The Colorado Buffaloes are not likely to win the Pac-12 Tournament next weekend, but they could help their meager chances by securing a top-4 finish in the conference standings. The top four seeds have a first round bye in Las Vegas, and though Colorado would still be poised to play either California or Washington State as the 5- or 6-seed, it would still help immensely for them to have an additional day of rest and the automatic win.
Colorado is currently sixth place in the standings at 8-8. They are behind Washington (14-2), Arizona State (11-6), Oregon State (9-7), UCLA (9-7) and Utah (9-7). Also at 8-8 are Oregon and USC, but both have inferior overall records, and CU is 2-0 against each so far. Then in 9th and 10th place are Arizona and Stanford at 8-9. The standings are a mess — it’s possible for Colorado to finish anywhere between 3rd and 10th place.
Ideally, the Buffs would finish in the top-3, where they would get a bye and avoid Washington until the tournament final (if they get that far). In addition to the scenario that would see Colorado rise to top-4, they would need Oregon State to lose at Washington (likely) and at Washington State (increasingly possible). It could certainly happen, but it’s not at all likely. CU fans should instead set our sights on a fourth place finish.
To start, Colorado needs to win out. Simple enough. They have UCLA and USC at home on Thursday and Saturday. Colorado beat both teams in Los Angeles, so it’s certainly doable. It also helps Colorado that those games have only one day of rest in between, which means USC will only have one day to (1) recover from Utah’s physical defense, (2) fly to Denver, which is the only road set that requires a flight between, and (3) they will have less time to adjust to the elevation. Colorado’s biggest worry should be UCLA, but they have struggled all year with consistency and needed three consecutive close home wins to rise in the standings. If CU wins out, they will pass UCLA in the standings because of their superior overall record.
After that, Colorado will need Utah to drop one of their final two games. CU put themselves in good position with a head-to-head win over Utah on Saturday, but they need help from one of USC or UCLA. Both are far more experienced and talented than Utah, but neither team plays with as much intensity, nor are they better coached. It’s unlikely either team wins in Salt Lake City, but if I had to pick which team comes through, it would be UCLA in a game where Jaylen Hands, Kris Wilkes and Moses Brown look like the players they were supposed to become.
If Colorado does manage the sweep and Utah holds off UCLA, we shouldn’t be upset with a 5th place finish. It would be basically the same route as the 4th seed, only with Cal in the way. I have absolutely no idea how Cal beat Washington on Friday (no seriously, they did), but there’s a reason why they had a 23-game losing streak before then. The only issue really would be rest — not only would CU have another game on their legs, but their next-round opponent would be resting and strategizing solely on Colorado.
Of all possible scenarios, it’s looking like Colorado will finish 5th in the standings if they take care of business this week. They have an shot at the 4-seed and an outside shot at the 3-seed, but both are out of Colorado’s control.