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Jeff Eisenberg

Three straight Big 12 wins thrust Colorado into the spotlight

Jeff Eisenberg
The Dagger

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As Colorado finished off Oklahoma State on Saturday night to notch its third straight victory to open Big 12 play, a raucous crowd at Coors Event Center celebrated with chants of "We want Kansas."

It's understandable that Colorado fans are already looking ahead to the Jan. 25 visit from the Jayhawks, but let's hope the Buffaloes themselves are being more prudent.

Before that potential first-place showdown with Kansas in Boulder, Colorado (14-4, 3-0) must venture out on the road to face improved Nebraska on Tuesday and woeful Oklahoma on Saturday.

Win both of those, and suddenly the litmus test against Kansas becomes one of the most-anticipated home games at Colorado in years. Drop one or two on the road, and the buzz and momentum from the Buffaloes' strong play the past two weeks probably dissipates.

Credit Colorado for its resilience and its renewed commitment to defense because the Buffaloes certainly did not look like they would be playing relevant games in January as recently as a month ago. They were one of the nation's most disappointing teams in November, falling to Trey Thompkins-less Georgia, lightly regarded San Francisco and Ivy League favorite Harvard in a span of 12 days.

Colorado quietly turned things around with victories over the likes of Colorado State, Oregon State and Indiana, but the attention-grabbing wins didn't come until the start of Big 12 play. An upset of Missouri in Boulder made headlines, but a road win over Kansas State and a gritty come-from-behind victory over Oklahoma State served notice that the Buffaloes are legit NCAA tournament contenders.

Strong play from the vaunted backcourt duo of Alec Burks and Cory Higgins certainly is the trademark of this Colorado team, but it's increased contributions from other sources that has sparked the recent winning streak.

Senior sharpshooter Levi Knutson had scored in double figures in four straight games prior to a rare off night against Oklahoma State. And the Buffaloes are defending and rebounding with the effort and intensity that they rarely showed last season or in the opening month this year.

At the beginning of the season, the question surrounding Colorado was whether new coach Tad Boyle would be able to take the talented parts Jeff Bzdelik left behind and mold them into an NCAA tournament-caliber team.

It's too soon to know for sure whether Boyle will be successful, but right now the Buffaloes are right on track.

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