With Spencer Dinwiddie lost for the season, can Colorado still earn an NCAA bid?
Had Spencer Dinwiddie not suffered a devastating knee injury on Sunday, Colorado had every chance to challenge Arizona for the Pac-12 title, return to the NCAA tournament for a third straight season and make a deep March run.
Some of that doesn't appear possible anymore for the Buffaloes now that they've lost Dinwiddie for the season.
An MRI exam taken Monday confirmed Dinwiddie tore his left ACL against Washington and will require season-ending surgery. His loss deprives Colorado of its leading scorer, best playmaker and top perimeter defender, a player who led the Buffs to a 14-2 record and a top 15 ranking prior to his injury.
"Most ppl tweet something sappy in this situation but y'all know that ain't my style," Dinwiddie wrote Monday afternoon. "Always tell you I think I'm invincible and I still do. But sadly I'm human, and in being human I'm mad!! Really mad!! U guys know what this year was supposed to be ... Ride off into the sunset with a P12 championship in hand and accomplishing my childhood dream.
"I have the [utmost] confidence the team will handle this and continue to have success. With that said I want to thank all that have prayed for me I don't regret coming back to school, I had one of the most fun summers in my life. I only hurt for my family mainly my dad. Time to attack rehab."
Despite Dinwiddie's confidence in his teammates, his injury essentially removes one challenger to Arizona in the race for the Pac-12 title. With Colorado lacking its best player, Oregon slumping and UCLA having already lost at home to the Wildcats, Arizona's chances of running away with the league appear even stronger than they did just a week or two ago.
Colorado can still make the NCAA tournament without Dinwiddie, but it cannot solely rely on victories over Kansas, Harvard and Oregon attained with its best player in the lineup. Instead it must prove to the selection committee that it's worthy of inclusion even with Dinwiddie watching from the bench.
To do that, Colorado cannot ask fellow guard Askia Booker to do too much offensively. He is already an inefficient enough scorer at 38.1 percent from the floor and 28.4 percent from behind the arc, and those clips would only decrease if he starts firing at will.
The answer more likely is to make interior standout Josh Scott the focal point of the offense, to give 6-foot-7 wing Xavier Johnson more opportunities and to hope that a handful of young guards can collectively replace some of Dinwiddie's production. Look for 6-foot-5 freshman Jaron Hopkins to get the first crack at starting in place of Dinwiddie, with sophomore Xavier Talton and freshman Tre'Shaun Fletcher also seeing increased minutes.
In the second half of Sunday's loss at Washington, Colorado was outscored 45-25 without Dinwiddie. As much as the Buffs will miss him, however, that's an aberration fueled by the shock of Dinwiddie's teammates seeing him go down.
Colorado won't be nearly the same team without Dinwiddie, but enough talent remains for the Buffs to finish in the middle of the Pac-12 and still make a push to reach the NCAA tournament.