Thursday, March 15, 2012 | 2 a.m.
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Las Vegas Sun reporters Taylor Bern and Ray Brewer take a look at the UNLV basketball team's opening round opponent in the NCAA Tournament — Pac-12 tournament champions Colorado.
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ALBUQUERQUE — Colorado’s march into the tournament started with a sloppy, forgettable 53-41 victory against Utah on March 7.
The 6-seed Buffaloes shot 9 percent behind the free-throw line and just 35 percent from the floor in their Pac-12 tournament debut, but those kinds of numbers were good enough to dispatch 11th-seeded Utah.
There was no sign that night that three days later, Colorado would be cutting down the nets.
In a down year for the entire conference, the Buffs faced 4-seed Arizona, another team that needed the victory just to dance. And in a final that no spectator will ever tell their grandkids about, Colorado survived 53-51.
That’s all that really matters. The Buffs won four games in four days, albeit against woeful competition, and that gives them the right to try to wreak havoc on brackets across the country.
Here’s a closer look 11-seed Colorado:
RPI: 61; SOS: 72; Top-50 record: 2-3 (all against UNLV common opponents); 51-100 record: 6-5; No bad losses.
Points: Carlon Brown, 12.6
Rebounds/Blocks/Steals: Andre Roberson, 11.1/1.9/1.2
Assists: Nate Tomlinson, 3.1
Roberson is a force down low, a similar type of athlete to UNLV’s Mike Moser, but he plays mostly in the interior. His 11.1 rebounds per game rank fourth in the country, just two spots ahead of New Mexico’s Drew Gordon (10.9) and five spots ahead of Moser (10.6). He shoots a little better than 50 percent from the floor and he’s efficient with his 3-pointers, attempting less than 50 this year and hitting 37.5 percent.
Aside from him, Colorado has starter Austin Dufault and reserve Shane Harris-Tunks as its primary weapons inside. Dufault averages 10.9 points and 4.5 rebounds per game, both career highs for the 6-foot-9 senior. He has good quickness for his size, which allows Colorado to push the tempo with him in the game. Harris-Tunks is more of a traditional center at 6-foot-11, 245 pounds.
This is Brown’s team, as he demonstrated in the Pac-12 tournament. Over the four-game stretch that punched Colorado’s ticket to Albuquerque, he averaged 15.8 points and 4.8 rebounds per game while shooting 50 percent from the floor. Brown, a transfer from Utah who nearly committed to UNLV out of high school, can control the game at any tempo, but for the most part the Buffs try to push the ball. “We have athletes just like (the Rebels) do,” Brown said.
Starting alongside Brown is senior point guard Nate Tomlinson and freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie, a high school teammate with UNLV’s Justin Hawkins. Tomlinson is the steady(-ish) hand of the Buffs and Dinwiddie is the second in command at point while also scoring 10.2 points per game. He should be solid for Colorado in the future, but it will be interesting to see how he handles the NCAA Tournament stage.
Off the bench, Colorado has Askia Booker (8.7 points per game) and little-used Jeremy Adams and Sabatino Chen, who was just cleared to play after coming off an ankle injury.
Which Carlon Brown will show up? The one who tore through the Pac-12 tournament and led Colorado to the Dance, or the one who averaged less than seven points in the middle of a 3-3 stretch for the Buffs.
He’s got some streaky tendencies, and if he’s off, the Rebels may run away. The tricky thing for Colorado is that they don’t really have any indications of how he’ll play until the game is under way.
“To be honest, the way Carlon approached every day and every game, I didn’t really know he was in a slump,” Dufault said. “He still had his confidence.”
Colorado is streaking, and after the nation saw UConn’s run last year through both the Big East and NCAA tournaments, there’s a sudden faith in conference tournament champs. That hasn’t always been the case, and tired legs are the reason why. That might plague Colorado, and even if the rest of the team is fresh, the Buffs need Brown at the top of his game to have a chance.