Colorado’s ‘Sweet 17’: This state’s greatest single-game performances in (modern) March Madness history
Come Sunday evening, this year’s March Madness field will be whittled down from 64 to what’s referred to as “The Sweet 16” — the 16 remaining collegiate teams who each have a chance to cut down the nets at the end of the Final Four.
As Round of 64 plays begins around 10 a.m. MST Thursday morning — and, thus, commences the wildest four days of basketball annually — there is one bit of bad news for the state of Colorado: Not a single Colorado team is part of March Madness.
The University of Colorado hobbled to a 17-15 season in a weak Pac-12 conference. Colorado State University was even worse, as its embattled head coach Larry Eustachy resigned for off-the-court issues while the Rams struggled through an 11-21 season.
Down in Colorado Springs, the Rams’ Mountain West Conference rival Air Force limped through its own 12-19 campaign. And at Denver University, the Pioneers — coached by NBA legend Chauncey Billups’ brother Rodney — finished with a .500, 15-15 record in the Summit League.
So who was the state of Colorado’s best college basketball team this season? They were up in Greeley, as the Northern Colorado Bears had hopes of March Madness late in their 22-12 season before they fell in the Big Sky Conference semifinals to conference stalwart and eventual Big Sky champion Montana.
That said, it may be best to harken back to Colorado March Madness moments of yesteryear to celebrate this year’s Tournament. So, we at the Summit Daily crunched the numbers of every single basketball player who has ever competed for a Colorado university or college in the NCAA Tournament. We then derived the best individual performances in each of these schools histories.
What we end up with is the state’s very own ‘Sweet 17’ March Madness performances. We calculated the list by using the advanced basketball metric “Game Score.”
Game Score is a statistic — created by the Vice President of Basketball Operations for the Memphis Grizzlies, John Hollinger — that gives a rough measure of a player’s productivity for a single game. The scale is similar to that of points scored (40 is an outstanding performance, 10 is an average performance, etc.).
Game Score can only be applied to games played since the 1978 season. As a result, our ‘Sweet 17’ list (it would have been ‘Sweet 16,’ but there was a tie between 16 and 17) doesn’t take into account performances before what many regard as “the modern history,” of college basketball — everything after the Larry Bird vs. Magic Johnson Indiana State-Michigan State title game in 1979.
That means our list does not include such performances as 1969 Big 8 Conference Player of the Year Cliff Meely of the Colorado Buffaloes. Meely’s 32 point, 11 rebound, 42 percent shooting performance was nearly a half-a-century ago this week and it came during the only time the Rams and Buffaloes have ever met in March Madness. Despite Meely’s heroics, his Buffaloes lost that March 13, 1969 game to the Rams, 64-56.
So, since 1978 the best singular March Madness performance by a player from a Colorado school came from bruising Buffalo big man Josh Scott (Game Score: 21.1) in a 2016 Round of 64 loss to the Connecticut Huskies. The senior Scott shot 50 percent from the field, scored 23 points and snagged 11 rebounds, but the Buffs lost 74-67. Scott also put forth two of the other 16 sweetest performances on this list — the most of any player.
As for Colorado State, Dorian Green’s 2013 Game Score of 20.5 versus Missouri is the highest for a state of Colorado player ever in a March Madness win. Northern Colorado’s Devon Beitzel posted his school’s highest-ever Game Score (16.8) in a 2011 loss to San Diego State. And as for Air Force, it’s three best Games Scores ever all came in a 2006 loss to Illinois, led by Antoine Hood’s 12.9.
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