The Colorado Buffaloes have been one of the top basketball teams in the Pac-12 over the past few years. This year, though, they’ve taken a small step back while some other teams (USC and UCLA in particular) have taken large steps forward. Has this Colorado team failed to meet expectations? And do they have a shot against the Arizona Wildcats in Tucson? I asked Sam Metivier of the Ralphie Report to get the scoop.
1. Colorado has had an up-and-down year, beating Xavier and Texas, but losing to Colorado State and BYU. How would you judge Colorado's season so far?
We had very high expectations for Colorado coming into this season. Even though they lost Josh Scott to graduation, they were returning four starters from the previous year and Xavier Johnson was coming back from a torn Achilles (he took a medical redshirt), plus Derrick White was there to lead the team. Of the usual starting rotation, the youngest player is George King, a fourth-year Junior, so this is the oldest team we've had at Colorado.
With all this experience, we're horrified by how many mental mistakes, how many extended lapses this team goes through, and, most of all, their consistency. Colorado was able to beat Xavier with defense and Derrick White, but they were outplayed in their next home game by Fort Hays State (!), a D-II school in Kansas. The hardest part about watching this team is knowing how good they can be and seeing them fall apart mentally every other game.
(Let's forget the Colorado State game happened.)
2. I can't remember any Division II transfer making an impact the way Derrick White has this season. What makes him so good and how has he been able to transition to Division I so quickly?
Derrick White has been incredible. He's simultaneously the best facilitator and offensive creator Colorado has had since Spencer Dinwiddie and the best pure scorer since Alec Burks. Without him running the offense, Colorado would be nightmarish on that end.
White went to UCCS (CU-Colorado Springs) instead of D-I because he was tiny, not because he lacked skill. As he grew into the 6'5, 190-lbs. player he is now, his game got better and better; now he could see over defenders and finish through traffic, and that opened up the rest of his game. In his transfer year, he spent the entire season getting used to the physicality he would see at the D-I level. Now this season, White has improved defensively every game and he's now the Buffs' second best perimeter defender (freshman Deleon Brown is the best, in my opinion).
3. Xavier Johnson is somehow still in college and is probably one of the opposing players Arizona fans hate the most. Is he back to his pre-injury form? And what can Arizona fans expect him to deliver on Saturday?
Yes, Xavier Johnson is still here and he loves the hate from the U of A fanbase. Before he tore his Achilles last summer, XJ was above-average athletically, a solid defender, a mediocre rebounder and a great but inconsistent shooter. He's lost a lot of that athleticism, but he's been a more valuable player to Colorado than he ever was pre-injury.
Colorado doesn't have much depth at big man, so XJ slid down to the power forward spot. There, he's able to use his shooting ability to help open up the offense while being able to facilitate and create for himself on the block. On defense, XJ has the capabilities to be a tenacious defender and a great rebounder, but his focus and effort comes and goes. Luckily for Colorado, XJ hates Arizona and was ejected (perhaps wrongfully) from the Arizona State, so he'll be bringing it all in this game.
4. What is your prediction for Saturday's game?
Colorado deserves a victory in the desert for Sabatino Chen, but this isn't the year. I would be pleasantly surprised with the Buffs if they lose by less than 15.
Thanks to Sam for taking the time to answer our questions this week, and for more on this game from the Colorado point-of-view, check out The Ralphie Report.