As wonderful as the football team is this season, it’d be pretty easy to forget this school has a successful basketball program. A year ago today you may have already been looking forward to the basketball season. Oh how things have changed for the better.
It was bittersweet five-year run, but basketball is no longer the sport CU fans can pin all their hopes and dreams. Of course, that doesn’t the basketball team is forgettable, no, no, no.
This might actually be the best Colorado team of the Tad Boyle era, which would transitively make them the best Colorado team ever. That includes all the teams with Chauncey Billups, Andre Roberson, Josh Scott and even Spencer Dinwiddie. Really.
It’s time to get excited for the basketball season.
A couple weeks ago, we broke down the 2016-17 Buffs’ non-conference schedule that you can read here. If you don’t want to read it, I’ll summarize: The Buffs have a hyper-competitive non-conference ahead of them (this includes games with Notre Dame, Xavier and possibly Texas), but they have so much experience that finishing with anything less than 10 wins (in 13 games)* would be a sizable disappointment.
*I predicted 12 wins and I refer to that record throughout this article.
The Pac-12 will be as weird as it’s ever been, so the Buffs can make some serious noise in conference play. So let’s look at their conference schedule.
at Utah (1/1)
The Utes graduated three key starters and saw Jakob Poeltl leave for the NBA, leaving their team bereft of irreplaceable experience and production. They’ll be led by Kyle Kuzma, Jordan Loveridge, and coaching wizard Larry Krystkowiak, so this isn’t an easy win by any means.
Prediction: The Buffs eek out a road win with Xavier Johnson’s two-way play leading the way. That said, it wouldn’t surprise anyone if this is a loss.
Record: 13-1 (1-0)
at Arizona State (1/5)
Arizona State had a nightmare of a season last year. They finished 15-17 overall and 5-13 in the Pac-12, which was good for 11th in the conference. The Sun Devils return a lot of experience and still have guard Tra Holder (He didn’t leave after his sophomore season like his predecessor, Jahii Carson.), so they should take a step forward this season.
Prediction: Combining ASU’s presumptive rebound with CU’s propensity to play like the elderly in Tempe, this could be a rough outing. Still, the Buffs are too experienced to drop this important road game.
Record: 14-1 (2-0)
at Arizona (1/7)
These opening two weeks are brutal, but if the football team can survive and thrive traveling to Ann Arbor and Eugene in back-to-back weeks, they can survive this. With another top-five recruiting class (three five-stars!) and returning talent, Arizona should be excellent as always. But if Colorado pulls a miracle that actually counts, they can leave victorious.
Prediction: I don’t think it will happen. Them’s the odds.
Record: 14-2 (2-1); Buffs are still ranked in the top-20, maybe still in the top-15.
The Bruins are looking to return to their prestigious selves and with Point God Lonzo Ball coming in, they appear to be on the right track. But no matter how many Balls they have, they sure do have Steve Alford at head coach and he sure is playing Bryce Alford at point guard.
Prediction: The Buffs open up their home schedule by taking advantage of UCLA’s enduring collapse. This also ends up as Dominique Collier’s season-defining game as the only thing better than his passing is his perimeter defense.
Record: 15-2 (3-1)
We didn’t get enough out of Julian Jacobs, incredibly annoying conference villain, and we should all regret that. Jacobs and Nikola Jovanovic’s early departures for the NBA have left what could have been a special USC team looking for answers. USC had a senior to replace them, but Katin Reinhardt transferred to Memphis. LIGHT THE BEACONS. KATIN REINHARDT HAS LEFT THE CONFERENCE. Now we’ll have to find a new player to collectively hate.
Prediction: USC should still be solid, but not good enough to beat the Buffs in Boulder. Also of note, stretch-5 Bennie Boatwright will threaten the very backbone of Colorado’s small-ball defense.
Record: 16-2 (4-1)
at Washington (1/18)
Prediction: It’s safe to say the Buffs will slip up in Seattle once again.
Record: 16-3 (4-2)
at Washington State (1/21)
There’s just something about the Cougars that makes the Buffs play down to their level. Two seasons ago, Wazzu was abysmal, but CU needed overtime to beat them in Pullman. Last season, CU needed an impossible buzzer-beater from George King to win at home. Wazzu still has Connor Clifford and Ike Iroegbu, but now that Cougar legend Josh Hawkinson has finally graduated — what? What do you mean he’s still playing? How many years can he play for?
Prediction: Despite George King playing out of his mind again, CU will lose this stupid game because of course they will. They subsequently fall out of the Top 25, whether or not that’s deserved.
