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Keeler: NCAA Tournament selection committees did CU Buffs, CSU Rams dirty

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Keeler: NCAA Tournament selection committees did CU Buffs, CSU Rams dirty


BOULDER — The NCAA still can’t read a room. But man, can they ever kill one.

Kindyll Wetta and her teammates on the CU women’s basketball team were belles of the ball inside the Dal Ward Center. You shoulda seen it. Balloons. Cheerleaders. Catering. One of the sweetest pep rallies to grace the Touchdown Club since Coach Prime got injected into the Buffs’ bloodstream here some 16 months ago.

As the NCAA Tournament brackets came on the screen, the party hushed. Then when Kansas State came up as a 4 seed and as a host for the first weekend of the women’s Big Dance, it sank.

“It’s definitely a bummer for me because I wanted to play at home and I wanted to be in front of my family,” Wetta, the firebrand of a Buffs guard and former Valor Christian star, told me after CU found out its first stop in Bracketville would be as a 5 seed opposite K-State in the Little Apple of Manhattan, Kan. “I thought this year we really had a great shot of doing that. It’s disappointing in that sense.”

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There was a lot of that going around here Sunday night. The mood was even less jovial a few hours earlier up in Fort Collins, where the men’s selection committee decided to take its annual dose of stupid out on the Mountain West as a whole — and on the Rams in particular.

Want a laugh? Committee member Bubba Cunningham contended on CBS that teams selected from the Mountain West, save for San Diego State, got strapped to double-digit seedings because their best wins were over one another.

“(That) made it more challenging for us,” Cunningham explained.

Not half as challenging, apparently, as trying to stay up past 10 p.m. Eastern to do homework on teams west of Lincoln. Poor guy.

At least five teams — lookin’ at you, Oregon, NC State and New Mexico — “stole” bids from more worthy at-larges by winning their respective conference tourneys. But any ‘S’ curve that’s got CSU as the “last team in” gets an automatic F.

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Do you watch the games, Bubba? Or do you watch “X” and Instagram and hope for the best? CSU beat Creighton by 21 on a neutral court. The Jays were slotted as a No. 3 seed Sunday. The Rammies (24-10) were unveiled as a 10.

Boise State, who’ll take on Tad Boyle’s CU men on Wednesday night, beat Saint Mary’s on a semi-neutral floor by three. The Gaels are dancing as a 5 seed. The Broncos, like CSU and CU, are a 10 seed having to scrap their way over to the Big Kids’ Bracket by winning in Dayton first.

“To be honest, I was really surprised how most of the Mountain West was seeded,” stunned CSU coach Niko Medved, who’ll face Virginia on Tuesday in Ohio, told reporters.

“But you know what? That’s fine. They always disrespect our league. And now it’s time to go out and do something about it.”

Amen. If there’s a silver lining, it’s that the Cavaliers (23-10), on paper, are certainly in the Rammies’ weight class. For one thing, unlike Michigan in 2022, UVa doesn’t have a Hunter Dickinson down low, taking up a duplex’s worth of space in the paint. On the surface, it’s the irresistible force (CSU’s shooters) against the immovable object (Tony Bennett’s trademark tire-iron defense), a classic Clark Kellogg “contrast-in-styles” scrum between a Rams offense ranked 42nd nationally by KenPom.com in adjusted offensive efficiency and a Cavs D that’s seventh in adjusted defense. If you’re hopping over to Dayton, take the under and take your pizza square-cut.

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If the Oppenheimers on the men’s committee dinged CSU for its 4-7 mark away from Moby Madness, their counterparts on the women’s side docked the Buffs (22-9) for losing six of their last eight, including a maddening, come-from-ahead loss to Oregon State in the Pac-12 tourney.

In March, you make your own luck. The Buffs women — despite being one of the best draws in all of college basketball, male or female — didn’t.

“I mean, (it’s) definitely frustrating,” Wetta said. “But like (Coach JR Payne) said, you can’t dwell on that, because (now) it’s completely different conferences, completely different teams, styles of play.”

