It wasn’t a fun February for Colorado basketball coach Tad Boyle. It wasn’t a total surprise, given that he Buffaloes faced the most difficult part of the Pac-12 schedule last month, but four losses in five games is problematic regardless of the names on your schedule.
To make matters worse, Colorado did plenty of damage to its profile long before getting to Pac-12 play. The Buffaloes needed a strong performance in Pac-12 play after losing to Boise State, Massachusetts and Grambling in the nonconference, but that didn’t happen. There are two losses in the Pac-12 a team absolutely cannot take to make the NCAA tournament, and Colorado took both of them: Oregon State and California.
The losses to the Beavers and the Golden Bears meant Colorado had plenty to do to have a chance at anything beyond Pac-12 play, and the Buffaloes didn’t get it done.
Does Colorado Have a Chance at the NIT?
No power conference team wants to play in the NIT, but it’s always better to qualify for the NIT than not make it at all. Unfortunately, Colorado’s chances are slim of doing even that. In practice, the NIT tends to favor smaller names who didn’t get a chance to showcase themselves at the back end of the bracket. The biggest names to qualify for the NIT will be the teams who came close to the NCAAs but didn’t get a bid.
This year, that’s not Colorado. The Buffaloes are nowhere near the bubble for the NCAA because they did virtually nothing noteworthy in Pac-12 play. They have two glittering wins over SEC powers Tennessee and Texas A&M by double digits, but losing to Oregon State and Cal more than offset those showings. Otherwise, they have had Quad 1 opportunities at Oregon, Arizona, Arizona State, UCLA and USC, plus Quad 1 home games with the Wildcats, Bruins and Trojans. Colorado went 1-7 in those games, only managing to beat Arizona State in Tempe, and the Buffaloes offset that by losing the first meeting with ASU in Boulder.
They’ve got one final game with Utah before the Pac-12 tournament, and realistically, it won’t help their chances. The Utes are much closer to the bubble than the Buffaloes are, and they aren’t even that close. Utah’s probably an NIT team, and Colorado probably won’t be going anywhere without a Pac-12 tournament title.
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— Colorado Men's Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) March 4, 2023
What Does Colorado’s Draw in the Pac-12 Tournament Look Like?
The Buffaloes are likely locked into the No. 9 seed in the Pac-12, and their first opponent will almost certainly be one of the Washington schools. That’s because the Buffaloes cannot win a tiebreaker with the Huskies, who are currently projected to gain the No. 8 seed. Washington could slip to ninth if Stanford wins out, which would drop Colorado to the No. 10 seed. In that scenario, the Buffaloes would probably face Washington State, which is on track to finish seventh.
On paper, the Buffaloes would seem to have a better matchup against Washington, which struggles on offense but plays solid defense and plays at a faster clip than Colorado. Washington State is also a defense-heavy squad, but the Cougars like to put on the brakes when they play, which plays into the hands of a defense-heavy team.
But things haven’t worked out that way on the court. The Buffaloes won their only matchup with Washington State, holding the Cougars to 39.2% shooting from the field and getting 27 points from Tristan da Silva. Against Washington, the defense completely let down in Boulder, allowing the Huskies to shoot 64% from the floor.
— Colorado Men's Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) February 26, 2023
Can Colorado Find a Way to Rescue Its Season?
Probably not. At this point, the Buffaloes are what they are, a team dependent on solid defense and on two offensive weapons in Tristan da Silva and KJ Simpson. When those two players shoot well, Colorado has a chance to beat anyone in the country. When they don’t play well, the Buffaloes are vulnerable against anybody.
To have a chance, the Buffaloes will need to land in the No. 9 spot. That’s because the nature of a conference tournament favors teams that get to face slower-paced opponents when they don’t have a talent advantage. If the Buffaloes finish ninth, they’ll face a quick pace with Washington, but they’ll follow up with a slowdown game against UCLA. As talented as the Bruins are, they won’t run the Buffaloes out of the building, and CU did play tough against them in a four-point loss in Boulder.
Arizona and USC are different. The Trojans will run without hesitation and the Wildcats play even faster. The Buffaloes will almost certainly have to go through one of them to win the Pac-12 tournament, but they can’t afford to go through both. If they do, they’ll find themselves running out of gas in the second half against the second opponent, resulting in the end of their season.
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— Colorado Men's Basketball (@CUBuffsMBB) March 5, 2023