When Spencer Dinwiddie tore an ACL on Jan. 12 (stop me if you're sick of hearing that), the Colorado men's basketball team went from being on the peripheral of the Pac-12 title race to not even being in the discussion for it.

The best-case scenario, at the time, would be a high seed for the NCAA Tournament. And even that seemed like a stretch given the numbers the Buffaloes lost with Dinwiddie's injury (31.1 minutes per game, 14.7 points, 3.1 rebounds, 3.8 assists).

We've seen this before. Star player on an up-and-coming team gets hurt. Team slips into mediocrity. You could say the CU men have done just that. They are 6-5 since Dinwiddie went down, counting their loss at Washington in the game he was hurt. But that would be purely ignorant.

Four of those losses came in the immediate aftermath of Dinwiddie's injury. Three were against quality teams that will likely make the NCAA Tournament field when the bracket is announced March 16 (current No. 4 Arizona, No. 23 UCLA, Arizona State). The Buffs have won five of their last six. Wednesday they beat coach Herb Sendek's Sun Devils 61-52 at Coors Events Center and looked impressive in doing so, shooting aside.

They were cohesive, fearless, persistent; they made 37 percent of their shots from the field, including a 1-for-11 mark from 3-point range, but outrebounded the Sun Devils and their 7-foot-2 center Jordan Bachynski 48-27.


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When they woke up Thursday, the CU men (20-7, 9-5) were 2½ games behind first-place Arizona, their next opponent, with four left in the regular season. The Buffs are no longer on the tournament bubble, according to ESPN's Joe Lunardi. They're good for a No. 9 seed.

When was the last time a program with as little history as Colorado lost an NBA lottery pick to injury midway through the season and was still in the hunt for a major conference title heading into the last week of February?

Maybe we haven't seen this before.

Credit is due to the players. Askia Booker (14.6 ppg, 3.4 apg) is putting up almost the same numbers Dinwiddie was at the time of his injury. Josh Scott (14.4 ppg, 8.7 rpg) is averaging almost a double-double. Xavier Johnson has led the team in scoring in four of the last eight games. The Buffs are still giving up too many points (132nd most in the country), but they're second in the conference in rebounding (28th nationally) and can run with anyone.

Most of the credit though goes to Tad Boyle. This season was over for Colorado on Jan. 12 and he has single-handedly rescued it. The Buffs are no longer compensating for the Dinwiddie injury. They've moved past it.

Should Colorado finish the regular-season strong and make it back to the Big Dance, Boyle deserves serious consideration for Pac-12 Coach of the Year. No coach has had to go through what he has this year. (Hands down, Arizona fans. Yes, the Wildcats lost Brandon Ashley for the season, but how many other McDonald's All-Americans does Sean Miller have?)

Saturday's game is as big as it gets for Colorado -- a primetime, nationally televised matchup against No. 4 Arizona with ESPN College GameDay in attendance. It's a chance for the Buffs to pull within a game of the Wildcats and put to rest any lingering doubts the NCAA Tournament selection committee has about them.

The fact this game is still huge for the Buffs sans Dinwiddie says all you need to know about the job Boyle has done this year.

Tournament watch

Lunardi's latest edition of Bracketology had six Pac-12 teams making the tournament. Only the Big Ten and Big East had as many.

I have no problem with that. The Pac-12 has the third highest RPI, according to CBS Sports.

Lunardi has Arizona receiving a No. 1 seed, UCLA a No. 5, Arizona State, Colorado and Stanford a No. 9 and California a No. 10.

Oregon was among his next four out.

Follow Scott on Twitter @SJAdams