Over the next few weeks, I'll be taking an in-depth look at every school in the Big 12. I'll focus on the past (i.e. last season's strengths and weaknesses), the changes (i.e. incoming freshmen, departing seniors, new coaches), and the future.
I'm not sure why I'm so high on the Buffaloes right now. Maybe it's because I recognize in my Big 12 Conference Preseason rankings I totally underestimated them (in my defense: I was a little biased, as they were packing their suitcases for the West Coast, and I was still in the "Big 12 will be 10x the basketball conference without you!" stage). Maybe it's because I only realized how good a job Jeff Bzdelik had done once Wake Forest swooped in and stole him. I'm not sure. Either way, here they are: I have Colorado slated to finish #5 in the Big 12.
The fact of the matter is Colorado is talented enough to do it. They could even finish fourth depending on the outcome of LaceDarius Dunn's legal troubles! But they could also finish 9th (sorry Iowa State, Oklahoma, and Nebraska fans...). Colorado has experience in seniors Cory Higgins and Marcus Relphorde, and they have a genuine star in Alec Burks (his stat line as a freshman read 19 points per game, 4 rebounds per game, and 2.5 assists per game!). Burks should almost certainly get better, and their only loss is Dwight Thorne II (7.5 / 2 / 1.5). Oh, and incoming recruits Andre Robinson (PF) and Ben Mills (7' 1" C) are ranked in the top hundred at their respective positions nationally. On paper, I don't know how this team couldn't finish in the top five of the conference...
But here comes reality. The Buffaloes have a new coach, Tad Boyle. He did a great job at Northern Colorado, but he's totally unproven at the major-conference level. Colorado had these players last year, and they went 15-16. They were an ugly 6-10 in conference play with one conference win over a higher ranked opponent (the aforementioned Baylor game), with the rest coming against Texas Tech (home), Nebraska (won both games), Iowa State (barely won at home), and Oklahoma (home). It should start sending red flags when the only team they beat on the road was Nebraska...
More after the break.
I'm confident the Buffaloes will be better. They still don't have a strong frontcourt; a weakness that top-tier conference schools like Kansas (Morris), Kansas State (Judge and Kelly), and Baylor (Jones and Acy) will exploit. But they have a fantastic backcourt and experience. They need to learn how to win on the road, but that will come. Young teams often struggle winning on the road, but Burks and company have another year of experience.
Tad Boyle is really not trying to impress people with his nonconference schedule. I'm not sure if it's because he's a new coach and didn't have time to schedule, or whether he didn't look at his roster. Maybe he expected Higgins and Burks to bolt to the NBA... I'm not sure. The end result--discounting the Las Vegas Classic--is "marquee" games at Georgia and at Harvard. Georgia (sort of like Colorado when you think about it...) was one of those "good bad teams" last season...while they had some bad losses, they beat Vandy, Tennessee, and Florida. Similarly, Colorado beat Baylor (and almost beat Kansas and Kansas State). Harvard should be vying for the top spot in the Ivy League. The Las Vegas Classic helps a little bit, featuring games against New Mexico, who finished last season with a 3-seed in the NCAA tournament, and either Indiana (still deep in the rebuilding process) or Northern Iowa (who lost much of their team to graduation).
That leaves Colorado with two nonconference games against probable at-large teams. That's a little better than Virginia Tech last year (who only played Temple...and lost), but it doesn't give the Buffaloes much room to work with come Selection Sunday. They'll need a very strong finish in the conference to punch a ticket to the Big Dance. Unfortunately, they drew a tough draw: two games with Kansas, Kansas State, Missouri, Iowa State, and Nebraska. They have to beat Texas A&M and Oklahoma State at home and Texas Tech in Lubbock. That gives the Buffaloes 8 conference wins, which won't cut it. They probably need to split with Missouri and beat Texas at home to clinch their tournament spot. Since they're my sleeper, I think they can do it.
Projected conference record: 10-6
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