So much for separation.
For the past several weeks, coaches around the Pac-12 Conference have spoken of gaining separation in the crowded pack atop the league standings.
It simply hasn't happened. Nor is it likely to happen through the sprint to the finish over the final three weeks of the regular season.
The Colorado Buffaloes' gutsy victories against Washington State and Washington this past weekend keep CU in the running for one of the top four seeds out of the conference, a group that receives a first-round bye for the Pac-12 Conference tournament. Certainly anything can happen in a league that has evolved into a war of attrition, but the prediction in this corner is that the Buffs will fall just outside that top-four spot, allowing for a favorable first-round game in Las Vegas.
Among the six teams taking a league mark of at least 7-5 into this week, CU is just one of two that has more road games remaining than home dates. For a team that has struggled to put it all together on the road, expecting more than one win out of a road slate that includes this week's dates at USC and UCLA, in addition to the regular-season finale at Utah, might be overly optimistic.
League front-runners Arizona and Oregon (both 9-4) play three of their final five at home. Utah, lumped with CU at 8-5, is 13-1 at home and also plays three of its final five at home.
USC has some ground to gain at 7-5, but the Trojans still have four more home dates beginning Wednesday night against the Buffaloes.
Where are the students?
Attendance remains an issue at the Coors Events Center, and while empty seats certainly can be found dotting the entire arena during almost every game, one generally needs to look no further than a student section that has been half-full at best as the primary culprit of the attendance downturn.
Through 15 home dates this season, CU's average attendance sits at 8,236. Last year, a struggling and far less entertaining Buffs team drew an average of 9,626 fans. (For the purpose of this analysis, I've generously but fairly excluded the sparsely attended game against Gardner-Webb in the CBI last March from the 2014-15 equation.)
Some of the differential has been attributed to less-than marquee opponents early and unfortunate timing. The Air Force game, for instance, drew 1,311 fewer fans this year than last, but much of that can be attributed to the game being held the night before Thanksgiving.
However, with the Buffs squarely in the Pac-12 race, the sagging attendance during conference play has been alarming. CU didn't draw less than 9,000 in any league game last year. Attendance has been under that mark in four of seven conference home games so far, and $1 tickets were made available to students last week for Saturday's game against Washington.
Here's hoping fans take the time to check out an entertaining team in the final home dates against nationally ranked Arizona (Feb. 24) and Arizona State (Feb. 28) before it's too late.
A limited number of single-session tickets for the Pac-12 Conference tournament in Las Vegas go on sale Tuesday at 11 a.m. MST. All-tournament passes have already sold out. Single-session tickets can be purchased at Pac-12.com/tickets.