The Pac-12 men’s basketball schedule opens with a matchup between preseason favorites.
Whichever teams end up at the top of the standings should be in line for a high seed in the NCAA Tournament based off an improved nonconference performance by the conference.
Oregon and Colorado are both 11-2 as they prepare to face off 6 p.m. Thursday at Coors Events Center. Conference teams have a combined mark of 113-40 for the best nonconference winning percentage by the Pac-12 in four years.
“I haven’t looked at all the NET numbers, Ken Pom and RPI, but Colorado had a big win over Dayton, Arizona had a few good wins and so did Washington,” UO coach Dana Altman said. “We are going to have to play well right away.”
Oregon was the narrow pick ahead of Colorado in a preseason Pac-12 media poll and both teams are tied for the best record in nonconference play with Stanford and USC. The Ducks are up to fourth in the AP poll based on wins over Michigan, Seton Hall and Memphis while the Buffaloes are unranked despite a win over Dayton and a loss to Kansas.
“They have so many guys returning, they know what they want out of every possession offensively and defensively,” Altman said of CU. “They have a great home-court advantage so we are going to have to play really well, no doubt about that. … It will be a tough atmosphere. This team kicked us there last year so we have to play a heck of a lot better than a year ago.”
Oregon is winless in eight trips to CU, including six since the Buffaloes moved into the Pac-12. Colorado defeated the Ducks 73-51 last season.
“Last year was a whole different time where we were and where we finished so this is a different team,” Oregon guard Payton Pritchard said. “We are looking forward to the matchup.”
The most intriguing individual matchup features Pritchard and McKinley Wright, arguably the best point guards in the conference. Pritchard leads the Pac-12 with 6.2 assists while ranking fifth with 18.5 points per game. Wright leads the Buffs with 12.8 points and 4.2 assists.
Colorado 6-foot-7 forward Tyler Bey averages 12.5 points and 9.4 rebounds while D’Shawn Schwartz averages 11.4 points and 3.8 rebounds.
Oregon could be shorthanded in the frontcourt with C.J. Walker and Shakur Juiston both questionable to play due to injury. Juiston has missed five straight games with a leg injury while Walker missed the second half of Sunday’s 98-59 win over Alabama State with a back injury. Both will be game-time decisions.
Oregon has matched its highest ranking in school history with its best start in three years.
“In nonconference play, we put ourselves in good position,” Pritchard said. “Two losses we should have won, but we learned from those and we are going to try and have great conference play. … It’s the hardest nonconference schedule we have played and the best we’ve done since I’ve been here so that is a good sign, but that is in the past now and we want to move on to conference.”
After back-to-back 10-8 conference records, Oregon seeks its first Pac-12 title since 2017 by spending two of the first three weeks on the road.
“We have work to do in all areas, so hopefully the guys continue to make progress,” Altman said. “It is a long 18 games here, I don’t know what conference will bring. We start off with a tough road trip so we will have to fight through it.”