March is a couple of days away, which means Madness isn't far behind. 'Tis the time of season when college hoops and its soon-to-be-wacko fans can start paying serious attention to bracketology and RPIs - and if I have to footnote either term, you might as well stop reading here.
After practice the other day, Colorado coach Tad Boyle conceded he pulls up bracketology on his desktop computer about "once a week - and I shouldn't admit that." He also "checks our RPI daily; that's a number I'm pretty dialed into."
And why should Boyle forbid himself to peruse either? Although he's a strict one-game-at-a-time guy, he's got a little more invested in Buffs basketball than you or me. But like you and me, he's keenly interested in various seers' mid-March forecasting and where his team might land.
"It's part of the world we live in," Boyle explained. "I don't focus on it, I can promise you that. When I come to practice I don't think about it. I don't think about it before I go to bed. But once a week or so I kind of see where they have us and take the temperature, so to speak."
In NCAA Tournament terms, the Buffs' current temperature is near normal, maybe a degree above. Boyle would like it to be feverish. On four randomly selected websites I checked on Tuesday morning, CU's RPI was 29, 29, 27 and 28. Its four projected tournament seeds were 11, 10, 8 and 10 - and at this point all the numbers mean nothing.
The exact NCAA seeding, of course, won't happen until Selection Sunday, and neither Boyle nor his players want to peek that far into March. I'd be surprised if the dark memory of that day two seasons ago still isn't lurking in the back of his mind. What was to be a celebration at his home turned maudlin when the Buffs were snubbed.
That shouldn't happen this March, but then . . .
CU has four regular-season games remaining, plus the Pac-12 Conference tournament. The Buffs are 18-8 overall, 8-6 in conference. Flash back to last season at this time: The Buffs also were 18-8 overall, but 10-4 in conference. They proceeded to lose three of their final four, finish 11-7 in the league and enter the Pac-12 tournament as the No. 6 seed.
You know the rest . . .
THE DIFFERENCE IN THIS SEASON and last is found in the number Boyle says he checks daily - the speculative RPI. Calling scheduling "part art, part science," Boyle hit on the right blend this season. His 2012-13 non-conference schedule was more demanding, plus the Pac-12 is better overall this season than last. "We haven't played too many patsies," Boyle said.
Last March, CU's RPI hovered in the low 60s to low 70s, making an at-large NCAA bid unlikely and forcing the Buffs to win the Pac-12 tourney for the league's automatic bid. The Buffs' best-case scenario this March is maintaining an RPI - the upper 20s will do - that will allow them to be relatively assured of an at-large NCAA bid when they leave for Vegas.
And that means a strong finish this week in the Bay Area against Stanford (Wednesday, 9 p.m. MST, ESPN2) and California (Saturday, 2 p.m. MST, ESPNU) and next week in the Coors Events Center against Oregon and Oregon State. The Pac-12 tournament is March 13-16.
The Buffs are 7-2 in their last nine games, with the most recent win against Utah (60-50) accomplished minus freshman center Josh Scott. He remains day-to-day for the Bay Area trip after being elbowed in the head on Feb. 16 in the overtime loss against Arizona State.
Against Utah, CU compensated for Scott's absence, getting fill-in productivity from several players. Said Boyle: "It's the time of the year when you need all hands on deck. The bench has got to play well, the starters have to play well. Everybody has to step their game up; it's crunch time. This is what you work for all year - to put yourself in this position."
Against the Utes, the Buffs got that kind of step-up effort from Jeremy Adams with nine points, three rebounds, two steals and a blocked shot in 17 minutes. Adams, a 6-5 junior, has been a study in perseverance after being diagnosed with Type 1 diabetes shortly after enrolling at CU two years ago.
Much of last season was spent getting the disease under control, and he now says, "I've got that figured out pretty well thanks to the Barbara Davis Center (in Aurora)." But yet to come were knee and foot ailments; Adams has patellar tendon tears in both knees and plantar fasciitis in his left foot.
