After going 8-2 in its last 10 conference games, the best such finish since 1961-62, do the Colorado Buffaloes have what it takes to take home the Pac-12 Conference title? The CU Independent sports team shares their predictions as the Buffs men’s basketball team heads to Las Vegas to contend with their conference counterparts under the lights of the Vegas Strip for the annual Pac-12 Tournament.
Scott MacDonald, Sports Editor: The Pac-12 Tournament feels a lot like a brand new season, and in a lot of ways, it very much is. With all 12 teams converging on the Las Vegas strip to duke it out to determine the best in the conference, and all 12 boasting a 0-0 record – it really is anyone’s tourney.
While the Buffs may have finished the regular season fifth out of the 12 team conference with a healthy 10-8 record in conference play, they’re going in as arguably hottest team in the Pac. In light of the Buffs’ hot end to the regular season, there’s no doubt that the other 11 teams in the Pac-12 have been put on alert.
Unfortunately for the Buffaloes, they drew a first-round matchup against Cal Berkeley. Although the Golden Bears own the worst seed in the tourney at No. 12, and boast a lowly 3-15 conference record (8-22 overall), they’re arguably the second-hottest team in the Pac-12, behind CU.
Cal has won its last three straight, including a 79-76 upset against the league-leading Washington Huskies. The Buffs won the only matchup between the two teams earlier this season in a 68-59 victory at Berkeley. But Colorado would be remiss to sleep on this Cal team in the opening round. The Bears have been known to upset some top teams recently— let’s hope the Buffs aren’t one of them.
Whomever wins that opening-round matchup has the task of taking on a tough, yet vulnerable, No. 4-seed Oregon State team. The Beavers slipped up down the stretch, losing three of its final five games, albeit only by five points of less. It’d be a tough matchup, but a very winnable one for either team. Neither CU nor Cal has beat OSU this season. The Buffs lost by just two points earlier in the season in a 76-74 game in Boulder on Jan. 31.
Colorado hasn’t lost in the opening round of the tournament since the team joined the conference in 2011. But the Buffs also haven’t made it past the second round since defeating Cal in 2014. Something feels a little different about this team this season. After winning 8-of-10 to close out the season, this CU team looks like it can take on anyone in the Pac-12. Are they hot enough to beat Washington, though? I don’t think so, unfortunately. The Buffs can only hope that either USC or Arizona upsets Washington in the second round if CU hopes to make a run at the tournament title.
Tournament Prediction: Buffs beat Cal in the first round and get redemption against Oregon State in the second round, but fall in the semifinals to the eventual tournament champion Washington Huskies.
Jack Carlough, Sports Staff Writer: Basketball, more than any other sport, is heavily reliant on home-court advantage. The Pac-12 tournament is played in Las Vegas, Nevada, eliminating the raucous environment of a home court and the edge that comes with it. Teams like Washington, which the Buffs struggled against in their very loud Alaska Airlines Arena, will be brought down a level.
More importantly, is the factor of who’s hot and who’s not. Colorado is hot, and I only anticipate them getting hotter with a – knock on wood – favorable matchup against the No. 12 seed Cal. The Golden Bears are on a nice stretch themselves, however, after winning three in a row and heroically beating the No. 1 seed Washington. The Golden Bears have proven they are capable of an upset.
As for Colorado, I don’t think we’ve seen a team with this level of talent since they won the Pac-12 tournament in 2012. As head coach Tad Boyle has noted in has past few postgame press conferences, this team is a different squad since their early season loss at home against Oregon State. If the Buffs do indeed slide past Cal, they’ll play these same Beavers again. Don’t bother looking at the history books for this matchup, though, it’s anyone’s game in a Buffs vs. Beavs rematch.
Tournament Prediction: In a battle of the two hottest teams in the Pac-12, Colorado prevails over Cal in a first-round blowout win. Fueled by their insatiable need for revenge, the Buffs blow past a solid Oregon State team in the second round. In the third round, the Buffaloes would mostly likely square off against Washington. The Huskies, still wavering from their loss against Cal, lose an overtime nailbiter to an even more confident Buffaloes team. Unfortunately for CU, all the fun will come to an end when they lose a close one to No. 2 Arizona State in the championship game.
Adam Bender, Sports Staff Writer: The Pac-12 tournament is wide open this year. Especially, given that the Washington Huskies lost two of their last three games to finish the season. The Buffs come into the tournament as the undisputed hottest team in the Pac-12 having won eight of their last ten games to finish the year.
Cal’s poor record doesn’t really tell its whole story. The Bears have a legitimate chance to upset Colorado in the first round if the Buffs get off to a slow start.