CU women’s basketball players react to being selected as the fifth seed for the NCAA tournament during a watch party in the Touchdown Club at Dal Ward at the University of Colorado at Boulder in Boulder, Colorado on March 17, 2024. (Photo by Helen H. Richardson/The Denver Post)

At least Wetta and her teammates know the drill. Payne’s Buffs got shipped to third seed and host Duke at this time last year and earned their Sweet 16 berth the hard way, stomping 11th-seeded Middle Tennessee and then shocking the Blue Devils in overtime to advance out of Durham.

“I feel like the same situation’s happened to us the past two years, where we thought we should’ve been a higher seed and we weren’t,” Wetta reflected. “So, again, it’s nothing new. Disappointing, but we’re used to it.

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“I think we definitely do better with underdog mentality. So I think that’s a good thing going into the NCAA Tournament. It just adds a little bit of fuel to the fire.”

Why bust brackets when you can burn ’em? Pack your bags, kids. And your grudges. This dance just got personal.

Want more sports news? Sign up for the Sports Omelette to get all our analysis on Denver’s teams.



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Denver Tops Poll As Country’s Best Weed City

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Denver Tops Poll As Country’s Best Weed City


As one of the top metropolitan cities in the country, Denver boasts a host of attractions—Coors Field, Red Rocks Amphitheatre, Denver Art Museum and many breweries. Yet, according to a poll jointly conducted by Real Estate Witch, an online real estate platform and cannabis information and resource site Leafly, the Mile High City has just been named the best weed city in the U.S. for 2024.

Last year, according to the same poll, Denver slipped to number two but now thanks to its number of dispensaries, four times the average city, the city is back sitting pretty in the top spot.

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The metrics that were used to determine the ranking included the following: legality of cannabis, dispensaries per 100,000 residents, cannabis-prescribing doctors per 100,000 residents, average rating of dispensaries out of five stars, affordability of high-quality weed, fast food restaurants per 100,000 residents and local hiking trails according to the AllTrails database.

The poll uncovered some very interesting findings:

*While Denver is the best weed city, Louisville is the worst;

*Kansas City is the most improved weed city, rising 13 spots from No. 22 in 2023 to No. 9 this year;

*Missouri legalized recreational weed just two years ago, but Kansas City already has double the number of dispensaries per capita as Los Angeles, where weed has been fully legal since 2016;

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*Sacramento has the most affordable pot prices while for the third year in a row, Washington, D.C. has the most expensive weed; and,

*Baltimore has more cannabis-prescribing doctors than any other city, with nearly 14 per 100,000 residents;.

According to the poll the top ten weed cities are: 1. Denver, Colorado 2. Portland, Oregon 3: Las Vegas, Nevada 4. Buffalo, New York 5. Baltimore, Maryland 6. Phoenix, Arizona 7. Seattle, Washington 8. Sacramento, California 9. Kansas City, Missouri 10. Providence, Rhode Island.

To see where your city ranks on this 50 best and worst city for cannabis list, click here.

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Check out my website or some of my other work here. 



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Is The Denver Nuggets’ Bench Enough For Them To Go Back-To-Back?

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Is The Denver Nuggets’ Bench Enough For Them To Go Back-To-Back?


Arguably no team in the NBA has a starting five with as much high-end talent and lineup balance as the Denver Nuggets. On the season, the unit of Jamal Murray, Kentavious Caldwell-Pope, Michael Porter Jr., Aaron Gordon, and Nikola Jokic is a +13.1 points per 100 possessions over the course of 1831 non-garbage time possessions (per Cleaning the Glass). That is the exact type of indicator you want to see from a championship lineup.

The one thing plaguing this team as they gear up for the postseason is their bench. As it stands, no one on their bench who has played over 200 non-garbage time minutes on the season has a positive point differential when they are on the floor.

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Denver had a similar problem last year. Their solution was to consolidate their rotation so that they only needed to use three bench players (Christian Braun, Jeff Green, and Bruce Brown).

