In the end, there was only so far the Colorado Buffaloes were going to go without leading scorer Spencer Dinwiddie.
Dinwiddie, who was lost to an ACL injury midway through the season, would have been a major player for the Buffaloes in Thursday’s NCAA tournament South Region second-round game against the Pittsburgh Panthers. Dinwiddie’s play would have given Colorado one more weapon to try and open up the historically tough Panthers’ defense, and he could have at least kept the Buffaloes in the game. Instead, the team that made a run to the Pac-12 tournament semifinals before losing to Arizona finally ran out of gas. Pittsburgh blew out Colorado 77-48, putting the game away early and taking a 46-18 lead into halftime.
Dinwiddie wouldn’t have made all the difference; he averaged 14.7 points per game for the 17 contests he played in this year, a shade less than half of Colorado’s 35-game slate. Colorado started 14-2 with Dinwiddie completely healthy, and the Buffaloes got deserved national notice for beating three teams ranked at the time — Baylor, Oklahoma State and Oregon. Colorado might have been a slight step behind Arizona in the conference had Dinwiddie not gotten hurt against Washington, a 71-54 Colorado loss on Jan. 12, but the Buffaloes could have battled for second place at least, and would have had a much better record entering the tournament had Dinwiddie stayed healthy. He had scored better than 20 points on three occasions to start the season, including 28 in a win over rival Colorado State.
Josh Scott was the leader for Colorado on Thursday with just 14 points, and he was one of only two Buffaloes in double figures (Xavier Johnson had 11). It was just too much to ask for Colorado to try and keep it together without their best player. The Buffaloes went 9-10 without Dinwiddie (including the game in which he got hurt). It shows how good he was, that Colorado had built up enough of a resume to get into the NCAA tournament at all given how the final two months of the season went, with really no notable victories among those final nine. Dinwiddie is a junior, so all is not lost for Colorado, and of the four seniors on the team, none of them started Thursday’s game, so there’s reason for optimism in Boulder.
But that doesn’t change the crushing blow Dinwiddie’s injury turned out to be on the 2013-14 season. The Buffaloes looked like they had gone from a team that always threatened a couple upsets a year, then faded quietly to a team that was going to be a legit contender in the Pac-12 and a top-six seed in the NCAA tournament. Instead, the Buffaloes were pushed down to an 8-seed and had to face a perhaps under-seeded Pittsburgh (9) in their first game. The Panthers also struggled late in the season, but finished fifth in a very strong ACC. The teams that finished ahead of Pitt in the ACC landed 1 (Virginia), two 3s (Duke, Syracuse), and 6 (North Carolina) seeds in the NCAA Tournament. And Pittsburgh best North Carolina in the recent ACC tournament.
Pitt, who was led by Talib Zanna‘s 18 points on Thursday, moves on to face either top-seed Florida or 16th-seed Albany in the third round. Colorado, meanwhile, heads home to ponder what might have been, in what went from a promising year to a very unlucky season in a heartbeat.