PORTLAND, Ore. — It's time to face reality for the Colorado men's basketball team.
Barring an unexpected run to the championship of the Pac-12 Conference tournament, the Buffaloes will not be going dancing at the NCAA Tournament this year, the second time in three seasons the Buffs will fall short of that seemingly reachable preseason goal.
An upset win Saturday at No. 7 Oregon could have significantly bolstered the credentials of a CU team that entered that game with wins in six of its previous seven games. Instead, the Buffs were blown out by 28 points, dropping their ESPN.com RPI number to 118 to begin the day Sunday.
"There's nothing we can do about it now except to turn the page and get ready for Utah," CU head coach Tad Boyle said.
CU completes the regular season with three consecutive home games, a run that begins Thursday night against Utah (9 p.m., ESPNU). Even if the Buffs run the table in those three games, which would leave them with a 19-12 overall record and an even 9-9 mark in the Pac-12 Conference, those wins wouldn't boost CU's resume enough to make a difference.
Utah began Sunday with an RPI of 89 and dominated the Buffs in the teams' league opener on New Year's Day, winning by 16 points. Next week the Buffs play Stanford, which has an RPI of 81, and Cal, which fell to No. 44 after losing at Stanford on Friday night. Cal also easily dispatched the Buffs at home two weeks ago, winning by 11 in a game in which CU was missing starters Xavier Johnson and Wesley Gordon due to a suspension.
"Keep believing," CU junior George King said. "We're a great team. We can match up with anybody, even Oregon that's considered one of the better teams in the league. Just keep believing. Hopefully we can get these next three, then go on and get four more after that."
While an NIT berth would remain a disappointing consolation prize for a CU team expected to reach the Big Dance for the fifth time in six seasons, given the Buffs' 0-7 start to league play it still would be a reasonably commendable achievement. The Buffs reached the NIT at the end of Boyle's first season in 2011 and advanced all the way to the Final Four. That run arguably set the stage for the three consecutive NCAA Tournament bids that followed.
Of course, the Buffs could still earn an NCAA bid by winning the Pac-12 tournament, that would require at least two wins against the top-10 teams from UCLA, Arizona, and Oregon, if not all three. While the Buffs did defeat Oregon at home in one of their more impressive performances of the season on Jan. 28, they were routed by the Ducks on Saturday and also lost by 15 at home against UCLA.
The Buffs put together a solid rally in a loss at Arizona, but that comeback arrived too late after the Buffs trailed by 20 more than halfway through the second half.
"You get beat on the road by this margin, three's nothing positive that comes from it," Boyle said.
Josh Fortune's 11-point game at Oregon moved him past the 1,000-point mark in his collegiate career, including his first two seasons at Providence...Boyle termed the suspension of freshman Bryce Peters as "indefinite" but if form holds true expect Peters to at least miss the Utah game on Thursday. His season-opening suspension was for two games, as was the suspension for Johnson and Gordon two weeks ago.