In this week’s edition of Coin Toss, sports writer Alex Pepper goes head-to-head with head sports editor Justin Guerriero to debate the question — how many of Colorado basketball’s last five games can they win this season?
Alex Pepper: My dad always told me to bet with your head, not your heart, and that’s why I think the Buffs will lose a majority of their next five games. The surging Buffs have won five of their last six contests, putting them in the middle ground of the Pac-12, where they sit at a respectable seventh place in an admittedly tough conference.
Let’s not forget the Buffs were losers of seven straight Pac-12 matchups before this run. The Buffs lost to USC, UCLA and Arizona, as well as tantalizing fans with two close OT losses to Washington and Washington State. The fact of the matter is, this team has been weak in Pac-12 play and has struggled to beat very good teams (other than Oregon, but we’ll get to that in a second).
The Buffs have five games remaining in the season, with games against Oregon State, Oregon, Stanford, Utah and Cal. I think they will lose three, if not four, of those games, escaping this season barely over .500. Oregon State should be no big deal. This is without a doubt the easiest of their last five, and with an 0-13 Pac-12 record, the bad news Beavers should be an easy test for the Buffs, even on the road.
Oregon, however, will be a tall task for the Buffaloes. The Buffs somehow found a way to beat the Ducks on their home floor on Jan. 28, giving Oregon just its third loss of the season. However, this game is going to be different. Colorado arguably played its best game all year against Oregon and with this team’s inconsistency, it is unlikely they shoot the lights out again, especially in Eugene.
The Ducks will be itching for revenge against the Buffs and also looking to cement themselves as a serious title contender, and will win this game comfortably by 10. Next up for the Buffs is Utah, and I see the Utes scraping by with a win here because they’re just a more sound team than the Buffs are.
With an 8-5 Pac-12 record, the inverse of Colorado’s 5-8 Pac-12 record, the Utes have shown they’re a team who can put the pieces together. They beat the Buffs earlier in the year, 76-60, boasting four players in double digits.
The Buffs will beat Stanford next, because Stanford isn’t as formidable as Utah and Oregon, sitting just below the Buffs at 4-9 in conference play. The Buffs beat Stanford in Palo Alto, California, on Feb. 2, and at home they should coast to a comfortable victory against a weaker Pac-12 foe.
Last for the Buffs this season is Cal, which was able to beat the Buffs 77-66 earlier in the year. The Buffaloes actually held their two best scorers in check, with Ivan Rabb scoring 11 and Jabari Bird scoring 10. But it wasn’t enough to trump the Golden Bears. The Buffs had their chance to beat Cal and missed it. I’m thinking that Rabb and Bird both put up 15-plus, and CU loses their last game of the season.
Justin Guerriero: Well Alex, your optimism moves me. Just kidding. I happen to be on the other side of the spectrum and believe that Colorado will win at least three of their remaining five games. I agree that this Thursday vs. Oregon State will be Colorado’s easiest game. That much is not up for debate.
I don’t like Colorado’s chances on the road at Oregon. I mean, did you see what the Ducks did to Arizona a bit ago? The then No. 5 Wildcats got absolutely pounded by the Ducks 85-58. I have a bad feeling that this bloodthirsty Ducks team is going to take down the Buffaloes with relative ease. Colorado has not played well on the road this year, and the game versus Oregon just seems like a perfect storm filled with calamities for our Buffs.
That said, Colorado can afford to lose that one. CU, as you said, will finish up its regular season with a three-game homestand vs. Utah, Stanford and Cal. Now, in regards to what you said earlier, yes, Colorado did begin the season with an 0-7 record in Pac-12 play. But note that four of those seven games were lost by three points or less.
Thanks in part to this recent string of wins CU has put together, I’m convinced that the team has turned a new leaf and is capable of winning games that it certainly wasn’t a few months ago.
