Contact CU Independent Men’s Basketball Beat Writer Alissa Noe at Alissa.Noe@colorado.edu.
After finishing the 2015-16 regular season with a 21-10 record and a fifth place in the Pac-12 conference, the University of Colorado men’s basketball team is heading to the Pac-12 Tournament in Las Vegas this week with the high hopes of buffing up their NCAA tournament résumé.
In the most disappointing (and predictable) of fashions, the Buffaloes gave away a win on the road last Saturday at No. 13 Utah after gaining a 14-point lead in the second half, then immediately allowing a 19-0 run from the Utes to let them back into game.
So as Colorado heads into the game against Washington State at the MGM Grand Garden Arena on Wednesday at 3:30 p.m. mountain time, you know the Buffs will be playing with a chip on their shoulders.
Although the Cougars are without a doubt the worst team in the conference with only one win and 17 losses in conference play, they almost beat the Buffs in both of the teams’ meetings this season.
In their first meeting in Pullman, CU barely edged out the Cougars in the final minutes of the game, 75-70. During the game in Boulder, things got a lot more precarious for Colorado. But thanks to a miracle shot from sophomore guard George King at the buzzer in the first overtime to tie the game, the Buffaloes got another shot to beat them in 10 extra minutes, 88-81.
“They’re a much better team than their record indicates,” head coach Tad Boyle said. “We know that because we’ve played them two times. But we got to be ready to play. Look, it’s a new season for everybody, and I’m sure they’re looking at that way. They’re just going to let it all hang out in Vegas and we got to be ready.”
All season long, the Buffaloes have struggled to keep their ball-handling issues on the backburner, and it’s cost them a number of times on the road in games they could have won. On the year they’re averaging 13.5 turnovers per game.
But when they limit their turnovers, the results have been much better. Take their upset over No. 9 Arizona, for example. The Buffs only had nine turnovers in that game, and it ended in their favor. If they can overcome the challenge of being on the road and control the ball with a fair offensive effort, they should have no trouble sending the Cougars packing.
“Hopefully we’ll play 40 minutes of defense, 40 minutes of rebounding,” Boyle said. “At our place here, we had eight- to 10- to 11-point leads multiple times in the game and we couldn’t put them away because we let them back in. We couldn’t put stops together and expand the lead, so we’ve got to have a better defensive effort.”
Assuming a Colorado victory, the Buffaloes will have to face No. 18 Arizona in the second round. The Wildcats are no doubt a formidable opponent, despite Colorado shutting them down just a few weeks ago. Sean Miller was clearly not happy with that outcome or the happiness of the Colorado fans, so you can bet he’ll be out for blood. And any Arizona game in Vegas is always basically a home game for the Wildcats, because their retirement-age fan base travels well.
If the Buffs make it past Zona, they’ll presumably be onto Oregon (or the winner of Stanford/Washington on Wednesday), who is currently ranked No. 8 in the nation. The Buffs have beaten the Ducks already this season, but they also lost by 20 to them on the road. Who knows how that one would pan out — the Buffs could actually win. Crazier things have happened.
Either way, if the Buffaloes win one game in Vegas, they should earn a bid to the Big Dance. If they win two or more games, they’re definitely in.
“There’s no tomorrows,” Boyle said. “That’s where it changes: in making your guys understand that it’s win or go home, literally. If we win, we stay. If we lose, we start checking flights back to Boulder. So the sense of urgency is much greater. The teams that go there with that kind of hungry dog mentality are the ones that usually win. A lot of times it goes to the teams that [want it] more.”
Full tournament predictions:
Colorado beats Washington State
Stanford beats Washington
USC beats UCLA
Oregon State beats Arizona State
Colorado beats Arizona
Oregon beats Stanford
Utah beats USC
Cal beats Oregon State
Oregon beats Colorado
Cal beats Utah
Oregon 85, Cal 76
Colorado will play against Washington State in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament at 3:30 p.m. on Wednesday in Las Vegas. The game will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.