Record: 16-4 (4-3)
Oregon State (1/26)
Even without Gary Payton II, Oregon State should pester their way to the March Madness bubble. Rising sophomore Tres Tinkle is the best coach’s son in the conference and the Beavers’
only best scoring option.
Prediction: This will be one of the ugliest games of the season, but unless Dom Collier has 10 turnovers (/nervous laughter), the Buffs will be able to score just enough to get the win.
Record: 17-4 (5-3)
The Ducks may be the best team in the country this season and might win the Pac-12 by a mile (I don't think they will). If there’s any team that can beat the Buffs in Boulder, it’s them.
Prediction: Whenever the Ducks come to town, madness ensues. This time is no different, except Oregon finally gets the win.
Record: 17-5 (5-4)
at Stanford (2/2)
The Buffs always struggled at Stanford, but whether that’s because of the opposition or the actual arena — Nate Tomlinson called it the worst place to play — it hasn’t stopped them from finding a way to win. Stanford should be better than they were last year (15-15 overall, 8-10 conference), just through experience.
Prediction: This game isn’t very fun to watch, but a dominant defensive performance from Wesley Gordon propels the team to a crucial road win.
Record: 18-5 (6-4)
at California (2/5)
If Oregon doesn’t run away with the conference, it’s because either Arizona or Cal find the perfect combination of experience and fresh talent. Putting faith in Cal head coach Cuonzo Martin is always dangerous, but I like their chances to have an excellent season.
Prediction: Not even Wesley Gordon can contain super sophomore Ivan Rabb, because no one can. (Rabb is my pick to win the Naismith Award if Cal is good.)
Record: 18-6 (6-5)
Now that the Buffs have played everyone, I’ll just have predictions from here on out.
Prediction: Without Andrew Andrews, the Huskies don’t have anyone to lean on in grind-it-out road games. CU capitalizes on that and Josh Fortune’s clutch play (oh, how things are different) is enough for the Buffs to get a resume-building conference win.
Record: 19-6 (7-5)
Washington State (2/12)
Prediction: The NCAA realizes that Josh Hawkinson isn’t actually allowed nine years of eligibility and subsequently disqualify him from competition. As a result, the Buffs blow them out behind Xavier Johnson’s 33 points. This Washington sweep gives Boyle another 20-win season and sees the Buffs move back into the Top-25, where they will be the rest of the season.
Record: 20-6 (8-5)
at Oregon State (2/16)
Prediction: Winning either game on this road trip would secure the Buffs’ spot in the NCAA Tournament and they do just that in Corvallis. Like in Boulder, this game is far from pretty, but the Buffs are able to beat the Beavers in overtime on folk hero Derrick White’s game-winning floater.
Record: 21-6 (9-5)
at Oregon (2/18)
Prediction: Playing Oregon is tough enough, but the Buffs are exhausted from their previous game. This isn’t a blow out, but the outcome is never in doubt.
Record: 21-7 (9-6)
Prediction: The brutal opening two weeks of conference play pays off late. By doing enough early in the season to secure a spot in the NCAA Tournament, the Buffs can play these final games with nothing to lose and everything to gain. They play Utah relaxed and win comfortably behind a George King pointsplosion.
Record: 22-7 (10-6)
Prediction: Stanford isn’t a particularly good team and this is evident on the road. The Cardinal aren’t much of a match for the Buffs as they can’t seem to defend any of CU’s five-headed scoring monster.
Record: 23-7 (11-6)
Prediction: For a team with four fifth-year seniors (!), this game means more to them than any game up to this point. In lieu of hosting Arizona, the Buffs play with a fire in their collective hearts and upset the 7th-ranked Golden Bears. This win is the perfect ending to the season and sees the Buffs rise to No. 13 in the polls, the highest they’ve been ranked since the 1960s. They also beat out Arizona for a third place finish in the Pac-12, because it’s my article, Sean Miller.
Record: 24-7 (12-6)
2016-17 sees the Buffs tie the school record for most wins in a season (24) before the Pac-12 and NCAA Tournaments even begin. The Buffs prove that they can win any game they play and emerge as a popular pick to reach the Final Four. Get hyped!
If you think this preview is overly optimistic, you’re probably right. But even if you take away road wins over Utah and Oregon State and home wins over UCLA and Cal (all games Colorado could easily lose), you still have a team that’s 20-11 entering the conference tournament. Even a slightly pessimistic (read: realistic) prediction likely gets the Buffs to the Big Dance. This should be a fun season.