Inside the Basketball Collapse: What happened and where do we go from here?
The dust has settled.
It is time to have an honest conversation about the basketball team's collapse.
The dream season that ended in a nightmare.
On Feb. 20, the Colorado Buffaloes won their 21st game. They were in sole possession of first place in the Pac-12 and in control of their own destiny.
Colorado was 21-6 for the first time ever in team history through 27 games. They were on pace to smash school records.
That destiny turned out to be five straight losses.
"Well yeah, it can come down to a lot of things," Director of Player Development Nate Tomlinson said. "Obviously confidence was a huge thing when you lose a game at home like we lost to UCLA. We're in control of that 21-6 at the time and in control of the game."
That game would prove to be the turning point of the season.
McKinley Wright made a layup with 12:34 left in the second half to put the Buffs up 50-41. They didn't make another field goal until two minutes left in the game.
"I think if we win that and close out the last eight minutes, we take it two a one-game lead in the conference," Tomlinson said. "Which with two or three games to go, that's pretty commanding. You lose that game at home and now you've got three on the road. So the guys were probably like, ‘We know we threw that game away on senior night,’ so it was a big game. Not sure if we lost some confidence from that but it happens to everyone."
The Buffs were never the same after that game. They got walloped during their road trip in northern California, lost a close one to Utah on the road and then outclassed against Washington State in the Pac-12 tournament.
What happened? Head coach Tad Boyle believed it was much more mental than anything physical.
"It's so much more of a psychological thing right now than it is a physical thing," Boyle said after the Pac-12 tournament exit. "And I said this facetiously a few years ago, but I said if I knew I was going to coach, I didn't know I was going to coach when I went to college, but if I did know I would have majored in psychology not in business, and it would serve me well right now. Right now I'm trying to find a way to be positive with these guys and get them to believe in themselves. And that's a tricky thing to do."
Sports are funny that way. When things are going well, it seems like nothing can go wrong. When things are going wrong, it becomes very hard to turn the ship back around.
The Buffs began to rely heavily on Wright and Tyler Bey. They were their two best players all season long. But, early on in the season, when they were having off nights there were other guys to pick up the slack.
That didn't happen at all down the stretch. In fact, the rest of the players disappeared in the Pac-12 tournament game and Wright and Bey were left to do it all on their own. They combined for 40 points against Washington State. the third-highest scorer that night was Daylen Kountz with seven, most of them coming in garbage time.
"Confidence is a real delicate thing as a coach," Boyle said after the game. "I've really tried to be positive with D'Shawn. He's got to believe in himself. I think self-belief -- the one thing I know about McKinley and Tyler, these two guys really believe in themselves. I said this after the Cal game, I said if the rest of our guys believed in themselves as much as they believe in McKinley and I would put Tyler in there, too, because they've got a lot of belief in those two guys, they are our horses. But these guys need some help."
Tomlinson doesn't have the answers, nobody really does. It was a combination of a lot of different factors.
"It's hard to put a finger on it," Tomlinson said. "I wish we could because then you can fix it easily. But it's sports, basketball and these things happen. It will happen again. You just got to try to ride the wave and get out of it as quickly as you can. But as far as what exactly came down to I'm not too sure."
But he suggested confidence can be overrated when it comes to basketball players playing at this high of a level.
"As coaches, I think we can overthink a little bit too much as well as far as what players are thinking because, at the end of the day, it's really hard to control that," Tomlinson said. "That's really hard. It's really hard to know what they're thinking. They can tell you something, but it's not always the truth."
Tomlinson leaves his travel clothes and bag out during the season in his home. His wife asked him recently when he's going to put it away. But it's hard from him to reconcile the season being gone.
"It just doesn't feel like the season is done," Tomlinson said. "I have never experienced this, not that anybody has, but usually you lose a game and you go, ‘Okay, that's the end of that season.’ Well, that didn't really happen and that kind of sucked."
Tomlinson and the rest of the CU basketball team and staff truly believe they could've turned things around had they been able to play in the NCAA tournament. They will never know now.
"It is hard, once you've had a bad couple games," Tomlinson said. "But a new environment, a new opportunity of playing a new team. I'm speaking if we made the NCAA tournament, who knows what that could have done for our guys? I believe that would have rejuvenated us but who knows?"
Nobody knows. Nobody will ever know. As difficult as it can be, it's time to look towards the future. Wondering what could've been doesn't do anybody any good.
It's time to close the books. It's time to put away that travel duffle bag.