It seems impossible, but there is a chance, albeit very minuscule, that the Colorado Buffaloes make the NCAA Tournament. It won’t happen, but it could.
The Buffs started Pac-12 with an seven-game losing streak that just about signified the apocalypse. In that streak, Colorado was a mere six points from winning four of those games, including three on the road. Those games — a one-point road loss to Arizona State, a one-point home loss to then-No. 25 USC, and two overtime losses to Washington and Washington State — is what Colorado is battling right now.
Without those losses, Colorado would be 22-9 overall and 12-6 in the Pac-12. That would easily be enough for the Buffs to make the NCAA Tournament, and that’s before even considering what they would do in the Pac-12 Tournament as a 4th seed.
Unfortunately, we don’t live in that alternate reality, and in this one we have to deal with
Logan and other terrible movies such a disappointing start. Now in order to make the NCAA Tournament, Colorado has to make a serious run in the Pac-12 Tournament and hope for tons of outside help across the country in other conference tournaments.
The first order of business for Colorado is to take care of the Washington State Cougars, who are 13-17 overall and 6-12 in the Pac-12. The Cougars are always feisty thanks to Josh Hawkinson and Ike Iroegbu (plus other supporting players), but if Colorado plays with one ounce of vigor, this should be an easier win like it was in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament.
If Colorado handles Washington State as they should, they’ll take on the No. 7 Arizona Wildcats, who are 27-4 overall and 16-2 in conference. Arizona’s two losses in conference play came on the road against No. 5 Oregon — perhaps the toughest place to play in the nation — and at home against No. 3 UCLA in a tight 77-72 matchup. Arizona’s other two losses came against No. 18 Butler and No. 4 Gonzaga. Their wins aren’t quite as impressive as their losses, but they did beat UCLA and swept Oregon State. Aside from the wins and losses, this just looks like an incredible team, one that would take a significant upset to topple.
Colorado is liable to catch fire from three and to play incredible defense, and even if those are rare occurrences, both could still happen at the same time. Maybe it could happen against Arizona. If George King and Derrick White combine for 50 points or more, Wesley Gordon drinks a 5-Hour Energy before tipoff, and Xavier Johnson plays with his heart and soul, they could challenge and maybe even knock off the Wildcats. And if the Buffs are to go on a miraculous run to the NCAA Tournament, there would be symmetry in beating Arizona* en route.
*I linked that video because I guarantee it will embarrass the editor-in-chief and host of that video, Jon Woods, if and when he finds out I linked it.
After defeating Arizona on Thursday night, Colorado would be matched up with UCLA, USC or Washington ... so UCLA. The Bruins have one of college basketball’s all-time greatest offenses and stand as a legitimate contender for the National Championship. Colorado doesn’t necessarily have to beat them to reach the Big Dance, which is convenient because there’s approximately a 0.5% chance of them winning that hypothetical game.
With that victory over the Wildcats, Colorado would be 20-13 with impressive wins over Xavier, Oregon and now Arizona. That isn’t quite enough to reach the NCAA Tournament as is, but it’s a start. If Colorado is able to play UCLA tightly — meaning they don’t lose by 15+ points — they would benefit if chaos unfolds elsewhere around the country.
The first place to look for help is with the Mid Majors. For Colorado to receive at at-large bid, they need there to be as many at-large bids available as possible. In respect to the Mid Major conferences, the Buffs need every conference favorite to win their conference tournaments and receive automatic bids into the Big Dance. In the Conference USA, for example, it would help Colorado for Middle Tennessee State to win their conference tournament. The Blue Raiders will likely receive a bid whether or not they win, but them winning means they would receive an automatic bid and not one of the few at-large bids. Other teams Colorado should root for include Vermont (American East), Dayton (A10) and UT Arlington (Sun Belt). This would also include Nevada winning the Mountain West, which would be doubly great because then Colorado State would miss the tournament.
Then, looking at the major conferences, it would help Colorado for every bubble team to lose as early as possible in their respective tournaments. In the Pac-12, it would help if Utah and Cal lose to Oregon State in the first and second rounds (Go Beavers!), and for USC to lose to Washington or struggle with the Huskies and get blown away by UCLA. In the SEC, it would help if 17-win Vanderbilt loses their first game to Texas A&M. In the Big XII, 18-win Kansas State needs to lose to Baylor, which should happen anyway. In the Big East, it’d be nice for Providence, Seton Hall and Marquette to lose early; Xavier making a run would also help.
Lastly, we get to the Big Ten. As The Ringer’s Mark Titus wrote, any team besides Rutgers has a shot at winning the Big Ten Championship. Because we want chaos, we want Rutgers to win every game they can, but lose in the championship game to a team like Purdue or Minnesota. With every Rutgers victory, there will be one more team on the bubble who lost to Rutgers, and as Illinois found out last week, that alone should be enough to eliminate them from tournament consideration.
If all of this happens (it won’t), the Buffs should benefit from the bubble growing precariously thin as chaos takes control of college basketball. If a miracle is afoot, the Buffs will be in position to make the NCAA Tournament.