The confetti is falling, stock is rising and Colorado is riding on the back of a black-and-gold convertible, waving to its adoring fans.
The only thing buffing up the image of America’s worst major basketball conference are the Buffs themselves. Colorado is the belle of bad basketball, the Pac-12’s high-scoring, high-elevation candidate for respectability.
Except it’s all an illusion.
Ratings gurus Ken Pomeroy and Jeff Sagarin agree that, mathematically, Colorado is exactly the seventh-best team in the Pac-12. The Buffaloes are certainly better than the 11th place that the media projected them as in the preseason, but that’s about all that you can say. Yet, some people have blinders. They see just the recent success. The Plague of Tebow is spreading up Highway 36.
After a 3-0 Pac-12 start, Colorado rose to No. 3 in ESPN’s conference power rankings this week. One Pac-12 beat writer on Twitter offered Colorado her first-place vote (if such a thing existed).
Then there’s Larry Krystkowiak.
“At the end of the day, we have to play 18 games,” the Utah coach said. “Even though they’re in first place right now, like everybody else they have to win some road games.”
Where’s the fawning? The adulation? The coronation?!
Colorado is the only Pac-12 team yet to play a road game. Good thing, too, considering the other 11 teams have gone 5-17 on the road. Yes, the Buffaloes defeated Washington by 18 last week. But, you know what? South Dakota State, which beat the Huskies by 19 in Seattle, isn’t impressed.
It’s clear Tad Boyle’s team has met — beating Utah by 40 — and exceeded — topping Washington and Wazzu — early-season expectations. The coach deserves credit for taking a team that lost its three leading scorers (a combined 48.3 points) to the NBA or graduation. What was overlooked was the eligibility of former Ute Carlon Brown (14.1 points), the arrival of freshman Spencer Dinwiddie (11.1 points) and the development of sophomore guard Andre Roberson (11.3 points).
Colorado, like Utah, will be better at home because of the elevation, which Boyle acknowledged Wednesday.
“The fact of the matter is, it is a reality,” Boyle said. “And we see the effects of it especially when you get into an up-and-down game. There’s no way you come in, whether it’s a day or two early, it takes about three or four weeks.”
Colorado will come back to reality this week. At least in basketball, the Bay Area represents reality. California and Stanford are the two best teams in the Pac-12 and each hosts the Buffaloes this week.
“A very solid basketball team,” Cal coach Mike Montgomery said, when asked to describe the Buffaloes. And until they prove more, that is as lofty a compliment as the Buffaloes deserve. The Pac-12 is a new entity, and kudos to Colorado for cracking into it with gusto. But crack the Buffs will, once they hit the road.
“They’ve still got some proving up to do,” Krystkowiak said, “but they’re doing a heck of a lot better in this transition than we are, certainly.”
But that’s an awfully low standard. Sort of like being in first place after two weeks in the Pac-12.