Colorado’s Dilemma and Bad Offensive Basketball

Posted by Andrew Murawa on December 9th, 2014

With Colorado’s 64-57 loss at Georgia on Sunday morning, Tad Boyle’s club has now played two games against teams ranked in KenPom’s top 100. Both of those games were on the road, so take that into account, but the Buffaloes have looked absolutely terrible, especially on the offensive end, and are now 0-2 in those games. In 114 offensive possessions, Colorado has scored 90 points, good for 0.79 points per possession. In easy terms: not good. One bad performance early in the season can be written off (Stanford and Michigan, take note), but two of those hints a trend. And we’re deep enough into the season now to start taking some long-term lessons from what we’ve seen. And my first lesson about the state of Colorado basketball is that this offense needs some serious medicine.

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

A Month Into The Season, Tad Boyle Has Plenty To Be Upset About On The Offensive End. (Jeremy Papasso, AP Photo)

You can look at the box score from the Georgia game and jump right to one statistic: 2-0f-17 on three-point attempts. Hey, maybe if the Buffs had a bit better luck from three, they’re right in the game with the Bulldogs, right? Well, not so fast. This offense is not built around three-point shooting. As it is, those 17 three-point attempts show up as just 28.8 percent of the team’s field goal attempts, lower than their percentage of three-point field goal attempts on the season, already a low number by national standards. Furthermore, seven of those three-point attempts came in the games’ final four minutes as the Buffaloes were in scramble mode trying to get back into the game. Sure, this isn’t a particularly great three-point shooting team, and that is an issue. But it is not the issue.

The issue may well be this instead: There is only one good offensive half-court player on this roster right now. And the Buffaloes do not do a good job of getting junior center Josh Scott involved in the offense. Guys like Askia Booker and Xavier Johnson are athletes who can do a lot of very good things on the basketball court, but neither of them is a polished, efficient half-court basketball player. Guys like Wesley Gordon, Tre’Shaun Fletcher and Jaron Hopkins? Same story, even more starkly. But almost every time you watch Colorado play, you see bursts of wow-inducing plays in transition. Even Scott is capable of getting up and down the floor with the best of the big men in this conference. Given that these Buffs have had such struggles in the half-court, they really need to find a way to get easy buckets, and getting Johnson, Booker and company out in the open floor and making plays on the run may be the easiest way to do that.

Josh Scott Is Colorado's Only Polished Threat In the Half-Court (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Josh Scott Is Colorado’s Only Polished Threat In the Half-Court. (Kai Casey, CU Independent)

Here’s the problem. That strategy is not Boyle’s M.O., at least it hasn’t been in Boulder. When he was the head coach at Northern Colorado — and even in his first season at Colorado with an inherited roster — Boyle’s teams ran at a decent rate, landing right around 68 or 69 possessions per game between 2006-11. Since then, those tempos have dipped to a low of about 64 possessions per game this season (note the 52-possession Wyoming outlier is a huge drag on that number and it will likely go up as additional games reduce the important of that one data point). But by the same token, Boyle hasn’t had very effective offensive teams at all, excluding that first season with his inherited roster. Since then, he hasn’t had a team ranked higher than 123rd in the nation in offensive efficiency. Let’s go get some easy offense, Tad.

Of course, in order to do that, the defensive style that he favors (which ranks the Buffs no lower than 42nd in the nation in defensive efficiency the last three years) will need to adapt as well. Another hallmark of Boyle’s teams in Boulder has been to play it safe defensively — pack it in, don’t foul, don’t force turnovers, let the opposition shoot some threes if they want. In order to ramp up those transition opportunities, however, the Buffs would need to change their defensive identity, taking some chances at creating turnovers and making some plays. They’ve got the type of athletes who would be capable of doing this, but getting a coach and a team to change their style, especially in midseason, is not something that is often done. The good news is that between now and when Colorado goes to Hawaii for the Diamond Head Classic over Christmas, they’ve got just two games on the schedule: Colorado State and Northern Colorado. The first of those two games is certainly not the type of battle that can be gambled away, but the fact is that with this roster and style, these Buffaloes don’t look very much like an NCAA Tournament team. But if they could turn up the defensive pressure just a notch to earn a couple or three additional transition opportunities per game, that could be the difference between a bad offensive team and a passable one.

One other point: um, get the ball inside to Scott a little more, please. He’s the best offensive post player in the conference by a long shot and in the conversation for the best in the nation. It’s not like he’s failing to get good position and calling for the ball, either; he wants the ball. What’s more, he’s not some black hole where the ball goes in and never comes back out again. He’s a capable passer out of the post, something that may help the team’s 33.9% 3FG on the season inch up slightly. Sure, teams sag on the Buffaloes because of their ineffective outside shooting, but there’s no reason that Scott should be taking 21 percent of this team’s shots while Johnson takes 27 percent and Booker takes (dear lord!) 38 percent. Get the ball to your best player.

Now neither of these prescriptions may be the magic bullet that turns an otherwise average roster into a conference title contender, but this team should very much be in the NCAA Tournament conversation when the season ends. Right now, however, that notion seems like little more than a fantasy. It’s time to try something different.

AMurawa (999 Posts)

Andrew Murawa Likes Basketball.

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