Colorado (11-3, 3-1 Pac-12) is coming off a home sweep of the Washington schools and has won five in a row.
To better understand the Buffaloes, we reached out to Jack Barsch of SB Nation sister site Ralphie Report for some insight. Here are his solid answers to our hollow questions:
AZ Desert Swarm: Colorado appears to be playing some of its best basketball of late, having not lost since Dec. 4. In the middle of that was a 19-day layoff because of a COVID pause, though. What, if anything, is different about the Buffaloes since returning to the court?
Jack Barsch: “Not much is different, but this young team is continuing to grow up. Everyone but two players on the roster had never played college basketball in front of people before, so it took some time to get them comfortable. The Buffs aren’t ready to compete at the highest level yet, but there is plenty of young talent to get excited about as the season progresses.”
It seemed like McKinley Wright was in Boulder forever, but now that he’s finally moved on, who are this team’s leaders, both in terms of performance and steering the group?
“Man, I miss McKinley Wright already. Forever isn’t long enough.
“The emotional leader is unquestionably Evan Battey. The lone remaining member of the storied 2017 recruiting class, Battey is the heart of the team and has taken everyone under his wing. The center has played a lot of Pac-12 basketball and has really worked on his shot this year. I will unabashedly cry during Evan Battey’s senior day.
“Performance-wise, Jabari Walker is the standout performer of the group and a fringe 1st round prospect. The forward has seven double-doubles this year, largely without the use of his outside shot. We know he can shoot the ball well, so his game will elevate further once his shot returns. Walker is a natural-born scorer who is always on the attack. He also rebounds with enthusiasm.”
Arizona leads the nation in scoring and assists and has the shortest average possession length in the country, while Colorado plays at a much slower pace and tries to make defensive possessions take as long as possible. The Buffaloes don’t force a lot of turnovers, so what is their key to holding down the Wildcats’ attack?
“Tad Boyle has always preached a conservative defensive approach that doesn’t try to force turnovers. As you mentioned, the goal is always to make the offense attack for a full 30 seconds and limit them to one chance if they can. The biggest key to success against Arizona will be transition defense. As you mentioned, the Wildcats like to get out and run. Can the Buffs stop them early?”
Boyle just got his 300th win, but he is only 7-23 against Arizona and 0-9 at McKale Center—where Colorado has never won. He’s led the Buffaloes to five NCAA Tournament bids, but last year’s trip was the first since 2016. Would you consider his tenure a success, and is this as good as it can be?
“What are you, kidding? Tad Boyle is the greatest coach in CU history. Before his arrival, the Buffs had a claim as a bottom-five Power 6 program in the country. CU has never been a basketball school and really dropped off after World War II. As mentioned, the Buffs have been to five NCAA tournaments since he took over in 2011. They went to five NCAA tournaments from 1960-2009. Tad Boyle’s win percentage at Colorado is 62.6%. As a program, including Boyle’s record, the win percentage is 51%. The Buffs have been to five NCAA Tournaments as a member of the Pac-12. Only three other programs (Oregon, UCLA and Arizona) have been to more since the conference’s formation. This is all despite the fact that Boyle is working with a bottom-tier budget in the conference and is operating out of a traditional basketball recruiting wasteland. He has turned the Buffs into a upper-middle basketball program, AT WORST. He just signed a top-15 recruiting class last year. CU has no business being as consistently solid as Tad has made us, and he will get a statue when he retires.”
Prediction time: Can CU finally get over the hump and win in Tucson for the first time since 1960 or will that just-after-the-buzzer Sabbatino Chen shot in 2013 going to be as close as it’s gonna get? Give us a score prediction.
“Excluding the win (Editor’s note: not a win) in 2013, the Buffs haven’t really come that close to beating Arizona at Arizona. That is a function of where these programs are in relation to each other. I have found Arizona to be annoyingly likable this year with the departure of Sean Miller. Bennedict Mathurin is one of my favorite players in the country. I don’t see anyone on CU’s roster that can stop him consistently, and Christian Koloko will absolutely cause issues down low. I think Arizona wins this one by 8-10 points.”