The issue here is that two of those players (Green and Brown) are no longer employed by the organization, and they didn’t make any trades at the deadline to fill the holes left by them.

That brings us to the central question of this article: do the Nuggets have enough on their current roster to field a three-man bench that can help them repeat as NBA Champions?

What Did Their Bench Bring?

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Before we can answer that question, we need to know what this year’s bench is attempting to replace.

Brown was the headliner of the trio. He was a jack-of-all-trades defender. Not elite in any one defensive skill, but above average in pretty much every facet on that side of the ball. On offense, Brown was the king of spunk — helping to ignite Denver’s offense with his pace-pushing (77th percentile in transition possessions per game in 2022-23, per NBA.com) and secondary on-ball creation.

Green was the sage master of the group. Including last year’s run, Green has been on ten playoff teams, and he’s had some big moments in big games (most notably Game 7 of the 2018 Eastern Conference Finals). Along with his wisdom, Green also offered size (6’8 with a 7’1 wingspan), physicality, and play finishing (as a spot-up shooter, cutter, and roller).

Braun was a rookie last year, but he handled himself like a seasoned veteran. Denver relied on him to handle some of their opponent’s toughest matchups. According to NBA.com matchup data, Braun held Kevin Durant, Devin Booker, Jimmy Butler, and Mike Conley to a combined 16-for-41 (39%). And like Green, he also sprinkled in some size (6’6 with a 6’6.5 wingspan), physicality, and play finishing (he put on a clinic in cutting during Game 3 of the NBA Finals).

Christian Braun

Let’s make one thing clear. The Nuggets don’t need to replace the individual pieces they lost. They just need to replace the production lost from the three players in the aggregate — akin to the problem faced by the Oakland Athletics in Moneyball.

Braun will be the easiest player to replace. You know, considering he’s still on the team! Braun has already proven that what he does will translate to the playoffs. However, with Green no longer in the picture. Braun will need to bring even more physicality to the table.

Peyton Watson (more on him in a moment) is taller/longer than Braun (6’7 with a 7’0.5 wingspan). But Watson doesn’t like getting his hands dirty the way Braun does, as evidenced by his contested rebounding percentage only being in the 39th percentile (compared to Braun’s 59th percentile contested rebounding percentage).

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We saw this come into play in Denver’s recent matchup against the Minnesota Timberwolves. When they shared the floor, Watson guarded the smaller/shiftier Conley while Braun took on the assignment of keeping the raging bull that is Anthony Edwards in front of him. After scoring 15 points on 4-for-6 shooting in the third, Edwards was relegated to a goose egg on 0-for-3 shooting in the final frame.

[Sidebar#1:Braun also offers some transition punch (more so as a finisher than an initiator), ranking in the 60th percentile in transition possessions per game this season.]

Reggie Jackson

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Reggie Jackson was also on the team last year, but he only played 18 minutes throughout the entirety of their 16-game run. On the surface, that seems worrisome. Why wouldn’t Denver play him if he could help them?

My suspicion is that the Nuggets were already getting the secondary on-ball creation they needed from Brown. So, they didn’t feel like putting another smaller player on the court (small players often get picked on in the playoffs) that’s best skill is one they already had enough of (recall our lesson on redundancies).

Now, the Nuggets need Jackson’s secondary creation. Jackson is in the 81st percentile in Box Creation (a metric that estimates playmaking ability) and the 80th percentile in Passer Rating (a metric that estimates passing ability).

Jackson can create for himself too. He maintains solid midrange (43rd percentile, per Dunks & Threes) and 3-point (50th percentile) percentages, despite being in the 79th and 85th percentile in unassisted midrange and 3-point shots, respectively.

When Murray is on the bench, Jackson can fill in as The Joker’s partner-in-crime. In the 1,012 minutes the two have shared together this season, the Nuggets have a net rating of +7.2 and an offensive rating of 120.0.

