With the Colorado Buffaloes' men's basketball team sitting at 11 - 13 with six games remaining, the time is now to get hot if the Buffs hope to have any chance at postseason basketball but more important, to show progress in Jeff Bzdelik's third year at Colorado. Of course, unless Colorado has a miraculous run through the Big 12 tournament and wins the championship, the only potential options for post season play are the NIT and the CBI. That means winning at least four of their last six to get to 15 - 15 on the year. But winning four of the last six is important because they are winnable games that would show development, something the University of Colorado athletics needs right now.
The good news is Colorado has three relatively winnable games at home, the really bad news is they only have three home games. The Buffs have lost 33 straight Big 12 conference road games and with contests away from Boulder against #1 Kansas and Missouri looming, that number is sure to swell to 35 before the road finale at Nebraska. Earlier this year in Boulder, CU beat the Huskers 72 - 60 in one of their best performances of the year bringing their record to 11 - 9. That win stopped a three game losing streak in conference play but since that victory, the Buffs have dropped four straight. Looking at it optimistically, at least the Buffs have shown they can beat the Huskers and Nebraska has struggled in Big 12 play, only winning one out of ten games.
Here is where Colorado needs wins to even their record at 15 - 15 going into the Big 12 tourney:
Wednesday, Feb 17th - Oklahoma (Boulder, Colorado)
Oklahoma (13 - 11) will come to Boulder with a 1 - 7 road record and a 4 - 6 conference record. Three games ago, Oklahoma beat the #10th ranked Texas Longhorns but overall, this year has been a major disappointment for Jeff Capel and the Sooners. With the return of G Willie Warren and the signing of some high impact freshmen, many thought the Sooners would be a challenger again in the Big 12. Not so. OU has struggled with losses to San Diego, VCU and Houston early in the year and never recovered. If the season wasn't bad enough, Warren (16.2 points per game) is out indefinitely with mononucleosis and starting freshman center Tiny Gallon (10.4 points, 8.0 rebounds) has been suspended indefinitely while the University investigates whether or not Gallon had contact with an agent before the season started. The status of these two players is not known for the Colorado game but they will more than likely not be in action.
The Sooners may be without two of their better players while the Buffs should be getting back F Marcus Relphorde after he missed the Kansas State game with a leg injury. This is most certainly a winnable game, especially at home where the Buffs have a 10 - 3 record. In all remaining games, Jeff Bzdelik's team will be counting heavily on G Alec Burks (16.8 ppg), G Cory Higgins (18.1 ppg) and F Marcus Relphorde (10.1 ppg) to carry the load. Strong offensive performances with minimal turnovers will be key to offset Colorado's struggles rebounding.
Saturday, Feb 27th - Iowa State (Boulder, Colorado)
The Buffs lost to Iowa State less than three weeks in ago in Ames 62 - 63. Buffs freshman Alec Burks left injured in the first minutes of the game but Colorado still got off to a 18 - 4 lead before the Cyclones crawled back. Even without arguably their best player, the Buffs held with the home team for the entire night but lost in the end, squandering a great opportunity to end the road losing streak. This time, though, Colorado has the Cyclones at home. On the road this year, Iowa State is 2 - 6 and are currently on a four game slide. The Buffs forced Iowa State into 21 turnovers in their first meeting but CU only shot 34.4% from the field, clearing missing Burks' scoring ability. The 6'10" Iowa State F Craig Brackins causes all kinds of matchup problems for the Buffs, which was displayed in the teams' first meeting with Brackins scoring a game high 27 points and collecting 13 boards. With a healthy Burks returning against Iowa State and the game being played in Boulder, Colorado should have a good shot but they better have a game plan for Brackins.
Tuesday, Mar 2nd - @ Nebraska (Lincoln, Nebraska)
As noted above, Colorado has already beaten this Husker team pretty handily in Boulder. The road is a different story, as we all know. Nebraska is 11 - 4 at home but in their last five home games, all against the Big 12, Nebraska is 1 - 4, with the lone win coming against Oklahoma. The Huskers have only won one of their last ten. If you had to pick any opponent in the Big 12 to try and end this horrible road losing streak, it would be this team. The Huskers only average 65 points per contest which is 254 in the NCAA.
Saturday, Mar 6th - Texas Tech (Boulder, Colorado)
If the Buffs win the three winnable games noted above, this could be a fun game in Boulder. Colorado would enter 14 - 15, a win would get them to 15 - 15 and most likely move them to 9th in the Big 12 standings meaning they wouldn't have to play Texas, Missouri or Baylor in the first round of the Big 12 tournament. Yes, we can dream about winning four of the last six but we all know it will be a difficult challenge. Texas Tech started 9 - 0, rising to 20th in the polls and entered conference play 12 - 2. The Big 12 slate hasn't been as kind to the Red Raiders who have gone 4 - 6 in conference play. Overall, TTU is 3 - 6 on the road, 1 - 4 on the road in Big 12 games. Record wise, this looks like the Buffs toughest opponent of the four must win games. The good news for the Buffs in this one is Texas Tech also lacks a strong rebounding presence (ranked 244th in the nation) and gives up 74.2 points a game (ranked 296th in the nation).
Plain and simple, Colorado needs to beat the 12th, 10th, 9th and 8th ranked teams in the Big 12, three of which are at home and the lone road game against the worst team in the conference. It truly is a golden opportunity for Jeff Bzdelik and his Buff team to mature and gain confidence for the future.