Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Buffs in a position to make a run in Kansas City

Don't look now but last night's win over Texas Tech puts CU in a good position to make a deep run in the conference tournament next month.  While CU has struggled somewhat in conference play, they face a winnable 3-game stretch run, and could set themselves on course to make some noise in Kansas City.
No time for celebrating, there's still something to play for!

The key would be to landing the #5 seed in the conference, buying them their best shot at making the conference semi-finals.  While the Buffs are currently in 8th place, with the middle teams as bunched as they are, a quick vertical leap up the standings is not only possible, but even likely considering the remaining schedules of those involved.

Don't believe me?   

Click below for the proof.

 The Current Situation

The Big XII tournament is set up in such a way that seeds 1-4 get a bye while 5-12 duke it out in the first round.  I'm basing the following analysis on the assumption that the current 1-4 seeds (in order: Texas, KU, A&M, Mizzou) will remain static while 5-11 fluctuate (ISU will stay at #12).  This is a little bit of a reach since Mizzou, who has struggled mightily in conference play on the road, has two touch remaining road games to play.  However, for arguments sake, I'll give them the benefit of the doubt.

For purposes of discussion, I'll limit my scope to the "middle-4" teams who will end occupying seeds 5-8.  With the win over Tech last night, the Buffs moved into a 3-way tie for 6th place in the conference with Nebraska and Baylor.  As of now, they are a game back of current number five K-State.  The Buffs hold a head-to-head tie breaker over KSU (courtesy of the season sweep of the 'Cats), while Baylor and Nebraska currently hold tiebreakers over CU.

The Nebraska tie-breaker is the only one yet to be determined. While CU lost in Lincoln last month, meaning the Huskers own the current tie-breaker, the final regular season game against Nebraska will ultimately determine the final tie-breaker.  Assuming CU beats the Corn in Boulder next weekend, a tied head-to-head record would mean the next tiebreaker is "in-division" (Big XII North) record.  CU's two wins over KSU  loom large here as Nebraska has now lost to the 'Cats twice, and would have a worse in-division record than CU should the Buffs win the return game in Boulder on March 5th.

In other words, ending up tied with KSU or Nebraska in the standings: Buffs have the advantage.  Tied with Baylor: Bears have the advantage.

Who should CU "want" to play?

To properly assess the best possible conference tourney scenarios, and what needs to happen for CU to land there, I need to first talk about who would be ideal conference tournament matchups for the Buffaloes and who would probably spell an exit.

Teams to Avoid

- Texas & Kansas - For obvious reasons, putting off playing either of these two teams as long as possible is preferable.  Since they are the 1 and 2 seeds, CU needs to avoid the 7 and 8 seeds who end up playing the top teams in the second round.

- Texas A&M - The Aggies can rebound at a level that would spell neutral court doom for the Buffs.  If they remain in third place CU would need to avoid the 6th seed to miss them.

-K-State - While CU has beaten the 'Cats twice this season, this isn't the same Wildcat team that stumbled out of the gates in January.  They're fired-up and playing their best basketball at the right time.  The scenarios where CU ends up playing KSU in the second round (with KSU as the 4th place team) are long and improbable (essentially Mizzou would have to lose out).
They may have lost early, but Pullen and the 'Cats are now back on track.

- Nebraska - Playing their brutally tough defense and methodically slow offense is akin to trying to hit a knuckleball in baseball.  It's such a antithesis to how everyone else plays that the matchup can catch any team by surprise (just ask Texas).  The odds of playing the Huskers in the tournament are even longer than the odds of playing KSU.

The Question Mark

- Oklahoma State - I just can't read this team.  They've struggled lately, but they matchup well against CU (see the scare they put into the Buffs back in January).  I'm inclined to say they've mailed this season in at this point, but they've got the pieces to frustrate someone in Kansas City.  Should CU stay below 5th seed they could end up playing the Cowboys who are currently in a 3-way tie for 9th.

Good Matchups

- ISU - By far the worst team in the conference, a first-round game with them is the reward for whoever ends up as the 5th seed.

- Baylor - Boyle can't help himself from referring back to the game in Waco that saw the Buffs blow a 17 point lead.  The entire program wants that one back, and I think a second meeting would see different results.  Similar to NU and KSU, it's a long shot to meet these guys in the second round.
I get the feeling that Coach Boyle and the team really want another shot at Baylor.  I don't think they'll get it.

- Texas Tech and Oklahoma - Both are struggling programs without much to play for.  They could surprise, but I'd much rather play them than others.  Again, if CU slips, they end up playing these guys as they're tied with OSU for 9th.