"That's another thing that's kind of frustrating," he said. "I kind of had everything about the diabetes figured out. Then my knees happened, then the foot . . . that's what frustrating. I talked to my parents and they've told me to focus on the things I can control.
"I've tried to come out with a good attitude. There were some times when my dad would tell me that maybe I should go tell coach that I don't think I can play this game. But I couldn't do that; I just have to push through it."
Adams and CU trainer Trae Tashiro finally concluded the best treatment for his knees and foot would be acupuncture. "We had exhausted about all of our other options as far as rehabbing," Adams said. "(Tashiro) said let's see how acupuncture does."
It was a first for Adams, but he received his initial treatments about three weeks ago and thus far is pleased with the results.
Adams doesn't want his or his teammates' productivity off the bench to slip in the season's final four games. Said Adams: "We understand with Josh's injury that people have to step up, and we have a lot of people on the bench that are capable of doing that."
The bench contributions against Utah, said guard Spencer Dinwiddie, allowed the Buffs "to play with a higher level of intensity and be a little fresher doing things like pressing and trapping, like you saw in the Utah game. That's what's really helpful."
LAST SEASON, FACING THE SAME four teams in its final four games, CU lost at Oregon and Oregon State, then at home to Stanford. The upside of this season's final four games: CU already has defeated each of its last four opponents, beating Stanford (75-54) and Cal (81-71) in late January at the CEC, then winning at Oregon (48-47) and Oregon State (72-68) in early February.
But since those four games, there have been seismic shifts in the Pac-12.
Oregon point guard Dominic Artis hasn't played since Jan. 23 and the Ducks are 5-4 without him, falling from No. 9 when CU visited Eugene to No. 24 in this week's AP rankings. With Artis in the starting lineup, Oregon was 17-2 overall, 6-0 in the Pac-12, and averaging just shy of 76 points a game. Without him, the average is 63.7.
But Artis, who has a left foot injury, could return this week against Oregon State and most likely would play in Boulder next week.
Stanford has been the Pac-12's poster child for erratic and inconsistent play, going 2-3 in its last five games. The Cardinal won 62-59 at Arizona State, then followed with a 65-64 home loss to Southern California.
Cal has surged, with two of its five consecutive wins coming at league co-leaders Arizona (77-69) and Oregon (48-46). At 10-5, the Bears have moved into fourth place behind the Wildcats and Ducks (both 11-4) and UCLA (10-4). OSU is 1-4 in its last five games and is in 11th place.
CU (8-6) is in sixth place, trailing ASU (9-6) and would lose the head-to-head tiebreaker due to the Sun Devils' sweep of the series. But ASU's three remaining games are on the road - at UCLA, at USC, at Arizona, while Cal has visits by Utah, CU and Stanford for its final three.
At stake is the No. 4 seed (and a first-round bye) for the Pac-12 tournament. A day off on Day 1 of the tourney is no guarantee of advancing, but most coaches - including Boyle - like their chances of resting on the first day and winning three instead of having to win four.
But for CU, the setup for any scenario in Vegas starts in the Bay Area and ends next week in the CEC. Boyle says the Buffs aren't "in a make-or-break mode. Obviously every game is important, especially if we want that fourth seed and a bye in the tournament we've got to win.
"We've got to win Wednesday and Saturday . . . but this team has shown resilience all year and I think we've become a much better road team, especially for the youth that we have. We have confidence. The first one's important because it's the first one; you can't sweep without winning the first one. That's where our attention is right now."
And Adams says the Buffs who were on last year's roster realize the significance of the final road trip and finishing the season strong for prime positioning in Vegas.
"It's extremely important," he said. "We were in the same position last year, and hopefully the people who were on the team last year will have a little experience and know what we need to do to take care of business."
In last season's final four games, business took care of the Buffs. No one is looking for that kind of repeat to end this regular season.