Must-win games for Colorado to stay in NCAA Tournament contention

Tad Boyle has Colorado firmly on the bubble and with a lack of road wins and a 2-5 record in Quad 1 games, the Buffaloes need to get hot down the stretch to ensure a spot in the NCAA Tournament.

Colorado Buffaloes forward Tristan da Silva (23)
Colorado Buffaloes forward Tristan da Silva (23) / Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

At this time of year for teams on the March Madness bubble, every game feels like it’s a must-win, and for Colorado, which ESPN bracketologist Joe Lunardi has in his “next four out” that might be true. 

The 17-9 (8-7) Buffaloes have five games remaining on their schedule and are currently fifth in the Pac-12 standings. Tad Boyle’s team will begin the stretch run on Saturday hosting 16-10 (7-8) Utah. Then Colorado’s next four are: vs. Cal, vs. Stanford, at Oregon, and at Oregon State. 

The Net Rankings are certainly a flawed system like any system for ranking 362 college basketball teams would be. Still, the selection committee uses the Net to make decisions for the 68-team NCAA Tournament field, so heading into a crucial weekend it’s worth looking at where Colorado and its upcoming opponents sit. 

Colorado and upcoming opponents Net Rankings

  • Colorado: 41
  • Utah: 46
  • Cal: 117
  • Stanford: 109
  • Oregon: 59
  • Oregon State: 177

Colorado is 2-5 in its Quad 1 games this season and has just one more Quad 1 opportunity with Oregon on the road. Quad 1 games are classified as games against teams ranked 1-30 at home, 1-50 at a neutral site, and 1-75 on the road. So, Colorado’s matchup in Boulder against Utah is a Quad 2 game, but still a crucial one. 

The other stain on Colorado’s resume is its road record. Recently the Buffs knocked off USC in LA, which helped, but at 2-7, it’s a weakness, and likely the one keeping them out of Lunardi’s most recent projection. 

So, while every remaining game is important to win, Colorado needs another Quad 1 win and another road win, so the biggest must-win game remaining for Tad Boyle is at Oregon on March 7. The Buffs could likely survive a loss at home to Utah if they win out before the Pac-12 Tournament. 

So, for the sake of semantics, I’ve broken Colorado’s remaining games into three categories: “gotta have it,” “can’t lose,” and “must win.” While relatively indistinguishable to the untrained eye, these three categories are crucial checkpoints across the spectrum of college basketball games.

"Gotta have it" games

  • vs. Utah, Feb 24

"Can’t lose" games

  • vs. Cal, Feb 28
  • vs. Stanford, Mar 3
  • at Oregon State, Mar 9

"Must win" games

  • at Oregon, Mar 7