That was the final from the Coors Events Center back on Jan. 28. The good guys – Tad Boyle’s Colorado Buffaloes – had just bested the Oregon Ducks. On the season, the Buffs and Ducks split; Boyle’s team got whipped in Eugene.
On Saturday night, the Buffs sat at home while Oregon played in the Final Four. All told, Oregon was one North Carolina junior Theo Pinson offensive rebound (off of a missed free throw no less) from playing in the national championship game.
Instead, the Heels will take on Gonzaga, a team that will play the role of “America’s Team” as the entire country outside of Chapel Hill will surely be rooting for the Bulldogs. It’s not that college basketball fans are naturally fans of Gonzaga; it’s just that the mid-major from the Northwest will be trying to take down college basketball royalty. Most folks don’t like to see the rich getting richer when it comes to sports. Like Oregon, Gonzaga assumes the role of the underdog, whether they’re the better team or not.
Guiding the ship for the Zags will be redshirt sophomore Josh Perkins. While Perkins’ bio indicates he graduated from West Virginia’s Huntington Prep, fans of prep basketball will recall that Perkins starred at Aurora’s Regis Jesuit High School through his junior year. As a Regis Raider, Perkins was excellent.
But he wasn’t even considered the best player in the state. That designation was held by Denver East point guard Dominique Collier, who was easily the most highly recruited player in Colorado’s Class of 2014. When Perkins headed east for Huntington Prep, Collier went on to win a state title and honors as Colorado’s Mr. Basketball.
Boyle, who personally attends a bunch of local prep basketball games, saw plenty of both Perkins and Collier during their high school days. Ultimately, Boyle recruited and landed Collier, a signing that was wildly celebrated. Not only had Boyle inked an excellent point guard, but the fact that he kept the state’s best player at home didn’t go unnoticed.
Flash forward three years and it’s debatable which player – Perkins, who’s starting in a national title game, or Collier, who will be watching from the couch – is better. It’s safest just to say that both players have been solid, bona fide, Division I players. At the time they were being recruited, it was widely believed that Boyle got the better player, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything now. It only means Boyle “won” back then.
The point of all this, of course, is pretty simple: Colorado is closer to being a national title contender than you think.
Now, that can be said about a lot of teams. Just because the Buffs once beat a team that just lost by one point to the potential national champ doesn’t necessarily mean CU is the third- or fourth-best team in the country. College basketball just doesn’t work like that. Just because Boyle successfully recruited the kid who, as a prep, was more highly coveted than the starting point guard for a team that might be cutting down the net in Scottsdale, doesn’t mean the Buffs are just one ladder away from doing the same thing. Again, college hoops is anything but that predictable.
And by all that logic, one might even conclude that Colorado State, the Mountain West’s regular season champ and a team that walloped Boyle’s Buffs in Boulder 72-58, could be “right there” too.
To be sure, neither the Buffs nor Rams were consistent enough to factor into the Big Dance this year, but it doesn’t take much more than logic to conclude that either team – with a break here, a good bounce there, an unlikely offensive rebound, a buzzer-beater, who knows? – could be in the mix next season.
That’s the beauty of college basketball – just about anything can happen in any given season. That really can’t be said for college football or NBA basketball.
Making noise in the tournament next season isn’t even far fetched for Northern Colorado (a team that gave eventual Pac-12 champ Arizona everything they could handle in Tucson this past fall) or DU (who, I predict, could win the Summit League next season).
My advice? Don’t lose track of the local college basketball teams. Next year, anything can happen.
Until then, root on Josh Perkins. Colorado can and should take pride in a local kid who might be standing atop the college basketball world in just a few hours.