I believe the Buffs will survive a close upset bid from California in the first round, and move on to face the Beavers in the quarterfinals. In the Buffs only matchup with Oregon State, they lost a close 76-74 contest in Boulder. As it did in that game back in January, this time around against OSU could come down to the game’s final possession. The Beavers will again prevail, beating the Buffs in overtime in the second round.
Tournament Prediction: Colorado sneaks past a pesky Cal team in the first round only to be upended by the No. 4 seeded Oregon State Beavers in the quarterfinals of the Pac-12 tournament. The Beavers will need overtime to do it, but the Buffs will fall to Oregon State, which will make for a disappointing exit in the quarterfinals. The Buffs fall to the Beavers like they did in Boulder on Jan. 31. Colorado won’t get a chance to square off against the Huskies in the semifinals. I believe it will be the Huskies that will take down Arizona State in the Pac-12 tournament finals to take home their first tourney title since 2011.
Griffin Rucker, Sports Staff Writer: After watching the Buffs go 8-2 in their final 10 games, it’s hard not to feel confident about this team going into the tournament. Putting up a double-double in eight of his final 10 games, sophomore guard/forward Tyler Bey has emerged as a reliable contributor on offense who can take over a game. With fellow starters McKinley Wright IV, Evan Battey, D’Shawn Schwartz and Shane Gatling all playing great down the stretch, Colorado should have some lofty expectations in Vegas.
That said, while the Pac-12 tournament is played in a neutral location, CU is a mediocre 5-8 away from Boulder, and lost two-of-three of its neutral games this season at the Diamond Head Classic in Honolulu, Hawaii back in December. Additionally, the Buffaloes lost four of their last seven road games of the season, so there’s certainly reasons to worry about their chances.
The main concern for the Buffs in their matchup with Cal is the Bears’ ability to shoot the three-ball. At 34.9 percent, the Golden Bears are fifth in conference from behind the arch. CU in comparison, only shot 32.3 percent on attempted threes, which was the second-worst in the Pac-12.
In a sport where games often come down to who shot better from three, Colorado could find themselves in trouble if Cal gets hot from beyond the arc.
Tournament Prediction: CU beats the Golden Bears in convincing fashion to advance in the tournament. Against the Beavers, the Buffs fall behind early to a well-rested OSU team, and despite making a spirited attempt at a comeback, fall just short.
Justin Guerriero, former Sports Editor, current Managing Editor: Colorado taking on Cal in the first round worries me. Colorado has never lost in the first round of the Pac-12 Tournament under head coach Tad Boyle, and as you all hinted at above, Cal enters the tournament having recently produced its best sample size of consistently good basketball.
This simply is a team with nothing to lose. Cal will not be invited to the NCAA Tournament or the NIT. The Pac-12 Tourney likely will be the final basketball games that this Bears team will play in this season. That all makes Cal Berkeley a prime candidate to play spoiler for any hopeful team. The Golden Bears will get their first opportunity to rain on someone’s parade Wednesday afternoon versus the Buffaloes.
The Buffs will need to keep an eye on Cal’s 7-foot-3 freshman center/forward Connor Vanover, who’s displayed an ability to be a pest in the paint while also holding the second-best three-point make rate on the Bears’ roster. Vanover’s only started 14 games this year, but seems to be a guy that comes off the bench and gives his team a spark.
Justice Sueing also should be monitored closely, as he’s attempted the most shots and snagged the most rebounds for Cal this year. His 14.5 points per game average leads the team, as well.
Ultimately, while Cal certainly shouldn’t be overlooked, if Colorado plays with the same level of intensity as it has over the past few weeks, I think a first round victory will be forthcoming.
Tournament prediction: This is the best shot Colorado has had under Tad Boyle to win the Tourney, and I believe they will. They’ll beat Cal, albeit not by more than 10 points, and handle Oregon State in the quarterfinals. From there, I anticipate a semifinals matchup with big bad Washington, which for all intents and purposes, has looked more than vulnerable the past few weeks. Point being, there’s no team in this tournament that I look at and think “wow, Colorado has no chance of winning against them.” The Buffs are going all the way.
Contact CU Independent Sports Editor Scott MacDonald at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @ScottTopics.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Jack Carlough at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @JCarlough_9.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Adam Bender at Adam.firstname.lastname@example.org.
Contact CU Independent Sports Staff Writer Griffin Rucker at email@example.com and follow him on Twitter @GriffinRucker.
Contact CU Independent Managing Editor Justin Guerriero at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @TheHungry_Hippo