As the non-conference schedule comes to a close for Colorado, the Buffaloes sit at a disappointing record of 7-5. The Buffs were not able to record a quality non-conference win. Even worse, in several of their wins, CU struggled to put away teams they should have blown out. With such a sub par performance in one of the weakest early season schedules under Coach Boyle, it's time to reevaluate just how well the Buffs will actually do in an incredibly strong Pac-12 conference this season.
Conference play can be broken up into three distinct categories for the Buffs: Should Win Games, Shouldn't Win Games and, 50/50 Games.
Should Win Games: These are the games that are essential for the Buffaloes to win if they want to be considered for any postseason tournament, and games they must win in order for Tad to keep his job. Colorado should win against Washington State both times, as well as against USC, and Arizona State at home.
WSU is still the basement team in the Pac-12 and they continue to perpetuate that role with their weak out of conference performance.
USC is improving, but not there yet. While the Buffs could choke one away on the road, the game at home is a near lock.
Lastly, Colorado needs to beat ASU at home. Arizona State has a few bad losses out of conference, and the Buffs should be able to beat the Sun Devils who are also having a down year.
Shouldn't Win Games: Barring a miracle Colorado won't beat Arizona nor Utah, neither time, and they will not win at Washington.
For the Washington game, Colorado historically has struggled on the road in the Pac-12, especially against the Huskies. Washington always plays great at home and dispatched two Top 25 teams at home already this season, so the Buffaloes have little chance against a solid Washington team.
Do I even have to explain why the Buffs have little to no chance against Arizona or Utah?
50/50 Games: These games have to potential to go either way, it just depends on the Buffs team that decides to take the floor that day. Colorado has the potential to beat Cal, Stanford, Washington, and UCLA at home. The Buffs also have opportunities to pick up road wins against UCLA, Oregon, Oregon State, USC, and Arizona State.
The two biggest toss-ups are the Cal and Stanford games. Both teams are off to strong starts this season. The Cardinal and the Golden Bears have quality non-conference wins, as well as quality losses against Top 10 teams. However both of these games will be played in the Coors Event Center, so Colorado has a legitimate shot to win with the help of the altitude and the C-Unit.
Since Washington has only played one true road game this season against Seattle University, and barely squeaked by them, the Buffs have the chance to pick up a win against the Huskies at home.
UCLA is not the powerhouse they were last year. The Bruins have several bad losses, and no quality non-conference wins. Colorado has a legitimate shot to beat UCLA at home and in Pauley Pavillon. As long as the Buffs shut down Bryce Alford and Norman Powell from deep, they can win both encounters this season.
Now, Oregon is a very interesting match-up. While they hold a 9-3 record, they have yet to beat a legitimate team. The only concern for CU is the fact must travel to Eugene for this game, and everybody knows that Pac-12 road games are not Colorado's specialty. However, the Buffaloes have historically done well against the Ducks.
The road games against Arizona State, USC, and Oregon State should be in the Should Win category, except for one little fact: Colorado has yet to win a game on the road. All three of these teams are very beatable. But so was Georgia and Wyoming and George Washington and Hawaii. You get my point. The Buffaloes are unbelievably inconsistent on the road.
If everything magically falls into place, the Buffs could finish with a 13-5 record in the Pac-12. At the exact same time, the bottom could fall out completely and CU could flip the script and wind up 4-14 in conference play. Colorado will surprise either Cal or Stanford, but their poor road play will catch up to them. I see the Buffs dropping one against ASU, OSU, or USC on the road. I do, however, see the Buffs pulling a potential upset in Eugene. Still, this year's CU team doesn't have it in them to beat UCLA in both meetings.
Overall, I project the Buffaloes to finish 10-8 in the Pac-12, which puts them at 17-13 overall. Barring another miracle in the Pac-12 Tournament, CU has a pretty small chance at making the NCAA Tournament this year. Let's just hope for a good run in the NIT this March instead.