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[Sidebar#2: Jackson also gives Denver the veteran element that they lost with Green.]

Peyton Watson

Lastly, we have Watson. Watson is the member of this trio with the most pressure on him, especially after the comments made by Nuggets general manager Calvin Booth prior to the start of the season.

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“Some of these teams were trying to get Bruce, trying to make it worth it; it’s like, just be careful what you wish for,” Booth told The Ringer’s Kevin O’Connor. “Peyton’s bigger. He’s longer. He’s more athletic. He guards better. He passes better. He doesn’t have the experience, and he’s not as good offensively yet, but we need defense more than we need offense on our team.”

For the most part, Booth wasn’t wrong. Watson has been a better defender this year (95th percentile Defensive Estimated Plus-Minus) than Brown was last year (74th percentile). And it’s because he’s all the things Booth said he was — longer, more athletic, and a better on-ball defender.

I can’t say Watson is a better passer yet. But the flashes he’s demonstrated are certainly intriguing. Booth was also correct in citing Watson’s lack of experience/offense. Fortunately, Jackson should be able to handle those departments.

Watson does provide something that no one on Denver’s playoff bench gave them last year: rim protection. Watson is in the 93rd percentile in block rate, and that isn’t just a byproduct of meaningless block-hunting. His impact is present on a team-wide level. When Watson is on the floor, Denver is in the 98th percentile in opponent rim accuracy.

The only thing holding Watson back from being a guaranteed playoff performer are the concerns surrounding his perimeter spacing (or should we say lack thereof). Last season, Brown was hitting a respectable 35.8% of his threes. This year, Watson is only converting on 29.3% of his triples. The hope there is that Jackson playing more minutes will help make up for that gap.

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The Bottom Line

In general, it normally isn’t wise to over-index on a single regular season game. However, Denver’s aforementioned recent clash with the Timberwolves feels like an exception since it was a late-season contest between two teams clashing for the number one seed in the West.

In that playoff-lite outing, Braun (27:17), Jackson (20:20), and Watson (23:01) all logged positive +/- totals — Braun was a +9, Jackson was a +3, and Watson was a +4. And they posted those marks by doing all the things we outlined above.

Braun and Watson, in particular, were so good in the fourth quarter (Braun a +7, Watson a +9) that they didn’t even need to bring in Gordon and Caldwell-Pope down the stretch.

Because Denver’s starting five is so damn good, their bench players need only fulfill very carved-out roles. And while we won’t know for sure until we see them in action in a playoff series, it does look like the trio of Braun/Jackson/Watson has just enough ponies in the stable to help give Denver a legitimate shot at being back-to-back NBA Champions.

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***All stats are updated as of April 11, 2024.



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Family on 3 – The rare bond of these Denver Nuggets – DNVR Sports

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Family on 3 – The rare bond of these Denver Nuggets – DNVR Sports


The bond that links your true family is not one of blood, but of respect and joy in each other’s life.
– Richard Bach

There’s a moment in most people’s young adulthood in which you’re deeply trying to establish your YOU. Your uniqueness, what makes you one of one. Those first forays into new territory can also come with a rejection of what got you there, as they did with me. I remember several years of feeling as if I had a closer bond with friends than family, as I’d PICKED those friends. I’d had no say in whatever shape my family had taken, I’d simply gotten stuck with what I’d gotten, even if that getting was very good.

A few decades later, I’m simply grateful for every last bit of what I was “stuck” with.

Moreover, I was glad for all I’d stuck myself with, as well. I tend more to the Richard Bach line of thought up top when it comes to family, and am so blessed that there are also a few people in my life external to my family tree that are still as much “kin” as anyone I share DNA with. How much luckier am I to have both. That concept, family. It’s one of the things that has stuck with me about the chant these Denver Nuggets wrap most practices and games with. Coach Mike Malone standing in the midst of his team, shouting:

“Family on three! One, two three…” “FAMILY”

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Now, some of those teams chants are surely more enthusiastic than others, just like how so many people feel day over day about their family. But for the Nuggets, these aren’t just words. Family not only runs across the top of Denver basketball literally, but is one of the core tenets of the organization holistically. In the abstract, it sounds hokey, and maybe over the top. It’s a multi-billion dollar business, and tough decisions sometimes have to be made. There also have certainly been guys who have come and gone who have decidedly NOT felt a part of the family here, even during these idyllic days (koff, Bones Hyland). On the whole, the description is so apt, it’s clear this team has clearly internalized the concept, is living it, and that is a part of what makes them so utterly rare.

