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Inconsistency has been the Colorado men’s basketball team’s calling card this season. After winning massive early season non-conference games against Tennessee and Texas A&M, the Buffs have disappointed in conference play.
With only a couple of weeks left before tournament season, Will Darkey shared his thoughts on the season so far and which players and teams are worth keeping an eye on.
Jake Schwanitz: Where does Tristan da Silva rank in terms of Pac-12 best players?
Will Darkey: Tristan da Silva has positioned himself as a Pac-12 first-team player in my eyes. Averaging 19.3 points per game through CU’s 13 games of 2023, da Silva has carved up nearly every Pac-12 opponent he’s faced this season. He’s currently fifth in the league in points per game, averaging 16.4 on the season. The German floor general’s confidence has grown so much over the course of this season, and the stats are starting to show. Da Silva’s most impressive stat this year was his five-game streak of 20 or more points; a stretch no Buff had pulled off since Josh Scott in the 2015-16 season. If da Silva decides to stick around for another year, I expect the 6-foot-9 forward to get some Preseason Pac-12 Player of the Year nods. But in terms of this year, I’d say da Silva’s name should be up there with the likes of Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis and UCLA’s Jaime Jaquez as Pac-12 first-teamers.
Jake: Who would be Pac-12 first team if the season ended today?
Will: The Pac-12 is weird with how they select their first team, handing out ten spots for their first team. Instead of that, I’m just going to give my traditional 5-man first team. Going off of my Tristan answer, I have to show love to the black and gold. Tristan da Silva has solidified himself as a Pac-12 first-teamer from his dominance throughout conference play.
My next selection, and probably the most obvious, is Arizona’s Azuolas Tubelis. Tubelis leads the league in both points per game and rebounds per game. He’s the focal point of the Wildcat’s efficient offense.
UCLA veteran Jaime Jaquez would be my third pick. The senior for the Bruins is averaging nearly 17 points per game and has solidified himself as a perennial top player in the country.
My next pick would be Washington’s Keion Brooks. The Kentucky transfer lit up the Buffs earlier this season when he put up 25 in Boulder. The senior forward is averaging 17.5 points per game and 7 rebounds per game.
My final selection would be USC’s Boogie Ellis. The Trojans’ senior guard has upped his game significantly in his fourth year, averaging just over 17 points per game, while also adding 3 assists per game. Ellis is one of the main reasons the Trojans are vying for a bubble spot currently.
Jake: What teams would be the best draw for Colorado in the Pac-12 Tournament?
Will: The Buffs currently sit ninth in the conference, where they would draw a first-round matchup with Washington. That is a matchup I’d like to avoid for CU, as they got swept in their season series versus the Huskies. A matchup I’d like to see for Tad and the team would be Washington State or Stanford. Colorado swept the season series against the Cardinal and was able to shut down the Cougars’ best player, Mouhamed Gueye, in their one meeting. From there, the Buffs would most likely have to play Arizona. While we saw this past weekend how solid of a team the Wildcats are, they have shown they are human at times and pose a chance to be upset in Vegas.
Jake: Which Pac-12 team is your favorite to win the NCAA tournament?
Will: My favorite out of the Pac-12 to win March Madness would be UCLA. They boast the killer combination of veteran experience and five-star freshmen talent. Jaime Jaquez and Tyger Campbell played pivotal roles in the Bruins’ Final Four run two years ago. Freshman guard Amari Bailey is starting to come into his own since returning from injury in late January. And, since 2002 every National Champion has been top 40 in offensive efficiency and top 22 in defensive efficiency on KenPom. UCLA is currently the 23rd-best offense and 2nd-best defense in the country. They are the most well-rounded team in the Pac-12.
Jake: Who is your favorite to win the Pac-12 tourney right now?
Will: Similar to my pick to win the big dance out of the Pac, give me the Bruins to win the Pac-12 tourney. When UCLA and Arizona faced off a month ago, it was in Tucson and the Wildcats took the win in a close one. While UCLA lost that game, I came out of it much more impressed by the Bruins than by Arizona. They looked very poised on the road and held Arizona to a low-scoring slugfest of a game. That type of outcome on the road gives me faith that on a neutral court, the advantage would go to UCLA. Paired with the KenPom metrics stated earlier, I like the balanced attack of the Bruins over the rest of the field.
Jake: Which team outside of the top four has the best chance to win the Pac-12 tourney?
Will: Oregon has dropped three straight, causing them to slide to sixth in the conference. Because of that slide, I’m taking the Ducks as my dark horse to win the Pac-12 tourney. They had a 19-point win over Arizona earlier this month, and have shown flashes of elite play. Oregon also has an experienced guard in Will Richardson, who has played in his fair share of both Pac-12 tourney games and March Madness games. He knows what it takes to win on those bigger stages and could single-handedly carry the Ducks to an automatic bid.
Jake: Who are your dark horses to win the NCAA tournament?
Will: I’m considering anyone currently sitting outside of the AP Top 10 as a dark horse. My first dark horse candidate is Creighton. After slipping earlier in December, the Bluejays have regained their footing. They’ve won eight of their last nine, with their lone loss coming on the road at Providence, who hasn’t dropped a home game yet this year. Creighton has one of the most talented starting fives in the entire nation, highlighted by star center Ryan Kalkbrenner. Another dark horse I love is TCU. The Horned Frogs are a prime buy-low candidate right now, as they have slipped a bit in recent Big 12 play. Their stud guard Mike Miles was out with an injury the past few weeks, but now he is back and TCU’s stock is soaring. TCU has the experience, they’ve got playmakers who can take over games and they’re getting healthy at the right time.
Jake: Which team has been the biggest surprise in the Pac-12?
Will: Utah has been the Pac-12’s biggest surprise. The Utes had been stuck in purgatory for the better half of the last decade, and I didn’t think this year would be any different. But they currently sit at fifth in the Pac-12 standings, with at-large chances still alive on the bubble. This uptick in wins includes a 15-point domination over Arizona in early December. While I’m still not completely sold on the Utes’ ability come March, they’ve proven me wrong so far and have been the biggest surprise for me in the conference with their 10-7 conference record.
Jake: Outside of the Pac-12 tournament, which conference tourney are you most excited to watch?
Will: The Big 12 tournament is going to be must-watch basketball. The worst team in the Big 12 is ranked 61st in the NET, which is still better than where Colorado currently sits. And the team that’s ranked worst? Oklahoma, who just a couple of weeks ago blew out then #2 Alabama by 24 points. This conference is stacked from top-to-bottom with talented squads, and each game in the conference tournament will be a barn burner. The Big 12 will send a lot of teams to the big dance this year, with many of them filling in the 1,2, and 3 seeds. So, watching this conference tournament will also give you great insight into some of the top contenders that could take home the title in April.