Football may have driven expansion into a new Pac-12, but UW's basketball game against Colorado on Thursday night starts an interesting chapter, too.
Not bad for a debut.
In their first Pac-12 game, Colorado stomped Utah — the other conference newbie — 73-33 in a historic victory last Saturday.
Next up: Washington.
It’s one thing to trounce Utah, a former Mountain West team that has managed just three wins this season and has one of the most inept offenses in college basketball.
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However, the Huskies will be Colorado’s first foray against a former Pac-10 team.
“It’s definitely a different animal,” Colorado coach Tad Boyle said. “There’s no question about that.
“They’ve got good players at every position. Tremendous athletes. It will be a heck of a challenge. This will be a great litmus test for our team and where we’re at in the Pac-12 right now.”
In basketball parlance, commissioner Larry Scott shot an air ball when he added Colorado and Utah to a conference that has struggled in the past three years with poor nonconference performances.
The Buffaloes weren’t much of a powerhouse in the Big 12.
Last season, they were fifth and their highest finish was a second-place showing in 1996-97 when NBA standout Chauncey Billups led them to the NCAA tournament.
Colorado has made just two tourney appearances in the past 42 years — the last in 2003.
It’s no secret football drove Scott’s decision to expand the conference for the first time in three decades, but the league’s 0-12 showing against ranked basketball teams magnifies the curious choice to extend invitations to schools that have been weak on the hard court recently.
But it’s not as if Colorado is embarrassing the Pac-12 this season. The Buffaloes are 9-4 and 1-0 in conference.
Still, a closer examination of their record reveals CU has benefited from a soft schedule that ranks 243rd among the 345 Division I teams, according to the Pomeroy ratings.
Colorado’s strength of schedule ranks 200th in the Sagarin ratings and the Buffaloes are 94th in the RPI.
Regardless of what the computers say, Boyle knows Thursday’s 6 p.m. meeting at Coors Events Center against the Huskies (8-5, 2-0) is a big game.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression,” he said. “That’s one thing that we talked to our team about is we have a chance to make an impression on this league and earn some respect.
“The only way you can do it is by playing well on game night and playing with some grit and toughness.”
A Colorado native, Boyle called the Buffaloes his dream job when he took over two years ago.
Led by Alec Burks and Corey Higgins, CU’s all-time leading scorer, Boyle guided the Buffaloes to a 24-win season and the NIT semifinals in his first season.
Colorado lost its top four scorers from last season, including Burks, who left school two years early and was taken 12th in last year’s NBA draft.
The absence of veteran scorers explains why the Buffs average 70.8 points per game (seventh in the Pac-12) and managed just 54, 58, 64 and 71 points in four losses.
“The fact that we lost so much firepower offensively, we have to rely on our defense a little bit more this year,” Boyle said. “Hopefully our offense has become more efficient.
“We’ve got good balance. We’ve got four guys averaging double figures, so we’ve got some firepower that maybe hasn’t exerted itself consistently so far this year.”
Including a 92-34 win over New Orleans, Colorado has allowed a combined 67 points in the past two games. It’s the fewest points in a two-game span since the 1947-48 season.
The Buffaloes rank fourth in the conference allowing opponents just 61.2 points per game. Colorado has yet to allow an opponent to score more than 78 points while Washington averages 80.6 points per game.
“Because of the way they defend it’s not easy to get good shots,” Washington coach Lorenzo Romar said. “If you want to shoot quickly, you’re not going to get a real good shot against them and as a result of that the game becomes a little slower.”
Colorado also boasts the league’s top rebounder in Andre Roberson, one of five players in the nation averaging a double-double (12.1 points and 12.0 rebounds).
Four CU players average double-digit scoring, including freshman guard Spencer Dinwiddie, who is averaging a team-leading 15.6 points in the past five games.
Picked to finish 10th in the Pac-12, better days are ahead for the Buffaloes.
Boyle assembled a five-man recruiting class considered among the top three in the Pac-12 behind Arizona and UCLA.
“As they continue to grow, they’re going to add something to this league,” Romar said. “When I signed out of junior college in 1978 to play (at UW), they added two new teams to the league. It was the Pac-8 and they added Arizona and Arizona State.
“They brought a lot to the table as time has gone on. Arizona you can arguably say they’ve dominated the conference for a long, long time. Utah and Colorado, I’m sure they will add a lot to this conference as well. It can and will happen.”
Percy Allen: 206-464-2278 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
On Twitter @percyallen