The Colorado Buffaloes’ sweep of UCLA and USC was everything they needed. Both teams are suffering down seasons, but winning both of those in Los Angeles was an emotional uplift for Tad Boyle and the rest of his team. Not only that, but the two wins have changed CU’s rest-of-season projection.
The Buffs’ schedule was always set up for a streaky run through the Pac-12. The first 5 of 7 were on the road, plus one of the home games was against conference favorites Washington. CU fans like to freak out over poor starts, but it wasn’t a surprise at all that they finished 2-5 with their only wins against bottom dwellers Washington State and California.
The next set of games was a 4-game set against Oregon State, Oregon, @UCLA and @USC. With their surprising sweep in LA, CU went 3-1 against that schedule, but if not for 10 missed free throws, they would be 4-0. But I’m not here to gripe about OSU. The Beavers are likely going to finish 2nd in the conference and the loss — which, fair, CU should have won — may have woken up this team and inspired them to their subsequent run.
That sweep may be what turns this season around for the better. UCLA was a more likely upset than USC, but both were unlikely wins. A split would have kept CU alive; a sweep would have given them life. Thanks to Evan Battey’s dominance in the post, McKinley Wright’s clutch play, and Tad Boyle being f*cking pumped, they fought for two crucial wins. Combined with the blowout of Oregon, CU has quite the momentum.
Now 5-6 in conference — good for 7th place — the Buffs are set up for an easy final third of the season. The full schedule reads: Arizona State, Arizona, @ Washington State, @ Washington, Utah, UCLA and USC. That’s five of seven at home and one very winnable road game. With CU playing like they are, they have the focus and energy to finish this season off on a strong run. ASU does pose matchup issues and Utah travels well, but 5-2 against that schedule may be probable.
If CU were to finish 10-8 in conference play (and 19-11 overall), that would place them around fourth place in the Pac-12. (Washington is winning it, OSU will probably finish 2nd, then it will likely be one of ASU/Utah/CU for third.) An NCAA Tournament bid is out of the question, but it’s growing more likely that CU will earn an NIT berth.
If this 5-2 finish does happen, this season will absolutely be a success. That rings especially true when you consider the injuries to Dallas Walton, Namon Wright and McKinley Wright, as well as the absence of Deleon Brown and the general youth of this team. Now if CU puts it all together in either the Pac-12 Tournament or the NIT, this season could be the 2011-like precursor to a future run. But maybe I’m getting ahead of myself.