As the Colorado Buffaloes began preseason practice in October, it was a hot topic of conversation. How would a Buffaloes team harboring legitimate NCAA Tournament expectations, and one that soon would be picked second in the Pac-12 Conference preseason poll, handle the noisy buzz surrounding the program?
For the most part, the Buffs have handled those outside pressures just fine. Yet with four weeks remaining in the regular season, and the program perched at a position it hasn’t enjoyed in more than 50 years, blocking out the noise will be a trait far more crucial to the Buffs in February and March than it was in October.
On Monday, following a sweep of Cal and Stanford that gave CU wins in four of its past five games, the Buffs jumped eight spots in the weekly AP Top 25 to No. 16. It is the second-highest ranking of the 10-year era of head coach Tad Boyle, and the Buffs also begin the week all alone atop the Pac-12 standings.
It is the latest in a season CU has been the sole possessor of first place in any conference since the 1968-69 Big Eight regular season championship team, but it is a solitary perch that may not last long if the Buffs are unable to prevail in a huge showdown Thursday night at second-place, 17th-ranked Oregon (7 p.m. MT, ESPN).
“We just talked about it in our meeting (Monday) before we took the court,” CU head coach Tad Boyle said. “We have four weeks left in the regular season. Now more than ever we have to reaffirm our commitment to each other. Our willingness to sacrifice, which a lot of guys have done this year. Our commitment to playing for each other and doing whatever we’ve got to do to try and win the next game. For now, the focus is even more important. Our guys are starting to hear the noise. They always hear noise every day of their life with social media. We always try to ignore the noise, but it gets harder to ignore the noise the louder it gets.
“At the beginning of the year everything is in front of you. There’s a lot of runway. And now, the runway is getting a little shorter. We’ve put ourselves in good position, but it’s also a very small margin. If we don’t win on Thursday, we’re not in sole possession of first place anymore. We know that. That’s the challenge.”
The Buffs already have been ranked more times this season than any team in program history — 11 weeks and counting — and taking the 16th spot marks CU’s highest ranking of the season. It is the highest the Buffs have been since hitting No. 15 on Jan. 6, 2014, just six days before Spencer Dinwiddie’s season-ending knee injury derailed the season.
“It’s crunch time,” CU point guard McKinley Wright said. “We’ve got to block out everybody except for us. That might include family, some of our closest friends. Whoever it may be. It’s about us right now. We know there’s a lot of noise out there. A lot of people talking. Sixteenth in the country, but right now what’s most important is getting better today, get better tomorrow, Wednesday, and try to compete on Thursday for a championship game.”
Former Buffs star Derrick White on Monday was named one of 44 finalists for the 2020 US Olympic Men’s Basketball Team in Tokyo. The San Antonio Spurs guard represented the United States at the 2019 FIBA World Cup last fall. Only two other former Buffs basketball players — Burdette Haldorson (1956 and 1960) and Bob Jeangerard (1956) — have competed in the Olympics.