In case you needed a sign that Tad Boyle's program remains headed in the right direction, or that the folks saying Colorado was ranked too low in the preseason Pac-12 media poll (yours truly included) were on the side of angels or, mercifully, that the Pac-12 is going to be better as a league than it was last season, the Buffaloes delivered all three of those messages Friday afternoon.
And they didn't play anywhere near their best basketball. That's saying something, considering they beat No. 16-ranked Baylor, a team that is led by veteran guards and loaded with potential NBA talent. The Buffaloes were OK offensively in the run of play, but they shot 4-of-22 from the free throw line (I repeat: 22.2 percent from the free throw line) and their most important player, forward Andre Roberson, posted an inefficient 3-of-11 from the field (though he did lead his team with 12 rebounds). Boyle's team also went 1-of-6 in the final minute of the game. Still they emerged with the win.
Why? Defense, primarily: Colorado held Baylor, a team averaging 1.16 points per possession in two games thus far this season, to just .87 points per trip Friday afternoon. The Bears didn't turn the ball over often. But Colorado challenged every shot at the rim, rebounded misses, and Baylor, which finished with a 39.8 effective field goal percentage, just couldn't put anything away.
To be sure, it is way, way, way too early to start talking about NCAA tournament at-large eligibility. But -- come on, you had to see that coming -- it's safe to say one thing. In beating Baylor Friday, Colorado earned a top-50 win (guh, I know) it will be able to bank throughout the rest of the season. It doesn't matter that it happened on Nov. 16; the NCAA tournament selection committee has long since started to treat all wins the same. It's there, and it's real, and Colorado didn't play its best hoops to get it, but the Buffaloes got it anyway.
And that's not only good news for Colorado. It's also good news for its still-new conference, the Pac-12. Last season, the two-bid, regular-season-conference-champion-shut-out-of-the-tourney Pac-12 didn't beat a single ranked team all year. Its nonconference record was abysmal, with just one top-50 total; Oregon State's win over Texas ended up being one of the league's best wins all season. (I had to rank that league all season. I still occasionally wake up in a cold sweat, screaming at Kevin O'Neill: No! Please! You're killing basketball! Somebody help! Somebody help the Pac-12! It's a lot like the South Park episode with "Indiana Jones.")
Already, thanks to Colorado, the league is off to a much better start than last season. In fact, it has basically already eclipsed last season's nonconference performance. In other words, Buffaloes fans aren't the only ones rightfully thrilled by Friday's victory.