- Mizzou - This is the interesting one.  They play a similar style to the one CU prefers, and each team owns a blow-out win over the other on home turf.  A neutral site (is KC really neutral?) game would be a blast to watch, and I feel a fired-up Buffs team, with a healthy Nate Tomlinson (who barely played in the return meeting), could shock these Tigers who struggle away from Columbia (1-5 on the road in conference).

What's the best seeding scenario?

Now that I've set the terms, what theoretical seed and pairings give CU the best chance to make deep run in the tournament?

The reason I'm pushing for the 5th seed is the opportunity to play lowly ISU, who is solidified in last place.  ISU, while loaded with some shooting talent that can scare an opponent or two, is almost guaranteed to lose to whoever they play in the first round.  If CU wants an easier path, it would be best to end up playing ISU on March 9th (the first day of the Tournament.
Getting to play ISU a 3rd time would be a gift worth receiving.  From: the Times Call

Additionally, a 1st-round winning 5th seed team would go up against projected number four seed Missouri.  As I stated earlier, I would be really interested in watching a 3rd CU/Mizzou game, even though Missouri is a damn tough team.  Were CU to slide down the standings, the potential second round matchups get more and more difficult (Texas A&M for a 6th seed, Kansas for a 7th, and Texas for an 8th).

A 5th seed would, therefore, enable CU to play the easiest team available in the first round, and the best matchup of the remaining opponents in the 2nd.  If CU can find a way to separate from Baylor, Nebraska, and KState to claim that number five slot, I could see the Buffs winning two games and make the conference semi-finals (any more than that is probably a reach).  Not a bad showing.

How do the Buffs get to that scenario?

Essentially, a 2-1 record, very possible, over the final 3 games gives them a great shot at the #5 seed.  Over those final 3 games CU will play a very tough Texas team in Boulder, travel to the worst team in the conference (ISU), and finish at home against a feisty, but beatable, Nebraska team.  While I can't imagine CU beating Texas (not out of the realm of possibility, but it's just not a good matchup), the final two games are very winnable, and lead me to believe that 2-1 is a strong possibility.  So, in the rest of this section, I'll assume that 2-1 (8-8 total in conference), with a victory over Nebraska required, is how the Buffs will finish.
Yes Tad, I think you guys need only 2 wins over the final 3 to end up in a good spot.

In that scenario, with Nebraska out of the picture, CU would only have to leap-frog KSU and Baylor for the 5th seed.  Baylor and KSU would each need to go 1-2 or worse over their final 3 games to fall behind a 2-1 CU squad.  If you look at their schedules, there is a decent chance of this happening.

Baylor's final 3 games include A&M at home and OSU in Stillwater before the final game against UT in Waco.  That's a pretty tough stretch.  Honestly, I could see this very inconsistent Bears squad losing all 3 of these games. Regardless, 1-2 is certainly a strong possibility.  This is the most likely of the two teams to slide pass the Buffs.

KSU plays Missouri at home and Texas in Austin before finishing against ISU in Manhattan.  While that home game against Mizzou is winnable, I still like to think the Tigers can pull that one off by running the pants off KSU.  I'm certainly counting that Texas trip as a KSU loss and that ISU game as a win.
The KSU/Mizzou game this weekend may decide CU's ability to make it to #5.  From: UPI

It's that KSU/Mizzou game that will make the difference.  I'd probably even hold the 'Cats as the favorite going into that game, but you never know with those two teams involved.  If Mizzou wins I think CU has a great shot of getting the #5 seed.  If KSU defends the home court and beats the Tigers, than CU would have to beat UT Saturday (and go 3-0) to get to their "ideal" scenario.


The headline is that, with the win last night in Lubbock, CU is in position to possibly finish in 5th place in the conference.  The remaining 3 games are ripe for the picking, and those teams in front of CU in the current standings face a tough road down the stretch.  Getting to 5th place would put the Buffs in prime position to make a deep run in Kansas City just as their Big XII farewell tour comes to a close.
I think there's some high-fives left to go around.  From: the BDC

There are caveats; should KSU beat Mizzou on Saturday it would take a Buffs win against Texas that same day to keep 5th seed hopes alive.  Ending up in 6th place wouldn't be the end of the world, playing the bottom team of the Tech, OSU, and OU trio in the first round, but it would mean a probable date with A&M in the second round, which, in my opinion, would be a tough win to grab for CU.

Regardless, there is still plenty to play for if you're the Colorado Buffaloes.

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