Colorado Preview

Believe it or not, the Colorado Buffaloes were the talk of the Big 12 three games into the conference season.

And why not? The Buffaloes surprised everyone by running off three straight, including a double-digit home win over Missouri and a victory at league favorite Kansas State. Another home win followed, against Big 12 South foe Oklahoma State.

But then came a rough seven game stretch, one that saw the Buffs go 1-6, with the only victory coming over cellar-dweller Iowa State. At that point, things seemed to be business as usual for Colorado, a school without a strong basketball tradition. The Buffaloes (17-11, 6-7) didn't fold though, winning two of their next three, with the only loss coming to Kansas in Lawrence.

At the heart of it all is the Big 12's top scoring duo in Alec Burks, a sophomore, and Cory Higgins, a senior.

Burks has come to be the bane of the North, a great story since several of the North teams passed on him, including local schools Missouri and Kansas. Colorado beat out Kansas State for his signature, and Burks, who had a late growth spurt, blossomed into a 6-foot-6 wing with an uncanny ability to get to the hoop. Arguably the conference's top one-on-one player, Burks didn't wait long to make his impact felt, averaging 17.1 points per game as a freshman. This season, he's up to 19.2 points per contest.

Burks is made more effective by Higgins, another outstanding one-on-one guy. Higgins is scoring 16.0 points per game, and the duo is outstanding from the free throw line. Higgins leads the Big 12, shooting 89.8 percent on his freebies, while Burks is shooting 84.7 percent.

Those two help to open things up for Levi Knutson, the Big 12's top three-point shooter at 47 percent, while 6-foot-7 freshman Andre Roberson is an outstanding garbage man. Roberson ranks in the Big 12's top 12 in both steals and blocks per game, while also ranking as one of the league's, and the country's top rebounders. He snatches up 15.3 percent of available offensive rebounds (21st nationally), while grabbing more than a fourth (25.2) of available defensive boards.

Colorado can score with the best of 'em, putting up 79 points per game, third best in the league. But the Buffalo defense leaves something to be desired, and has often been their downfall this season.

So with two victories against Kansas State and another against Missouri, why is Colorado a likely non-NCAA Tournament team? For starters, the Buffs fared poorly against a weak non-conference schedule, one that only included one team currently in the KenPom top 50 (New Mexico, ranked No. 49) and just two squads in the top 60 (New Mexico and Georgia, ranked No. 59). Colorado lost both contests, and dropped shockers to Harvard (No. 81) and San Francisco (No. 165).

Had Colorado won three of those games — not a stretch considering CU is ranked No. 61 themselves — the Buffaloes would be sitting with a 20-8 record heading into the final three games, with a very good chance to win two of their final three against Iowa State and Nebraska, as well as a potential statement win against Texas.

But because Colorado didn't win those games, the Buffs are on the outside looking in, barring a surprise run of five or so wins over the final three games and the conference tournament.

Still, because of Higgins and Burks, Colorado remains one of the Big 12's most dangerous middle teams, one with a puncher's chance in every game.

Horns Digest Top Stories