rankings and 36th in the NCAA's version of the RPI.
Moreover, despite a 3-7 mark against top 25 RPI teams, those wins were of high quality (Oregon, Cal, and Arizona). Plus, the Buffs' overall mark of 9-11 against top 100 RPI teams cannot be overlooked. By comparison, the 2014-15 CSU Rams ended their conference tournament with a 27-6 record but just a 5-5 mark against teams with RPI's between 26 and 100. A weaker schedule left CSU without a single opponent ranked among the RPI top 25. The Rams lost their first NIT game at home and seemingly never recovered from the snub this season.
The CU squad of 2015-16 is a completely different story. In addition to the three top-25 RPI wins the Buffs collected at home, they went 6-4 against teams with current RPI's between 26 and 100. In other words, CU generally took care of business against good teams it was expected to beat, with no bad losses on its ledger.
Of course, the term "bad losses" can have multiple meanings, and the Buffs continue to rue the winning opportunities they squandered several times on the road and at home against Utah. Still, CU generally passed the eye test all season and didn't stub their toes against nonconference lightweights. Anyone that watched narrow losses against Iowa State, SMU, and twice against Utah — all tournament locks, though SMU is ineligible — understands CU is capable of playing with any team in the nation on a good night. Not to be ignored, in December the Buffs also posted a 42-point win against Hampton, which won the MEAC tournament title on Saturday.
Early in the season, as CU cruised to an 11-1 start, several fans asked why I wasn't voting for the Buffs in my weekly AP top 25 ballot. Easy. I didn't think they were one of the 25 best teams in the nation. I still don't.
But are they one of the top 68 teams in the nation?
Rodney Billups is a perfect fit for the University of Denver.
Not long after DU announced the end of Joe Scott's nine-year tenure with the Pioneers on Friday, ESPN reported the CU assistant and DU alum is set to return to his alma mater as the head coach.
It's a perfect fit.
I was fortunate to cover much of Billups' collegiate career for the Rocky Mountain News a decade ago, and he was exactly the sort of consummate floor general the Buffs have sorely lacked for much of this season — calm yet intense, a heady point guard more likely to impact a game with 10 assists and five steals than with his scoring.
In defense of Scott's DU tenure, he was forced to adjust to three different conferences in nine seasons. He was hired at a hockey school, and during his tenure lacrosse surpassed basketball on the DU food chain. Yet his deliberate, Princeton-style offense isn't the sort of attraction that puts casual fans in the seats, and a school with DU's setting and resources should expect more than the one NIT bid Scott delivered in nine years, particularly now that the Pioneers compete in the underwhelming Summit League.
Expect Billups to change that in short order. And maybe rejuvenate a CU-DU regional rivalry that has witnessed just two contests in the past 16 seasons.