Yesterday, I broke down the non-conference schedule for the Colorado Buffaloes. It’s a challenging slate with at least five toss-up games away from Boulder. The Buffs could finish that schedule 11-1 or 10-2 and really boost their NCAA Tournament prospects. But no matter how well they do in non-conference play, they still need to take care of business in the Pac-12 season.
The Buffs are one of the favorites to win the Pac-12. They will compete mostly with Washington and Arizona, both of whom have restocked with five-star talent. Oregon, Arizona State and USC all figure to make noise in what should be a competitive and wide-open conference.
It goes without saying this entire article assumes CU is good and healthy, which is a heavy assumption. It’s also way too early to preview any of these games, so think of this as a brief overview of what to expect this season.
Oregon — Jan. 2
Oregon State — Jan. 5
Colorado’s first test will be against the Oregon schools at home. This should be a home sweep. The Buffs will have a week between Dayton (in Chicago) and Oregon, plus Dana Altman has never won in Boulder, even with a Final Four team. It’s not exactly an automatic win — Oregon returns Payton Pritchard and Will Richardson, and brings in UNLV transfer Shakur Juiston — but the Buffs are probably the better team straight up. I will also assume Oregon State is a win, but the Beavers do give CU fits at times.
Utah — Jan. 12
Larry Krystkowiak may have figured out Tad Boyle, his dear friend, but this is a very young Utah squad. They have 11 freshmen on the roster (!) and only one upperclassmen will be in the rotation. Colorado will hopefully roll through Utah, then win at SLC for the first time in forever.
Arizona State (Tempe) — Jan. 16
Arizona (Tucson) — Jan. 18
This will actually be the second time CU will play ASU in the 2019-20 season. Colorado’s first game of the season is against Arizona State in Shanghai, China, which is as much of a toss-up as anything on the non-conference schedule. Depending on how the Buffs play in Shanghai, I would expect the Sun Devils to win this game in Tempe. They return Remy Martin, Romello White, Rob Edwards and Taeshon Cherry, all of whom have caused problems for the Buffs in the past.
After that is Arizona, which should be another loss, most likely. It’s possible CU matches up well with the ‘Cats, however, as their best players — returning starter Brandon Williams, UC-Irvine transfer Max Hazzard, and five-star recruits Nico Mannion and Josh Green — are all guards. This could be a game wherein McKinley Wright, Daylen Kountz and even Tyler Bey step up and cause problems for a small team.
Washington State — Jan. 23
Washington — Jan. 25
Robert Franks has graduated, so the Buffs should roll through a bad Washington State team. (Although CJ Elleby is really good.) Against Washington, we will find out a lot about CU. Mike Hopkins’s team lost their best players to the NBA, but have replaced them with five-star recruits Isaiah Stewart and Jaden McDaniels. They are a huge, physical team that will be playing in that vaunted 2-3 zone. The Buffs have struggled historically against teams with the Huskies’ profile, so this would show they can beat anyone if they win this.
UCLA (Los Angeles) — Jan. 30
USC (Los Angeles) — Feb. 1
This needs to be a sweep. UCLA is a bad team, regardless of their recruiting ability. The Bruins caused problems last year, but only because 7’2 Moses Brown (now in the G League) dominated the paint, and CU still swept them. USC is much more talented with veteran guard Jonah Matthews, noted villain Nick Rakocevic, five-star forward Isaiah Mobley and four-star wing Max Agbonkpolo. But petty-ass Tad Boyle needs to beat hatin-ass Andy Enfield. CU is also loaded with LA kids who would love to show out.
California — Feb. 6
Stanford — Feb. 8
These are bad teams that CU needs to wallop. I’ll guess Stanford is a closer game than it should be, but both should be wins.
Oregon (Eugene) — Feb. 13
Oregon State (Corvallis) — Feb. 15
Oregon never wins in Boulder, but the Buffs never win in Eugene either. I’ll assume this a loss and I’ll be pleasantly surprised if CU keeps it close or even pulls off the win. Oregon State, meanwhile, is not good. The Buffs have struggled at Corvallis because of their physical defense, but without any athletes like Gary Payton II or Drew Eubanks, CU should be fine. They just need to be awake and focused to win this road game.
USC — Feb. 20
UCLA — Feb. 22
Both should be wins. See above why it matters to beat these teams, then factor in the student section and elevation.
California (Berkeley) — Feb. 27
Stanford (Stanford) — Mar. 1
Again, these should be wins over bad teams. Cal is probably the worst team in the Pac-12 and Stanford has a negative home court advantage. Yes, CU lost at Stanford and almost lost at Cal in 2018-19, but this team should be more experienced and know they can’t take anything for granted.
Utah (Salt Lake City) — Mar. 7
Winning at Utah is always difficult, no matter how good they actually are. But CU should win because they are much better. They would also be rested, focused and possibly riding a 5-game win streak. This would be a fun season-ending win that continues momentum into the postseason.
Pac-12 Tournmanet — Mar. 11-14
In summary, this is a mostly favorable schedule for CU with most of their road games being quite winnable. I have CU winning 13 or 14 games in the conference — their losses would be at Arizona State, at Arizona, vs. Washington and at Oregon; at USC is a swing game.
If Colorado finished 14-4, that might have them in first or second in the standings. 13-5 would have them second or third, most likely. That enough would be enough for the NCAA Tournament, most likely, especially if CU goes 10-2 against their non-conference schedule. Then in the Pac-12 Tournament, CU would win at least one game, per tradition, with the strong possibility of more.
Even if CU stumbles and loses a couple games they shouldn’t — looking at you, Arizona State in Shanghai, and Oregon State in Corvallis — they should have quantity and quality on their NCAA Tournament resume. Winning 22 or so games should get into the tournament; I have them at 25 win, but that should be probably 23 or so with unexpected or toss-up losses.
I’m predicting these wins:
Arizona State (Shanghai) — 50/50
Wyoming (Las Vegas)
Colorado State (Ft. Collins)
Prairie View A&M
Dayton (Chicago) — 50/50
USC (LA) — 50/50
Oregon State (Corvallis) — 50/50
Pac-12 Tournament Second Round
And these losses:
TCU/Clemson (Las Vegas) — 50/50 vs. TCU
Arizona State (Tempe) — 50/50
Washington — 50/50
Pac-12 Tournament Semi Final — 50/50