Call it a blessing in disguise, of sorts.

The Colorado men's basketball team should feel fortunate that most of its conference schedule remains and there is plenty of time to show what it can do without standout player Spencer Dinwiddie, said former selection committee chairman Craig Thompson, the Mountain West commissioner.

That's because the Buffs (15-4, 4-2 Pac-12) must show the selection committee they are still an NCAA Tournament-worthy team without their all-conference player, which is how they'll be judged.

"But there is a lot of time for Colorado to do that," said Thompson, who served on the NCAA Tournament selection committee from 1995-2000.

A junior point guard, Dinwiddie was lost to a season-ending knee injury during a Jan. 12 loss at Washington. The team's top scorer (14.7 points per game) and floor leader underwent reconstructive surgery Monday.

NCAA basketball committees are accustomed to evaluating prospective tournament teams that lose impact players to injury. The most difficult of those decisions occur when a key player gets hurt late in the season.

Sun Belt Conference commissioner Karl Benson, who formerly held the same job for the Western Athletic Conference and was on the selection committee, said:

"I didn't put as much emphasis on injured players as most of my colleagues did (on the selection committee). It's not as if a team is playing with four players. You never know what a replacement player can do for a team. Sometimes they do pretty darn well."

Said Thompson: "I think this one will be a little easier for the committee, because they know what Colorado did with Spencer Dinwiddie for more than two months, and now they'll see what kind of team they are without him for two months.

"It may not affect Colorado as much as a late-season injury because they have time for other players to step up and show, 'Hey, look. We're almost the same team without Spencer. With him, we're really special. But here we are. We didn't drop dramatically.' "

No longer a slam dunk

Before Dinwiddie's injury, the Buffs appeared a slam dunk for an NCAA Tournament bid. Even after going 1-2 since Dinwiddie's injury (including losing that game to Washington), the Buffs still ranked 19th nationally in the RPI power rankings entering this week.

Some have speculated that the selection committee will not even consider Colorado's results before Dinwiddie's injury, including the Dec. 7 victory over Kansas and the Jan. 5 win over then-undefeated Oregon. That's not exactly right, Thompson said.

"You don't necessarily wipe the slate (of previous results) clean," he said. "But for a team like Colorado without Spencer Dinwiddie, it will become: 'How far are they off without having an all-conference performer?' "

Colorado faces perhaps its most important road trip of the season this week: Thursday at No. 1 Arizona (18-0, 5-0) and Saturday at Arizona State (13-5, 2-3).

Arizona coach Sean Miller believes CU will become an NCAA Tournament team even without Dinwiddie.

"That's a big loss for Colorado, and it would be a big loss for any team," Miller said, "and it made me sick when I saw him get hurt.

"But we respect Colorado a great deal. I have no doubt, based on the other talented players they have, that they're going be fine — and hopefully one of the five or six teams from our conference that gets an NCAA Tournament bid."