I dismiss both of the extreme possibilities for the Buffs. I just can't imagine this team finishing in 8th place - they're simply better than that - and I have a hard time believing that ASU will beat their betters on Saturday. So 5th-7th it is. Given those possibilities, I think CU will stay were it is, with at worst a 1-1 finish over the final two, and not enough happening with the rest of the middle to leave the squad in 5th.
Of course, the Buffs aren't the only team hoping to avoid an ignominious finish. Should Arizona find a way to lose to ASU, and slip out of the top-four, it would be the culmination of a humiliating collapse for the squad picked to carry the league. The Cats have gone 3-4 over their last seven, coughing up any hope of a league title along the way. 'Zona simply couldn't handle the best the Pac-12 had to offer, as they went 1-6 against the rest of the league's top-five, with that lone win coming via general shenanigans.
I find a lot of comfort in the fragility of the vaunted Wildcats. Compared to the old Big XII, the front-running teams in the Pac appear... fallible... flawed... human. Could you imagine Kansas slipping to 5th, regardless of circumstances, in any given Big XII campaign? Throw in Missouri, K-State, and Texas when they were good. All those programs seemed invincible at times. It may be a product of the Buffs being better over the past few years, but I just don't fear anyone that this conference has to offer, and it seems that feeling is mutual considering how chaos continues to reign in the West.
Case-in-point, who spiked the Gatorade on the UCLA sideline? A shocking defeat (first time @WSU in 20 years) at cellar-dwelling Washington State has possibly cost them the conference title. As a result, Cal - yes, Cal - had a chance to claim the #1 seed last night, but imploded against archival Stanford in a game where the majority of the Cardinal coaching staff was ejected... ... ... ... wait, what?
ESPN's John Gasaway was right:
Please don't treat the Pac-12 like a normal conference. Treat it as a random result generator.--
— John Gasaway (@JohnGasaway) March 7, 2013
Get a good look. There's only two remaining chances to see the Buffs live in Boulder. First up, a titanic rematch with the Oregon Ducks. Three of the last four meetings between CU and UO have finished in one-point Colorado victories. The games were furiously contested, showcasing some of the grittiest play of the Tad Boyle era. Will tonight be a repeat of the closely contested battles of the past two seasons, or will one of the teams take a step past their rival?
Tip-off from the CEC is set for 7pm MT. Coverage, if you can't find tickets, can be found on ESPN2, with Mark Johnson and the radio call back on 850 KOA.
For reference, my preview from the first game can be found here.
Click below for my preview of the rematch...
When last we met -
It was a symphony of gritty, physical, ugly basketball as the Buffs scored the final eight points, while holding the Ducks scoreless over the final four and a half minutes to steal a 48-47 victory in Eugene.
|Spencer Dinwiddie and the Buffs had to sweat it out to beat Oregon last month.|
The only player in Black and Gold who had anything going statistically was Andre. That game-winning put-back gave him a 10/13 double-double on 50% shooting to go along with two steals and typically dominating defense. The rest of the Buffs only combined for 33% shooting, and no one else managed tp crack double-figures in scoring.
|'Dre rose to the top in Eugene.|
The Buffs wanted to make it ugly and slow. The Ducks abided, and all was well. Hopefully, for everyone's sake, the move up to altitude opens up the game a little bit. I don't know if I can watch another one of those 55 possession slug-fests.
Since then... -
The collapse against the Buffs seemed to refocus the Ducks, who have since reeled off five wins in six to salvage hopes of a league title. Should they win either of their final two, they clinch the #1 seed in Vegas.
|The Ducks haven't had to work too hard to win games over the last few weeks.|
Despite what the Buffs saw in Eugene, the Ducks are actually the best in the Pac-12 at getting to the line in conference games with a 41% FTA/FGA ratio. They score over 23% of their points from the line, and can wreak havoc if the foul situation gets out of control. The Buffs are usually very good at keeping teams off the line (4th in the nation in defensive FTA/FGA ratio), so something will have to break concerning the charity stripe.
|Singler and the Ducks usually do a good job of getting to the line.|
Why things could be different -
The big news is the Dominic Artis is back for Oregon. The freshman point guard had been out since late January with a stress fracture in his foot, but returned to play limited minutes against OSU last weekend. While the Ducks eventually learned to play without their on-ball maestro, it was at times ugly, with turnovers and lousy shooting plaguing the squad for long stretches. It's no coincidence that a three-game losing streak came right on the heels of his injury.
|The dynamic Artis is back.|
Including the win against OSU, the Ducks are 7-0 in Pac-12 play when Artis sees at least some action, and 5-4 without. Kudos, indeed, for backup Johnathan Lloyd, who kept the team afloat without their young ball handler, but I'm sure the team is relieved to have Dominic back.
Despite the return of their point guard, the Ducks still find themselves scrambling to fill holes. The aforementioned Lloyd missed practice this week with an illness, and freshman forward Damyean Dotson was hobbled in the win over Oregon St. Still, both should play tonight.
For the Buffs, 'Dre was a little sick again this week. Of course, we all know how 'Dre handles flu-like symptoms...
CU has already lost two at home this season, which matches the yearly quota under Coach Boyle. Oregon is a good (not great) team, and a difficult bunch to beat under any circumstances, but I can't stomach the thought of a third home loss. I'll say CEC magic comes to the rescue, and the Buffs earn another one-point win over the Ducks.
CU 69 - UO 68
GO BUFFS! PROVE ME RIGHT, AND BEAT THE DUCKS!