Evaluating Colorado’s Lost Weekend in the Grand Canyon StatePosted by AMurawa on January 7th, 2013
Just looking at the way the schedule set up, one way or the other, Colorado was going to have problems with Arizona State on Sunday. Even in some alternate universe where the Buffaloes remained strong down the stretch on Thursday night, took care of the ball and hit some free throws on their way to a double-figure win over Arizona, you just knew they were going to have a tough time with the back end of their Arizona road trip after looking ahead to that conference opener since the schedule was announced.
And yet, at the under-12 media timeout, the Buffaloes were up 17-4 and cruising. But, here’s where the insidious hangover effect kicked in. Rather than take out all their pent-up frustration over Thursday night’s controversial loss to Arizona, CU eased up just slightly, Arizona State got a couple of easy baskets, and the momentum for the rest of the evening shifted, never to return. After hitting eight of their first 14 attempts from the field, the Buffaloes hit less than 30% of their shots the rest of the night, including just 1-of-17 from beyond the arc. Even worse, while their opponent started 2-of-12 from the field with five turnovers in their first 15 possessions, they had just five turnovers in their last 48 possessions and hit better than 50% of their field goals the rest of the way — in part because Colorado’s defensive intensity left for an early flight back to Boulder. As Spencer Dinwiddie put it, “As a group, we stopped playing defense and stopped rebounding.” And so the Buffaloes return home from a weekend in Arizona with nothing to show for their efforts.
Where to go from here? Well, the good news is they’ll be back in the friendly confines of Coors Event Center next week, as they host the Los Angeles schools, and they’ve won 41 of their last 45 games there; that stat alone indicates that nothing will heal up this Buffs team like some good old-fashioned home cooking. But, there are some deeper, long-term concerns for this team. First if not foremost is that pesky free-throw shooting thing. Back in November, the Buffaloes did their best to give away the title game of the Charleston Classic to Baylor, missing five of their last six free throws (and 15-of-19 on the day) and displaying plenty of iffy decisions in the final couple of minutes before eventually holding on for the good win. But that situation, and the fact that the team as a whole is shooting just 65.9% from the charity stripe on the year (good for 252nd in the nation) indicated that there would be problems in the future. With key figures like Andre Roberson and Xavier Johnson flirting with the 50% mark from the stripe, and with secondary ball-handler Askia Booker not much better at 64%, this doesn’t seem like a problem that is going to go away any time soon.
One other area of concern is the complete lack of depth on this team. Against Arizona, six players (the starters and Johnson) earned 93% of all the minutes played in that game. Sunday night, after building up that early lead, it was Tad Boyle’s seemingly wise move to get some of his reserves more time that coincided with ASU getting back into the game. At some point, Boyle’s going to have to find somebody else (and really, it only needs to be maybe one other person) that he can trust. Juniors Shane Harris-Tunks and Jeremy Adams and freshmen Eli Stalzer and Xavier Talton have all been underwhelming to this point, but for the sake of the starters, at least one of those guys is going to have to earn more minutes. While it is hard to point to fatigue as a primary factor in either of the losses this weekend, just a bit more energy down the stretch may have been the difference in either game; after all, the Buffaloes were outscored by a combined 28 points after halftime in the two games.
Lastly, it may be time to shift the primary focus of Colorado’s offense to freshman center Josh Scott. Thus far this season, Booker has launched the most shots for the Buffs (a healthy 31% of all of his team’s field goal attempts while he’s on the floor), and, while he’s provided a good boost of scoring off the bench last year, he just isn’t efficient or selective enough to be the team’s primary scoring threat. Likewise Roberson, for all of his immense physical gifts, just hasn’t shown much growth offensively; he’s still very much limited to either putbacks, transition baskets or the occasional three. This weekend Roberson was just 5-of-17 from the floor for 14 total points. Meanwhile Scott, despite having serious problems with Jordan Bachynski, was efficient in limited touches this weekend, averaging 12.5 points per game and shooting 57.9% from the floor in his first Pac-12 road trip. Slowly but surely, Boyle’s got to find more ways to get Scott involved.
Aside from the free throw issues, these are fixable problems. The first six players on this roster are likely still a top-four Pac-12 team and, despite concerns the sky is falling after an 0-2 start, the Buffs will very much be in the thick of things in the conference race. If CU fans remember nothing else about this weekend (and really, that would probably be a good idea), they should remember that they went into the home court of the nation’s #3 team and put a hurting on them for about 36 minutes. In other words, there is enough talent here to compete with anybody in the nation. They just need a few little tweaks here and there, and some major work on their closing.