A year after finishing 17-15 with a lineup made almost entirely of freshman, the Buffs enter 2018-19 with serious NCAA Tournament hopes. On November 13th, just a week from now, the Colorado Buffaloes will begin their journey to March.
The Drake Bulldogs are the first of 13 non-conference games, all of which very winnable. You could argue that CU’s schedule is weak, which is fair, but Tad Boyle said that he called every single power conference coach to schedule games and none wanted any part of the Buffs.
If the Buffs are good enough to scare opposing teams, this could indeed be a fun non-con schedule. Just don’t forget that this is still a very young team that may still be going through growing pains.
Drake Bulldogs — Tuesday, Nov. 13 (Pac-12 Networks)
Nebraska Omaha Mavericks — Friday, Nov. 16 (P12)
at San Diego Toreros — Tuesday, Nov. 20 (ESPNU)
at Air Force Falcons — Saturday, Nov. 24 (AT&T Sportsnet)
Portland Pilots — Wednesday, Nov. 28 (P12)
Colorado State Rams — Saturday, Dec. 1 (P12)
South Dakota Coyotes — Tuesday, Dec. 4 (P12)
Illinois-Chicago Flames — Saturday, Dec. 8 (P12)
at New Mexico Lobos — Tuesday, Dec. 11 (ESPN2)
Indiana State Sycamores* — Saturday, Dec. 22 (ESPNU)
UNLV/Hawaii* — Sunday, Dec. 23 (ESPNU/ESPN2)
TBD* — Tuesday, Dec. 25 (TBD)
*Games in Honolulu, Hawaii as part of the Diamond Head Classic
First off, no matter how good or bad the Buffs actually are, they should not drop any games at home. They only have five true home games, but all are against mediocre (at best) teams. Illinois-Chicago — the Flames (!), not Loyola-Chicago — are somehow the best team to visit Boulder, and they come in at a whopping 190th in KenPom’s preseason ratings. If CU is going to inexplicably drop a home game, per yearly tradition, wait until the Pac-12 schedule starts.
Visiting San Diego looked scarier a year ago when they actually beat CU in Boulder, but they have since fired Lamont Smith after he was investigated for domestic abuse. New coach Sam Scholl has a talented team with star forward Isaiah Pineiro surrounded by versatile guards, but unless CU lays an egg, this should be a win in Bill Grier’s return to USD.
Air Force has given CU fits before, especially at the Academy, but with all due respects to the troops, they’re not a good team. As badly as I want to guarantee a win, I can’t here, because if there’s going to be one weird road game wherein CU slips up and catches a hot-shooting team, this would be it. With, like, 98% probability, that won’t happen. Just don’t freak out and call for Tad’s head if this is a strange game.
Playing Colorado State is always potential for weirdness, but in the Rams’ first season without Larry Eustachy, it’s too early to tell how competitive they can be. CSU will be returning most of the players from last season’s squad — the best of the bunch center Nico Carvacho and guard Deion James — but that team collapsed and lost 12 of their final 13 games. Yes, they did beat CU in a rock fight, but that was more of a weird game that anything else. CSU will surely be improved from last year, but should the Buffs be focused on revenge, it’s their game to lose.
CU’s final true road game will be at the Pit in Albuquerque, New Mexico. The Lobos are famously tough at home, but ever since Cam Goeldner took his talents south, they haven’t quite been the team that produced NBA legends like Tony Snell and Cameron Bairstow. UNM is still solid and they should be good this season even after graduating four starters. But if this team isn’t able to seamlessly integrate former bench players Anthony Mathis and Makuach Maluach into leading roles, it’s hard to see how this team will be any better than the one that CU blew out last season. This will likely be Colorado’s toughest road game, but it’s certainly one they can snag.
After New Mexico, the Buffs have a week off before they travel to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic. They open with Indiana State, who have averaged 13.5 total wins the past four seasons. Weird stuff happens in neutral site games for the Buffs, but that should definitely be a win. CU will then play either Hawaii or UNLV, both of which are solid teams, but not nearly as good as last time Colorado played them. UNLV is much more talented than Hawaii — watch out for versatile forward Shakur Juiston — but they’re still transitioning under coach Marvin Menzies.
If Colorado can win those games in Hawaii, and that’s big considering CU’s struggles in these tournaments, they would move on to the Diamond Head Classic final, hopefully with a 12-0 record against a soft schedule. Awaiting the Buffs will be one of Saint Mary’s, TCU, Rhode Island or Charlotte (OK, maybe not Charlotte). The other side of the bracket is clearly more talented, and though SMC and URI lost key players in Jock Landale and E.C. Matthews, either would easily be the best team Colorado would face in non-con. Then there’s 20th-ranked TCU. They’re not a blue chip-laden juggernaut, but they’re a genuinely good team. Jamie Dixon had them 10th in the nation before injuries ravaged their team last year. Now they’re healthy and return basically everyone besides Kenrich Williams from that well-rounded squad. They should be the favorite in this tournament.
Overall, expect the Buffaloes to begin Pac-12 play with a record around 11-2 or 12-1 with some decent road/neutral site wins on the resume. They’re probably just as likely to win the Diamond Head Classic as they are to inexplicably drop a game like Air Force (or worse, CSU). 11 wins with that schedule will likely need a 10- or 11-win Pac-12 record to make the NCAA Tournament, which is on the higher end of Tad Boyle’s teams. 12 wins is a better cushion, but there will still be quite a lot of work to do after Winter break.