On Wednesday night, when the Nuggets were distancing themselves from the Minnesota Timberwolves in the fourth quarter, two of the vaunted five starters stayed seated on the bench, with second year stars Peyton Watson and Christian Braun playing so impressively as to warrant staying in the game. What made that even more impressive was the two players they were supplanting for that moment, Aaron Gordon and Kentavious Caldwell-Pope. AG and KCP are the most-valued pieces in the defensive chain the Nuggets run their crunchtime D upon, and yet there they sat…

Well, maybe “sat” isn’t the right word…

There they celebrated. There they joined the rest of their team in the barbaric yawp that was P-Wat and CB feeling themselves.

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You know who would not celebrate those plays as Gordon and Caldwell-Pope did? Selfish guys. Guys who are thinking about how they look or worrying about whether a DNP in the fourth quarter might reflect on their standing. Guys who aren’t a part of the family. A guy who’s shooting for First Team Defense like KCP could sure feel a certain sort of a way about the two kids playing out the string and also grabbing the defensive player of the game chains. Instead, Kenny was as thrilled as the rest.

The same feelings went a few games prior, when backup point guard Reggie Jackson had spent a few games in a bit of a slump, and was finally breaking out of that shell in a spectacular way, and in a needed fourth quarter run. The guy who told Malone to leave him in? Jamal Murray, who ceded his spot that night to let Reggie cook. When Jackson scored seven straight points to put the Nuggets out of reach at games end, Murray was one of the first to greet him off the floor, overjoyed and celebrating as much as if he’d been the one to sling those arrows.

Heck, even rarely used center Jay Huff is a part of this Nuggets family, loved to the as much as any of the rest. When the Nuggets had banked a recent game to the point of bringing the far end of the bench in, Huff came into the game. In his short time, Jay had a block and then a pair of offensive plays – a finger roll layup and a dunk – that brought the starters back to their feet and cheering. Hell, Moach was actually the first one running out. On a less cohesive team, those starters are discussing plans in their relative cliques as the nobodys salt the game with absolutely no one still watching. In Denver, it’s an event. Because here we celebrate the success of our family.

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That feeling of family extends beyond the players having that uncommon bond, and their rejoicing in each other’s games. That feeling extends to Malone’s deep and concerted efforts to let a badly injured Jamal Murray know that the team would stick with him a couple years back. That extends to Gordon traveling halfway across the globe to hang with Nikola Jokic in his hometown. That extends to Jokic breaking his usual media silence to lift up the podcast of teammate Michael Porter, Jr., who himself has sacrificed ego in abundance for the greater good. To Caldwell-Pope and Murray both proclaiming in recent postgame interviews that they are Nuggets for life. To Malone telling the press he has “two daughters and 18 boys”. To a team that seems to have found harmony from top to bottom, this Denver Nuggets family has bought in.

It’s family. It is celebration, it’s true. Rejoicing and all the good stuff. But it is sacrifice as well. Hardship and frustrations and tears and blood and sweat and cohesion in moments that would test a lesser bond. It’s utter familiarity. It’s a subtraction of self for that greater good, and with that a bond that is so much harder to break than a “buddy”. What these Denver Nggets have already done together will be something that connects them for the rest of their lives. That they keep coming back to it every day willing to give of themselves, build those bonds even deeper and keep the larger goals in mind is something that only a family – of blood or bond – can do.

We are family. Get up everybody and sing!
-Sister Sledge

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