With the regular season coming to an end, the Colorado Buffaloes are still in a position to punch a ticket to the NCAA tournament. Most believe Tad Boyle's team will have to win the final three games and one game in the Big 12 tournament or two of the next three and two in the conference tourney. It is one of the softest bubbles in years with many mid & major conference teams with middle of the pack records struggling to get big wins down the stretch to ensure a spot in the field of 68.
Right now, Joe Lunardi of ESPN doesn't have the Buffs on his radar. Instead he has two other Big 12 teams, Nebraska and Baylor, on the very outside looking into the tournament. Looking at the Big 12 standings, Colorado finds itself tied for sixth but essentially in eighth spot because they have lost to both Baylor and Nebraska, who also have a 6-7 conference record. The good news is if the Buffs finish 2-1 over the next three, it is likely they will be tied for fifth with Kansas State but having beat them twice, would rule the tie breaker. In a conference with two top five teams in Kansas and Texas, finishing fifth would be a big accomplishment and also a major selling point to the selection committee.
Also, if the Buffs want to get one or two wins in the NCAA tournament, the fifth seed is the way to go. The #1 - #4 seeds in the conference tournament get a first round bye, meaning the #5 seed would play #12, a huge advantage. The #5 seed would also avoid playing the Longhorns or Jayhawks in the second round.
Below are the remaining schedules of the three teams ahead of the Buffs:
Kansas St. Wildcats (7-6, 19-9): #21 Missouri Tigers, @#5 Texas Longhorns, Iowa St. Cyclones - easy to see two losses here, putting the Wildcats at 8-8 in conference play. Missouri is the swing game for Kansas St. today. Win that game, they are in the driver's seat. Earlier this year, Kansas St. lost by double digits to Missouri on the road. Joe Lunardi has Kansas St. in the tournament as a nine seed today. The Buffs need the Wildcats to lose twice and finish 8-8 in conference, 20-11 overall.
Baylor Bears (6-7, 17-10): #17 Texas A&M Aggies, @ Oklahoma St. Cowboys, #5 Texas Longhorns - brutal final stretch for the Bears who are on a downward slide. One of the most inconsistent teams this year. Both Baylor and Kansas St. were expected to be teams that could finish in the top 10 this year. Colorado has many losses this year and Baylor was one of them. The Buffs were up 14 at halftime only to fall apart in the second half. Colorado does not have the tiebreaker with Baylor and need the Bears to lose two down the stretch, which is likely. Final record of 7-8, 18-12.
Nebraska Cornhuskers (6-7, 18-9): @ Iowa St. Cyclones, #21 Missouri Tigers, @ Colorado Buffaloes - Nebraska is the team the worries me the most to finish fifth in the conference ahead of Colorado and potentially seal CU's fate as NIT bound. The Huskers have already beat the Buffs & have impressive wins against Texas and Texas A&M. Nebraska would need to lose two games down the stretch, including to CU, for the Buffs to finish fifth outright. Nebraska should be small favorites over Missouri at home so that is the game to watch. The good news is Nebraska has only won once away from Lincoln. As a Buffs fan, hoping the final record will be 7-8, 19-11.
Colorado Buffaloes (6-7, 17-11): #5 Texas Longhorns, @ Iowa St. Cyclones, Nebraska Cornhuskers
Clearly, a win against Texas (24-4, 12-1) today would big the signature win Colorado needs to grab the attention of the selection committee. A win would also put Colorado in the driver's seat to finish fifth in the conference assuming Kansas St. loses to Missouri today. The oddsmakers are giving Colorado more than a puncher's chance with the Longhorns favored by six points. The Buffs are certainly tough to beat at home and with the Coors Event Center sold out, the atmosphere should be electric. CU is 13-2 at the CEC this year with the only two down to the wire losses against top teams in Kansas and Texas A&M.
But there is a reason Texas is ranked fifth in the nation. For the Buffs to win today, they will need to find ways to score and rebound against one of the best teams in the nation in points allowed and rebounding margin. Texas only gives up just 59.6 points per game, 14th best in the NCAA. The Longhorns also outrebound their opponents by over six per game, good for 15th best in the nation. Colorado is 0-2 this season against teams in the top 25 of scoring defense (Nebraska and Texas A&M). Texas can also score, averaging 75.4 per game (Colorado averages 79.0 ppg).
Texas is led by 6-7 F Jordan Hamilton who averages 18.8 per game and over seven rebounds. The Buffs can take a hint from Nebraska, the Longhorns only loss this year in conference play. CU needs to get after the Longhorns on the defensive end. The Huskers held Texas to 67 points, nine below their average at the time and forced the Longhorns to shoot just 36.4% from the field, an amazing 10 percentage points below their season average of 46%. Hamilton scored 18 points but was just 3-16 from the field. The Huskers also held UT's second leading scorer, Tristan Thompson, to just five points (averages over 12 ppg). Whoever draws Hamilton and Thompson today will have to play lights out on the defensive end. Look for Marcus Relphorde and Andre Roberson to be called on to try and slow these two down. The Huskers also outrebounded one of the best rebounding teams in the nation 31-28.
The Buffs will need to have a Husker like performance today against the Longhorns to get one step closer to the big dance.
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