That said, the final three games for CU certainly won’t be easy, but with bench players giving the team good minutes and senior guard Derrick White continuing to stay hot, I think the Buffs are finally in the driver’s seat, albeit this late in the year. I think Colorado is going to surprise you, Alex. The Buffs have got at least a few more wins left in them — you’ll see.
AP: Even though the Buffs lost four in their seven game mid-season skid by three points or less, a loss is a loss. While losing close games is not the worst thing for a team, it represents a lack of finishing and a team that hasn’t put the pieces together quite yet. While it’s hard to deny this team is talented, they’re not playing as a team the way they should be, as they showed in the game against Washington where they blew a 15-point halftime lead.
As for White, I can’t deny he’s been hot as of late, leading the team to a respectable 15-11 record at this point in the season. However, I think Utah and Cal are better teams than the Buffs, and I doubt whether White and an improved bench can lead CU past the better all-around teams that are the Utes and the Golden Bears. Despite the fact that CU head coach Tad Boyle has favored post-scoring bigs throughout his career, the Buffs offense is facilitated through White, a guard.
On the other hand, the Utes’ and the Golden Bears’ highest scorers are both forwards. Kyle Kuzma for Utah and Rabb for the Bears are both averaging double-doubles, and that sort of inside presence should be enough to hold off the Buffs unless White can get his Russell Westbrook on and singlehandedly lead the Buffs to a victory.
The Buffs will continue to post sub-par conference numbers, finishing their last five 2-3. I see them beating Stanford and Oregon State, but against top tier Pac-12 teams hungry for NCAA tournament bids like Utah, Oregon and Cal, I see them going down. We know this team is capable of surprises, but two constants this year have been their poor conference play and their inability to regularly compete with elite teams. I see both of those weaknesses compounding to create losses to the best three teams they play in their last five games.
JG: Alex, I just don’t think you’re appreciating the upward trajectory that these Buffaloes are experiencing this late in the year. During those miserable three weeks which saw the team blow its first seven Pac-12 games, things weren’t clicking. White and senior guard Xavier Johnson seemed to be the only guys scoring on a consistent basis.
But I really sensed a change in this team as a whole during the last few weeks. I think that as a whole, these guys are determined to finish out the year in as strong as a manner as possible. All of those ugly Pac-12 losses are in the past now. All Colorado can do is win as many games as possible.
You’re right though; Colorado did blow a 15-point lead at Washington on Jan. 18. But keep in mind that Colorado dominated the Huskies at the Coors Events Center last Tuesday 81-66. Johnson and senior forward Wesley Gordon were benched, too. The Buffs nonetheless had six players put up double digits without the services of two of their most impactful seniors. The Buffs’ last game saw the team put on a very impressive all-around performance as they got revenge on the Washington State Cougars, beating them 81-49.
Now, in regards to Colorado’s final homestand vs. Utah, Stanford and Cal, I think that the Buffs can win all three games. Utah recently lost to Stanford 81-75 and Cal 77-75. The Utes have played well against ranked teams this season and are arguably the best team of those final three squads. Colorado can boast home court advantage as well as hopefully being a truly different team than the one that lost 76-60 to Utah in Salt Lake City on Jan. 1.
Stanford is the most winnable of these final three games. Colorado beat the Cardinals on the road a few weeks ago. Not to mention that Stanford has lost five of its last six contests. I Like Colorado’s chances.
Finally, Cal will be an interesting matchup. Once again, the Buffs were without the services of Gordon and Johnson when they lost to Cal 77-66 in Berkeley on Feb. 5. That game featured bench players stepping up and nearly coming back from an insane first-half deficit.
The rematch, at home, with the Buffs at full strength, will be a good game that Colorado can hopefully win, ending their season on a good note. Long story short, the Buffs have a chip on their shoulder. This team knows that every loss it suffers from here on out will make it harder to advance in the upcoming Pac-12 Tournament. Colorado’s recent string of wins has given me confidence that the Buffs are capable of finishing the year with a winning record. Only time will tell, but until then, go Buffs!
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Alex Pepper at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact CU Independent Head Sports Editor Justin Guerriero at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo.