After a tumultuous season of ups and downs for the Colorado men's basketball team, the Buffaloes head into the postseason with high hopes for what is to come.
The beginning of their 2013-14 season got off to a bit of a rocky start, as the Buffs fell in their first game of the season against Baylor, 72-60. The team lacked any defensive aggressiveness at that point, because the new hand-checking rules were getting into their heads.
By their second game, they were starting to get a hold on how to work around the new rules. The Buffs claimed the next ten games, all of which were played in their home state, and won each by a margin of anywhere from five points to 24 points.
Their biggest victory came on Dec. 7, when junior guard Askia Booker sunk a 30-foot shot with 0.01 seconds left on the clock to stun the no. 6 Kansas Jayhawks, 75-72. With this win, the Buffs were officially on the national map after they earned the no. 21 spot in the AP Poll.
They stayed ranked for the next five weeks, going as high as no. 15, before a streak of bad losses took them off the map again.
The next time the Buffs headed out of state was to take on a seventh-ranked Oklahoma State team, who they faced in the MGM Grand Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Head coach Tad Boyle said that this game was key in preparing his young team for the conference tournament that will be played there from March 12 to 15.
"One of the reasons we played at the MGM Grand against Oklahoma State earlier this year was to get on that floor, get in that arena so the guys knew what it was about, but yeah, this is a new season for everybody, we all have new life," Boyle said.
Although the Buffs lost that game by a narrow margin of five points, they proved that they had a hard time winning on neutral courts. The remainder of the first half of their season was smooth sailing, as the team won their next four games, which included a victory over no. 10 Oregon.
Then disaster struck. During their road trip in Washington, near the end of the first half, Colorado's star guard Spencer Dinwiddie went down with a torn ACL. Not two minutes later, another explosive bench player for the Buffs, Tre'Shaun Fletcher, left the game with a knee injury of his own.
The Buffs ended up losing the matchup, and that started a downward spiral for the team. After that, they had to lose three of their next four games before getting back on the winning track. Despite being down two players, the team managed to finish their regular season with a 6-4 record.
Now, with the Pac-12 tournament in Las Vegas this week, the Buffs will have the chance to make a statement in their conference as well as to the rest of the country.
"What we did in the preseason doesn't matter, what we did in the regular season doesn't matter," Boyle said. "All that matters is somebody's going to leave Vegas as the conference champion, and 11 other teams are going to be leaving not as champions."
When the Buffaloes joined the conference three years ago, they shocked the entire Pac-12 by running away with the conference championship in March. Although only two current players were on the 2012 championship team, Boyle still believes they can run away with the victory again this year.
"I think we can do it," he said. "It's been done before. You have to win four games in four days. We left Boulder two years ago, and we were going there to try to win our first game, and it just kind of took off from there. That's our approach."
Additionally, Boyle knows that one little error in any game could cost them the rest of the season.
"It doesn't even have to be a bad game," Boyle said. "It can be a bad stretch of a game at this time of year, a bad two- or three-minute stretch of the game that can cost you the game and you're done. You're coming home. Our players have to understand that, there has to be a heightened sense of urgency. We don't have to play tight, we don't have to play nervous, but we have to play with an edge and play like every possession could be our last."
With all the talent that the Pac-12 possesses this year, any game is fair game for the teams that are competing. Anybody can go home with the conference title come Saturday.
"It's wide open, no question," Boyle said. "The fact that Arizona just got beat by Oregon proves that they are human, even though I think they're the most consistent team in the league and the best defensive team in the league, bar none. That's what makes this fun. You got 12 teams that go in there and feel like this is a new season, the slate's clean. It's not about what have you done for me lately; it's about what are you doing to do for me now? That's exciting."
As the no. 5 seed in the tournament, the Buffs will see their first matchup on Wednesday, Mar. 12 at 3:30 MST, when they will take on the 12th-seeded USC Trojans in round one of the tournament.