Washington State heads into the final weekend of Pac-12 Conference play with just one win in 17 chances, yet the Cougars twice played the Colorado Buffaloes down to the wire.
Think CU can achieve the always-difficult feat of defeating a single team three times within two months? Because more than likely the Buffaloes and WSU are on a Las Vegas collision course.
CU took a pair of much-needed days off after Sunday's victory in its home finale against Arizona State, with the Buffs set to reconvene Wednesday to begin preparations for Saturday's regular-season finale at Utah. Sitting at 10-7 in league play, the Buffs likely will remain in their current fifth-place position heading into the conference tournament next week at the MGM Grand in Vegas.
That would mean no first-round bye, which is awarded to the league's top four finalists, and a third date with the Cougars, who already are locked into the final position.
Certainly anything can happen. March Madness has been well-known to begin when the calendar turns, and not when the NCAA Tournament finally tips off. So let's break down the possible Vegas scenarios for the Buffs:
A win against Utah leaves CU at 11-7
Personally, I believe this is a tall order against a surging Utes team that is 15-1 at home. Never mind how the Buffs have lost four straight road games and, other than an early December date at Colorado State, haven't truly put together a full 40-minute game away from the Coors Events Center.
But, hypothetically, a CU win Saturday night would give the Buffs a reasonable shot at nabbing the fourth and final bye for the Pac-12 tourney. The two teams immediately ahead of the Buffs, Cal and Arizona, would have to cooperate.
Arizona, at 10-6, hosts 11-5 Cal on Thursday before finishing at home against Stanford. Just one win by Cal on its Arizona trip would clinch a first-round bye for the Golden Bears. Yet if Cal can knock off Arizona (also 15-1 at home), an 11-7 Wildcats team would fall behind an 11-7 CU team by virtue of the Buffs' head-to-head win last week.
Also, two Cal losses — not out of the question for a team that was 1-8 away from home before a recent sweep through Washington — would leave the Golden Bears at 11-7 in the league. Despite their split with CU the Buffs would get the nod at No. 4 by virtue of league tiebreakers.
A loss at Utah leaves CU at 10-8
The No. 5 spot still is the likely outcome. However, the Buffs would fall to No. 6 (and a first-round conference tourney matchup against Arizona State) if USC wins its final home games against Oregon State and Oregon, given CU's loss at USC two weeks ago. The Ducks are playing well but a sweep isn't out of the question for a Trojans team that also is 15-1 at home.
A 10-8 Buffs team could still nab spot No. 4 if USC loses at least one of its final two games and Arizona gets swept in its final two home games, as CU would own the head-to-head edge against a 10-8 Arizona team. Certainly Cal has the ability to knock off the Wildcats, yet it's difficult to picture Arizona losing at home to Stanford.
Of course,it's always interesting to dissect the various hypotheticals, but sometimes the simplest solution is the best. Look for a fifth-seeded Buffs squad to open the postseason against Washington State.