Covering University of Colorado sports, mostly basketball, since 2010

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Pulling a rabbit out of the hat: How CU can win the Pac-12 tournament

A few weeks back, I famously pulled Arizona out of my hat, thereby all but anointing them the winners of the Pac-12 tournament.  With that tournament finally on the horizon, I need to take a more measured look at the Buffs best (really only) shot to make the Dance.

After the jump, I'll be talking CU's league positioning, and what needs to happen in order for the Buffs to have a shot at a miracle NCAA Tournament berth.

Current Situation -

Below is the current standings along with each team's remaining schedule:

#1 - Washington - 13 - 3 - @USC, @UCLA
#2 - Cal - 13-4 - @ Stanford
#3 - Arizona - 12-5 - @ASU
#4 - Colorado - 11-5 - @Oregon, @OSU
#5 - Oregon - 11-5 - CU, Utah
#6 - UCLA - 9-7 - WSU, UW
#7 - Stanford - 9-8 - Cal
#8 - Washington St - 6-10 - @UCLA, @USC
#9 - Oregon St - 5-11 - Utah, Colorado
#10 - Arizona St - 5-12 - UofA
#11 - Utah - 3-13 - @OSU, @Oregon
#12 - USC - 1-15 - UW, WSU

In that title prediction post, I may have missed the boat on Washington.  They've since gone 4-1 and claimed sole possession of first place.  UW, with a 1/2 game advantage over Cal, now finds themselves in control of their own destiny, and the odds on favorite to win the regular season title.  Should they drop a winnable game this weekend in Los Angeles, however, Cal holds the permanent tie-breaker over them.
Tony Wroten and the Huskies have played in some damn close ballgames recently, but have managed to stay atop the Pac-12.
Beyond the Huskies finding some big wins on the road, however, I've been proven mostly right.  CU and Oregon have fallen behind, while Cal and Arizona have stayed withing sight of a shared title.

Still, with a weekend remaining, nothing is really settled.  The Buffs, in particular, can finish anywhere from first to sixth.  What's more, a 4-way tie for the title is possible, albeit highly unlikely.  Chaos reigns.

Who should CU "want" to play? - 

Good matchups - 

Should CU lose to Oregon Thursday night, and finish out of the top-4, any matchup with a team currently in the bottom five looks just dandy on paper.  The Buffs are 7-0 combined against WSU, OSU, ASU, Utah, and USC this season, and should have no problem with any first round rematch scenarios.

Additionally, I'd be happy with a third tilt with Cal.  CU looked very comfortable against the Golden Bears on Sunday, and played well in Berkeley before a final minute collapse.  In a scenario that sees them in the semi-finals, I think CU would have a great shot at moving past them to the Pac-12 Championship Game.
CU has played well in both meeting with Cal this season.  From: the BDC
A rematch with Washington would also seem to favor the Buffs.  CU rather easily handed UW an 18-point loss when they visited Boulder back in January, and the Huskies have seen seven of their last eight wins decided by eight points or less.  The Buffs should be within striking distance, if not with an outright lead, late in a theoretical semi-final with UW.

Question mark - 

The two regular season games with Arizona have been brutal and competitive, with each team winning at home.  The Wildcats, however, seemed to pass the Buffs by in Tucson, riding a second half surge to a 14-point victory.  I think CU is capable of running with Arizona, but the UofA is riding a 7-1 sprint to the finish, and will be a very tough out in LA.
'Zona ran past CU in Tucson, I wouldn't be surprised if they could do it in LA.
Additionally, Arizona has the random approval of my hat, so it's probably best to avoid them.

Teams to avoid - 

With two 20+ point losses to them this season, the worst possible matchup for the Buffs in LA is the Stanford Cardinal.  Should CU find them on the opposing bench, the tournament run can be considered over before tip-off.  The good news is that it's highly unlikely that the Buffs will end up playing the Cardinal next week.  CU would have to climb into 3rd, with a UCLA free-fall, or 2nd to potentially see Stanford in the second round.
The Trees have stood tall against the Buffs in two meetings.  Luckily CU should avoid a third in LA.  From: the BDC
What's more, the Cardinal have been struggling with every team not wearing black and gold, and could easily lose to their first round opponent.  CU should successfully avoid Stanford in Los Angeles. (*whew*)

Additional teams to avoid are UCLA and Oregon.  UCLA has the size in the paint to make life difficult, along with a "home" Staples Center Crowd.  Oregon has been playing great basketball lately, and were probably the team more deserving of victory last month in Boulder.
CU escaped with a win last time against the Ducks, can they get two more against Oregon?  From: the BDC
Considering that CU and Oregon currently sit in the 4/5 slots, respective, the chalk scenarios all include a Buffs vs Ducks matchup in the second round.  The winner of Thursday night's game will probably get the benefit of a first round bye, while the loser will most likely have to play through a tuneup against USC Wednesday afternoon.

What it all means - 
I take for granted that CU would rather have a first round bye next week.  Unlike last year, where a neutral-site win boosted the Tournament resume, a win over 12th-seeded USC would do nothing to improve CU's chances of making the Dance.  CU needs to win the Pac-12 Tournament, and the best way to that end is a shortened path to the championship game.

To get the bye, CU needs to win Thursday night in Eugene.  It's possible to still get a bye without that win, but it's unlikely, as that scenario would require a Ducks loss, at home, to the Utes, or an Arizona loss to ASU.  Consider Thursday night to be bye-or-bust against the Ducks.

Unfortunately, no matter how I game the scenarios, the Buffs are probably going to see either UCLA or Oregon in the quarter finals. Both I consider bad matchups for CU, and could make for an early exit from the Staples Center.  It's no use hoping to jump to 2nd, either, where a disastrous third tilt with Stanford would await.

The Buffs are simply going to have to beat a team they haven't played well against in order to advance in Los Angeles. C'est la vie.

On the bright side, I would consider a semi-final game against either of the current top seeds to be winnable.  The Buffs have a shot at winning it all in Los Angeles, they just need to find a way to survive the quarter-finals.

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