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NCAA Tournament Bracket 2012: Colorado, Cal Draw Difficult Roads

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If you're looking at the NCAA tournament bracket (fill out yours now!) and you're hovering on the bubble before tournament weekend, it's probably torture if you're a college basketball fan. You're right along that line between eeking in for a tough first round matchup and NIT favorite.

But there is one bright side: Get in, and you're likely in the best possible seed available to you that isn't a top 4 seed: The 10-13 spots are almost certainly where you want to be if you dream of having any shot of getting to the Sweet 16. 8-9 is where death occurs, and 14-16 is where you go to burn in the fiery cauldron of one-and-done.

The Colorado Buffaloes and California Golden Bears both landed in that situation. Unfortunately, they drew less than ideal matchups to get to the second weekend.

Colorado has used their athleticism and length at multiple positions to power their way to a rare four win Pac-12 tournament championship, but now they face a team that probably is equally strong and has similar athletic assets in UNLV. Andre Roberson is Colorado's biggest asset, but he now has to contend with Mike Moser, who is pretty much a virtual clone of what Roberson has to offer. Without a decided athletic advantage at the forward spot, Colorado's biggest personnel advantage is immediately negated.

Get past UNLV, and then Colorado probably must deal with one of the most forward-heavy teams in the Dance in Baylor. Add in the fact that both squads are solid offensive units, and these teams remind you a lot of the one squad that gave the Buffs fit in conference play, Stanford, only imagine Stanford with two-three NBA prospects. If Colorado wants to score upsets, they're going to have to hope their next two opponents do the same thing all their victims in the Pac-12 tournament did: Clang threes (Baylor and UNLV are good at shooting three balls, but so were Oregon, Cal and Arizona...) and prevent easy baskets and offensive boards. Not easy to hope for.

Cal's road isn't much easier. At first glance, it seems they have the path they want: They'll be the 12th seed at a bunch of sites where they won't have to face overwhelming hostile opposition. They face a Temple squad that is particularly good at shooting three pointers and taking care of the basketball (as they proved in signature victories over Duke and St. Louis), but has an average defense and can be exploited on the interior. They then draw a rising but young team in Michigan, which pounds the paint with points but is vulnerable to the three point shot, particularly considering how slow they usually play. The Bears have a solid halfcourt defense and an efficient halfcourt offense against non-super athletic squads, and Temple/Michigan is the blueprint two-team path you'd love to have with guys like Jorge Gutierrez and Allen Crabbe leading the way.

Unfortunately for Cal, they have to play an extra game: At South Florida, on Wednesday. Another winnable game, but it drastically reduces their odds of advancing beyond Week 1, particularly with their lack of overall depth.

While the Bears might be able to pull off two games in three nights, three in five is a near death sentence. Cal can only look back at their last four losses against teams not named Colorado and wonder how close they came to being in the perfect spot in an 11/12 seed to really catapult beyond. In this situation, two wins is their likely ceiling; the Sweet 16 would be a miraculous achievement of its own.

If either Cal or Colorado does make it to the second week, they'll have earned it.

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