Buffs Prepare For Thursday's Pac-12 Tourney Opener
BOULDER — Now the fun truly starts for Tad Boyle's Colorado Buffaloes.
First comes this week's Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas, followed next week by the NCAA Tournament. It's March, the time of year every college basketball player looks forward to with great anticipation.
But unlike the non-conference and league portions of the season schedule, these next two portions offer no guarantees of tomorrow.
As Boyle so succinctly put it last week, "It's win or go home. There's no, 'Oh, we didn't play well, we'll bounce back next Thursday or Saturday.' There's no bounce backs. It's win or go home."
The Buffs wrapped up their regular season last week with a win over Arizona State, pushing their overall record to 20-7 and their final league record to 14-6. That was good enough for a third-place finish in the Pac-12 and a first-round tournament bye — CU's first in the Pac-12 era.
Colorado will now open conference tourney play Thursday at 9:30 p.m. (MT) against the winner of Wednesday's Cal-Stanford game — and the Buffs are hoping not to see Boulder again for a while.
The winner of the Pac-12 tourney title will head directly to the Indianapolis area, where the entire NCAA Tournament will be played.
Thus, as long as the Buffs keep winning — they are currently on a four-game win streak — they will be on the road.
But to be honest, even if the Buffs don't win the Pac-12 tourney, they are still considered to be a lock for an NCAA at-large bid. Currently ranked 12th in the NCAA's NET rankings and 16th in the Kenpom ratings, two metrics used by the NCAA Selection Committee, they will almost certainly be taking their game to Indianapolis.
The only question is where they will be seeded.
A number of bracketologists have CU in the No. 5 spot this week. If the Buffs claim a Pac-12 title, that spot could no doubt go up. Anything else …
Well, Boyle and his team aren't concerning themselves with hypotheticals this week.
In fact, the CU coach said, they're not even talking about a Pac-12 tournament title.
Rather, they're focused on making sure their stay in Las Vegas lasts longer than last year, when they lost in the first round.
"I just talked to the team after practice today," Boyle said in a Tuesday afternoon press conference. "I said, 'Look, we're not going to Las Vegas to win a championship. We're going to Las Vegas to win a game Thursday night.' That's all that's on our mind. We're going to try to live to see another day. Then we'll figure out what comes on Friday. But we have to take care of Thursday first."
On paper, Stanford offers the tougher game, as the Cardinal is seeded sixth while Cal is last in the field at No. 11 (Arizona is ineligible for the conference tournament, thus only 11 teams).
But in their regular season matchups, the Buffs swept Stanford and split with Cal, as the Bears stunned Colorado on their home floor in mid-February, 71-62.
The Buffs no doubt remember the loss to Cal, but are preparing for both until they know for sure who they will face.
"We know their play style, we know their personnel, we know their plays, and they know the same for us," said CU point guard McKinley Wright IV, who earned his third straight All-Pac-12 honors on Tuesday. "At the end of the day it just comes down to teams making plays, taking care of the ball, defending and rebounding. No matter who we play, we have to go in with that mindset to defend and rebound and let everything else take care of itself."
Meanwhile, the Buffs have spent this week working on details they haven't had the luxury of addressing for the past couple of months.
"As you come down the stretch you have to be ready for anything and everything," Boyle said. "It's been good to have this time off to go back and work on some things we haven't worked on in a while, brush up on some things … We've used this week to really work on what we need to work on and being in a position where we're prepared for anything."
That includes being prepared for a long, long road trip.